Twitter for Newbs
The question of how to use Twitter as an author came up a few times this week, and I’ve got some answers. Here’s everything I’ve learned over the years and how I got over 3700 followers. It’s longer than I expected.
What Is Twitter
People have varying experiences with social media so let’s recap. Twitter is a website and mobile app (there’s also a Windows app) that you can post short messages, pictures or videos and people who follow you or search for the hashtags you used will see and respond. The message length limit is 240 characters, so one learns to practice brevity. I’m still learning that.
Hashtags Not Hashbrowns
A hashtag is those words you see with a # sign in front. It’s like assigning a keyword to the posting. So when I post about my Dino-Pirates stories, I include #DinoPirates in the text. People who like Dino Pirates are likely to search for that. It’s most effective when the hashtag is about something trending, like a news event or common topic. One hashtag we’ll be working with in this article is #WritingCommunity.
Twitter shows your posts to people who follow you. If nobody follows you, nobody will see your posts. I could post pictures of my dog all day, and I’ll get zero likes or replies or retweets because no one is seeing them. It’s a lonely way to operate. Therefore, to have any influence in Twitter, you need to accumulate followers. There’s two ways to do that: be famous, or build an audience. Famous people can sign up and people will flock to them just because. The rest of us have to work for it. That’s what the rest of this article is about.
Get An Account
I’ll state the obvious. You need a Twitter account to use Twitter. The people I interact with on Twitter are different from my Facebook audience. On Twitter, it’s more often writers, editors and agents. People who might help me with opportunities or advice. It’s also where a lot of famous people operate, compared to Facebook. So I might get lucky one day and Jim Butcher or JM Straczynski might notice me and put in a good word for me. A guy can hope.
Update Your Profile
When somebody sees my post or reply in a discussion about writing or my genre (ex. Urban Fantasy), they might click on my name and follow me. They’re more likely to do that if I have a photo and a description that implies I am a writer or author. If it’s blank or just says I’m married, and have a dog, they’re not gonna know that I am their peer or somebody who makes stuff they like. There’s a lot of ways to say it, but without some word or two, they’ll think I’m a Russian Stripper Bot. Because there’s a lot of those out there.
No DM Without Invitation
When you are wandering around Twitter, never, ever send somebody a Direct Message (DM) unless they asked you to. Spammers and Russian Stripper Bots send unsolicited DMs. As a result, nobody trusts them unless they specifically told you in a reply “Hey, DM me with more info about that”. This is the cultural norm for Twitter. If you break it, a lot of users block the person who DMs out of the blue. Which means they will never see or hear of you again. Don’t make a bad and final impression.
There are people who can post to the right hashtags and people will follow. Then there’s everybody else. We need to follow people to get followed back. That’s how an initial audience is started. Where it goes after that, depends. But I’m going to get you started. First you need to participate.
Finding Your #WritingCommunity
Open up Twitter and search for the #writingcommunity hashtag. Scroll through, looking for Writers Lift (or search for #writerslift). These are threads people start where you like it, reply and retweet. You also scroll through and follow everybody in it (at least look at their profile by hovering over their name first and make sure they aren’t a Nazi). Anybody participating in a Writer’s Lift thread is going to follow back. This event happens every Friday (they don’t call it Follow Friday for nothing). This is going to introduce you to new people on your feed and get you followers.
If you interact with people, they will interact with you when you post. The #writingcommunity has somebody asking about progress, advice, recommendations every day. Reply to those. Like the post, follow the person asking the question. It’ll pay off with another follower, and more importantly, somebody who may remember interacting with you. It works both ways. You will remember certain users because they responded to you.
Manage Your Ratio
The number of followers you have and the number of people you are following can impact your standing. Twitter hid the stat behind a layer, but it’s good to keep this in mind. Ideally, we’d want to follow 100 or less people, while having 20,000 followers. Rockstar status. Not gonna happen. Do NOT get the bright idea to follow people so they follow you and then unfollow them. That’s a dick move and there’s a tool to find people like that (which we’ll be going over). Simply look at your numbers in your profile. Try to keep the number of people you are following lower than the number of followers you have.
Since you are following people and hoping for follow-backs, this simply means waiting a few days (or week) for them to catch up.Try not to follow more than 20-100 new people a day. Twitter has a Robot looking out for follow-bots that over-follow people.
Purge the Unbelievers
Except for people you like to hear from, there is no reason to follow somebody who doesn’t follow you back. You can scroll through your Following list in your profile to look for them, or use a handy website called Who Unfollowed Me. See the link below:
I use this tool after taking a week off from following people to let the dust settle. Then I load it up, pick the list of people who unfollowed me, and click the Unfollow button for each one. The free version of the site only shows 100 at a time, so I might need to do this a couple days in a row. This helps improve my Following/Follower ratio, as well as trim people who aren’t following back.
Now that we’ve covered how to pick up fellow writer followers, you’ve got to keep them and earn more. I pointed you at fellow writers, first so you can make some friends and see how they use Twitter. Who replies to you when you reply on their post. Who likes your posts or answers a question you posted? Those are behaviors you like, so that’s what you want to put out there as well.
Before clicking the submit button, ask yourself these questions:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
Is it needed?
I click the cancel button on many posts because I realise it’s not going to hit the mark. Regardless of whatever advice you see for Twitter, this one won’t make the world worse.
You might imagine Jesus talking to his followers and Spammicus asking “How often should I promote my product on Twitter'' and Jesus replies “Tithe.” Which means Ten percent. No more than one in ten posts should be “Hey, my book is out, buy it!” The rest should be you interacting with others, talking about their book, or subject.
Move Beyond the Writers Group
Getting started means not knowing anything, and hanging out in a writer’s group will catch you up if you simply listen to what they talk about. Somebody will ask the question you feel dumb about not knowing. It will be answered, and one of them will be a good answer. But after that, you’ll become a sophomore, which as a learned person, you know means Wise Fool. It’s time to get into the real world.
That means looking for hashtags about your genre or favorite books in your genre. These are people talking about books just like the one you’re working on. Which means these are people who want to buy your book. Search for those hashtags, and participate. Just like before. Ask questions or answer them. If you blog about that subject, include the hashtag when you post a link on Twitter.
What Hashtags to Use
These change over time, Twitter is a growing animal, but these links should take you to what’s in vogue right now for writing and genres.
Avoid using more than three or four hashtags in a post. More than that is spammy.
Twitter rewards activity with more eyeballs on your posts. Ad hoc activity is good, but it helps to have planned content to keep something going on every day. For myself, I made a spreadsheet that had a theme for each day of the week as a column, and I filled in all fifty-two weeks. Then I used magic to make it build out the list of posts for each day, so all I had to do was copy and paste to schedule it in Tweetdeck, Twitter’s advanced tool. You don’t need to get that advanced. I do suggest you think of some themes or topics you can post about. This helps stimulate activity for yourself. Maybe every week you’ll summarize how much writing you got done. Or share a tip or photo of your pet.
Here’s a link to TweetDeck, the tool for scheduling posts:
Is This Everything?
I’m still learning how to do Twitter better. But I’ve been around long enough to learn and see success with what I’ve shared here. Check out the References section for other takes on marketing and building an audience in Twitter.
Your mileage will vary with these, but there’s good ideas in here: