Four Ways to Make Twitter Less Boring and More Useful

Posted by · February 2, 2012 12:49 pm

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

You know something’s wrong when it can be scientifically proven that the vast majority of the activity on Twitter is boring and useless. In a joint study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, the Georgia Institute of Technology and MIT, the conclusion was reached that two thirds of all tweets fail to draw lasting interest from their readers. Considering the fact that some 200 million tweets are posted each and every day, this means that more than 132 million of those tweets equate to a massive waste of time for both their authors and their readers.

In order to conduct this study, the group had 1,500 Twitter users analyze 43,738 tweets from 21,000 accounts, the results of which will be formally presented at a computer science conference in Seattle next week. And after perusing their results, I’ve found four things that Twitter users can do to help make the popular microblogging site less of a bore and more of an asset.

#1 – When It Comes To Hashtags & @Mentions, Moderation Is Key

Among the most off-putting characteristics of a tweet, the study concluded, is saturating that tweet with hashtags and @mentions. While users might feel clever and creative making hashtags that smash entire sentences together (e.g. “#iamgoingtohaveagooddaytoday”), most people really don’t appreciate it. In fact, a crazy hashtag like that is a surefire way to get that tweet ignored by most users.

The same goes for the overuse of @mentions and abbreviations. If it isn’t absolutely necessary, just don’t include it. Given the nature of Twitter, with its 140-character maximum and all, shorter and simpler is usually best.

#2 – Unless It’s Somewhere Rare or Important, Don’t Tweet Your Location

Right up there with ridiculous hashtags and @mention clutter, constant Foursquare check-ins and other such location updates are high on the pet peeve list for Twitter users. If you’re going out to dinner, that’s great! But not everybody needs to know. In fact, people who tweet about every little detail of their lives don’t really have much of an engaged audience to speak of.

Think about it this way: If you’re out with friends, the people interested in what you’re doing are already with you! Live in the moment a little. Take pictures. Make memories. And then, if it was that great of an experience, blog about it and tweet that. Chances are the fact that you’re cleaning up your room or drinking your second can of Pepsi won’t make the cut.

#3 – Have Private Conversations In Private

Ah yes, the “conversation tweet”, the most loathed tweet of them all. While it might be comforting to think that a simple @mention makes a tweet invisible to everyone except the person to whom it is addressed, that is simply not the case. Private conversation has no place in the world of sound bites. If you want to talk to someone in private, there are a plethora of other mediums. Phone calls, emails, or text messages are just a few much more desirable alternatives.

And if you absolutely must use Twitter to have a private conversation, send a direct message. People typically don’t care to read conversations between two people. In fact, a lot of people find it really annoying.

#4 – Stop The Negativity

While people appreciate honesty, what they don’t like is constant negativity, especially when it’s negativity for negativity’s sake. If you’ve got a critique or response to something, that’s one thing, but don’t just tweet blanket criticisms. Not only is it unfair to attack something or someone with no justification, but the people reading those tweets typically don’t appreciate it either.

Much like the advice I offer in #2, if you’ve got an opinion about something, write about it. Instead of letting the 140-character limit force you to make a conclusion without any evidence, post something more substantial and well-argued to your blog and then use Twitter to drive people to what you wrote. In the long run, this will maximize the impact of your tweets, gain you an audience, and, who knows, maybe even put a little money in your pocket if the quality and frequency of your writing attracts enough viewers.

The moral of the story: While I’m not by any means proposing that Twitter establish draconian rules that infringe on everyone’s right to speak freely, what I do suggest is that users begin viewing Twitter through less of a “what can I get away with?” lens and instead look to gain a better understanding of the purpose of a tool like Twitter.  Keep in mind that one of the most popular tweets is none other than the self-promoting tweet that directs the reader somewhere else, like another website, a popular TV show, or a store.

To use fishing as an illustration, tweets should be the hook, not the boat. If you want a fish, you don’t just put your boat in the water and wait for fish to jump in voluntarily. First, you decide what kind of fish you want to catch, attach the appropriate lure, and drop your line into the water. Then and only then does your boat begin to fill up.

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