Twitter: Tribes and Tips

Twitter. What’s it for? It’s slightly hard to describe for the uninitiated, but I do feel like there is a divide perhaps of people who are curious about Twitter but maybe haven't stuck around long enough to figure it out. For me, it’s a bit of fun, a source of news, entertainment and occasional gossip. A place to banter with a friend or occasional stranger. To tell a joke and have it fall flat. To tweet a corny line and have it oddly re-tweeted. To find fellow fans of things I like and rejoice over silly things that no one else cares about. To be added to lists seemingly without rhyme or reason (Twitter lists, what is the point of them?!). I am by no means an expert: as my princely 250 followers will attest, a third of whom will drop me should I post a particularly unfunny video or too many lost dogs as I sometimes can't help myself from doing! I am still learning things all the time and often have moments of feeling like a complete Twitter dunce. But I have been on the site long enough now to figure out a few things, to learn what I do and do not enjoy, which might possibly be of some use to someone (hopefully!).

There are all kinds of people on Twitter, but there are definitely a few tribes which seem to recur: as in life, people are carving out a niche, an identity with which others can recognize them, which is fine, but sometimes for me it doesn’t translate (as well) on Twitter if you’re not careful to also act…human. A few of the tribes which I have encountered in my anthropological Twitter digs are as follows:

The Facebooker: Wanders on to Twitter once, declares “What’s happening?!” in the manner of the teenage daughter in Poltergeist, promptly freaks out at lack of dozens of responses to their vague entreaty and leaves forever, never to be heard from again. (I completely get that Twitter is scary, but come on guys, give it a chance at least!).

The Writer: Some of the first kindly people to follow me on Twitter were self-identified as writers. I was so excited!: "We are going to have so much in common and share so many ideas!", I thought. Hmm…not so much. How do I put this kindly? So many authors of mostly self-published fiction (which is FINE, honestly. I know it’s a burgeoning market.) just get Twitter completely wrong. I’m just a little confused at how many people on Twitter purport to be “Number One Best Sellers!!”, when I’ve never heard of them or their book? Did they sell a hundred books on Amazon one day and it made them number one in their niche? I don’t get it. I wouldn’t be so inclined to be catty if 99.9% of the writers who follow me didn’t turn out to be so thoroughly boring. They only ever tweet links to buy their books, or other people’s books, or the occasional unenthralling quote from said book. It’s just a bit tedious, change it up a little, express an opinion here and there, show me a picture of your cat, anything to prove you’re something other than an authorial autobot.

The Actor/Famous Person: Some actors are amazing and totally get Twitter: they are funny, smart, connected, and might interact occasionally with their fans if they are feeling beneficent. Some are just entertainingly, verifiably INSANE (see Cher, William Shatner, etc.). Some overcompensate with the worthy causes in an effort to seem down with the people. It’s all good. Many clearly let someone else do all the legwork. Some really do fall into the worst stereotypes of the tribe and do nothing but retweet all the nice things people say about them (cringe). Twitter is nothing if not revealing. Some, however, inevitably disappoint. Can we talk about John Cusack? John Cusack is someone who should be AMAZING on Twitter. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s with it, right?....Sadly, NO….John Cusack is kind of crazy (on Twitter), and not in the fun way. Don’t get me wrong, I will forever love the guy who created Lloyd Dobler, but there is no way I can keep up with the political conspiracy theories and fights he wastes his Twitter breathe on. I followed him for a day once, and it was EXHAUSTING. So maybe he’s more like Lloyd Dobler than I ever imagined? Don’t ever meet your heroes on Twitter is the message here I guess, it could very well end badly.

The Argumentalist: (um I made up that word I guess?!). Twitter can be a place of heated debate: – occasionally if something rubs me the wrong way I might respond. But some people really do just exist to be nasty/pick fights. Avoid them at all costs, unless you have a stomach for such things. If someone is being needlessly rude to someone else and you feel the need to stick up, by all means do, but just know it’s probably never a good idea. That said, I have seen respectful back and forths as well, and in general there is a nice tone of banter and humour in many situations. Sometimes sarcasm gets lost on Twitter, as I myself being an American still fall into, British people are just innately more sarcastic and sometimes it doesn’t translate in the written word into the more matter of fact American brain (or mine anyway!). Think before you speak, as with all things.

The (Fledgling) Musician: Like The Writer, they exist to self-promote. They wish Myspace was still a thing; they got on a lot better there. I do wish creative types would cotton on that people who’ve never heard of them might take more of an interest in their Twitter feeds if they displayed some semblance of personality and not just endless links to their music/gigs. Most successful musicians don't behave this way, I don't get why they don't put a bit more effort in...I guess they are too busy sleeping on people's couches a la Llewyn Davis? Yawn, cute boys in bands, yawn.

The Cool Girl: Usually in Media in some way. Has a national or internet based column of some sort. Has a respectable minimum follower count, doesn't follow anyone else unless they too are identifiably a cool girl with a similar ethos and follower count. I follow a couple because some of them are genuinely funny and good writers, but there is a distinct whiff of rarefied air in these circles. They tweet a bit cliquishly. I am not and will never be a cool girl, and following them is starting to feel a bit like being in high school again.

The Web Entrepreneur of Dubious Origin: What do they do? Who knows, but they are very successful at it and will tell you all about it if you click on their links.

