Twitter 101

At first, there was only Facebook, the be-all and end-all of social media in Pakistan. You had to set up an account. It was a privilege; putting up all those updates and being part of a class of the country which was digitally aware – an outlet for the silent majority, as they were often called at that time. Then came Twitter and we sort of went nuts.

Twitter is a social media tool which is tailor-made for you to vent about all your problems. It takes all of 10 seconds to create an account and then you can start following people and broadcasting your updates in 140 characters or less to all those who decide to follow you back. It is addictive, it is corny and it is all encompassing. We, as a country, have now gone into a Twitter frenzy with its applications being available on almost every kind of mobile device, with advertisements on TV screaming: “It’s texciting”. Still, even in this seemingly Wild West of social media there exists an unwritten code of etiquette.  No, I do not mean soup or dessertspoon kind of manners but the kind that can help a Twitterer sound more like a person one wants to communicate with and not the creepy guy standing in the corner staring at everyone.

Excessive tweeting

For instance, there is a difference between the following: @A I’m eating lunch right now and then there is this type of a Twitterer: @A is about to eat lunch, @A picked up spoon, @A wow! This is my favourite dish, @A I am so full!, @A sitting in the loo now. Simply put, people find Twitter very easy to update the world with everything they are doing. But if you insist on tweeting every eight minutes, it is plain irritating for everyone following you. So calm down, I am sure everyone knows you are still there – you don’t have to remind everyone multiple times a day.

Multi and wordy tweets

Everyone has a tough time trying to fit their updates into the 140 character space limit in the initial stages. This does not in any way mean that the creators of Twitter are trying to send you some sort of subliminal challenge to find a loophole to break this limit. First of all, multi-part tweets by adding ‘contd.’ and so on get seriously lost in the fast-paced stream of Twitter and does not make sense. Secondly, using a third party application to go beyond the character limit may sound like a good idea but if we wanted to read your thesis or analysis on everything we would email you. Really.

Too much information

As a social media platform which is so open, Twitter should be used with some degree of discretion. It is one thing when you are having lunch with someone and share salaciously your view of a member of the opposite sex and completely bizarre when you do the same with 3,000 followers. In short, discussing details of a personal nature on Twitter is equivalent to walking into a crowded restaurant and announcing how hot you think person X is over the megaphone. If you have any doubts about how odd this may be, you can try it the next time you go out to eat at a restaurant.

Getting pushy

Unlike Facebook, Twitter gives a person the option to follow or un-follow you without safety of secrecy. Thus everyone has the right to decide if they wish to read every update you make by following you. If they decide not to, it is really not because they “hate” you. Therefore getting all prickly with messages like “@A I followed you but what did you do” looks a bit silly.  Hence, “the follow-back” may be a social code for some people but it’s not something written in stone. I can tell you a much better way to get followers: say something interesting.

Trend pimping

Aggregation of information (tweets) takes place on this platform with the help of hash tags. That is anything followed by a ‘#’ like in your tweet would neatly categorise your update under this hash tag. Trending hash tags are the ones being used the most all over the world. This usually takes place when an event of some importance occurs. Thus @A oh god! I am so tired #prayforjapan would just show your followers that you are being sneaky and not actually contributing anything to the hash tag in question. It basically tells them this person will do anything to attract attention, sort of like wearing a Pakistan team jersey to a wedding during the World Cup.

Analyst mode

Reading a couple of articles on Pakistan and winning the argument on a current affairs topic among your friends circle does not make you an analyst. Although this syndrome first affected mainstream media in Pakistan ala talk-shows, it is now commonplace on Twitter as well with people feeling they can give their expert opinions to anyone they wish even if they have only superficial knowledge of the subject at hand. It’s like me commenting on the intricacies of satire vs Ardeshir Cowasjee doing it, looks pretty silly and has no outcome then to produce “know it all updates” from my side. Try learning instead of analysing.

Having said all this it is also important to recognise that we are still in our Twitter infancy here in Pakistan; no one has hit a million followers as far as I know, therefore the true power of this social media juggernaut is still to be discovered. The whole purpose however is not just to gain in followers but rather to gain in interaction with the ones you already have. Once you can achieve this, then the rest will follow.


As published on THE DAWN BLOG on May 16th 2011


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