Posted by: nealchambers | June 24, 2009

Twyths? – Twitter Myths

Twyths can be confusing

Twyths can be confusing

Twitter is quite possibly the most misunderstood social network in history. Despite the fact that there are articles being published as you read this that are enlightening the masses with the top ten resources to ‘make the most of your twittering experience,’ most people misunderstand Twitter and it’s real power. Mostly because there are a lot of myths out there about how to use Twitter. Hopefully today I can clear that up for you.

Myth 1: You should be answering the question

‘What are you doing?’

This can easily be confusing. After all, on you’ll see this question prominently displayed above the tweet window. This would lead the average individual that made it past the 1st grade to answer the question. However, this is no longer the main use of Twitter. I know it’s a little sad. Things change. People move on. It happens every day.

Back in the day, when Jack Dorsey created Twitter, he envisioned a service where friends could learn about each other by hearing about their daily habits and activities. This was a great idea and originally people used Twitter for this purpose. But like with any piece of new technology, people got bored and started blatantly misusing it for other things and the micro-blog was born.

So now the question should really be ‘What would you like to share with the world?’ You should think of Twitter as a crowded room. If you stand in the corner and complain about your horrible life no one is going to talk to you. On the other side of the coin if you jump up on a table and start screaming ‘Buy my product!’ chances are people will quickly make their way to the other side of the room. It’s a party! Mingle, join conversations, contribute, and if you happen to have a solution to a problem that you’d like to sell me then by all means let me know about it (after we are good friends of course).

Myth 2: Follow everyone that follows you.

This is something that some Twitter ‘experts’ are still preaching. This is just a bad idea. The whole point of Twitter is that you can selectively choose who you are listening to. If you want mutual connections join Facebook. They’ve got that covered.

The truth is, Twitter is much like the wild west. And there are plenty of people that will sell you the best snake oil money can buy if you let them sell it to you. There are people that will follow you just to get you to follow them.  I had this happen to me recently where the same person followed and unfollowed me 3 times.  He seemed like a nice guy but he just wasn’t of any interest to me.  I eventually had to block him.

You should go through a 3 step process when you decide who to follow:

1) Check how many followers the person has and how many people are following them.  Are they out of balance?  If it’s a news service, website or famous person this is perfectly fine, but for human beings (yes, I’m implying famous people aren’t human) this should be a little close.  Anything bigger than 2:1 either way should set off some alarm bells.

2) Check their last 10-20 tweets.  Do you see anything that interests you?  Does anything make you laugh or make you say ‘I like this guy/gal!’  No?  Then don’t follow them.  I know it’s hard, but they will get over it.

3) If they have ‘internet marketing guru’, ‘social media expert’, anything about a 4 hour work week, ‘affliate marketer’, or any variation of these in their bio, proceed with extreme prejudice.  There are a handful of these guys and gals that are useful and contribute great stuff, but for every leader there are about 50 wannabes that are pretending to be them.  If you are interested in starting your own business or making money online, please let me know and I’ll suggest a few resources for you.

If in doubt, by all means give someone a day in the sun.  Follow some people to see if they provide useful information, and if you find they don’t, give them the boot.  That’s the magic of the follow and unfollow buttons.

Myth 3: Twitter is destroying the English language.

This is one of my favorite myths.  It’s a little wrong on a few levels.

First, let’s go on trip through time.  (insert trippy time travel music here) The year is 1833 and Samuel Morse invents the telegraph, the earliest beginnings of the micro-blog.  It was an amazing piece of technology that allowed messages to travel with relative speed across the country and eventually across the globe.  They included masterpieces like this sample Western Union telegraph that reads ‘DEAR MOTHER AND DAD GRADUATED OK LOVE= SON’. You see every word cost money and so you needed to limit the message to the fewest words possible.  Hmm, does that sound familar? Did the telegraph destroy the English language?  No, not that I’m aware of.

See Twitter/Facebook/TXT speak whatever you want to call it has become the way we communicate, the way we are able to share our thoughts and dreams.  All humans have an innate desire to connect, and Twitter is just the latest in a long line of tools to enable them to do so.  Do you really think it will change the way we write and speak?  After the telegraph came out, were people walking around saying ‘Dad graduated happy son.’ No, they didn’t.

“But these technologies are more prevalent, they have become a part of our students’/kids’ lives” you say emphatically.  This makes them unavoidable, which means we should be teaching more on how to use them and making it clear to students and kids that this is simply a new form of communication not the only form of communication.  I think some people want to stick their head in the sand and hope for the evil Facebook, Twitter, SMS technology that is corrupting the English language to go away.  But, guess what, it isn’t.  Facebook is the third most visited website in the world with 200+ million users that login at least every 30 days.  Twitter is the 46th most popular website, and gaining.  These technologies are here to stay.  Instead of fighting them, you should be trying to understand the way they are used and understand the benefits, so if you are a teacher or a parent you can advise our future leaders on them.

