Elements of Style for Twitter: The Art of The Follow

This is the second of my series of posts attempting to provide some proper style guidelines for Twitter. It is my hope that, with enough uptake, these will help raise the level of conversation and quality on Twitter.


There are many criteria and considerations one may choose to examine when deciding whether or not to follow someone on Twitter. In fact, many criteria are needed to consider such a weighty decision because every person you follow changes not only the number of tweets in your stream but also the overall personal value of Twitter itself.

Here are some important criteria:

  • Tweets – Quickly scan through several pages of the persons tweet history. Are any of interest and/or value to you? If so, how many? Place value on quality over quantity.

  • Profile – How one describes themselves in such a small amount of space is often a very accurate picture of their interests and what is important to them. Does it interest you?

  • Website – Click on the link they provide to their personal website. Read what is offered there. Does that help to paint a better picture of them and their interests? Do they align with yours?

  • Product – Do they produce a product that you use? Do you care to hear about new releases or other product news?

Here are some important considerations:

  • Relationships – As a social network, Twitter is designed to cultivate and maintain relationships. Even those who use Twitter solely as a microblogging platform at the least is seeking to build a relationship with the audience. Be respectful of this and follow no more people than you are capable of cultivating a relationship with, no matter how small or one sided.
  • Your “noise” threshold – How many people can you follow and keep up without losing important and useful information in between the less useful tweets? Everyone is different here. Some people can follow thousands and be OK with that. I would suggest that 250–300 is the maximum for most people.

  • Your time threshold – Anyone you add to your Twitter stream will increase the amount of time you will need to read and process those tweets. Time has value. Consider adding people costly.

Being followed

If you would like to be the sort of Twittizen that people would like to follow, here are some style elements you should follow:

  • Give people a good reason to follow. – Use Twitter to provide a mixture of useful information, humorous asides (if your have good humor) and occasionally answer the single question Twitter asks (“What are you doing?”). The information and humor is why people may follow but the ambient intimacy the question asked creates helps people get to know and, thus form a relationship, with you.

  • Who are you? – Make sure your bio and the web link you post therein are accurate representations of you and what you hope to offer those who follow. Doing so allows them to be able to make an informed choice.

  • Be helpful. – If someone posts a question in an area that you have some knowledge, share it. If there is a product that you love and use, evangelize it. Reach out to those who have a need as it raises the overall karmic nature of Twitter.

  • Be respectful. – As stated above, people who choose to follow you are investing their time and attention which come at a high cost. Honor that.