Twitter, like any social network, puts you and your business on a very public stage, meaning faux-pas’ are hard to sweep under the rug and, as users try to become relevant as quickly as possible, the potential of abusing features is very real. Your conduct on the platform defines what kind of Twitterer you are and only a few steps in the wrong direction have the very real potential of landing your business in PR trouble.


Skip the auto-DMs

If you’ve used Twitter, for any length of time, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of automated direct messages or auto-DMs. In theory, it’s a very useful tool to humanise a brand, communicating a welcome message and encouraging engagement. In practice, it’s one of the most spammy practices on the platform. I’m not a huge fan of automation in general, as I feel it detracts from the social connections we’re trying to build and auto-DMs are a classic example of trying to succeed with social media by using traditional marketing techniques.

When I turned 18 I got a letter from the mayor congratulating me and explaining my new-found rights and responsibilities. No, I wasn’t a model citizen, every single kid who turned 18 got one. At first glance, it was a nice gesture but in reality, it was nothing more than an attempt on the mayor’s part to connect with his constituency on a very superficial level. Automated DMs are a lot like that and, just like the mayor’s letter, they don’t actually serve to open any line of communication or further the connection in any way.

Generally, they consist of a simple Thanks for the follow or Thanks for the follow, to get my [insert useless document with complicated name] please [insert ploy to get your email address]. If you’re looking to build genuine relationships on Twitter, don’t insult your followers’ intelligence. Thank them by mentioning them publicly and don’t fill their inbox with self-promotional crap which you’re going to tweet about on a regular basis anyway.

Still not convinced? A quick read of the Automation rules and best practices section in the Twitter Help Center reveals that Twitter itself doesn’t recommend the practice.

Including an automated “thanks for following” message to your new followers might be annoying to some users. We do not recommend this behavior; if you receive a DM you don’t like, you can unfollow that user and they will no longer be able to send you messages.

Don’t over-tweet

One thing marketers and social media platform insist on is being consistentTweeting is often considered an imperative for businesses in particular and the reason is very, very simple. Platforms need active accounts and active accounts equate to people broadcasting information to as many users as possible. On the other hand, we’ve got marketers, who need businesses to become as active as possible because that’s what big companies pay them for. Being consistent means marketers can work out a schedule, they can figure out how many tweets they’ll promise customers and platforms are happy because their users are active but at the end of the day, what’s all that tweeting worth?

Tweeting on a regular basis because someone said so, means you’ll be focusing on quantity rather than quality. Some marketers recommend as many as 20 tweets per day for business accounts, which is a huge number. They’re doing this because the more information you put out there, the likelier it is for potential customers to notice it and head over to their website. However, with such a large number of content pieces, they have to strike a balance between self-promotion and communication and, unfortunately, this means they’ll either be linking to other websites than their own and/or will become very superficial in communicating with their followers. What’s more, according to SocialBakers, engagement decreases after the third tweet.

The problem here lies in understanding social communication to be exposure-oriented. It’s one of the reasons why businesses establish a presence on every single social network and focus on numbers rather than their worth. Social media advertising is successful when businesses learn to communicate, listen to and bond with their audience and you can’t do that through a very one-sided communication strategy. The true benefit of being consistent isn’t social platform ranking or spamming your content in as many directions as possible but in establishing yourself as being present, available and reliable. For eCommerce, in particular, its value lies in your customers knowing they can contact you quickly and effectively for support whenever they need to, and you can achieve this by quickly replying to every single request.

Don’t click random links

According to Twitter, on a typical day, an average of 500 million tweets are sent and, if you’ve been on the platform long enough, at some point you’ve received a mention that read something like this – someone is saying mean thing about  you or I can’t believe this is you. Whether included in direct messages or mentions, they all contain shortened links that lead to less than savoury websites. Most of us have received enough spam via email to recognise the classic diet pill and easy money schemes but social media presents a new kind of challenge. Talking to strangers is an inherent component of social media so when a stranger tweets something that seems to be about you, it can be quite tempting to click those links. Don’t. Really, don’t. It’s one of the most effective ways  of getting your account hacked and device chock-full of malware.

Reading the URLs can often help with determining the website the content is linking to but malicious third-parties often try to trick users by shortening links. In an effort to counter the practice, 3 years ago, Twitter introduced its own link shortening service. In this case, however, the service preserves the first characters of a domain so users have an idea where they’re heading when clicking the URL.  As a rule of thumb, treat tweets that alert you to pictures of your or someone publicly shaming you with the same healthy dose of skepticism you’d treat them if they were in your email inbox.

Not all accounts sending out spam are doing so intentionally. A lot of those links I mentioned lead to malware and soon enough, those who click them will be hopping on the spam bandwagon without even knowing it. If you’ve noticed your account is sending out Direct Messages on its own or your timeline contains Tweets you didn’t send, here are the steps Twitter recommends you follow to regain control over your account.

