How To Annoy Friends and Alienate People

ALERT: This is not just another post about “How to Use Twitter.”

A few months before I joined Twitter I attended a panel discussion on social media. A self-described Twitter expert was filling in us novices on this magical pixie dust technology. He talked about how to schedule tweets and use tweet-management software. Yet he talked as if my Twitter following had already gathered, a mass of devotees in St. Peter’s Square watching for my white smoke.

From the back of the conference room I asked him how you get followers to begin with.

A protest I stumbled across in front of Berlin's Reichstag in October 2008. I have no idea what they were protesting, but it seemed vaguely technology-related.

“Send good tweets,” he said.

At the time I found that comment absolutely moronic. I now realize it was a statement of genius. I have had to learn the hard way, however, what a “good tweet” is. It’s actually “good communication,” something that dates back to grunts in caves.

“Gruhh.” (That was tasty mammoth meat, Ord.)

“Ruggh.” (Thanks, Naal, it took Grok and I half a sun-cycle to bring the bastard down.)

There are many things to love about our 2.0 world, but 2.0 evangelists do not make that list. They seem to believe time began with the first tweet. You can’t have a 2.0 without a 1.0. Our social media world is not revolutionary, it is evolutionary. (More on that in a moment.)

As loyal readers know, I’ve begun advising individual creatives on blogging and social media. Some of the great feedback I received on a recent post about whether a creative should blog has inspired me to share another lesson I’m providing in these consulting sessions.

The lesson? Social media is not new. We’ve been doing it our whole lives.

It’s called communication.

Let’s go back to the “good tweet.” Remove the word “tweet” and substitute “communication.” With caller ID and voice mail, we can screen our phone calls today. Which phone call — which “communication” — are you more likely to answer? A call from a telemarketer or a call from a friend? Wait, before you answer that, let’s clarify which friend. A friend who always has suggestions for fun activities or a friend who wants to bitch (yet again) that her boyfriend won’t leave his wife?

If there were a STASI 2.0 (on the woman's T-shirt), I don't think that version of the East German secret police would be sending "good" tweets.

The lesson here is that when we answer the phone, we want a positive experience. It’s possible the telemarketer is selling something we desperately need at just the right price, but our experience is the opposite, so we’re not likely to answer. And as for our friends, those who bring positive energy are going to make us want to take their call more than those who are simply looking to take. At least the telemarketer is promising us something in return for our time and money.

In our social media world, we are all empowered to filter our communications. I can follow you or not follow you. I can friend you or not friend you. And even if I follow you or friend you, I still don’t have to pay attention to you. My eyes are capable of motion. Your tweet or post can be ignored.

We communicate every day, over the breakfast table, at the office, in the supermarket checkout line. If we spend too long asking in our communications without giving, we learn the ineffectiveness of that approach. Those same lessons are true in social media.

But because the platforms of social media are new, many promoters of these platforms overlook the fact that it’s not about the medium, it’s about the message.

Back to the notion of evolution vs. revolution. Here in the United States we’re starting to see news articles and columns about the Civil War, as it was 150 years ago this spring the war began. That war marked a communications revolution.

When the American Continental Congress in 1774 sent a list of grievances to Britain’s King George III, they had to wait months for the petition to reach the king, and still more months for a reply. (FYI, the King’s reply was a “bad” tweet; he said if the colonists continued to make demands they’d find themselves hanging from trees. A revolution ensued, not a communications one, a guns-and-cannons one.)

This was an intimidating mob, but somehow your faithful correspondent made it out alive so he could share these photos with you.

Mere decades later, when Abraham Lincoln wanted to know what was happening on a Civil War battlefront, he would walk a few blocks from the White House to the War Department and read the latest telegraphs coming in from one of his generals. That was not an evolution in communication, that was a revolution. Distance went from being everything to being nothing.