The Comedian: No, you've never heard of them. But they are FUNNY and they are going to tweet one liners at you all day long! (To be fair there are a lot of funny people on Twitter, but the competitive nature of the comedian tweeter means I can only handle a few of them in my feed at any given time).

The Blogger: Well, there are of course niches upon niches of blogs, and they all behave differently. Many beauty or lifestyle blogs seem to tweet numerous links to their blog per day and little else, which I personally find a bit off putting. I’m not above linking to my blog posts, but it’s usually only once, and even that feels a bit bold to me. Self-promotion still feels awkward to me, whereas many people breezily treat Twitter like their own personal p.r. campaign.

It is a fine balance. Trying to find blogs that I enjoy and that are interested in my blog is much trickier than I’d imagined. Not that it’s all about back scratching, but I do envy people who have blog communities they relate to. I’m still finding my feet. I feel awkward when beauty blogs follow me, apologetic for the inevitable disappointment they will find when they discover my blog is not much to do with beauty. But by putting the word “blogger” in my Twitter profile I guess I open myself up to all niches. Which is fine, I enjoy many different genres of blogs. I just don’t want the balance to become too heavily weighted towards blogs which aren’t very similar to mine.

I guess I could be more discriminating, but truthfully the kinds of blogs I like to read are super discerning in who they will follow back, so for now I am just doing my own thing I guess. Hopefully I will get to a place where I feel my Twitter represents my blog. Although saying that, I have toyed with the idea of setting up a separate Twitter account for my blog, because of the cliquish nature of the blogosphere, the amount of diversity in my current profile and feed might confuse other like-minded bloggers? I don’t want to censor myself, I want to continue to put up random music videos and network animals and do all of the other things that matter to me or entertain me, but I am aware it could work against me if other bloggers are looking for more focused blog related content in their Twitter feeds. It feels a bit ludicrous to me to set up a second account but I am wondering if it might help streamline and grow my blog a bit more? I guess I could try it and see how it goes? Any advice on this would be appreciated!

Anyway that’s my partial Twitter breakdown of a few types of user I have learned to come to grips with or you know, unfollow. It's mainly sociological I apologize, a more practical guide would probably be useful at some point so I will do that in a separate post if anyone is interested. Like I said, I’m certainly no expert. People unfollow me all the time no doubt thanks to my irritating Twitter behaviour! I guess generally I would advise anyone new to Twitter to be as discerning as possible in who they follow, to be as interactive as you feel comfortable with, because the lone tweeter is often the ignored tweeter, and not to take anything on the site personally.Tweet as often as you like, but be aware that numerous bunches of tweets in quick succession might get you unfollowed (once in a while I might have a deep thought to get across but I do forewarn people if I am doing this!). If you’re used to Facebook it might feel daunting and impersonal at first, but I assure you it gets better. As a writer it is a challenge to limit myself to those 140 characters that I both enjoy and get frustrated with at times. 

You have to be comfortable being alone, in your own skin, expressing a thought that means something to you but might not mean anything to anyone else in the Twittersphere. It can feel disconcerting. But it’s also weirdly liberating. If your tweet gets favourited or retweeted of course it feels gratifying, but it’s different than a Facebook "like". For one thing it’s often someone you’ve never met before. So it's a pleasant surprise, for one. Twitter to me feels fresh and without history. Of course there is silliness, but it is usually harmless. It's just less mentally demanding and more rewarding, for me anyway.You are a lone voice in the universe, and that’s OK. Embrace it, and you might like what comes back at you in return. There is a big world out there outside Facebook, maybe give it a whirl if it's scared you in the past. I know I was, but I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of it a little bit now. OK, well, thanks for reading anyway! :-)

*****Creative commons photo by Slava Murava Kiss via flickr :


  1. I hardly follow any celebrities/writers/business accounts because, for me, Twitter is about personal connections and somebody with thousands of followers is never going to become a close friend (they also tend to be pretty damn boring).

    That applies to the successful bloggers, too - I don't think they're as cliquish as they appear from the outside; I think that if they tried to respond to everyone who wanted to befriend them, they'd be left with no time to actually blog! At some point, they have to step back and largely, inevitably, talk mostly to people they already have established friendships with - and those will generally be people who started blogging at the same time as them and are, therefore, blogging at a similar scale. It looks exclusive but I don't think it's intended that way.

    I think, right now, you need to decide whether you're tweeting to connect with people or whether you're tweeting to promote a blog which you see as being some sort of business - if it's the former, there's no need to have a separate account because you're going to interact with people who either share your interests or are prepared to ignore them in return for you ignoring theirs; if it's the latter, well, I don't have much advice other than, UGH, please don't promote the same post on the hour every hour - I'm totally with you on hating that!

    1. Mm. I don't know. I don't expect to instantly find numerous other like minded bloggers, but a few would be nice! :-) I don't consider my blog a business, but I would like it to grow a tiny bit, incrementally, and I'm just not sure if my present Twitter account is aiding me achieving that in any noticeable way. But like you say, the devoted accounts (i.e. the Writers, pro bloggers, etc.) tend to be repetitive and not particularly interactive anyway.

  2. Mystified by Twitter. What is that hashtag thing anyway? Feeling about 90.

    1. It is a bit mystifying, but ultimately a fun news source I think. I didn't do a good job explaining the mechanics (possibly as I'm pretty sure I still do a lot of it wrong!). Hashtags are things that trend, often silly made up twitter game things, often things to do with the news, most often it seems to do with the love lives of One Direction! It makes me feel old too! ;-)