Use lists

If you’re following a few hundred people, you’re going to have a hard time keeping up with the content they’re putting out. Enter lists. If you go to your Twitter Timeline, click More and then Lists, you can create as many as 1 000 lists, with 5 000 accounts in each. The feature allows you to organise users in groups and consume content a lot easier.  You can either create your own or subscribe to existing public lists.

Twitter lists are a great way to group not just your friends or people you follow but accounts that you might want to follow or are interested in from time to time. The great thing about this particular feature is that you don’t necessarily have to follow someone to add them to a list, meaning you can organise potential leads and especially publishers, who tend to tweet a lot and overwhelm your primary feed, without having to actually follow them.

Don’t be passive

If there’s one thing about social media that seems to be lost on most businesses it’s engagement. Social media success isn’t measured by the number of followers you have or the number of tweets you post. No matter what your goals on a particular platform are, unless you learn to communicate with followers, your efforts will amount to a big pile of nothing. And herein lies the trick.

Understanding social media communication as a my turn – your turn game, in which I say Thanks for following, then you reply in kind and we’ve both given ourselves a marginal kick in the Klout, is the equivalent of walking down the street, saying Hello to a stranger and pretending we’ve just built a long-lasting business relationship. It’s not just unrealistic, it’s childish. Like any other type of relationship, social media connections take time and effort to build. You have to get to know people, connect, engage in real conversations and help out if you can. In time, you’ll earn their attention and sympathy and it’s worth a whole lot more than trying to grab by acting like a bad commercial that’s always on.

Use Twitter cards

Like I’ve mentioned before, Twitter is no stranger to spam and because of that, a lot of people tend to be reluctant to click shortened links. One way to establish credibility for the genuine content you distribute is Twitter Cards. They allow you to take your tweets beyond simple text and enrich them with additional content, media or calls to action. The great thing about them is they offer a preview, if you will, of the content the tweet is linking to, telling your followers where they’re going and what they’ll see when they get there.

Twitter may have started out as a text-based service but it has quickly learned and adapted to visual content’s rise in influence. Adding visual interest through videos, product info, images and so on has been consistently driving traffic and increasing conversions. There are several types of Twitter cards, so it’s quite easy to find one that suits your needs, and installing them requires minimal HTML skill. If you don’t want to edit your code every time you post something new you can always use JM Twitter Cards, a nifty little WordPress plugin that does the job for you.

Don’t overuse hashtags

Hashtags are words or phrases prefixed by a # symbol, which help users include their content in specific topics and help them gain more exposure in searches. Over 70% of Twitter users include them in their tweets, an unsurprisingly large percentage since hashtags are very good conversation starters and a great way to find out what people are saying about a specific topic. However, like every other feature, it has the potential of being abused and boy, do people abuse it.

People are very eager to participate and communicate on Twitter, and they tend to overuse hashtags thinking it will improve their odds of being found. However, tweets that are nothing more than a string of hashtags lose credibility and begin to look a lot like spam. What’s more because hashtags are highlighted, much like an active link, they become a real eye-sore when they’re being overused. If every single word in your tweet is a hashtag, odds are you’re not including your content in existing topics but making up your own hashtags to no real end. Twitter recommends using no more than 2 hashtags per tweet and you shouldn’t need any more than that to stay relevant and improve discoverability.

Follow wisely

Another frequent form of spam is following accounts by the hundreds in an effort to gain attention. It’s relatively easy to gain followers this way, because most of the people who will follow you back are doing the exact same thing, measuring success through numbers. Unfortunately, as your number of followers swells you’ll be hit by the reality of their worth, which amounts to a grand total of zip. As users engage in this follow-frenzy, they have less and less time to pay attention to the content they’re distributing, not to mention the content being distributed by the people they follow. This means that even though you have 30,000 followers, only 2 might click on a link you’ve tweeted and even fewer will ever reply.

Twitter is a social network, so one assumes if you’re there, your goal is to get to know and interact with new people. Duh! Now how are you going to do that if you’re following people you can’t or don’t actually want to communicate with, whose irrelevant content is now clogging up your primary feed. On a very superficial level, your account might seem popular, but potential followers will soon realise it’s nothing more than an illusion.

 Twitterer is as Twitterer does.

The Bottom Line

Twitter is a platform built on simplicity but it is by no means simple to establish and maintain a relevant presence on the micro-blogging platform. Like any other advertising and PR effort, it takes time and dedication to make it work but that shouldn’t discourage you from trying. It should, however, make you weary of anyone telling you how easy it is to grow an audience and how quickly they can improve your bottom line.

© 2014 Shoestrings & Fancy Things. All Rights Reserved.