Twitter Etiquette 101 – Following, Retweets and Follow-Back

Nice to Tweet you! Today’s post is yet another topic that has been swirling around in the ole’ noggin for a while – it’s taken me a second to corral the thoughts enough to write them down. The questions are… ‘What is proper Twitter etiquette?’ and ‘Should users automate the use of Twitter in some form or fashion?’ I’m going to break this into three separate posts. This first post will cover the basics of Twitter Etiquette from a beginner’s perspective.

Twitter Etiquette 101

Chances are, if you ask a hundred people their opinion about what to do and what not to do in social media and you’ll get 100 different answers. Social media is an inexact science – in fact, it’s not a science at all, it’s an art. Some people seem to be naturally good at it while others struggle along. I’m not sure which of those two categories I fit into, but either way, having some basic knowledge and (eventually) tools can assist any user. There are typically two types of users I consider on a spectrum opposite each other.

I’ve been on ‘the Twitter’ now for around a year. I was a late bloomer joining to some extent, and made some mistakes along the way myself. I really had no idea what Twitter was at first; I just knew that I had to get on it and figure it out. If 200,000,000 people before me could do it (if Kim Kardashian could do it) then so could I! That’s partly the tech geek in me, I must admit. But the mistakes I made were common and, with a bit of advice, would be very easy to avoid and would let some get a jump-start on the proper use of Twitter as both a social media outlet as well as a social marketing platform. Let’s start with my first Twitter rule of thumb – Following.

Twitter Etiquette 101 – Following

Twitter is far different from Facebook in the respect of friends requests (on FB) vs following (on Twitter). Following someone on Twitter doesn’t really require the other person’s permission or even knowledge, for that matter. As an example, at the time of this post, Kim Kardashian currently has 8,319,825 followers. Of those, she’s probably spoken to only a handful directly. They follow her tweets, they don’t necessarily interact with her (where ‘interaction’ requires two-way communication). If you find someone interesting on Twitter, follow them. If you change your mind, unfollow them. Follow etiquette on Twitter is very simple. However there is the idea of reciprocation or you follow me, I follow you so if you unfollow someone that’s also following you they may unfollow as well!

Twitter Etiquette 101 – Retweet

First, just to make sure everyone’s on the same Twitter page, let’s define what is meant by a retweet. A message sent on Twitter in the public domain is known as a Tweet. A retweet is when someone else takes that same message and passes it along to their followers, thereby, increasing the ‘reach’ of that tweet. If I have 2,000 twitter followers and I send out a tweet, those 2,000 followers have the potential to see that message (more on the potential part in an upcoming post – stay tuned). If my friend, who has 50,000 followers retweets my message, the message has the potential to be seen by 2,000 + 50,000 users (mine plus my friend’s followers) minus any overlapping followers of course. They’d actually see the message twice.

Retweets are important it two very distinct ways. First, when you retweet a message it reflects on you. You’re sending out a message saying, “This is worth reading.” to your followers. It’s your stamp of approval on someone else’s tweet. Second, when that message is sent out the typical formatting will also ‘copy’ (similar to the ‘cc’ function on Email) the original user that their message has been retweeted by you. They’ll know that you took notice and shared that post with your followers. Retweeting is both a way to let your followers know what topics or people you’re interested in and it’s a way to show others you’re taking notice of their tweets. Both are equally important in Twitter etiquette!

Twitter Etiquette 101 – The Follow-Back

Twitter etiquette gets a bit more tricky when we start to talk about the Twitter follow-back. Again, to define a ‘follow’ is when you follow someone or someone follows you. A follow-back is a reciprocation of a follow. If someone follows you and you decide to also follow them, that’s a follow-back. Follow-backs are NOT mandatory. You shouldn’t feel obligated to follow someone just because they decided to follow you. Back to my example of Kim Kardashian on Twitter – she’s got 8.3M followers, but she’s only following 135 users. Like retweets, who you follow on Twitter can reflect on you, so you may want to be mindful of who’s on your follow list.


  1. Lilian Gafni says

    Thanks for the Twitting etiquette.

    I also check the history of a follower’s account before I follow back. If their twitting history contains swearing or other misplaced content, I do not follow, however, those are in the exception and not the rule.

  2. says

    Thanks for tweeting this – I always have questions about how to behave on Twitter, what’s right and what isn’t – this answered a bunch of ’em. Thanks

  3. says

    Great tips,

    Here is another one that I picked up from somebody a couple of years ago.

    When tweeting something that you would like to have others retweet, leave room or space at the end of the tweet for others 2 RT and add a comment. Granted 140 characters are premium, however try and leave anywhere from 15 to 25 characters free and you may find more items get retweeted or comments. This works really great if you are doing a Follow Friday tweet e.g. #ff instead of using all 140 characters, leave 15-20 so others can RT, #ff u back etc… If needed, you can always do a second tweet with those who did not fit on a single line.



    Simply put, help your followers and others to forward/retweet and interact by leaving them room to do so.

    • says

      Great point, Greg. Someone is far more likely to respond or RT a post if they don’t have to figure out what they can ‘trim’ from the post before re-sending it. Twitter users are like water – they flow through the path of least resistance. :)

  4. says

    Great article. I am trying to only follow people who are all about something relevant to me. If they are focused on a nother topic or basically only there to sell something then I won’t follow.

    Maybe that seems rude if they follow me but I get so much great information from Twitter – and that would be buried under a mountain of unnecessary information if I don’t watch who I follow.

    I’ve only unfollowed one person. They never had any communication with anyone, never retweetd or anything. Just added fifteen self promotional tweets at a time. I realised I don’t like that so now when I get a new follow or someone looks interesting i check their tweeting history before doing anything else,

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