For another viewpoint on this please read In the age of Twitter and Facebook, what’s happening to English vocabulary? by Karenne Sylvester

What do you think?  Can you add anymore twyths to this list?  What are your favorites?  Do you think this is a bunch of BS?  Let me know in the comments.  Please use #twyth if you’d like to tweet about this and please join me @nealchambers so we can continue this discussion.



  1. My #twth is on the “no one knows if you follow them or not” myth 😉

    Unfortunately there are a handful of people who would like to boost their followers – boost their “following me to people I follow” ratio so they follow for a while but really they just want you to receive their stream but not see any of yours.

    Touchy, touchy subject related to your myth #2, however, with tweetdeck if someone really doesn’t want to read someone’s tweets then they simply have to shove them into the all friends section and open a group of “people I read” stream.

    In some cases, I happily follow those who aren’t following me back – they’ve got important stuff to say and I enjoy the one-sided relationship.

    But this is the web2.0 – if ordinary Joe doesn’t want to follow me back (or worse he followed me and then unfollowed me once I followed in kind) – CIAO – – basically Al Gore, Comscore or Paolo Coehlo are allowed…

    The website for comparing who is following you versus who you are following is called “Friend or Follow.”

    Oops, and by the way – you who is reading this very public comment, if you are following me (@kalinagoenglish) and I’m not following you back then I might have just missed opening the email notifying me or you simply got buried in a day when the Britney spammer, headless twits hooked up x 20 – so just email me/tweet me…or unfollow me and then refollow me – I’ll get you this time round!

  2. Great post, Neal, with great advice about using Twitter.

    I completely agree with your third point, that Twitter is not destroying the English language. In fact, I never quite get the argument that English is deteriorating for one reason or another. As you say, Twitter is simply another way of communicating and we do so differently and for different purposes in 140 characters than we would if giving a lecture, writing a letter or participating in a face to face conversation.

    One of the many joys of Twitter for me is finding different ways to say something so that it will fit and so definitely encourages the use of synonyms and parallel expressions with fewer characters! It could perhaps even be argued then that Twitter can improve your use of English! 🙂


  3. Hey Neal interesting article indeed. There is nothing like friendship in twitter as i discovered in one year. Unless you know a person outside twitter your friendship will not take up, rest assure. If you are in facebook for example and have shared some information or have had some interesting activities out there, then in twitter you will be sharing good rapport. If u happen to follow a celebrity then rest assured your twit will go unanswered as there is every chances that they will ignore you. If you follow large number of twitter users then i dont think any one can have 2000 friends and survive in twitter. Simply speaking those who follow more than 500 are there for some reasons. And these people always place some links that is called tiny urls. Hi good morning and a link. Thank you and a link. what this sounds a twitter illness or a term yet to be developed. If someone has got no work then one can be there in twitter following the updates of more than 500 people and himself or herself twit. Come on, there are many other activities other than twitting.

    For friendship i dont think twitter fits in the block. You have written a very good article and summarized twitter in a lucid way. By the way as you know it was for this reason i pressed the delete button of my earlier account. Now i have got one only for pure friendship as i will be following some choiceable friends with whom i have got good rapport outside twitter.


  4. Thanks for all the responses everyone. I think a lot of people don’t use Twitter because it keeps getting misunderstood, or they can’t really find their way.
    I think it is a new frontier for us all to explore and try to find new ways to use it. It has a lot of potential. But it takes persistence. I know a lot of people that have tried several times to ‘get’ Twitter without success. I guess I didn’t really get it until I got an iPhone and started Tweeting on the train. It was like professional networking while I’m commuting. That’s an incredibly efficient use of time in my opinion. But for some people it’s just not for them.

  5. I think lots of people think twitter is stupid or/and useless because they don’t follow the “right” people. I’m and English teacher, interested in Web 2.0 and how to integrate it in the classroom, and if I weren’t following great English teachers and important educators, I’d probably think the same. Finding people with similar interests, who’ve got something to say, is the key in my opinion. Ok, one of the keys to enjoying tweeting 🙂


  6. Hi Neal, This is a great post – you’ve hit the nail bang on the head!. Interesting comments following the post, too.
    I am trying to “evangelise” about Twitter to my students and other contacts and I find that the penny drops when you talk about/demonstrate keyword searching. That’s when their eyes light up and they realize there are endless possibilities to it.
    However, those “whinging technophobes” who can’t see the point in all this technology sadly won’t get the message because they will never get the opportunity to read your blog! 😉
    All the best,

  7. Am I suppose to tell people what I am doing? I better go do that!

    Done 😉

    Neal, well written piece!
    Funny how Twitter is so popular and yet so misunderstood. I need to go and tweet that I just wrote this LOL.


  8. Pretty cool post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say
    that I have really liked reading your blog posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!

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