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Zach Leatherman

The Ten Twitter Commandments

26 Aug 2017 Zach Leatherman

Here’s Charlton as Moses.

Not Carlton from Fresh Prince.

Charlton Heston

He has these two tablets with a bunch of rules on them.

Tweetable rules, mind you—less than 140 characters here.

And I’m here to translate these rules for you and teach you a little bit about Twitter. How to use it, how to get the most out of it, and some advanced tricks you might not know.

This is The Ten Twitter Commandments.

Four categories:

  1. Your Account
  2. Posting Tweets
  3. Building an Audience
  4. Privacy

First up, your account.

Twitter Commandment #1

Thou shalt not use the default profile picture. Use a real profile picture, it’s more authentic.

The default used to be an egg, which was clever given Twitter’s bird theme.

That was too creative so the design had to be dampened with this literally-spineless abomination.

I think this one is great because I like my profile picture to look like I’ve just returned from your house and I’ve secretly licked one item in your refrigerator. You don’t know which one.

Twitter Commandment #2

Thou shalt use your display name as a political weapon.

When you get retweeted by someone you don’t want to be retweeted by, change your display name. Then your new name will show up on their page. (via @theshrillest)

“cernovich is bad imo”

“Thernovich Thucks” via @rachelmillman

Twitter Commandment #3

Thou shalt not follow the Twitter default recommendations and shitty celebrities, like reality TV b-lister @realDonaldTrump.

Twitter Commandment #4

Thou shalt have very mixed feelings about Twitter verification, aka Twitter’s caste system.

Sometimes you get benefits, like higher priority display on replies to big tweets. And verification is good for celebrities and brands™. But for everyone else it’s just kind of a Sneetches situation.

One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, basically there are two types of Sneetches, ones with stars and ones without. Then this dude rolls up with a machine that can both tattoo stars and remove star tattoos (for a price) and mayhem ensues.

Next section, posting tweets.

Twitter Commandment #5

Thou shalt not tweet a picture of a wall of text that is clearly longer than 140 characters. If the 10 commandments can fit in a tweet, so can your hot take on Kendal Jenner’s Pepsi commercial.

140 characters be damned.

Be concise unlike this 4 hour monstrosity.


Twitter Commandment #6

If thou dost post images, post with ALT text for maximum accessibility.

Open up your Settings, navigate to the Accessibility section and check the Compose image descriptions checkbox. You’ll now see an Add description button on images in the web UI. Available on other clients too.

Twitter Commandment #7

Thou shalt retweet thyself instead of posting a separate ICYMI tweet. Thou shalt only unretweet and re-retweet in emergency situations. While unretweet and re-retweet does show again in others timelines, but is generally considered poor form.

Twitter Commandment #8

Thou shalt understand the difference between a reply and an @-mention.

Find a tweet you want to reply to.

Then click the little word bubble icon below the tweet to expose a Reply textbox.

An @-mention is a tweet without context, from scratch, that has no prior tweets attached to it. It’s a new conversation.

If I @-mention someone, it shows up on all of my followers streams. If I reply to someone, it only shows up in the streams of the cross section of people that follow both of us.

Of course if people navigate to the tweet manually, they’ll see my reply. It’ll be higher up in the list if I’m verified. It may be hidden if I used a NAUGHTY WORD.

If I want to signal boost a reply to all of my followers, I can simply retweet it.

Another common pattern on Twitter is the Twitter thread, a long list of replies to your own tweets. It’s like a blog post, but harder to read and sometimes painfully non-linear (but definitely more atomically sharable).

Twitter Commandment #9

Thou shalt properly attribute source material when quoting someone or linking to something they wrote. @-mention them!

A quote tweet is like a retweet but with your own comment attached to it.

Retweets are the best way to credit the original author. Only use quote tweets if you have a unique perspective to add. “This is awesome” is not a unique perspective.

Sometimes when I see an unnecessary quote tweet, I’ll retweet the original post instead. Or quote tweet the original and throw a (via…) in there to reward whoever shared it into my stream.

Retweets are better than quote tweets. Quote tweets divide the conversation.

(Embedded tweet, see original from @badbanana)

Don’t steal tweets. It’s easy to search for tweet text. If attribution is missing (for whatever reason), it’s very helpful to reply and add it to the conversation!

