How to behave politely on Twitter is one question Hamlet did not have to face. In retrospect, the prince of Denmark got off easy, because the only sticky social situations he had to navigate were how to deal with his father’s murderer, his mother’s adultery and his own feelings of inadequacy.
But if Shakespeare’s most famous hero also had to parse the 21st century etiquette of when to RT or MT? He might not have lasted past Act I– unless, of course, he was a loyal RealSimple.com reader during Be Nice on the Internet Week. (Which, come to think of it, a smart boy like him probably would have been.) Here are a few tips about how to tweet gracefully:
If someone gives you a shout-out by re-tweeting you: Say, “Thanks for the RT” by direct message to acknowledge the kind gesture. But please, don’t broadcast it via a general tweet; the rest of your followers aren’t interested —and won’t appreciate their cell phones buzzing for that one.
Re-tweeting an edited version of the original: Compressing a tweet that you retweet may be necessary when you add your own opinion. This is called a modified tweet, and protocol requires you to identify it as such with a MT (instead of a RT) before you hit the Send button. Be as faithful as possible to the original text—and do not change the meaning or context.
If someone becomes your follower: Your response will vary, depending on the circumstances. If your new follower is a friend, it’s polite to return the favor and start following him or her. If the new follower is a business acquaintance, a direct message saying, “Thanks for following” is a nice way to show you noticed. If it’s a stranger, no need to respond.
When it’s OK to have a public argument via tweets: Very rarely. If you’re debating a subject that will interest a broad swath of your followers, such as which Republican presidential candidate “won” last night’s debate, then it’s OK—if you have something interesting to say. And by interesting, I mean “insightful,” “surprising” and “amusing.” This is a high bar! Keep it clean, too — no name calling or swearing, please– and focus on the issue. (If, however, you’re having a personal argument with your brother over whether Mom has always favored him unfairly, step away from the keyboard. Pick up the phone. Keep it private.)
What other tricky etiquette issues have you encountered on Twitter? How did you solve them? It’s only Day 2 of Be Nice on the Internet Week, so if you have questions, ask away. There’s plenty of time for us to figure out the answers together —tomorrow, or the next day, or the next.