I have to admit, I’m new to social media, especially Twitter, and I’m still learning the rules.  But it appears to me that there are (as yet) few clear behavioral codes, perhaps because the medium is so young. For example, today one of my favorite visionaries on Twitter and a seasoned social networkers, @VenessaMiemis, tweeted the question:

sooo.. how many times should u RT someone w/o them acknowledging u before you just give up & unfollow? hmm

In a way that made me feel better, since if Venessa doesn’t know, perhaps I’m not as naive as I feared.  She went on to say:

not being RT’d back or thanked made me feel ignored, and that made me sad. 😦

My question is – should Venessa feel that way? And heaven forbid, was I one of the thoughtless people who inadvertently snubbed Venessa and made her sad?

There seems to be a schizophrenia about the role Twitter should be playing in the lives of people like Venessa and like me.

On the one hand, I think  many people (myself and Venessa included) see Twitter as primarily a way of exchanging ideas, a way of of passing useful information amongst individuals with similar interests.

But many people also see Twitter as a way of building social relationships and virtually connecting with kindred spirits.  And of course, may people hope Twitter can serve both an informational and a social role.

For someone trying to follow 50 or 100 active Twitter users,  messages like ‘@BlahBlah – thx for the RT!’ appears as a waste of my limited bandwidth. So when I’m fortunate enough to have someone retweet one of my own posts, I’m always saddled with a decision.  Should I be polite and  thank them publicly for the RT?  Or should I thank them privately (perhaps with a direct message)  and thereby avoid giving existing and potential followers the impression that the signal-to-noise ratio of my tweet-stream is so low that I’m not worth following?

From the perspective of the person who was kind enough to RT me, a public thank you would seem much preferred, since it calls attention to them, and could help them build their list of followers. But at the same time, I also sometimes get the impression that ‘thank you’ retweets are a bit self-serving – calling attention to oneself by illustrating how many other people think you’ve got something important to say.

I even find myself second guessing myself earlier in the process, when considering whether to retweet content I find valuable.  Are my followers likely to have already seen the information I’m about to RT?  Does the information fit the interest profile I perceive my followers to have?  My big fear is that RTs of information my followers have already seen will be worse for my ‘Twitter reputation’  than having said nothing at all.  But on the other hand, when I see at RT by someone whose perspective I value, I’m more likely to read it, even if I passed over it the first time it showed up on my Twitter input stream.

In short, it is quite unclear to me (and apparently others) what the rules of right conduct are when engaging with others on Twitter, if such rules even exist.

What all this points out is just how primitive are the tools and filtering mechanisms we have at our disposal now for real-time social networks.  I hope someday soon Twitter clients will be smart enough to filter out ‘thank you’ retweets unless I’m the sender or recipient, and to filter out RTs of stories or blog posts I’ve already read.  If I knew everyone had access to these two seemingly simple features, I’d be much less reluctant to RT good content that my followers may have otherwise missed, and I’d be much more willing to be polite and thank people for RTs of my own posts, knowing that I wouldn’t be cluttering the tweet-stream of people who follow me with posts which are nothing more than noise to them.

How do others handle such conflicts?  Are there codes of conduct that people have tried to formulate for how to be a good Twitter participant?  How much does it depend on the size of your following and the type of reputation you’re trying to build?  I know there are people (like Robert Scoble @Scobleizer) who maintain several Twitter feeds – one (or more) for pure content, and another for more personal stuff. That makes sense for someone like Scoble, who has more than 100K followers. But it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect people to follow more than one Twitter persona for a newbie and relative unknown person like me.

If I’ve offended you Venessa, or anyone else, I sincerely apologize.  I’m the first to admit I’m still stumbling along trying to find my way through the complicated and quickly evolving world of social media.

Update: Venessa – congrats on your Ideas Project video. Very nice! Right now I’m asking – should I join the crowd and tweet a friendly ‘congrats!’ message to Venessa or just stay quiet?