Twitter Etiquette: Outside Voices, Inside Voices and Whispers

Twitter Etiquette: Outside Voices, Inside Voices and Whispers

shhh - Twitter Etiquette: Outside Voices, Inside Voices and Whispers

If you grew up with a mother anything like mine, many of your childhood memories include being shushed and reminded to use your inside voice. We had three voices, but the one we heard the most about was our inside voice. Heaven forbid we might say something too loudly and the neighbors would hear! Little did I know these voices would come in handy when thinking about Twitter.

I had a recent conversation with Laura, someone I’d just followed on Twitter, about the practice of sending DMs (direct messages) to new followers. Laura clearly disagreed with my perspective that this practice is often seen as rude. She felt it was rude not to acknowledge new followers. In fact, she felt that I was rude in not replying to her DM and she unfollowed me. I chuckled when I saw that because I unfollow those who similarly send DMs to new followers, but, for some reason, I had taken a look at Laura’s account and decided not to unfollow her. She seemed authentic to me. One of the things I appreciate about Laura, despite her having concluded that I was rude, is that she was still willing to ask about my rationale and share her perspective. I appreciate an open conversation with someone with a different point of view any day.

Following our discussion, I racked my brain for a better way to explain the differences I saw between using public tweets and private DMs and I thought of the voices. I grew up understanding my three voices – the outside voice, the inside voice and the whisper. Like public and private messages, each voice is important: it’s all a matter of understanding the best time and place.

Your Outside Voice on Twitter

This is the voice you’re using when you send many of your tweets, what you’re broadcasting to everyone following you. This is what you would like everyone in the neighborhood to hear, even those people who just moved in down the street that you haven’t even had a chance to meet yet.

Good uses of your outside voice:

– Sharing helpful or interesting information about news, events, tips, etc.

Bad uses of your outside voice:

– Repeatedly tweeting self-promotional information

– Constant republishing of others’ content (RSS feeds, quotes, etc.)

Your Inside Voice on Twitter

This is your conversational voice for when you’re engaging with others. On Twitter, these are the @ replies used to contact others directly. Your inside voice on Twitter is not private, though. This is a conversation you’re having in the front yard of your house (OK, not technically inside, but work with me here). You’re talking with someone directly, but anyone from the neighborhood is welcome to come by to listen and even join the conversation. It’s good to have a mix of using your outside voice to get to know new people and using your inside voice to connect one-on-one.

Good uses of your inside voice:

– Commenting on content posted by someone else

– Joining a conversation in progress by adding relevant information or commentary

– Introducing yourself  or striking up a conversation with someone you’d like to get to know

Bad uses of your inside voice:

– Replying to someone based on a keyword search (i.e., they mention iPad and you reply “@user Like iPads, buy one at”)

Whispering on Twitter

This is the voice you use when you don’t want anyone else to hear you. It is intimate. This conversation does not take place on the front lawn where others can walk over and join us. When you send me a DM, you’re saying, “Psst, let’s step into your house so I can tell you something private.” To me, whispering is not something I have a need or desire to do with someone I don’t yet know. You may be fabulous, but until we have some sort of connection, there is no need to whisper.

This is the voice you are using when sending a Twitter DM, which is private. DMs are only visible to the sender and the recipient. While it is possible for me to see/hear what you are saying with your outside and inside voices on Twitter, you cannot contact me by DM until I follow your account. As a practical matter, most Twitter users have their accounts configuring so that all DMs are immediately forwarded to them via text message or email. Having the ability to send me a DM (and therefore an email) is similar to having the ability to tell me to step into my house so you can whisper; it is a privilege, not a right. Barge into my house uninvited and I won’t allow you in again. Send me a DM prematurely and I’ll unfollow to prevent a reoccurrence.

Good uses of whispering:

– Friends who want to chat or vent off the record

– Friends making plans who don’t want to broadcast all the details

– Customer service departments asking that you DM your contact information to allow their staff to follow-up with you

Bad uses of whispering:

– Messages from someone I don’t yet know, immediately after following their account (whether automated or not, and whether promotional or not)

– Requests for RTs (retweets) for promotional purposes

It is important to note that these are my guidelines, my preferences and, to some extent, my rules. Despite what my mother believes, I do not rule the internet. While I know there are those who will agree, there are many who won’t and this is perfectly fine. As I often write, the beauty of social media is that it is up to each of us to create the type of presence we’d like to have online and to find and connect with those who use the tools in a way which aligns with our own preferences. Especially on Twitter, we have the opportunity to try people on for size to see how well they fit for us. It is important, though, to stay in touch with what our what works best for our audience wants, lest they return us too quickly.