Twitter Commandment #10

Thou shalt subtweet bad actors with the darkest shade.

(Embedded tweet, see original from @zachleat)

(Embedded tweet, see original from @zachleat)

Apparently I’ve increased subtweet frequency from monthly to weekly. Watch out.

(Embedded tweet, see original from @zachleat)

Two months pass…

(Embedded tweet, see original from @zachleat)

Another thing you can do to cast shade is the passive aggressive public list addition—which shows up in their notifications. I am a (now proud) member of The Worst Club on Twitter.

How do you know if you’re a bad actor or if your tweet was worthy of shade?

Charlton Heston knows.

Compare the number of replies to the number of retweets. If your replies are greater, your tweet is suspect.

(Embedded tweet, see original from @lukeoneil47)

Twitter Commandment #10

Thou shalt use common tweet formulas (also known as memes) for maximum cultural relevance (just kidding—do it for the retweets).

“Some people, when confronted with a problem, think ‘I know, I’ll use regular expressions.’ Now they have two problems.”—@jwz


Convert this well known quote into a reusable tweet formula.

Some people, when confronted with a problem, think ‘I know, I’ll use _____.’ Now they have two problems.—via @jwz

Good, fast, or cheap—pick two.

Convert this well known quote into a reusable tweet formula.

(List three things that don’t go together)—pick two.

Here’s another commonly used pattern: _____ is the hardest problem in computer science.

(Embedded tweet, see original from @DOGGEAUX)

This meme. I have no idea.

(Embedded tweet, see original from @KrangTNelson)

This meme is derived from problematic binary gender selections on web forms.

(Embedded tweet, see original from @serendipetty)

(Embedded tweet, see original from @decentbirthday)

(Embedded tweet, see original from @PFTompkins)

Paul F. Tompkins is great. Also this tweet is great. A nice side product of this tweet is that people replied to it with a lot of tweet memes 😎.

Alright, the next section is about Building an Audience.

Twitter Commandment #10

Thou shalt not use skeevy methods to build your follower count.

Do not Buy followers.

Do not Use meaningless growth hacking hashtags like #teamfollowback.

Do not Follow mass amounts of people hoping they’ll reciprocate and then unfollow them later.

Follower count means nothing if they’re all zombie bots that don’t engage with your tweets.

Cheap, fast, or good followers.

Cheap, fast, or good followers.

Pick one.

Really the best way to build your follower count is to do things outside of Twitter. Popular tweets rarely earn followers.

(Embedded tweet, see original from @pondsizedocean)


One month passes…

Only 473 followers. This isn’t a problem with @xenia. It’s a problem with Twitter. If you do a successful tweet, the least you should get out of it is a few followers. Twitter needs to make design changes to facilitate this.

The secret is that there really isn’t a secret. You have to make friends. Talk to people and be nice. Be liberal with your likes favorites.

Lastly, I want to talk about Privacy.

Twitter Commandment #10

Thou shalt turn off read receipts on Direct Messages (gross). Twitter has made some nice changes to this—allowing you to choose to accept a conversation from someone you don’t know, but I’d still encourage disabling read receipts.

Twitter Commandment #10

If thou wants to remove someone from your Twitter experience, prefer Mute to Block. If you block, the person you’ve blocked can find out. If that person is problematic—it’s better if they don’t know—mute does this.

Twitter Commandment #10

If thou doest not want to mute or block, thee can hit the block button and then unblock to force someone to unfollow you. It’s called the Soft Block

Side note, did you know that Charlton Heston starred in a movie called The Savage? Yeah, this movie poster kinda says it all.

104/104 In conclusion, hopefully this gives you a look at some of the more nuanced pieces of Twitter.

As Twitter has grown and aged, much like Charlton Heston did—it’s gotten worse and arguably more racist. But unlike Charlton Heston, Twitter still has the opportunity to grow and be better.

Yeah—in the mean time we might all die from thermonuclear war the President escalated on Twitter—but weren’t all of those sensible chuckles worth it?

At the end of the day, Twitter—just like Soylent Green—is people. It’s made out of people. If you follow good people, hopefully you’ll get good things out of it.

Created with Keynote Extractor.

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