Twanker – An egocentric individual, celebrity or organization who uses Twitter only for one-way broadcasting about their own greatness.

Twidiot – An individual or organization that uses Twitter only to talk about insignificant things no one cares about, like what they had for breakfast or their latest press release.

One of the funniest things about Twitter is how it has spawned a language unto itself for those who use it. People in social media love to see the world in terms of those who “get it” and those who don’t. This breeds a behaviour on many social networks (and particularly on Twitter) that sometimes seems no more mature than a high school clique – something that many might aspire to, but that thrives upon its artificially created exclusivity.

Yet as Twitter continues to evolve beyond the microblogging platform of choice for those with too much time on their hands to an easily understood service that encourages typically reluctant organizations and nongeeky individuals to finally start using social media, the barriers are breaking down.       

Still, as in many online networks, people on Twitter are establishing a code of conduct all their own and though it’s not written in any one place, the people on Twitter who ignore the rules of this code risk being called one of the above “twinsults” or perhaps a worse word yet to be created or popularized. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet seen a good compilation of the “rules” that people seem to assume that everyone already knows when it comes to how you should and shouldn’t behave in the Twitter environment.

So to help you avoid being a “twidiot” or a “twanker” – here are a few rules that seem to have become generally accepted for how to get set up, brand yourself or your organization and converse on Twitter. It’s not meant to be a complete list, but hopefully others will add to it in comments:

  1. Choose as short a username as possible. This really makes a difference when people are trying to retweet your links and include your username, but only have 140 characters to do it.
  2. Think hard about your thumbnail. For many methods of browsing Twitter, your thumbnail is the only bio information that comes through along with your username, so try make a statement with it that says something about you.
  3. Select a bio link wisely. Twitter offers you the chance to put a single link in to let people click and learn more about you. Don’t just automatically assume your homepage is best for this, think about whether there is a better bio page to link to.
  4. Use your background to share more info. The image you use for the background of your Twitter page is one of the few things you can brand and change. To take advantage, use the left sidebar to share more about you (and try to make it no more than 200 pixels wide). You can also use a service like Twitter Backgrounds.
  5. Follow other people (judiciously). This is a basic premise, but nothing demonstrates more that you are a twanker than following no one back. And if you can, try to make it more than just 10 people. Conversely, though, there is no social obligation to follow everyone who follows you.
  6. Reply to @ messages. An “@ message” is when someone types @[yourusername]. That means they are either just mentioning you, or trying to connect with you directly. Either way, the more of these you respond to, the more you can engage with Twitter.
  7. RT often and strategically. A retweet (RT) is the Twitter equivalent of forwarding an email. Usually it’s done with the syntax RT @[username] followed by the exact text you are retweeting. They are a great way to let your content travel, as well as share tweets created by others.
  8. Leave room for retweets. Calculate how many characters your username is (for example, my username “rohitbhargava” has 13 characters). Now add 4 characters for “RT @” – and in my case I get 17 characters. This means that if I want to let people retweet my messages without losing part of the message, my tweet should be no longer than 140 minus 17, or 123. Generally when I tweet something I want to get retweeted, I will therefore make sure it is less than 123 characters.
  9. Refer to people by their Twitter names on Twitter. Imagine Twitter is like a play and every user is like an actor. You wouldn’t call a fellow actor by their name on stage, you would use their character’s name. Twitter is the same way – so if you happen to link to me or this post, make sure you call me @rohitbhargava so others can see my name and follow me.
  10. Allow and respond to DMs. DMs (or direct messages) are private messages that anyone who follows you can send to you directly without posting them publicly on Twitter. It is one of the few private communications methods on Twitter and is a great way to have longer and more significant conversations with your connections on Twitter if you take advantage of it.