As mentioned in my last post about social media, Twitter is my favourite social network. I tend not to use the main website, as (like Facebook) the interface is full of stuff I don’t want to see, e.g. trending topics, but there are plenty of third-party applications for computers, smartphones and so on.
I know that some people find Twitter confusing, perhaps because individual posts (tweets) are so short and the interface is pretty sparse. It’s best to think of it as somewhere between live chat and Facebook – I find it a more immediate experience than the “big content” social networks, and the ability to easily direct comments to your friends using the @ “mention” function feels more friendly than Facebook, which often feels to me like shouting into a void.
Another thing I like about Twitter is that I can follow, say, a big-name author without them having ever to acknowledge my presence, and likewise I don’t have to “friend” every random user who wants to follow me. It’s very like socialising at a party, where you can hover on the edge of a conversation or have a long one-to-one chat, depending on your level of acquaintance.
In addition, the very simplicity of Twitter means that I don’t have to worry about the complex privacy issues surrounding Facebook. A Twitter account holds your tweets and a brief biography – that’s it. One caveat is that you need to remember that unlike FB, Twitter is completely public. There is a DM (direct message) facility which can be used for private, one-to-one tweets, but anything else you say is visible to the entire Internet. Writer, beware!
So, how do you go about using Twitter to network as a writer? Rule one: do not spam your timeline with promos for your books. This bears repeating: do not spam your timeline with promos for your books. In particular, if someone is kind enough to follow you back, do not DM them with invitations to buy your book. This is really, really poor netiquette and will lose you followers.
This is not to say that you can’t promote your book at all, because that’s part of the reason people follow you – to get the latest news from the horse’s mouth. But make it just one small part. Talk about how your writing is going, retweet useful/cool/funny posts about your areas of interest (see the article on blogging), and most of all, interact with your followers and the people you follow. Capture people’s interest first, and then they won’t mind the occasional promo tweet.
One tool I find really useful is Hootsuite, which is a web-based Twitter client. Its multi-column interface allows you to see incoming and outgoing tweets, direct messages, mentions, etc all on one web page, and you can hook it up to multiple accounts, both on Twitter and other social networks such as Facebook. Even more useful, you can schedule tweets to go out when you’re not online – very handy if you want your book announcement to be seen at a busy time of day in another timezone, but don’t want to stay up all night.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can be more creative with Twitter. I’m currently running a second account, @MalCatlyn, in which I tweet in the persona of the protagonist of my Night’s Masque novels. Of course this is an additional commitment on top of my normal social media presence, and thus not to be recommended unless you really love Twitter and have the time to spare.
How to get started
Obviously you need an account first – go to twitter.com to register. Note that usernames are not case-sensitive – I registered as ‘annelyle’, but I usually write it as ‘AnneLyle’ for greater readability, and all the links still work.
Once you’ve created your Twitter account, use the “Who to Follow” page to find people:
- Maybe you know someone who’s on Twitter (like me!), so you can just look them up and follow them.
- Try searching for your favourite authors’ names – but beware that other people might have the same name and have claimed the username first (e.g. author Adam Christopher tweets as @ghostfinder because his name was already taken). There are also a few fake, identity-thieving account around. Read the mini-biography attached to the account and check out the user’s timeline to see if they look like a real person or a spambot
- Similarly, type
writing(or whatever) into the “Who to Follow” search box and browse the results for interesting feeds
- The best Twitter users maintain public lists of good people to follow. When you find an account to follow, see if they are on any lists (the “Listed” number on their profile) and follow the links to find out who else is on that list.
Once you’ve got a bunch of people to follow, sit back and watch your timeline spool away. Don’t be too anxious to jump in, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to reply to others, retweet stuff, or just introduce yourself. E.g.
@AnneLyle Hi! Really looking forward to reading The Alchemist of Souls
As with most social media networks, you can import your blog’s RSS feed into Twitter, which will ensure you have a steady flow of tweets in addition to general chatter. I useTwitterfeed, as it’s very easy to set up.
Before you know it, people will start following you back – though some of them will undoubtedly be pornbots! Don’t worry, though, you can block unwanted followers. Some people leave the bots in their follower list to make the numbers look higher, but personally I would rather know that 99+% of my followers are real people who might actually be reading my feed.
Other articles in this series: