Tackling Twitter: short form social media

Not everyone has been quick to jump into Twitter. The platform is demanding in its brevity. Explains author Lucas Klauss, “I was—like a lot of writers, I imagine—initially pretty suspicious of Twitter and its supposed benefits. I thought it would end up being just a big time-suck. And sometimes it is! But it has surprised me at how fun it can be.”

It’s hard for some writers to express a thought in 140 characters, but in today’s world of Pinterest, Facebook, and blogging its necessary. As The New York Times recently noted, “With the digital age comes new conceptions of authorship.” This is especially true for authors who don’t have the marketing muscle of a publishing house at their disposal.

He used the social media platform to promote his book trailer (more on these at a later date). “By far most of the views I got were from Twitter — people retweeting it and saying they thought it was funny. And it connected me to other authors I hadn’t yet met.”

Wanting to be on Twitter and getting the mojo to join and keep on top of it are very different. It can also be intimidating and, take it from me, just plain weird at first.

Don’t let Twitter intimidate

Remember how you tackled the blank page and completed a book? Well, trust me, Twitter has nothing on that. However, before you cry from the Twitterverse’s rooftops, remember:

Define your online persona

Being on Twitter means others will come to “know” you so think about which part(s) of yourself you want to put out there. What interests and hobbies will you promote? Your writing and reading, sure, but maybe you also love old Nintendo games, tulips, or your Subaru? Whatever it is take note and once you join, seek similar folks with whom you’ll want to have a dialog.

Contribute to the conversation

Someone you follow is looking for a book recommendation? Answer him or her. Another person posts a link to a blog post you loved? Say so. The point of Twitter is not to promote your own work but build your own community online. Everything on Twitter centers on conversation, on having a back and forth.

Stay committed

The most popular people on Twitter update their feeds often so plan on tweeting at least twice a day. If you’re worried about making such a big commitment, strategize. Keep a running log of future tweets as far out as you can handle. This can help reduce the pressure to always be by your phone or computer

Cross-pollinate

I’m not normally a big fan of corporate buzz words, but in this case it makes sense. Basically, you want to make sure that all of your various social media platforms are interconnected, meaning that your Twitter profile points to your blog and vice versa. This helps people notice your entire body of work. Thankfully, this linking process isn’t usually very difficult!

Be patient

Building followers takes time. It’s unlikely you’ll acquire 5,000 followers overnight, but that’s okay. You want quality — as in people with similar interests who you can have a dialog with — over quantity.

Getting started

Like any social platform, the first step to using Twitter is to establish your profile. Once you’ve filled in your bio, personalized your page with a photo of yourself, uploaded a background, and have followed others or found followers of your own, what’s left to do?

Well, it’s important you maintain the relationships you’re building. This includes updating your own account regularly, of course, and replyingretweeting and familiarizing yourself with the # sign, AKA the hashtag.

What does that mean, though? Here’s a rundown:

Retweeting

It’s essentially a forward without commentary or, in dialogue form, “Hey, look at this interesting article / funny thought / smart observation I found.” Often I’ll pass along interesting pieces from The New York Times’ Twitter feed, blog posts from writers I follow, or even a 140-character sum up of how someone else is feeling because it’s how I feel that day, too.

Replying with the original tweet

I follow a bunch of writers who dish out some superb advice so often I’ll include their original tweet with my reply thanking them for the tip. This way other Tweeps I know can find the initial blog post / thought easily. So how do you reply like this, and what does it look like? Reply as you normally would, copy the original post after their username, put a “RT” before their @name, and then add your commentary before that.

Replying without the original tweet

Replying with the tweet usually shows that the “conversation” has more of a broad appeal, but not all convos do. Recently I wondered if the Westminster judges accidentally picked a skunk instead of a dog as this year’s winner, which then kicked off a chat with a follower about her dog. Since our talk was more for us, and not generally to benefit others, she didn’t include my tweet when she replied and so on and so forth. It went like this:

  • Original tweet: Does anyone else think that the #Westminster judges picked a long-haired skunk instead of a dog as the winner?
  • Reply tweet from a follower: I can’t judge #Westminster, I own a pup who bares similar Pepe Le Pew resemblance.
  • My reply: Your dog is AWWW-dorable and has normal dog hair/fur, not a mane, as yesterday’s winner does!

The #hashtag

This one is tricky, and it took me some time to get used to. It’s helpful to think of using the # sign to:

Become part of a larger conversation: Type #HungerGames into the twitter search bar, and you’re likely to find thousands of people talking about the books or the movies. Jump in on the conversation by writing your own thought about the #HungerGames and you never know who else you may connect to. Great twitter “trends” for writers include: #amwriting; #writetips; #yalit; #yawednesday. There are tons of others though, so keep an eye out for what pertains to you.

Organize your tweets for followers: By tagging all of your posts as say #TheBakersDaughterTour, which I saw a fellow user once do, her followers could easily find all of her tweets pertaining to her tour dates. It’s important the “trend” you’re creating be specific. Otherwise if you’re tweeting about the #Giants on a game day a search will end up revealing all associated tweets, whether or not from you, and it will overwhelm a follower.

Show a last observation: This is weird and honestly unimportant. Basically, though, sometimes people make a declaration on top of their initial observation. Wait, what are you talking about? It’s confusing so here are examples that are supposed to be funny, with varying degrees of success:

  1. How is this day not over yet? #longestfridayever
  2. I promise never to wear bright green skinny jeans #noiwont
  3. I hate when I lost access to free articles on the NYT website #timesfail

Closing Thoughts about Twitter

It’s a lot to grasp, but deciding when to reply, retweet or use the # sign  becomes instinctive after a while. Also, if you fear you’ve not done it “right” there’s the nifty delete button, which lets you try again.

Above all else though, the #1 rule is to have fun, so get to it!

Other questions, tips or tricks for Twitter?

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