Netiquette gone wild: how not to use social media and email

Warning: This blogpost has been posted over two years ago. That is a long time in development-world! The story here may not be relevant, complete or secure. Code might not be complete or obsoleted, and even my current vision might have (completely) changed on the subject. So please do read further, but use it with caution.
Posted on 28 Oct 2011
Tagged with: [ netiquette

Oh man.. The amount of stuff you can see and that cannot be unseen on twitter and email is just massive.  And even though it looks like total anarchy out there, some (social) rules should be taken into account. After all: you are dealing with others who do or do not share your point of view. Netiquette was something that was considered a good thing back in the days. The amount of emails I currently see that responded to somebody “not following netiquette”  these days are pretty much decreased to zero, while years ago, people not obeying were reprimanded.  Especially now with all the media outlets we have at the tip of our fingers: shouldn’t we go back to those basics again? Pinkies up!


Everybody’s favorite waste of time :) For such a social media, most people are using it in a pretty a-social manner.

Adding: “Please retweet” to your tweets

Or the even worse version: “RETWEET!”. This does not make your tweets go faster. In fact, if I was planning on retweeting your tweet, you’ve just ruined that possibility. Twitter works because people tweet and retweet stuff they like and WANT to share. If it’s something not worth sharing, it doesn’t get shared. You want your tweet to get shared, make it interesting enough so other will actually share it. Commanding something does not actually makes it so. Except when you’re @captain_picard off course.

Where are you? 4square, gowalla, etc..

So you like to show everybody where you are or what kind of music you like. Fine. I do it too, no problem if you just do it once in a while. Just don’t cry about the fact that the internetz knows everything about you. But the bigger problem is the continuous stream of automated tweets about every fact of your life: just leave foursquare at foursquare and with I do not want to know what music you have listened too this week, and I certainly don’t want get an update week in week out. Every time you check in, I don’t want to see it on twitter, facebook, linkedin or any other place. People are not interested, and those who are can check on foursquare themselves. Some twitter-clients can filter out tweets from particular clients or words, but the best way to get unfollowed is to tweet every day you are doing your groceries at your local supermarket..

Following too many people.

So you follow everybody and their dog? Really?? So what is it you are trying to achieve with that? Can you even cope with such a timeline? If your goal is to achieve “backlinks” or people who follow you back, why not try to tweet interesting stuff? It is really OK just to have 100 or so followers, and it’s evenly OK just to follow over 100 users.

In contrast to the #followfriday, I on occasion do a #unfollowfriday (day of the week may vary). During that day, every time I see in my timeline something that is not interesting, I will unfollow that person unless I know it was just a anomaly tweet. If they will tweet interesting stuff again, my network will pick it up through retweets and in no time I will follow them again, otherwise I just cleaned up my timeline. Win-win?

Also, make sure what you will expect when following users. Wil Wheaton (he will hate me for this: “Wesley Crusher” from Star-Trek:TNG) has wrote an excellent post about that: ing-to-disappoint-you-in-6-quick-steps.html

Unhealty follower/following ratio

First of all, I do not know what a healthy ratio would be. For celebrity accounts, this off course is probably much different then “normal” users. But even a lot of information can be found on celebrities: when they only follow 1 or 2 persons, it’s probably a write-only account do plug new stuff, shows or movies, but don’t  expect them to follow it and reply to your questions and remarks. They probably won’t. Active celebrity tweeters are cool, but don’t expect any replies. Don’t litter your timeline with tweet ONLY to him or her in order to get noticed. It’s pretty sad to do that.. actually…

For normal users, a unhealthy ratio probably means it’s a spam account who’s only job is to follow as many as possible to spam them around with all kind of BS. If they have only 4 followers and over following over 1000 people or so, it’s spam-in-a-can and no-thank-you-mam.. I will block4life that account.

Business accounts

It’s all right to have a business account on twitter. In fact, your business should! But if you have one, USE IT. And use it correctly. Say hi to new customers, answer questions people have, tweet about some stuff you did and link it to your blog. Don’t let it sit idle and ignore replies to it. It will just make your company just look like being an ass.

By the way, all bets are probably off when it comes to business accounts in terms of followers.. A company with only 10 followers is just sad. So if you can’t get at least 500 users as a company in a fair amount of time, you shouldn’t be establishing your presence on twitter. (If your corporate website gets around 10 visitors a day, it’s probably worth nothing your twitter-account will not be much better). Try to fix your site first!

You are not interesting.

Trust me, you aren’t. Not me, not you, and definitely not @ladygaga with 14991239 followers,  currently the most followed twitter-account. I do a lot of tweeting about development, php and the likes, which is not really interesting for my girlfriend, but she follows me anyway. Some users I know have 50% of tweets on football, and 50% tweets on (php) development. Since I do not like football, I do not follow those account in the hope other people will retweet their development-tweets (permitting they are interesting).

IF you are tweeting about how funny your cat is, or what kind of silly hat your neighbor is wearing, or how late you are for your niece’s birthday party, it’s ok, but people who follow you for your “development-tweets”, will not like it. Either deal with people unfollowing you because of it, or get separate accounts (or ask twitter to implement tags/categories/filters or such?)

