I admit to being late to Twitter. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get why I should be, or how anyone else could be, interested in 140-character updates about people’s lives. But then my book was published, and everything changed. Not only have I “joined the conversation,” as they say, I also manage several Twitter accounts (one of my own, and three for the day job), and I use the time-saver that is HootSuite (more on this later).
When it comes to book promotion, Twitter is great for some things, not great for others. And I have to admit that, as anyone who follows me @MidgeRaymond knows, my Twitter personality has suffered a bit of a dissociative identity disorder. Translation: I’m all over the place. I tweet about books, publishing, writing, about my writer friends and what they’re up to, and about all sorts of other random stuff. But what I’ve learned about Twitter is that people like to follow you for a specific reason — for example, they’re fellow writers, or they love to read. So in an effort to be more focused, I’ve been working on narrowing my Twitter life down to tweeting about all things bookish — and it not only saves me time but it gives followers a clear idea of why they’re following me in the first place.
So how can a writer best use Twitter?
First, choose an account name that fits your goals. You might use your name, as I do, or you might use the title of your book, as author Rebecca Rasmussen does for her novel, The Bird Sisters (@thebirdsisters). Once your account is set up, find people with similar interests, news, and information to share — as soon as you begin to follow people, people follow you back, you’re all receiving and transmitting tweets, and you’ve officially “joined the conversation.” And don’t forget to upload a photo; you need to offer a sense of a real person behind the tweets in order to find your audience.
Note: Take your time. If you follow zillions of people at once, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of tweets coming your way and won’t be able to process anything. (You also might look a little nutty if you’re following 10,000 people and only have 2 followers yourself.) So take your time, check out what people are talking about, and engage. It takes some hanging out on Twitter, but by taking the time, you’ll learn what makes interesting tweets (basically by noting which ones you read and which you don’t) and what all those cryptic little abbreviations mean (RT for retweet, #FF for Follow Friday, the plain old #hashtag that makes for easy searches). You’ll learn how a reply is different from a direct message, and that it’s polite to credit someone whose link you’re retweeting.
And of course, as you’re learning all this, you’ll be tweeting the whole time yourself. So, what to tweet?
There are plenty of “rules” about Twitter, but I don’t believe we need to follow them (mostly because everyone has an opinion on it, and the “rules” change accordingly). So tweet about what’s interesting to you, and be as focused or as loose as you’d like — the most important thing is that you say something tweet-worthy. Here are a few guidelines.
– Be relevant. Offer content that your followers can use; don’t just tweet about what you had for breakfast. Offer links to interesting articles and blogs, offer writing exercises and tips that have helped you; offer quotes by famous authors. You’ll want to tweet things not only that your followers will enjoy reading but that they’ll be inspired to retweet as well.
– Be interesting. I could also rephrase this as, Don’t over-promote. Even if you’re on Twitter to promote your book, if every tweet is all about you and your book, that’s going to bore people quickly. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with showing off a good review or tweeting about an upcoming event — but be sure to produce some other content as well.
– Include links. To me, this is the most useful aspect of Twitter — finding tidbits that I haven’t already seen or read. There’s only so much you can do in 140 characters, and I find that the most useful, interesting, and entertaining tweets usually have something attached (and, as you’ll find out quickly, you’ll need to use a link shortener like bit.ly or Tinyurl).
– Network. Follow people and organizations that interest you, and start to build a network. Always do your best to respond to direct messages (unless they’re only blatant sales pitches, which often they are) and follow people back when they follow you (if they are of interest to you, that is; some of them won’t be).
– Try out the tools. It wasn’t until I had more than one Twitter account that I tried HootSuite, and I love it. There are a great many Twitter tools out there — so many it’s a little overwhelming — but they are worth knowing about, and in general, it’s great to keep learning so that you can use Twitter as best you can for what your goals are. One excellent resource is MediaBistro’s All Twitter, at which you’ll learn about the latest tools as well as get Twitter news and tips.
– Be generous. Even though I originally joined Twitter with my own book promotion in mind, I use Twitter often to promote writer friends’ events, to link to their blogs, to show off their work. And one cool way writers can promote other writers is with #StorySunday, originated by The Short Review, in which readers link to their favorite online short story of the week.
– Have fun. Be creative. Think outside the newsy tweet. Enjoy. But while you’re being creative, take care not to be so “out there” as to lose followers (i.e., see “Be relevant,” above).
– Keep a balance. Another important thing to keep in mind is how much time being an active Twitter user takes. To be fully engaged, you really have to spend some time reading tweets, interacting, replying, retweeting, and so forth — when you would probably rather be (and should be) writing. So allow yourself an allotted amount of daily Twitter time, and then get back to work.
And, finally, how do you know if any of it is “working”? You can attempt to measure your success in book sales, in the number of followers you have, or you can check out your “Twitter influence” with such tools as Klout. But keep in mind that for a writer, success may mean something different — such as how much you’re learning and sharing, or how well you’re staying connected to the online writing community. I suggest defining your own goals, and measuring your success from there.
See you on Twitter!