The Art of Tweeting Gracefully

by Bryan

I’m on Twitter. Sue me. Just make sure to Tweet about it 43 times too.

The last time an Internet phenomenon spread this quickly, it was YouTube. Between the moment I first heard about it and the moment one year removed from that, it had grown from a wisp of an idea to a full-fledged powerhouse. YouTube was the place for Internet video, period, end of story. It served a niche that hadn’t been filled, and did it so well, that it became the brand name for online video. “YouTube” is to video what “Kleenex” and “Band-Aid” are to their markets.

Twitter did the same thing. It’s the blog for people who are too fussy, too important, or too busy blogging to blog. You can find virtually anyone on Twitter, which is what makes it different than blogs. People, and their 140-character thoughts, are easily turned up, making your tweets available to anyone who wants them, and not just in the Wild West internet way: in a controlled, stable environment.

It seems great, right? Well it isn’t.

The problem is that not all Tweets are created equal, or, to be more precise, not all Twitterers are created equal. I care more about what my friends have to say, though I’m careful to mind Twitter as a supplement to, and not a replacement for, our actual relationship. But how am I supposed to find them when CBS Radio’s Mark Knoller Tweets every five minutes, all day? I have (albeit briefly) worked on the White House Unit of a major news operation, so I understand the amount of news created and the importance of every piece of it. Right now, though, it’s 9:26 in the morning and Knoller has tweeted 21 times today. 21 times!

He is far from the worst abuser (and as far as overtweeting goes, you’re not going to find a more informed, more important stream. He’s still clogging my inbox); according to most sources, Tila Tequila tweets about as often as she breathes. In light of a recent lawsuit she’s filed against her NFL-playing boyfriend, her Tweets are “protected,” which means I can’t see them without sending a request that would certainly be accepted. That won’t happen. But “Tequila”‘s Tweets get to the heart of what Twitter really is: the greatest marketing device ever invented. You can connect with brands, people, imaginery characters and they will talk to you — sometimes directly.

Here’s an illustration: the other day, Major League Baseball was giving away a jersey for the 500th person who Tweeted the slogan for their recent advertisement, which was “Beyond Determination.” I tried, twice, but wasn’t number 500. For the contest, you had to go to to view the commercial. When I was there, I noticed a repeated spelling error, and I snarkily Tweeted about it. Within 90 seconds, MLB had sent me a direct message — which came ONTO MY PHONE — thanking me for catching the error and attributing it to an third-party company. I immediately felt bad about being snarky, but felt “closer” to MLB as a company — hey, someone was reading! — than I had before.

Contrast that with last night, when I was doing today’s New York Times Crossword Puzzle early. (I’m something of an addict) When I realized the phrase “Don’t Tase Me Bro” appeared in the grid, I jumped for joy — and lunged for my computer to Tweet “Rex Parker,” who runs a great NYT crossword blog. My elation was diffused within minutes, when he responded to my “I’ve been waiting two years for this” Tweet with a zinger of his own: “Good 2 yrs ago when Onion did it 1st.” Now, since I had apparently missed one instance of it two years earlier in a crossword I don’t do, was I not supposed to be excited? I’m not sure that helped.

In short, the rules of Twittering can be summed up with a Tweet-length primer: Be nice, be interesting, and may your tweets be sparing in number. I’m just the messenger. Don’t tase me.