Twitter is a top social network and one of the sites a prospective agent or publisher is likely to check when evaluating a writer’s online presence. This factor alone makes it worth investigating, but there’s more. Once you understand how to use it properly, Twitter can drive traffic to your site and customers to your books.
What is Twitter?
Twitter is an information network with real-time immediacy. Trending stories often break first on Twitter. It’s also a social networking platform where people from all over the world post short updates. Tweets, as these updates are known, take little time to compose. Your wall, made up of brief Tweets, is quick to scan. On Twitter you can create lists of people and make them public or private. It’s possible to join ongoing group conversations (like #AmWriting or #WriteTip). If you have a Facebook account, this should all sound familiar. Think of Twitter as “Facebook Light.”
Because of the character limitations (just 140 characters per Tweet), you don’t need to spend a lot of time maintaining Twitter. Tweets cover, among other things, personal updates, conversations, commentaries on something in the news, interesting posts, original limericks, and even entire books painstakingly Tweeted in numbered, sequential order. When it comes to composing Twitter updates, you’re only limited by your imagination.
Tweets can be prescheduled via social media dashboards like Tweetdeck, Social Oomph, Buffer, and Hootsuite. I have used all of these at one time or another and now use them all for different features. There’s also Twuffer, which I have not tried, but many people swear by it. Which you choose is really a matter of preference. I suggest you start out with Hootsuite, since its interface is easiest for the beginner. As a bonus, you can schedule updates for Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn through Hootsuite as well. I use the URL shortener at Bitly.com and also via Buffer because these sites give me the ability to track analytics for the links I post.
Twitter’s about page is informative and even suggests various ways to use it. The brief video at http://fly.twitter.com is well worth watching. There’s also a set of instructions helping businesses learn to build a community at https://business.twitter.com. If you’re a mobile user, go to https://twitter.com/download for the apps you’ll need. Clearly, how much you get out of Twitter depends on you.
Getting Started on Twitter?
I won’t go into a lot of detail here because Twitter’s help topics are so awesome you should have no trouble finding your way. Learn how to set up your account here: https://support.twitter.com/articles/100990-how-to-sign-up-on-twitter.
For branding purposes and to present yourself as professional, I suggest you use your author name as your handle. Capitalize your first and last name for better readability. My twitter handle, for example, is @JanalynVoigt rather than @janalynvoigt.
Be sure to upload a profile image. Many people, myself included, won’t follow accounts without a profile picture because this is a telltale sign of a spammer.
Don’t be afraid to poke around Twitter and familiarize yourself with its many aspects. Third-party Twitter applications abound, but don’t get carried away discovering them or you may burn out on Twitter before you start. It’s best to start simple. Also, be careful when it comes to third-party applications. They shouldn’t need your email address or Twitter password to function. After you’ve granted permission to an application to access your account, if you don’t intend to use it again, it’s always a good idea to go into your Twitter settings through the gear icon on your profile page, select apps from the menu on the left, and revoke its access to your account.
What if you just don’t “get” Twitter?
I truly understand the confusion of not knowing how to relate to others on Twitter. It took me several years to truly grasp how to use this particular social platform. I might not have kept trying except that much of my website traffic came from updates about my blog posts that I made to Twitter. I only wish I’d discovered sooner that the character of my interactions, rather than the nature of Twitter, was the problem. Accusing Twitter for my failure to connect through it was akin to blaming a forest fire on a careless camper’s match. For those who persevere, Twitter can prove quite a powerhouse.
I didn’t consciously decide to use Twitter as an outlet to promote my writing without investing anything of myself in my followers. In fact, I tried periodically to get people to “talk to me,” but I wasn’t successful. I first had to figure out some basics, and I’m happy to share them with you.
To get people to talk to me on Twitter, I:
- joined hashtag conversations. These sound complicated but aren’t. Twitter communications can seem disjointed, so hashtag conversations arose out of the need to organize tweets into cohesive group conversations. To see how this works, type #AmWriting (a popular hashtag conversation for writers) into the search box at http://Search.Twitter.com. (If you are logged into your account, you can just use the search box at the top of the screen.) To add to the conversation, simply include #AmWriting in your own Tweet. Taking part in hashtag conversations helps you find people who are active on Twitter.
- paid attention to who followed me and followed them them back if possible. Several good applications for managing your Twitter followers exist, including Friend or Follow and Manage Flitter. These sites let you easily do things like follow people back and unfollow those who aren’t following you (if you wish). I don’t always follow those who follow me. Some are on Twitter to promote businesses that don’t interest me or are engaged in activities I don’t want to endorse. If we’ll have nothing in common to talk about, I don’t follow back. Engagement is far more important than large numbers of followers.
- tweeted blog posts written by others and included their Twitter handle (user name preceded by the @ sign–mine is @JanalynVoigt). This prevents your Tweet with a link from being considered spam and notifies persons with the handles you include that you mentioned them. Often those we do favors for will look for ways to return those favors, but I don’t do it for that reason or look for a return. I Tweet relevant links of interest to my followers to keep them engaged with me.
- retweeted (Tweeted again) posts of interest to my niche. This helps me interact with others, feed interesting updates to my followers, and gain new followers.
- consciously following other people I knew. I proactively searched out my friends who are on Twitter. We’re already invested in and support one another, and I know these people will talk to me.
- mentioned people and thanked them when they mentioned me. Twitter has #FollowFriday, also known as #FF, that’s gotten a bit out of hand, but if used right is a viable way to recommend people you want to help and gain followers as others help you. Basically, every Friday people on Twitter recommend some of their favorite followers by listing their Twitter handles with the #FF or #FollowFriday hashtags included in the Tweet. Using the @ symbol before a person’s handle causes the name to become a link that takes your followers who click it to that person’s profile. You don’t have to use the #FollowFriday hashtag to follow people, though. You can mention them whenever you want.
- when time allowed, I spent a few minutes looking over websites and commenting about them to people who interested me. This communicates that I’m interested in the person, and sometimes I find material to Tweet to my followers.
- began scheduling regular updates. Don’t get carried away posting updates, but most people post too seldom rather than too often. I try to update my Twitter profile using prescheduled Tweets once an hour. We’ve discussed scheduling updates, but you can also automatically feed blog posts to Twitter through Twitter Feed and Mail Chimp.
There’s truth to the idea that those who aren’t using Twitter can’t understand it and those on Twitter can’t explain it. To decide whether Twitter is or isn’t for you, why not give it a try?