So What is all this Twitter Nonsense About?
Whether you are a technophobe or a digital luddite, chances are you haven’t managed to escape the almost daily mentions of Twitter. Even the pope has an account, I kid you not: @Pontifex —read the article here.
What you may not appreciate is that a great part of the publishing industry has also embraced the 140 character social medium.
The benefits of using Twitter or any form of social media to help you as a writer are not immediately obvious; sign up for a new Twitter account and you will see a stream of drivel from the world informing you about what someone had for lunch or the current weather in Uptown Polemic. However, with the right filtering and a professional approach, Twitter can be very useful to you as a writer.
What apps should I use?
The main browser based Twitter website is useful for administering your account and writing tweets when away from your home computer, but to use it seriously you need something that runs as a separate application on your computer desktop. I recommend the following apps, all of which are free and are available for various operating systems:
Each allows multi-column views as well as allowing you to filter the column to show only tweets that you are interested in. Some allow scheduled tweets, others allow you to tweet through all your different social media outlets like Google plus, Facebook and LinkedIn.
How should I use Twitter?
There are a number of ways to use Twitter, though to be professional, avoid using it to inform the world that your cat is off his food –unless you are very famous, nobody is interested. Keep your tweets focused on what you intend. If you are talking about the writing process, do that. Tweet about your writing. By all means tweet about how you are progressing, even if you are struggling. Sprinkle in useful links to articles you have read.
Link your twitter account to your facebook account, so that when you tweet, the tweet also appears on your facebook wall. Aim to tweet fairly regularly. Once a week is too little, ten times a day is too much.
How will Twitter help me?
This is the big and rather vague question. We have all heard stories of how so-and-so has used social media to make millions. In the real world Twitter is not going to do that for you. If you are a published writer, it may help to promote your work and sell a few books, but the time put in to achieve anything significant through Twitter alone is not worth it. Rather, Twitter is another weapon in your arsenal of your online presence. What it does do, is allow people to see you are there, working, writing, being active in the industry. Agents and publishers will see this and realise you are serious about your career. Readers will be interested to see what you are doing now, what you will be doing next and to see that you are a real person. Other writers will be interested to learn from you, to have your support and vice versa. It is also a very good way to source articles that appear on blogs and newspaper sites that are focussed on your area of interest.
What can I do with Twitter?
First off, Twitter is a very rapid source of news sharing –possibly the most rapid in the world. A bomb goes off somewhere and you can guarantee that within one minute someone has tweeted about it. Within five, someone has uploaded a photo and put a link on Twitter. Before you follow anyone else sign up to follow all the big newspapers. Just do a search in the search option for any you can think of. Once you have done that start to add those areas of specific interest to you. All major publishing houses have twitter accounts, they do say things of use. Look at the websites for agents, they will often have twitter streams to follow. @PublishersWkly @HuffPostBooks @Writers_Cafe @NewYorker @littlebrown @randomhouse @PenguinUKBooks @EgmontUK @nytimesbooks @GuardianBooks @HarperFiction are all useful sources for writers.
Hashtags # and Extra Columns
To have any kind of use from Twitter it is necessary to filter the streams. It is all very well to view just the tweets from those you have chosen to follow, but how do you find the good stuff, or new people to follow? The best way for tweet writers to make sure their tweets are seen by the right people is to use a hash tag # before the relevant keyword (you can just filter for keywords as well, but hashtags are more targeted). Set up a new column in your app that is just for tweets containing the #amwriting tag, see what you get. Other relevant tags will be #publishing, #writing, #books, #authors, #agents, #editing, or #writers. There are many more. Often tweets are sent with multiple hashtags so you can just make a new column to see what is going on in any that sound interesting to you. You may eventually want a column for mentions if people start replying to you or re-tweeting your tweets.
Following and Followers
You don’t need huge numbers of followers, just good ones. Some people are merely observers and never tweet, others get sucked in and tweet about every moment in their lives, you probably want to be somewhere in-between. Having followed a few papers and publishers, you may find one or two have decided to follow you back. Great, now you have some people who might even view what you tweet. Try being a bit braver, search out your friends and follow them. If you have been watching a hashtag stream like #writers and someone’s tweet amuses you, check them out, click follow. Often people you follow will follow you back. If someone follows you out of the blue, check them out first, then follow them back. It is good to have a spring clean every so often, block anyone who has started following you who appears to be a spammer. Check out your new followers own list of followers, these are likely to be people who might be interested in you -you can even click to follow a few of them.
Other Things to be Aware of
- Twitter is a social media just like facebook. Reply to people’s tweets using the reply option; they will see your tweet. If you are lucky you may even get a thanks from someone famous.
- Be polite, if someone re-tweets one of your tweets, thank them, or even start a tweeted conversation.
- If you think a writer is great, and want to recommend them, write a tweet on Writers Wednesday #WW, or give a list of people worth following on Follow Friday #FF. You will find the favour returned.
- Avoid following people without profile pictures, people who haven’t bothered to write a profile or who seem to be spamming in their tweets.
- NEVER fall for stupid ploys like: "someone has been saying rude things about you, check it out at stupidviruswebsitelink.com".
- Monitor your follower list, if people unfollow you, return the favour, they obviously only followed you to get their numbers up. http://who.unfollowed.me is a useful helper for this.
- Block anyone who is filling the airwaves with drivel, you don’t have the time.
- Double check your tweets for typos; once sent they cannot be recalled.
I hope that is enough to get up and running with Twitter. It is not for everyone, but giving it a proper go may prove to be useful.