Note: If you’re my mom, or someone else who is otherwise unfamiliar with Twitter, allow me to direct you here.
Since its inception in 2006, countless guides on Twitter etiquette have been written by well-meaning users attempting to provide some definition and guidance to people using the microblogging service. Widely-accepted Twitter etiquette includes things like not @ replying the same person several times in a row and instead taking the conversation to DM, making sure your Tweets contain substance and not just endless links to your blog or whatever product you’re trying to promote, and not following people to increase your own follow count and then immediately unfollowing them. (Again, if none of this made sense, check out the link above or…maybe you can play a nice game of Solitaire until my next post.)
Because everyone uses Twitter differently — whether to keep up with friends, promote their product, network with like-minded individuals or simply entertain themselves — it’s no surprise that foodies have their own way of using Twitter, too. In my case, I use Twitter as an extension of my blog and to interact with my readers and friends. That means Twittering about restaurants at which I’m eating, food or meals I’m enjoying, recommending places to folks who ask, answering food-related questions when able, and other food-related (and often non-food-related) errata. Other local foodies who use Twitter this way are Alison Cook of the Houston Chronicle, Jenny of I’m Never Full, Chris of Houston Foodie and Misha of Tasty Bits.
However, not all Twitter users are created equal. As I’ve discovered on many different occasions, Twittering my location invariably leads to one of my Twitter followers showing up at that location to join me. Do I mind? 90% of the time, no. I’m usually glad for company and to get to know my followers better, if we aren’t friends in real life already. However, it begs the question: Does announcing your location on Twitter mean that you’ve issued an open invitation for others to join you?
I surveyed my followers on Twitter about this issue and was surprised at the wide array of responses. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though: It’s just another example of the amorphous nature of social media and how everyone uses Twitter in their own, unique way.
On one hand, it’s astonishing how one small tool can be used in a million different ways. How often has technology been that endlessly flexible in the past? On the other hand, it can be disturbing when there aren’t at least a few rules around its use. What if people drove cars without any rules? There would be chaos in the streets, quite literally.
My opinion on the matter is straightforward: When I Twitter that I’m at a certain location, it is not an invitation for others to join. I am only sharing an experience — to my point above — that I believe is no different than what I would share on this blog. If I were having a conversation with someone, whether on phone or email or in person, and I mentioned that I was going to be at Feast for dinner, that is not an implicit invitation for that person to join me. I’m simply relating a fact about my life, not issuing an invitation. Twitter — as a conversation between a lot of people at the same time — is no different.
However, I will happily have others join me and often issue invitations via Twitter: I’m at Boheme. Drop by and join me for a glass of wine if you’re in the area.
That is entirely different than, for example: Enjoying the duck gumbo at Rainbow Lodge. What a great view from the dining room!
I trust that we can all see the differences between those two statements. And I hope that no one would take the latter as an invitation to come and crash a dinner. And while I suppose I can’t be entirely surprised if someone does show up, I’m not going to censor myself or my Twittering on the off-chance that someone might do that.
As mentioned, there are plenty of guides to Twitter etiqutte while you’re online, but nothing about the offline world. Because Twitter is such a social medium, you’ll meet your fellow Twitterers out in public much more often than you would, say, fellow posters on a WoW forum. So it only makes sense to develop some sort of guideline for interacting with each other in an offline setting. Common sense would dictate that human beings don’t really need guidelines on how to interact with one another in person, but experience has shown that’s not always the case. Example: Is it really appropriate to have your opening words to someone be, “What’s your handle on Twitter?” No, of course not. But it happens all the time.
Below, I’ve included a sampling of the responses that I received when I asked the original question. They’re loosely grouped, as it’s difficult to aggregate such dissimilar responses. Read them and please feel free to provide your own feedback in the comments section.