There was a time, not so very long ago, when tweeting was something birds did. Now, everyone’s at it. It seems that not a single event can occur, and not a single thought can pass through someone’s head, without it being tapped out (in 140 characters or less, mind you) and sent out into cyberspace, there to swim around in the cybersoup for, perhaps, all eternity.
Like many people, I was sceptical about Twitter at first. How, I thought, could anything of any particular importance be said in 140 characters? Now, though, I’ve been won over. I like the speed of Twitter, the convenience of it. I like the fact that news, events and information can be disseminated worldwide with the click of a mouse. This, of course, is why it’s popular with journalists: why wait to learn the outcome of this trial or that parliamentary debate, when you can just log on to Twitter and find out in a few seconds?
However, my own presence in the Twittersphere has not always been particularly inspiring. Recently, therefore, I set out to learn how to make the most of Twitter. And while I’m sometimes a little sceptical of how-to guides – how best to do something varies considerably from person to person – I nevertheless thought I’d share my findings. I’m certainly not an expert, but it might be of some use to someone…
Your profile is often the first thing that other users will see, so make it count. Upload a photo. Write a pithy summary of who you are and what you’re all about (pithy by necessity – you’re limited to 160 characters). Add a link to your blog or website. Make it easy for people to find you, and find out about you.
Writers are familiar with the concept of there being a target audience for their books, and the same notion can be applied to Twitter. Who do you most want to reach out to? If you’re a writer, it’ll probably be readers, and other writers.
While some users seem intent on totting up huge numbers of followers, size really isn’t everything. According to certain anthropological research, we can only deal with being in “tribes” of about 150-200 people. There’s not much to be gained by following people indiscriminately. Focus on users with whom you have common ground. Twitter makes this easy for you, drawing your attention to other users based on your previous follows (“Who to follow”).
Self-obsessed tweeters who talk about nothing but themselves (or whatever they’re trying to sell) are not particularly interesting. Bear your target audience in mind, and try to tailor your tweets to their preferences and interests (which are, after all, also yours). Keen readers are likely to be interested in information such as reviews and new releases, so if you find something of relevance – tweet away. Likewise, if you locate some interesting news about publishing or a writing competition, for example, your writer friends will appreciate hearing about it.
You’re not a robot, so a nice personal touch can make all the difference. If you support a particular charity or are interested in activities other than writing, by all means tweet about them. General chitchat, in moderation, can also add charm and colour to your Twitter feed. One of Stephen King’s first tweets, for example, included the confession that “I can’t think of a thing to say. Some writer I turned out to be.”
My friend LK Jay (@FenlandGirll) also lets her personality shine through in her tweets:
You can expand your tweets’ reach by arranging for them to be shared on your Facebook page. You can do this while you’re setting up your profile:
Also, blog providers such as WordPress.com allow you to include your Twitter feed as a widget.
I’m still getting the hang of these, but they’re useful little blighters. If you want to drive your tweets into the arms of your target audience, they’re almost indispensable; prefacing a word or term with # will make it instantly searchable. It will allow you to enter into a larger conversation on a given topic.
Popular hashtags amongst writers include #amwriting, #amediting, #author, #novel, #selfpublishing … you get the picture. If you’re linking to a book review, for example, you can add #review or #bookreview to your tweet. Hashtags can be either general (#novel) or highly specific (#DanBrownNewNovel).
It can be tempting to get carried away with hashtags, but there is an accepted form of etiquette. Generally, it’s a good idea to restrict yourself to a maximum of two per tweet: any more can dilute their effectiveness, as well as being hard on the eyeballs.
You can schedule tweets in advance using services such as Hootsuite (the basic package is free). You can also create templates, which will save time and could be particularly useful if you frequently send out similar tweets, such as #FFs or shout-outs.
For anyone following more than a handful of people, Twitter timelines can quickly degenerate into a meaningless blur. To get the most out of Twitter, you can make lists of users; this should help you to filter out the “white noise”, and focus on the people and things that interest you most. To create a list, click on “Lists”:
And then click “Create list”. Your lists can be public or private. To add someone to a list, go to their profile, click the person icon in the toolbar, and select “Add or remove from lists”.
A tricky one, this. Your followers are unlikely to be upset by a degree of promotional activity, but a constant stream of “Buy my book”-style tweets will test the patience of even those who are well-disposed toward you. “Read the first 15% of [Book Title] here” is less likely to annoy people than “[Book Title] available to buy now!!!” Or, instead of tweeting memorable quotes from Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa, why not tweet a short quote from one of your own books, followed by a link? It’s not pushy, and it’s far more interesting than the blatant spam that makes people’s eyes roll. But then again I’m not exactly a marketing genius, so I could be wrong about this…
Tips about everything from customising your Twitter background to finding a job using Twitter can be found here.
Tweet this, if you like. You can follow me on Twitter: @MariBiella1. I’ll try to engage with you in a meaningful manner, and my promotional activities will be kept to a minimum. In the meantime, if there are any handy tips that you’d like to add, feel free to leave a comment.