Shashi Tharoor’s recent Tweet about traveling “cattle class” has spiraled way out of control, inciting a veritable storm of responses both online and offline. Manmohan Singh dubbed the minister’s remark a “joke,” but later asked him to show more discretion; and Rajasthan’s Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot, and Union Rural Development Minister CP Joshi, have demanded Tharoor’s resignation.
While Twitter has proved troublesome for prominent public figures in the past – think JR Smith, the American basketball player who was recently in the news for his allegedly gang-related tweets, and British MP Sion Simon, who ruffled feathers by jokingly tweeting about Britian’s Got Talent singing sensation Susan Boyle causing swine flu – this is the first time an Indian politician has been the center of a controversy involving the social media site.
Bottom line: watch what you say online because word travels fast. Although Twitter is relatively new to India, it is rapidly racking up users: according to Alexa, India is the world’s third highest user of Twitter, and the site is already the 13th most popular in India.
If you’d like to build your online following, keep your tweet feed content interesting, engage fellow tweeters or just avoid stirring up a hornet’s nest, read on. We’ve complied advice from prominent tweeters to pull together a basic guide to best practices for using Twitter. Whether you’re a politician, brand, celebrity or just a regular tweeter trying to make some connections, here are a few pointers to keep in mind.
Manage Your Identity
“It’s good to explicitly show who is tweeting for a brand. Like when Scott Monty responds on Ford’s Twitter account, it adds a human face to the brand.” (Gaurav Mishra.)
“Don’t use long handles as it eats into your character limit and makes it hard for people to remember when they need to connect with you.” (Gaurav Sikka)
“For brands, it is important to live the brand perspective. For example, whoever was tweeting as @thebluefrog sometime back had started tweeting as himself rather than as the brand, stating opinions, making recommendations -- which is not something that a music venue would do.” (Shirley D’Costa)
Think About Your Content
“If you’re a brand, avoid being preachy — show, don’t tell. Let the consumer make choices about your values.” (Gaurav Sikka)
“Twittering 30-plus times an hour pushes other people’s messages off followers’ homepages, and sends mobiles into convulsive twit-fits... If you have a lot to say, but still want to engage with followers without alienating them, consider making more liberal use of DMs.” (Margaret Mason)
“Advertisers should tweet regularly about the thought process behind new strategies, provide rough cuts for new advertising campaigns and direct users to your blog for larger discussions and consumer feedback.” (Gaurav Sikka)
Monitor Your Interaction
“Twitter is about making connections and having two-way conversations. If you’re always going ‘I, Me, My this, My that...’ forget about getting too many followers. Give feedback and endorse work of your peers just as you would expect them to do for you.” (Gaurav Sikka)
“Brands should interact with their customers regularly, run promotions and contests to keep customers engaged, dedicate one person to handle the account totally, set up searches with their keywords and when someone tweets with those keywords reply to them.” (Hrish Thota)
“Don’t autorespond a general message to your new followers.” (Twanna Hines)
“It’s better to direct message someone if you’re making 1:1 plans or having a very focused, personal conversation.” (Chris Brogan)
“A basic starting point for businesses is to use TweetDeck and CoTweet to monitor and respond to customers.” (Gaurav Mishra)
“Participate in offline tweetups and other initiatives to grow your network and make real connections with people.” (Gaurav Sikka)
“If you would like to un-follow someone, it’s always a good practice to tweet indicating why you are un-following one or a bunch of people -- either be specific or keep it generic, based on the level of interaction you have had with them and the seriousness of the reason you un-following.” (Nikhil Nulkar)
“Interact with people and be responsive to their replies - both good and bad. Ignoring bad comments or criticism about your brand is not going to make it go away.” (Vaijayanthi)
“Always credit information that you are retransmitting by R/T @user or via @user.” (Gaurav Sikka)
“People who are celebrities, and can possibly be emulated should be diplomatic without losing the essence of one’s opinions.” (Gul Panag)
“Don’t ever tweet sensitive office information, act like the official spokeperson of the company, or abuse someone who may have a different opinion.” (Hrish Thota)
“If you’re a celebrity, don’t use Twitter as a platform to solely promote your body of work, rant about catfights, malign anybody, feed your narcissism. And of course, interacting/ responding to tweets is fab.” (Shirley D’Costa)
“Topics related to religion, politics, etc (basically the ones that are controversial) should be dealt with using utmost care and preferably avoided.” (Nikhil Nulkar)