Here’s an article I wrote for the CWA’s Red Herrings magazine. Part 2 will appear in next month’s edition.
Twitter Tips Part 1
Twitter is like an updated teletext service online, where anyone and everyone can join in. It also provides another way of speaking, of having a conversation. It means you have a voice and you will be remembered for this voice; it will be as distinctive as you make it. So above all when tweeting:
Remember your audience.
Publishers expect authors to have an online presence and Twitter is part of that. The writing and reading communities love Twitter for its ease of communication and break time relief from solitary lives and occupations. When starting out, be clear on answers to these questions:
Setting up Your Account. Do have a sensible, easy to recognise name. I have seen an author use his initials plus an underscore and an ‘x’. It may be lovely and luvvie, but where exactly does that pesky underscore go again? To remember his twitter handle you’d need more post-its than S J Watson’s Christine. Pick a decent personal avatar and stick with it as some applications, (more on this later), lend themselves to the visual. An avatar on Tweetdeck is much bigger than the name, for example. And how does your avatar look when really small? One publisher has an acorn; sadly, really small it looks like something else. I’ll leave you to guess. Remember that when you change your avatar people may overlook you for a while. Unless the new one is terrifically shocking.
Following. You can look at anyone’s twitter page to see what they’ve tweeted as long as they don’t have a protected account. When you follow them, their tweets will appear in your timeline when you are logged in. Two people following one another are able to DM (Direct Message) one another. This is a private messaging service and the home of salacious gossip. Those who graduated at the Belt & Braces Academy delete their really risky DMs after the discussion as Twitter is not without its bugs – and who can really trust that those DMs might not one day float to the surface of all public?
A known Twitter bug at the moment occurs in unfollowing. Twitter may do this for you without your instruction. You can unfollow anyone at any time with one simple click. And right now, if challenged, you can blame twitter over replying to someone that they bored/inflamed you. Remember too, not to take unfollows personally. Twitter is not you, it’s just one activity you pursue. Drama queen reactions can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Example: you discover someone’s unfollowed you so you tweet that you’re ‘clearing out dead wood’ on your site’s links only to remove the unfollower. Yes, it’s happened.
Mentions. When you start a tweet with @ANother it won’t go out to all your followers. It will only go out to @ANother and the followers you share with them. Thus, if you have 3,647 followers to notify about your next book signing and start it with @the_cwa, if only 3 of them also follow @the_cwa, only those 3 and @the_cwa will receive your tweet in their timeline. If you want to ensure @ANother sees a tweet, as in a c.c., add the twitter name at the end or in the middle of your tweet text. Starting a tweet with @ANother will send it into their ‘mentions’ giving a higher chance they will see it. It also signifies a conversation. Don’t be surprised if others join in as it’s all public.
The Re-tweet (RT). This can be used to pass on to your followers those tweets you like/enjoy/ find funny/consider newsworthy. Unless from a known and trusted source, it’s always worth checking out the links included before you RT. You could be passing on a link to a dubious dating site. (A literary agent has performed this one.)
The MT. No, not a pop star to be found on The Voice but a modified tweet. Effectively it’s the good old RT but edited by the person sending it onwards. They may have edited it to reduce the characters for RTing, and the editing to MT lets you know they’ve tampered with it.
#hashtags. These are used to organise streams and allow for searching on topics, e.g. #crimefiction. (Beware: there’s a spammer about on that one.) Hashtags only like alpha and numeric characters and will end when things like an apostrophe are inserted. You may call your beloved husband Dick but if you fancy tweeting a series of pics of his birthday presents don’t use #dick’sbirthday.
Timing. Want to tell the world about something? Pick your times. Note the plural. One tweet about that new release will only hit timelines at that one time. A British author with mainly British followers is not picking the best time to tweet about their books at 6am. (This has been observed.) Pick busier times and tweet more than once in a day, but avoid having a timeline full of only promotional tweets which will soon have you tagged #BlatantSelfPromotion and #bore. Kind interaction and interesting tweets are far more likely to bring book sales.
Apps. Some people use apps, preferring them to twitter on the net where you have to change pages to flick from general timeline into DMs or mentions. Tweetdeck is very popular here, placing your tweets in columns allowing easy tracking in one place: all friends; mentions; DMs; new followers; your searches. Now owned by Twitter, it’s undergoing some tweaks, not always for the better. You can have it on your PC and your phone.
Next time: don your best Attenborough safari suit and join me to look at behavioural issues. Twit or tweep? What have we learnt from Twitter’s pioneers?