Two days ago, I was shocked to learn that, after 3-4 years in good standing, my Twitter account was suspended with no warning. Typically a suspension means you've violated one of Twitter's rules, but it's also possible that Twitter will suspend you if it detects that your account may have been hacked.
In my case, I was apparently accidentally caught in a dragnet for spam accounts. Twitter support got back to me and within 24 hours, my account had been rightfully restored. The whole incident did get me thinking, though. What if things had gone a different way and Twitter had accidentally deleted my account, or ruled incorrectly that my account WAS a spam account? What recourse would I have? Not much. More importantly, without access to my Twitter account, how would my life be worse?
There were so many things I wish I'd done! So many replies I could've made! So many direct messages I should have sent! But seriously, when I realized that I had no control over my account's fate, I did wish I'd done the following things before I got suspended:
Back up the list of people who you are following - If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to "start over" on twitter again, the biggest loss is of course your followers. Over the past few years, I've been grateful to garner some pretty amazing people on my follower list, and it's entirely possible that, even if I were to restart my account, those people might just never get around to following me again.
However, an almost equally big loss would have been the list of people who I follow. Over time, I've curated this list to be a group of users who I can depend on for interesting insights, opinions, ideas, and news. Re-creating this from scratch would have been a pain. I'd recommend you either copy-and-paste your list somewhere, or create a backup account from which you can also follow these people. This way, if your account is ever compromised, you can at least receive the same updates you're always used to.
Back up your tweets - Twitter now allows you the option to download an excel spreadsheet of every single tweet you've ever made from your account (it's right there under "Settings"). For some, reading through this spreadsheet might be a cringe-inducing exercise of self-examination. But regardless of your emotional reaction, it's nice to have a record of everything you've ever said or done. If you live your life in public, this can make for a surprisingly useful reference document when you're trying to remember major milestones.
Write more often on a personal blog/website at a domain name you own - Internet god Dave Winer has been issuing this rallying cry for years, and it can basically be summed up as follows: it is important to be the master of your own domain. In a recent post, Winer writes:
[M]aybe if more people stick to the open web, and resist the pull of the silos, it will force the silos to be a little nicer to the people who create their success. Think about that when Twitter does its IPO next month. How much of your creativity did you pour into their success, and how much do you get to participate in the windfall? Not very much? Then maybe you should learn from the experience.
Don't get me wrong; I absolutely love Twitter and consider it an essential part of any online portfolio. On a personal note, the service has dramatically improved my life, my career, and the way I consume information. But if the newly-public Twitter makes decisions you don't agree with or if your account is terminated by accident, all you'll have left is the stuff online that you own. If that's not a site/blog at a domain name with your name attached to it, then you may want to rethink where you are investing the bulk of your time.