If you’d like to try me on for size, I invite you to follow me on Twitter. I look forward to getting to know you and promise not to inappropriately or prematurely whisper. If I’m not a good fit, you can always return me.

Have your say: What would you add to the list of best or worst uses for the outside or inside voice, or whispers on Twitter?

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  1. Anne Janzer March 24, 2011 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Thanks for the analogy, it makes sense. It’s interesting that there isn’t yet a standard Twitter etiquette – I also find most “thanks for the follow, visit my website” links kind of spammy. It never occurred to me that someone might “unfollow” because I did not respond. Heh. I could be insulting people through neglect and not even know it. Yet another hazard of the modern world.

    • Irene Koehler March 24, 2011 at 11:50 am - Reply

      Hi Anne. Thanks for your comment. I find those “visit my website” DMs 100% spammy! It is presumptuous of someone to promote themselves before we’ve had any sort of real connection. It’s most often automated and takes the “social” right out of social media.

  2. judy - Irene's Mom March 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Drat. I really thought you DID rule the Internet

    • Irene Koehler March 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm - Reply

      Hello, mother. (Yes this really is my mom.) Now that you’ve subscribed to my blog posts, I guess I’ll need to watch what I say. (Yeah, like *that’s* going to happen!) 🙂

  3. Erin Byrne March 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    WOW! How insightful! I am fairly new to Twitter, and didn’t realize how un-often DM’s are NOT spam. With that sort of “DM Abuse” going on, I can understand how some people don’t even read them, or use it as grounds for an immediate unfollow. I was definitely more thinking along the lines of Laura’s philosophy that it’d be kinda rude NOT to say “hi and thanks,” and to take it a step further, I make sure & compliment them in a DM with something that lets them know I checked out their blog/website & they “Struck” me. If I’m not “Struck,” I don’t DM them, but I may or may not follow-back.

    I am often confused in real life about the etiquette for keeping my big mouth in check, so I appreciate the social networking insight. I will practice the concepts of inside/outside voices and whispers, in my loud yet dynamic own way. Thanks!

    • Irene Koehler March 24, 2011 at 9:28 pm - Reply

      Hey, Erin. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and observations as you get comfortable in the world of Twitter. With such an open mind, you’ll get the hang of it very quickly.

  4. Henry Soenarko March 26, 2011 at 11:48 am - Reply

    This post pretty much reflects my thoughts on how to use DMs.

    I gotta admit that I used DMs to welcome my new followers when I first started on Twitter little over two years ago. Not automated, no spam to a website or telling them how good I am, just thanking them for following me. But you tweet and learn. I noticed most people don’t like receiving DMs if you haven’t build up some kind of relation first.

    So what do I do when I receive a Direct Message from a new follower? I *always* check out their Twitter timeline, and re-evaluate if it’s worth to continue following him/her. And based on that make a decision, but the DM didn’t earn the tweep bonus points.

    • Irene Koehler March 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm - Reply

      You touch on an important point, Henry. What you’re naturally inclined to do may or may not work as expected in a new situation – like on Twitter. Like other communication channels, it has its own culture and etiquette, which takes a bit of time to learn.

      Like you, I used to check out the person’s tweets to make an assessment of what that person is all about before deciding to unfollow because of a DM. I even used to reach out to them to gently suggest that DMs is not the way to go when we first connect. Honestly, it’s become a matter of scale for me. I get so many unwelcome DMs now that I’d be spending much too much time doing this. My policy now (as is stated in numerous posts on my site and, if you follow the link on my Twitter bio): send me an DM as soon as I follow you, I unfollow. There are so many other people who are interested in genuinely connecting and I’d much prefer to focus on them.

  5. Sue Anne Reed April 17, 2011 at 1:25 am - Reply

    I don’t have a problem with people that DM me after I follow them — in fact, I appreciate a good DM to say hello.

    I *do* have a problem with people who set up some sort of automation to “auto-DM” me when I follow them. Especially, when those Auto-DMs are nothing about engaging in conversation but purely promotional – “check out my website …”.