We’ve had instant communication for more than 150 years. The telegraph evolved into the telephone, the telephone into the Internet, the Internet into Facebook apps that tell you when your high school crush has changed his status to “single.” But the sooner we stop thinking of our digital age as a revolution — the sooner we realize that communication remains communication regardless of medium — the sooner we’ll be able to write a “good tweet.”

If you’ve found your way here, you know your way around the interwebs. What are your thoughts? What lessons have you learned?

32 thoughts on “How To Annoy Friends and Alienate People

  1. I’ve learned that vibes are vibes, whether physical (face to face) or virtual (over a Twitter or Facebook stream). Sending good vibes attracts good vibes. It takes a little while but contacts build up -as you say- when we send good messages. I also know now that boundaries matter. I don’t tolerate foul language in my stream, for example. I stay away from political discussions. It’s all about finding what makes you tick and building a network around that. with positive intent.
    Another great post. Thanks!


    1. Call it vibes, call it karma, but I am in total agreement. What I love most about writing this blog and using Twitter is the ability to meet positive people like you.

      How wise to stay away from political discussions — I do that too, but it’s very difficult where I live, in Washington, D.C.! 🙂


  2. The title of your post pulled me here like a magnet . . . but then I reacted. “Not another article telling me how to do Twitter!!” However, with lots of cavewoman grunts I continued. And found the early parts so funny I was giggling into my coffee.

    The mammoth meat of your article I agree with wholeheartedly. At first I found Twitter intimidating, so I listened to “experts” telling me the rules, such as what proportion of my Tweets should be promotional, how to gain new followers, etc. And at first I was very number-conscious. But I found the numbers game to be illusive so now I don’t even glance at my numbers when I login; that’s not what I’m there for.

    As for good Tweets – I’m much the same as wifsie. I don’t get involved in political discussions or celebrity bashings. I rarely unfollow anybody – but if they violate my boundaries, I will. I keep my Tweets cheery and uplifting, or empathetic and encouraging if someone I know is having a bad time.

    P.S. I have a cynical view of panels of experts. So I enjoyed your humor in that cave, as well.


    1. Milli, thanks for continuing despite your (perfectly appropriate) reaction that this was just another Twitter-use post! I also very much enjoyed your tie-ins with caves and mammoth meat. And thank you for tweeting this post to your followers! 🙂


  3. I’m not necessarily new to Twitter but I didn’t use it for nearly two years. I decided to check out your blog since I am still learning a few things. What I like about this blog is that it gets to the point. Be yourself, be nice and stay away from the ones who are negative. With social media, we are in control of what we spend our time on and we have to expect others to do the same. You are correct about building a list of followers slowly. I’m okay with that since I’m building relationships with amazing people I would not have met otherwise.


    1. That’s a perfect summary, CrystalChameleo: “Be yourself, be nice and stay away from the ones who are negative.” If this were in a journal I’d ask to borrow that as the summary atop the article.

      And hey, readers, does she have a great Twitter handle or what? 🙂


      1. I love Crystal’s Twitter handle! It makes me feel creative. That was one thing that attracted me to follow her. But then she unleashed her warmth and enthusiasm on me and made it even more worthwhile. Now that’s doing Twitter right.

        ~ Milli


        1. Wow, I’m seriously humbled and struggling to type anything that would be emulate how wonderful both of your comments made me feel. To be honest, it’s been a rough two weeks for me when it comes to writing. I’ve turned to Twitter to help me realize I’m not alone with these struggles.
          Thank you both for your wonderful words and letting me know I’m venturing into this territory in a positive manner. 🙂 Okay, I’m getting all mushy…time for coffee!


          1. Crystal, sorry to hear you’ve had a rough time the past few weeks. I hear you. Anytime you need some extra love and encouragement for your writing, please feel free to holler Help! over at FoW. We’re always pleased to see you. You definitely brighten the landscape.


