Best practices on Twitter are still developing, and everyone seems to have their own preferences and attitudes about right and wrong on the microblogging service. Standards vary widely depending upon whether one is using Twitter just to keep in touch with friends or is tweeting on behalf of their business or employer. Whatever your purpose, you may have some tweeting habits that encourage others to unfollow or semi-follow you.

Before delving into the list of attention-repelling habits, let's first explore the concept of the semi-follow. On Twitter, there are only two possible states for following--a person either follows another or they don't. But while most people still post updates via the Twitter Web site, many use third-party applications that help group and organize followers. People using software such as TweetDeck or sites like HootSuite can follow others with different levels of rigor--some people are followed closely, others are semi-followed, and still others are almost completely ignored.

For example, I follow over 2,000 people, and as my list grew beyond several hundred, I found I was missing tweets from the people I care most about. I could have opted to axe stranger with interesting things to share, but instead I opted (as do most people with large Twitter follow lists) to use a tool to group my Tweeple. I have HootSuite organized with groups that include friends, peers and clients from Fullhouse, local people of interest, marketing thought leaders, news feeds, and Social Media movers and shakers. This gives me the ability to track about 200 Twitter feeds more closely than the remainder of my follow list.

They key to being followed more closely is to say and share things that others care about. This requires a great deal of focus and an awareness of the subtle tendencies that can cause others to begin to tune out, consciously or not. Here are eight things Twitterers do that tend to diminish the attention they receive from others:

8. Constant Tweeting about your own business: I was just followed by a printing company in Raleigh, NC, and every single tweet was about their business--"lowest prices," "visit our site," "why everyone is switching to us," blah blah blah. According to TweetLater, the tool I use to vet followers, over 50% of those followed by this business chose to ignore this account, and it is a sure bet almost none of the remaining 50% will pay any attention to what this Twitterer has to say. Constant self-promotion isn't a stream of tweets, it's a stream of ads, and no one really wants to subscribe to that.

7. People who mistake public tweets for private messages: When you make lunch plans via email, you send a message only to the people you wish to invite and not to everyone in your contact list. This common sense approach isn't so common on Twitter, where some folks seem to believe every communication to anyone should be broadcast to everyone.

As the number of followers grows, the need to cut down on noise increases, so if you wish to encourage your followers to pay attention, keep private communications private and send a public Tweet only when the message may be of interest to many of your followers. The Direct Message (DM) is a powerful tool--don't fear the DM!

6. People who engage in partial and cryptic @replies: Twitter is intended to be conversational, but remember that people will begin to tune you out if they cannot understand or decode many of your status updates. For this reason, it's important when replying that you give context; for example, what is "@you Word," "@you I'm sorry to hear that," or "@you ROFLOL" supposed to mean to people unless they 1) follow both you and the person to whom you're responding, and 2) care enough and have the time to follow the dialog back and forth?

It's one thing to say "@you That Conan O'Brien video clip of Shatner reading Palin's speech was funny," but it's an altogether different and more annoying thing to tweet, "@You That was hilarious." The former gives context that invites attention and replies from others; the latter is just noise that will only have relevance to one person.

5. Just links: Sharing links is a great way to create value for your followers, but please don't share links with no explanation. What is on the other end of a link-shortened URL such as http://ow.ly/iyu8? Is this news, a video clip, spam, spyware? I don't know and I don't care--links with no context not only won't get clicked but may encourage others to dump you.

4. Excessive games, sweeps, & viral marketing: I'm a marketer and support the appropriate use of Twitter for participation in marketing promotions. But when a Twitterer becomes obsessed with a game or sweepstakes and litters their Twitter feed with promotional tweets, it isn't any different than spam. Sharing a cool branded video or a relevant sweepstakes is great; tweeting #moonfruit 20 times in 5 minutes because you want to win an Apple computer is just damn annoying.

Of course, smart marketers will find a way to create Twitter promotions that engage others rather than irritate them. For example, Marriott launched an annoying Moonfruit-like promotion at http://marriotthawaiitweets.com. It's causing a minor flood of useless and repetitive tweets like "Trying my luck to win a Hawaiian getaway from @marriotthawaii." As my Twitter friend @RobertKCole pointed out, "This is spam without some form of community benefit, like naming a favorite activity in Hawaii." Marketers need to challenge themselves to get people sharing something of interest and not just spammy and irrelevant tweets, because what worked for Moonfruit once could well become a PR disaster for a brand running a Twitter sweepstakes in the future.

3. Automatic Direct Messages (DMs): Talk about getting a relationship off on the wrong foot--someone trusts a Twitterer enough to follow him or her and then is repaid with an impersonal and spammy Direct Message. Many is the time I've followed someone, received a generic Auto DM, and immediately unfollowed, beginning and ending a Twitter relationship in less than five minutes.

Using an Auto DM may seem like a good way to "welcome" new followers, but most people actually find it very unwelcoming. Also, Auto DMs can fill up peoples' lists of incoming Direct Messages, making it difficult to catch real, valuable, person-to-person DMs.

A move is afoot to shame those who send automatic DMs. The site StopAutoDM.com recently launched, encouraging Twitterers to send an @reply containing the hashtag #stopautodm to those who use Auto DMs; doing so causes the tweet to appear on the site's "Recent Offender Newswire."

2. Publicly thanking others for thinking you're terrific: It's very rewarding when new people follow, when you get cited by others with a #followfriday mention, or when you get retweeted. Each of these occurrences is an appropriate opportunity to thank someone--privately with a DM!

Sending a public tweet that thanks someone for following, for recommending you, or for retweeting your post isn't an expression of gratitude but a boast sent to everyone who follows you. It's a big, needy, self-serving way to make sure a wide group of people are aware that someone thinks you're terrific.

Think of it this way: When you receive a compliment from a boss or peer, do you express genuine gratitude in a private manner, or do you stand on a chair and bellow "Thank you for complimenting my work!" Public tweets that express appreciation for referrals and recommendations are the Twitter equivilent of a vain bellow.

1. Politics, Religion & Sex (unless that is your Twitter profile's purpose): If you create a Twitter profile to support gun rights, gay marriage, your church, or your adult film career, by all means talk politics, religion, or sex; that would be expected by people who follow you. But if your Twitter account is intended to be professional, then tweeting about politics, religion or sex is a good way to offend or annoy some portion of your followers.

Miss Manners' advice is as relevant on Twitter as it is at dinner parties: "Unless you are like-minded old friends, (do not talk to another) about sex, politics or religion. That is not a quaint prohibition. Such subjects as gay marriage, taxes and abortion have been known to explode otherwise pleasant dinner parties." Or Twitter relationships.

Some folks reject the idea of "rules" for Twitter and think anything goes. This attitude may be fine for those who don't really care whether they're followed or what others think, but that's a luxury not afforded most of us with a professional intent on Twitter. The microblogging service hasn't changed the essentials of communications and relationships: People listen to and connect with those who demonstrate concern about their relevance, comprehension, and value to others.

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