  6. Judy Margolis May 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    Hi, Irene, I’ve been wrestling with the very issue you raise here and even addressed it in a recent blog of mine (see attached URL) about losing Twitter followers by the bucket loads and what to do about it. I proposed DM’ing new followers — provided they weren’t bots — with a thank you. Based on your reasoning, however, it’s clear there are two camps. That said, wouldn’t you feel flattered if an infuential person decided to follow you? Wouldn’t you also feel compelled, as a matter of courtesy, to thank him or her?

    • Irene Koehler May 30, 2011 at 12:47 pm - Reply

      Hi Judy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate hearing your point of view. Since you asked what I’d do, I’ll answer. Influence is a tricky concept, meaning different things to different people. Some of the people who are most influential to me have relatively small numbers of Twitter followers. In any event, if I was thrilled to have someone in particular follow me and wanted to acknowledge it, I would search their recent tweets and reply by adding something valuable to the conversation. I find that this is much more appreciated by most on Twitter, especially those with a large following and probably receive a lot of DMs from people they don’t yet know.

  7. Judy Margolis May 30, 2011 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    I might try that then, though not being a sophisticated user, I don’t know how comfortable I’d be ingratiating myself into a conversation thread.

    • Irene Koehler May 30, 2011 at 1:36 pm - Reply

      Twitter is all about public conversations. All it takes is a simple comment on something that someone shares. I’d even go so far as to say that most people like these comments. They are, after all, sharing content for others to see, so it’s nice to know that someone saw it and found it interesting.

  8. Brad June 30, 2011 at 4:43 am - Reply

    I am one who hates the auto DM after the follow. It is just unnecessary and spam. I get tons of DM’s and just dont look at them anymore because of the expected “Hey check out my site”. There really should be a Twitter Etiquette that Twitter makes themselves. They should research the most loved users and see what they do and make a guideline. Or they could just add an option to turn off DM’s. Anyways great article Irene!

  9. Claudia Broome July 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Oh my! Your mother and my mother must have been related! Does that make us cousins? LOL

    I so agree with all that you wrote about Twitter and DMs. I love it when people are direct and open and I dislike auto DMs immensely. Even worse are the auto DMs that “tell” me and not even “ask” me where to go. Sometimes I would like to ask them or tell them where they should go. I have found recently, as almost everyone has…that a tweet that seems connected and isn’t…is not only annoying but dangerous!

    I am still trying to figure out Google Plus and Chrome. Both are new to me. I sure hope I didn’t do something in my outside voice when I should have been whispering!

    This just might be my favorite post ever! Thanks Irene.

    • Irene Koehler July 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm - Reply

      Wow, Claudia, thanks so much! I’m always happy to have a “cousin” comment here on my blog. 🙂

      • Claudia Broome July 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm - Reply

        The scary part is that I passed the voices on to my kids. A family joke is when my two year old at the time, turned to someone at the adjoining table who was rather rowdy and said with finger in front of his mouth, “Shhh. You’re in a restaurant…pease use your inside voice.”

  10. Robyn September 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Great post! I like this analogy, and I think it works on all social platforms. I just treat people the way I want to be treated. Any behavior where you don’t do that will result in a Robert Scoble type of situation:

  11. […] you are not sure what is considered to be an acceptable follow-up on Twitter, be sure to read this post. Referring to the terminology in the linked post, I tend to use my “Inside Voice on […]

  12. […] you are not sure what is considered to be an acceptable follow-up on Twitter, be sure to read this post. Referring to the terminology in the linked post, I tend to use my “Inside Voice on Twitter” […]

  13. Elizabeth April 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    What about this situation. I follow someone I think is interesting. They send me a DM thank you for following and add a question. They never followed back so I cannot DM an answer.I don’t mind the thank you, but find it really rude to ask me a question that I would have to post publicly if I replied.

    • Irene Koehler April 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm - Reply

      Oh, great question, Elizabeth. First of all, I’m guessing that the DM is automated and is sent to everyone who follows them, which is impersonal from the get-go. Aside from that, I’ve also had people who didn’t follow me send me a DM, leaving me unable to reply in the same fashion. That can definitely be frustrating.

      • Elizabeth April 11, 2012 at 8:01 am - Reply

        Yes, your right it is probably automated.It would be better etiquette to leave off the question, if sending an automated DM to thank a person for the follow, when a follow back is not also automatic.

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