Every so often you see a tweet that makes you cringe. Were you ever the one who wrote it?
With millions of people tweeting about their jobs, politicians, celebrities and even their favorite sandwich, it's easy to tweet without thinking or tweet in anger. Those thoughtless tweets can offend some and stir up an online hornet's nest.
Rapper Meek Mill, an avid Twitter user also known as Robert Williams, got that lesson late last week. A Philadelphia judge ordered Mill, who is on probation after drug and gun convictions, to take a Twitter etiquette class after tweeting comments that roused some of his followers to threaten his probation officer.
With no Twitter etiquette classes being offered, Judge Genece E. Brinkley recommended that Philadelphia radio host Dyana Williams give the rapper lessons because of her knowledge of the music business, reported Philly.com reported.
While most Twitter users don't find themselves in court because of their errant or unwise tweets, they could offend a boss, tarnish their name or brand, or even put off a potential employer.
So learning some basic Twitter etiquette may be a good idea for more people than Mill.
"People write without thinking through how what they're writing might be received," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "They write when they are angry or upset, and they try to be funny in times of crisis when humor likely won't be well received. The general advice is for folks, particularly celebrities, to remember that this is part of their personal brand which they've spent their lives creating and is likely the most valuable asset they own."
Enderle, along with Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy and Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, agree that there are common mistakes that many Twitter users make.
Some people try to be funny during a crisis, such as a hurricane or major accident. Others join in an online argument without knowing much about the issue, or make nasty Twitter comments to seek revenge on someone.
Some users simply make the mistake of tweeting when they're drunk, angry or tired. Tweeting without thinking can lead to problems.
"The problem is that feeling of distance between the person tweeting and the people who will read that tweet," said Shimmin. "It's just you and your computer, so who cares what you tweet? That's how a lot of people think, forgetting that they could have a really big audience.
"That separation gives you a perceived freedom to say whatever you want," he added.
Here are the top Twitter etiquette tips from analysts who follow social media trends:
- An oldie but a goody: Don't tweet anything you wouldn't want your parents, boss, law enforcement, your kids' friends or your significant other to read.
- Remember that you're not tweeting into a vacuum. Every tweet becomes part of the permanent record of the Internet. The words you put out there could carry weight over time and could affect your future, whether you're trying to get a job or a date. Only tweet it if you're OK with someone reading it 20 years down the road.
- If you are tempted to tweeti something you think might be offensive, stop and think it over. Anticipate the reaction this tweet might get.
- Don't use Twitter as a weapon. Avoid using tweets, which are public and permanent, as a forum to make your ex, a celebrity or a rival look bad. It almost always backfires.
- Had a few drinks? Angry that you didn't get a raise? Tired from working back-to-back shifts? Simply put: Don't tweet when you're impaired.
- A debate on Twitter is fine. Fighting and nastiness is not.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is email@example.com.