Try to stick with just one topic otherwise you will end up loosing everybody in the process.

Retweet to win prices

This one pisses me off the most. But I must confess that I’ve done it once myself! (I truly hate myself for that). You want me to look at your products? Fine, either pay for decent advertisement, or pay me directly to look at your (probable) crap. Again: if it’s interesting, it will spread by itself. Forcing it will probably result in the opposite effect. Don’t get hung on the ones that do make it.. For every one that does make it, maybe 10 or 100 didn’t.. You are not the one that will make it (if you did, please tell me, I’d probably be happy to retweet!)


There are a lot of netiquette blogs and sites already present. I’d suggest to take a look at them as well. These are just a few “friendly” reminders on how you should or shouldn’t do certain things when it comes to email.

Send mail without subjects, or all caps, or both.

Bad subjects: “URGENT: YOU MUST READ THIS”, “Subj:”. Good subjects: almost everything else.

A subject is a subject. Its a quick recap about the content of the email. If it’s about an appointment, your subject would probably be something near the vicinity of “Subj: Details about our appointment at Starbucks, next Wednesday”, or maybe: “Subj: Cancellation of our appointment”. It shows me instantly what the message is about without actually reading it. I can prioritize each email accordingly and decide which email I respond to first, second, last etc.. This is a must since you are not the only one who send me emails. A subject is there for this reason, so don’t abuse it by either by placing the whole message inside the subject (and leaving the body empty), using no subject at all, etc.. If you don’t think it’s correct, it probably isn’t. Change it…

Adding a “priority”, “read-confirmation” etc

First of all, adding a reading-confirmation does not work in most cases so you are only fooling yourself. You need a reading-confirmation? You are using the wrong media! Try a phone (NOT VOICE-MAIL OR TEXT!) or physically talk to somebody if you need instant feedback. In this day and age, it’s still possible!

The same goes for the “priority”-header that people can send with their emails. What exactly does decide if something is a priority? Unless you write an email about the building on fire, it probably isn’t. Again, you need feedback instantly? Try an actual conversation! All priority-headers get filtered away by my mailserver and it’s a great way to get caught in spamtraps (which serves you right).

Instant reply

“Have you seen my mail I’ve send you 2 minutes ago?”. - “No, but I’ve seen the subject and decided there we more pressing matters that currently needed to be taken care of”. See how the whole sending-a-correct-subject works right here? A non-existing or incorrect subject automatically makes me assume it’s not a pressing matter. A popup notification shows me an email has arrived and without opening my mail-client, I can see if it’s pressing or not. If it was, I will send you something back or act on whatever it is you want or need, but sending email does not guarantee an instant reply.

To complicate things: there is NO definitive way to tell that A) a message HAS been received B) a message has been read C) a message has been altered D) a message is understood.

Furthermore: people are probably working, not waiting at their computer doing nothing hoping that you will write an email so you can reply instantly to it.. They are just as busy as you are and lots of times - especially developers - do not have their email client open continously.

This mail was send by iPhone - please excuse typos and briefness.

Added when sending mail by iPhone. Well, don’t fricking send your mail by iPhone if you can’t type correctly and get a decent laptop! I find it just plain rude when you deal with email this way. If you are not physically able to send or reply email, than at least wait until you can. Again, email is not instantly, so it does not matter if you send the mail now or in an hour or so. If it does matter, find a better media (the iPhone DOES have an app with which you can actually talk to people you know).

Emails are timeless and are your knowledge base

I pretty much have stored every email and conversation from the year 2000 and up (and even some before that time). Most of them I still understand: the problem, the thing somebody or I was asking, the reply returned etc. Nowadays I get so many emails from which I don’t know the context anymore, because they aren’t provided. If that mail arrives today, I can understand it, in about a month or two: not so much. Try this:

Subject: re: stuff
  Sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that. I've got a link to a program for it:
  >Hi Hal,
  >Have you fixed it yet?

So in 6 months time the similar problem pops it head and you don’t know the solution, but you know you have got it somewhere in your mail? By using this kind of conversation inside your email, is the easiest way to loose all sense of context and searchability later on. Don’t get fooled by it..

Interpreting emails

Don’t. No honestly, don’t. Sometimes my messages get interpreted in a very bad way when I was trying to be nice,.. and vice versa. Just the fact I don’t start my email with “Dear John”, and don’t end with “Kind regards, cheerio pip pip”, does not mean I’m being rude. It means I’m trying to get to the point because I’ve got other things to do besides mailing you. Trust me, if I’m trying to be rude, I will make 100% sure you will get that message :) If you don’t understand me, reply back or call me or something and I will explain.

Try to read an email as neutrally as possible. If you are already negative about the person who’ve sent you the email, it will only enhance the negativity inside the mail. Same goes for the other way.


I know, I know. This is just a rant-blogpost. But netiquette is hard and not done correctly and it’s getting worse and worse. Why are we all behaving asocial on social media? My self included though, because most of the time, I’m more a do-as-i-say-not-as-do kind of guy :)  Shameless.. But let us ALL try to better ourselves and see if we can utilize social and old-school media (I kid you not, I’ve heard the term being used to identify email) better..