How to avoid those Twitter storms

Like most technology, Twitter evokes strong responses about what it does to communication. While some swear by it, and some others swear on it, others still bemoan its effect.

New Statesman editor Jason Cowley once ventured the view in a leader column that the word Twitterstorm is one of the most depressing in the English language. It’s easy to agree. Fierce arguments blowing up out of nowhere, then feeding on themselves and turning into ‘stories’ in their own right before being overtaken by the next confected controversy? What’s the world coming to?

But when people say they dislike Twitter, what I bet they really mean is that they dislike the implementation. As with all forms of technology, what really makes the difference is the way we use it, and the uses to which we put it. So here are seven tips for not getting into hot water in 140 characters.

1. Twitter users are people too

If you remember to converse with other Tweeters just as you would conduct a discussion face-to-face, you can’t go far wrong. So many of the flame wars on Twitter blow up because people act in ways they would never dream of if they were in the same room. It’s always worth a pause before you send that sharp response.

2. Choose who you follow

Monitor your follow list if you want to ensure that what comes onto your timeline is useful, reliable or balanced. It’s tempting to simply follow back everyone who follows you, or to follow as many accounts as possible. There’s no way you can keep up with gazillions of tweets from thousands of people. Keep your Twitter universe to a manageable size, for your own sanity.

3. The personal is… not quite so personal

One of the attractions of Twitter can be its informality, and the personality this allows to come through in communication. But, even though many of us have disclaimers emphasising ‘these views are personal’ on our accounts, the fact is that what you post on Twitter is public and will reflect on you and the organisations connected with you. It’s worth remembering that.

4. Don’t lose personality

That said, simply posting bland corporate messages on your account means you won’t be very interesting to follow, and will reduce the fun and personality that can make Twitter a pleasure to use. You’re allowed to be you, just bear in mind that a Twitter conversation is not quite the same as a face-to-face with an old friend. It’s all about context.

5. It’s only 140 characters

Twitter is great for sharing links, pithy observation, and of course the odd funny. It’s less good for conducting complex arguments or providing detailed explanations. Best to go off Twitter for this, maybe by direct messaging email addresses or even, and you may wish to sit down for this, actually meeting the person you are debating with. Taking all necessary precautions, of course.

6. Stick to a deadline

Having had some narrow escapes, just, I can say from experience that it’s wise to impose a cut-off time on Twitter use. Tweet late at night and the chances are you may not be at your sharpest, especially if refreshment has been involved. On the morning after the night before you don’t want to look at your choice of words and think “Ouch!”.

7. Twitter is not that important

You don’t need to check it all the time, any more than you need to be on the phone all the time. It doesn’t matter if you miss a Tweet, there will be another one along in a second.

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