  4. For me its about communicating and connecting with radically authentic people. And never talking about me but rather promoting my friends work so they get visits. ~thefox


  5. I love that advice too. Send good tweets. Makes me smile.

    The beauty of twitter is that everybody gets to decide for themselves what constitutes a good tweet and we can fill our streams with all manner of sparkly awesomeness. For me that includes some politics, probably some swear words, and a whole lot of really smart people making me laugh and telling me things I didn’t know. (Like you.)

    I love “radically authentic.” Yes, absolutely, more of that, please.


    1. I read somewhere that Facebook connects you with people you know or used to know or kinda know through someone else, whereas Twitter connects you to people you’d like to know or know more about. That holds true for me.


  6. Thanks for this post. I joined Twitter a week and a half ago, and your comments confirm my intuition. I’m aiming to post a mixture of writing tips, funny bits about language, and other semi-related things that catch my interest. No rants and no swearing, although I’ve been known to do both in private. Crankiness and sales pitches soon wear thin.

    Now I’m aspiring to post only “good tweets.” Thanks again.


    1. Wow, thanks for that, and welcome to Twitter! Just followed you and added you to my writing list. Enjoy all it has to offer! (I see you’re following me, too, I promise not to tweet “I am sitting on the porch,” except maybe for purposes of irony.)


  7. What a treat to discover this article at Antresol Cafe. Modernizing and “” the King’s reply to the Colonists as a “bad” tweet really made the whole article for me – hee hee.

    Sometimes I embarrass myself with my enjoyment of Twitter. It’s really been a life-saver for me to feel more connected to an exciting arts community.

    My own Twitter philosphy combines your positive spin – send good tweets – with a touch of avoidance – trying to make sure the dreaded “rancid tweet heard ’round the world” didn’t get shot from my Twitter account.

    Keepin’ it fresh! @JuliaForsythArt


  8. Getting good info from those already on Twitter is so helpful in navigating the waters. Your post today is great timing for me.

    My Twitter life is one day old! I have a great pal, Milli, who is helping me get from zero to 100 in no time flat, so lucky for me I could start up easily.

    “The lesson? Social media is not new. We’ve been doing it our whole lives…It’s called communication.” I like this! 5 thumbs up! When I was a teenager long ago my father heard me say “yeah” to a neighbor at the front door and I got a stern lecture about communicating courteously. My cheeks burned with shame, but I never forgot it.

    Thanks for all the helpful info Patrick! :~)


    1. Thank you for the great comment, and the five thumbs up (worry a bit about the anatomy that makes that possible, but that’s neither here nor there.)

      I like what your father said, I try to do that with my kids, and live by example for them, and I’m not always successful. I send a few tweets about etiquette on my other Twitter feed, @iCivility, in case you’d like to check that out.


  9. Ungh. Ooga Booga. LOL!!! Patrick you crack me up. LOVE it!

    Very good point about good tweets, bad tweets, etc. I just tweet more or less like I speak (with the restriction on words, more clipped and formal, but still me). I don’t worry about things like “good” and “bad” tweets, I just say what I think … with consideration that it IS going to be on the Internet until the Earth stops rotating.

    It is indeed just another form of communication. Which is why it surprises me when people are frightened to try it. Concerns like “what if I mess up”? and “I don’t know how” stop plenty of people I know. Really, all it takes is a minute to set up an account and start talking! (In 140 characters or less.)


    1. “I just say what I think … with consideration that it IS going to be on the Internet until the Earth stops rotating.”

      That’s what I always tell my kids! True story, I hired an executive assistant a couple of years ago at my last job, placed an ad, and the applications started coming in. One woman looked promising, so I Googled her (employers DO do that). I found her Twitter feed, and a recent tweet had her calling her current boss a moron. That showed a serious lack of judgment. I discarded her application.


  10. See, and that is why you shouldn’t comment before your first caffinated beverage. I love my teacher-friend, just worry about possible repercussions down the line (spell check going crazy, again, no caffine yet.)


  11. You’ve made really good points here. I’m not necessarily venturing into unfamiliar territory with twitter- its the same thing we’ve done since time immemorial- just a different medium. With that in mind, how to interact seems almost intuitive!


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