The biggest problem with social media is that it's too damn social.
Our daily routine calls for us to be polite and courteous lest we be seen as unapproachable, rude, or slovenly.
The virtual world was once an escape from showing our good sides, as the first online communities were anonymous to a certain extent.
As such, manners weren't required in chat rooms.
Social media, beginning with MySpace, started to infringe on this anonymity, and it's become a growing trend.
Truthfully, our online lives are a catch-22 or pay-to-play situation, requiring us to forgo certain freedoms for access. Such is the tightrope we warily tread.
Social media users are well aware there are certain rules (avoiding the use of profanity and posting inappropriate content) imposed by the community or site of which they're members. Because of social media's usage for both business and personal communication, a certain amount of decorum is expected.
Numerous blog posts, articles, and videos instruct us how to become better social media citizens. In the last two or three years, search providers have been adding features like profile pages, blogs, image-hosting sites, instant messaging, Web-hosting capabilities, and similar applications in their efforts to attract more users. Social media sites, in a likewise-but-opposite fashion, are adding real-time search capabilities to woo users.
What does this mean to the online world?
It means search engines and social media are converging -- something that I attribute to Twitter. The idea behind the site was to incorporate social media interaction while providing real-time information. Twitter is so timely, in fact, it often scoops the news.
Professional organizations have finally caught on to this fact and employ the site as an efficient, effective method to disseminate information rapidly. Press releases, news conferences, blogs, and Web site postings can be tweeted in a second. Buzz-worthy content will be retweeted (hopefully) and reach a lot of people in a short time.
However, there's a side effect: Professional-business use has brought user-imposed manners to the site.
For instance, Tweeps (Twitterers or Tweeters) know that spamming is a quick way to lose your followers and possibly your account. Likewise, tweeting links using a link shortener (bit.ly, tr.im, Short.ie) that lead to an unsafe site, one promising something it doesn't deliver, or a site that's a shameless plug, can lead to being ostracized or banned from the site.
Also, failing to respond to users who follow you is considered rude Twetiquette. (Note: I always thought it was Twittiquette, but according to the Twictionary, "Twittiquette" is Twetiquette for idiots.)
As you become familiar with the site and add relevant content, your number of followers grows, which is positive because followers are seen as a measure of your credibility. Basically, it's an informal stamp of approval from the Twitterverse. However, unless you're running a corporate account, are a Hollywood star, or are lucky enough to have help, personal interaction with a large following is a full-time job. This defeats the idea of meaningful connections.
Many Tweeps are under the mistaken impression that once someone follows them, it's mandatory to follow them back. It's not, nor is it improper to stop following or "unfollow" a user who is offensive, effusive, or blows up your Twitter page by tweeting endlessly. There are Tweeters who follow upwards of 20,000 people, which is ridiculous to me. If they each sent four tweets daily, you'd receive 80,000 tweets daily or one message every 1.08 seconds.
In actuality, Tweeps don't send that much traffic as a whole in comparison to the total number of users. According to Hubspot's State of the Twittersphere (June 2009), the average user sends less than one tweet per day.
The total number of users is rumored to be around 19 million (Twitter has not released this information), but the attrition rate is 60 percent, leaving around 5 million active users. However, the HubSpot data does not take into account the fact that active users will follow other active users. Don't be offended, then, if you find that someone isn't following you anymore. It happens everyday to every user.
The whole idea is "meaningful interaction," and if you're not gaining anything from a fellow user, drop them. However, a "mass unfollowing" of everyone isn't recommended but is becoming marginally accepted when necessary. Known as "Twitter Bankruptcy," it's the point where a user becomes so overwhelmed with spam, robots, auto-tweets, and other senseless information that Twitter becomes meaningless.
Know The Network reported the first such instance in February of 2009: "Loic Le Meur, a high-profile geek and founder of Seesmic, took drastic action yesterday and unfollowed 23,000 Twitter users via an unfollow script. He simply became overwhelmed with the spam, robots, and noise, so he decided to unfollow everyone and reboot his twitter stream."
Realistically, most of us won't reach this point. However, if you believe that you're destined to become Twitterati, or an elite user, it's a good idea to establish a "Twitter Follow Policy," enabling fellow users to understand why you can't possibly follow everyone.
Roland Smith, founder of the site Technology Matters, clearly outlines his policy: "I do not automatically follow people who follow me," he notes. "I first want to know a little about you before I will follow you. If your Twitter profile does not have a location and does not point to a public profile, I probably will not follow you. With very few exceptions, I do not follow non-humans (candidates, brands, causes, or company names)."
Another good example can be found on Shel Israel's blog. If you do want to dump all of your followers and start fresh, Huiter Mutually will help you get started.
Remember, Twitter is not Facebook. The majority of your communication is with people you've never met in person.
Keep in mind that Twitter's core users are a community. Don't tweet crap; send interesting content and relevant links.
Don't Direct Message (DM) users you've never contacted. If you read an interesting tweet, retweeting it to your followers is considered a compliment.
Tweet on a regular basis to maintain a presence. While there's no formula or benchmark for the number of tweets to send on a daily basis, don't pile on. Twitterati (the site) suggests the magic number is between 10 and 20 tweets a day.
Make sure to recognize those who follow you with a thank-you note.
Overall, be courteous, kind, and thoughtful -- just like in real life.