guest posts, social media etiquette, Twitter

Three Simple Rules on Twitter: Guest Post by Susan Perri

5 Comments 25 November 2011

Image courtesy of Wendi Gratz, Flickr Creative Commons

Note from Debra: Susan Perri (@wingrants) tweeted to me a few weeks ago that she was seeing a rise in self-promotional tweets on Twitter, and a lack of courtesy. I asked her to expand on what she was seeing, and what advice she might offer to those new to Twitter. Her advice may well make sense for all, whether you are new to Twitter, not yet using Twitter, or an old hand at Twitter. Twitter requires a two-way relationship to create engagement. In that spirit, Susan offers three basic Twitter etiquette tips.  What follows is Susan’s guest post:

Our social media experiences often boils down to one question: Do you want engagement? On Twitter, it’s going to require a two-way relationship, with communication that addresses questions and comments from your followers.

I should begin by acknowledging I do see lots of great folks sharing the compelling stories of their work, which is often interesting and sometimes even noble. I’m glad to hear those stories, and connect and engage. At its best, I believe this is what social media should be, and certainly these are my intentions for using my selected platforms and Twitter in particular. Lately though I’ve been noticing the sheer volume of self-promotion combined with a general lack of common courtesy I encounter on Twitter. Like any other social or community venue, not all folks have the same idea, which can lower the quality of the user experience for the rest of us. Just because you can self-promote on Twitter does not mean you should do solely that. While there are many ways to engage with others, some etiquette should apply. Fundraising blog Fundly and my fellow Twitterer Dave Boyce (@davidjboyce1) speaks about this issue via a great post titled “Spread the love with social media, but don’t forget to mind your manners.” In the post, Dave references the work of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. According to Carnegie, the best leaders improve relationships with every word and action on a daily basis, and this kindness is contagious.

Let’s have some more kindness, please! Our increasingly digital age need not corrode the basic tenets of social niceties. Perhaps I’m hopelessly old-fashioned, but here are the values I (still) believe in, and would urge us all to follow while making our way around the Twittersphere:

1. Walk Your Talk

I’m looking for the kinds of leaders on Twitter that Dale Carnegie wrote about, especially as they relate to my work.  In my particular line of work, I see a lot of Twitter users who promote themselves as nonprofit, communications and/or fundraising professionals. Some of them use self-aggrandizing synonyms for professional, like maven or guru or genius. Many with really large followings put themselves out there as specialists on engagement – donor engagement, social media engagement, building relationships and communities. Surprisingly, these folks have been the most challenging to connect with or get some return engagement back from. Here’s an example to the contrary. Social media whiz (my label, not his) Robert Caruso (@fondalo) really practices what he preaches. This guy has almost 24,000 followers, and he still finds it in his heart to respond to and acknowledge promptly each and every mention, DM, and personal shout out on Twitter. If you’re looking for a best practice for engagement and Netiquette Twitter style, check him out.

2. Remember Your Manners

Think about what your mother taught you. There are really basic, simple acts of kindness that don’t require anything of you but carry tremendous social return on investment. When someone follows you, give thanks. A simple “thank you” goes a long way. Consider following back if that user fits your criteria for doing so. When someone mentions you or references your work, acknowledge it. It’s the right thing to do, and it may just inspire them to do so again in the future.  Don’t be afraid to mention back. It generates goodwill. Irene Koehler (@IreneKoehler) has a great post about Twitter fails of this ilk titled “11 Sure-Fire Ways to Get Me to Unfollow You on Twitter.”

3. Don’t Be Too Full of Yourself

Fellow tweep Matthew Smith (@MatthewSm1th), well versed in social media and philanthropy, recently wrote about the difference between sharing information and “shameless self-promotion” via social media outlets. Self-promotion may be the most common reason for using social media, but I submit there is a balance between self-promotion and respectable engagement that need not be shameless. Let’s begin by the way we put ourselves  out there. Another Twitter connection, Ephraim Gopin (@fundraisinisfun), very smart about all things fundraising, recently ranted about the overuse of the self-administered “social media expert” label. Remember what I said earlier about “geniuses” and “gurus”? This practice of self-proclaimed mastery is indeed overdone, whatever the profession or service. For example, it’s enough call oneself savvy – you need not have a qualifier like “incredibly” or “super” or “amazingly” before it. Sometimes less really is more.

In this era where we are constantly creating new tools to connect, social media is an emerging and evolving platform for communication. Granted, we are learning as we go. We are increasingly interested with how we measure up, how many followers we can count, how much Klout we have. In the end, I think the old adage holds true – it’s quality, not quantity, and the same rules from your childhood playground still apply. Make friends, be nice, take turns, say please and thank you. Oh, yes, and have fun while you’re at it.


 Susan Perri is a grant writing specialist, philanthropic fundraiser & nonprofit social media strategist. She connects organizations with the resources they need to make a positive impact.



  • You are so right! You’d think it would be fairly obvious, to behave well on twitter, just like anywhere in life, but some people forget that people don’t follow you to just have your business yelled at us four times a day!


    Susan Perri Reply:

    Thanks Philippa – I think it’s really a balance. We expect and perhaps even anticipate a certain level of self-promotion/marketing via Twitter, which could potentially be more acceptable if those doing so would follow some basic niceties of engagement. It’s that challenge that led me to write this post, and try to clarify the various types of users –  specifically those that care to actually engage and those that are using Twitter as a self-promotion megaphone. It’s an ongoing discussion and we are all having it everyday on Twitter. Glad you enjoyed the post!


    Philippa Willitts Reply:

    Exactly. Most of us do some degree of self-promotion on there, but balance is key. And we might all get it wrong at times, but we have to keep trying to get it right.


  • Pingback: Three Simple Rules on Twitter @wingrants @askdebra | Social-Business-Marketing |

  • John


    Excellent article.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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