What I’ve Learned About Twitter
When I began my book, the advice I got most frequently was "start a blog," and "get on Twitter." Being a good little writer, I did both. Since Twitter can be awkward when you first get started, I thought I'd take the time to share what I've learned. Hopefully this information will be useful to beginning tweeps as well as seasoned tweeters.
Twitter is a unique social platform. You have 140 characters to say what you want to say. So why use a platform where you’re limited like that? Because anyone can blather on for miles. It takes thought to pare it down. Twitter users, or tweeps, are thinkers. There is a huge diversity of people on Twitter and the majority of them are bright, witty people. Creativity breeds creativity. Unlike Facebook, where you generally only connect with people you already know, on Twitter you can connect with people in your field, people who share your interests , and people who are interested in what you have to offer.
Someone recently said, and I believe them to be correct in general, that people on Twitter say what they are thinking about, people on Facebook say what they have done, people on Linked In say what they do well and people on Quora ask why they’re doing things.
I do use other social media, but for interacting publically, I use Twitter. For me, Facebook is for close friends and family only.
Who sees my tweets?
Tweets that begin with someone’s twitter handle (@name) are not visible to your followers unless they follow that person too. (Ex/ I’m friends with Person One @personone and Person Two @persontwo. I tweet “@personone Did you hear that awesome new song?” Person Two isn’t going to see my tweet unless they also follow Person One.) The exception to this is comes when Person Two is mentioned in the tweet. (Ex/ I tweet “@personone did you read that blog post by @persontwo?”) Now both Person One and Person Two will see my tweet. You can make sure all your followers see a tweet by starting the tweet with ANYTHING other than @name. (EX/ I tweet, “Hey @personone did you see that?”) All of my followers will see that tweet.
Twitter is a lot of fun, but it is also a great tool for brand building (a.k.a. publicity). Keep an eye on your mentions, new followers and your tweets retweeted. The first two are pretty easy. The third is easy to forget, but it is very important. People who are too reserved to speak directly to you may well be helping get your name out by retweeting things you’ve said. Make an effort to thank those who follow you, mention you and retweet you. Not only does this make them want to continue, it’s just good manners. Chances are you are going to make new friends on Twitter. Treat your new friends well and you’ll make LOTS of new friends on Twitter because you’ll be recommended as a tweep people want to follow.
Follow Friday was never meant to be weekly tweets solely consisting of people’s handles. Have something to say about those you are mentioning. That is more likely to get them new followers than a tweet that is only handle-vomit. Also if you look at Follow Friday rankings (did you know such a thing existed? It does!) you’ll see that the #ff’s that are counted are ONLY from people who list less than 50 people in their #FF tweets! You can visit the rankings page here: http://www.followfriday.com/.
How effectively am I using Twitter?
Ok, if you liked the follow Friday rankings site, you’ll want to try this site too, in order to get your Twitter Grade. Check your grade at http://twittergrader.com/. I haven’t managed to figure out their formula yet, but I do know that the ratio of followers to followed plays an important part.
The Following Limit
Speaking of the followers to followed ratio, someone told me this week that there is a limit! I was surprised to hear that you can only follow so many people based on how many followers you have. The limit of people you can follow is 2000 UNLESS you have 2000 followers yourself. If you manage to get 2000 followers, then you are allowed to follow 2200 people. (Past 2000 it is following-followers=200). If you are nearing the limit of following 2000, the best thing you can do is find out who doesn’t follow you back and (unless it is someone whose tweets you really enjoy or whose tweets are related to your industry) unfollow them. You can see who has unfollowed you and check who isn’t following you back at http://who.unfollowed.me/.
Hashtags (Those little number sign things)
When you see a hashtag, (the little waffle-like number sign) it can mean one of two things. First, hashtags were originally intended as a way to follow a specific topic, like #breakingnews or #music. There are quite a few hashtags out there that have a website and group dedicated to them, #amwriting for example has http://amwriting.org/ which is a group of writers that uses the hashtag as a designation for an ongoing chat about writing. You don’t have to be a member of a group to use a hashtag though, anyone can use them.
Second, hashtags have become a way to comically express yourself. If I were to tweet, “I ate the whole pot of chili!” I might use a “#fulltobursting” hashtag for comic emphasis. Hashtags only work if the words are all together, as opposed to the trend of using periods to separate words for effect in a tweet (ex/ “Went to the park. Best. Day. Ever.”)
Tweeps and bots
Soon after you begin tweeting you’re going to discover that not all tweeps are real people! Some are bots who collect keywords from what you tweet and tweet spam to you to entice you into visiting websites where an attempt to sell you something occurs. The best way to handle this is when you are mentioned and sent a spammy tweet is to report the spam to twitter. When you report spam, Twitter automatically blocks that @name from sending you more tweets. Alternately you can just block them yourself without reporting them, but it is better to let Twitter know so they can be stopped. Spam bots usually have the newbie egg as their avatar or a picture of a pretty girl. Look at their tweets. Is it all spammy or is there real stuff there? If you’re still not sure if it is a bot, check their follower to following ratio. Chances are their number of followers will be very low in comparison to the amount they follow. (Most real people have somewhere between a 1:3 to a 1:2 ratio of followers: following. The exceptions to this rule are celebrities. Celebrities almost always have a check mark on their profile that says “verified.”)
Proofread (You are what you tweet)
Read over what you have written once more before you hit the tweet button. This gives you a chance to catch any errors you may have made and it also allows you to see how it will sound to others. If there is a chance that it will be construed as offensive or doesn’t come out sounding the way you intended it to, you can repair it before you tweet it. A piece of advice I heard a great deal during childhood is important here: You only get once chance to make a first impression. Once you’ve tweeted it, it’s out there to be read and retweeted. People you have never met before will have the opportunity to see your words. Make sure they represent you well.
Things put on the internet are out there forever.
Most people have used Google to search for their own name. Try using Google to look for your Twitter handle. You’ll be surprised at the results. Not only will you very likely find things you’ve said, but you’ll see your lists if you haven’t made them private and you’ll also find the lists you’re on. Chances are you’ll find comments you made that you’ve totally forgotten about as well.
Twitter allows you to make lists. This is very useful if you’re using TweetDeck or other applications that allow you to put different lists of people into different columns and thereby organize your twitter stream. There’s a nifty useful tool for creating lists and maintaining them at Formulists.com. People generally like to be listed, especially if it is a list of their peers. I have a list called “Writerly-Tweeps-5” that I created with Formulist. I simply told it to select from my followers those that have author or writer in their bio. Create at list at http://formulists.com/.
As someone well-versed in Twitter promotion once told me, your bio should tell people WHAT you do, WHY you are on Twitter, and WHO you are. You should include a photo in your bio to replace the little egg avatar that Twitter gives newbies. A real picture that shows your face will garner you more followers than a cartoon, your cat or a generic bird avatar. People want to connect to other people. And for goodness sake, smile! No one likes a grumpy Gus.
There are people who can help you with getting the perfect bio. Some charge for this. Some have free advice. Tweet me if you need a name.
Who to follow
Twitter makes suggestions on tweeps you should follow. Usually these suck. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s true. You are better off searching for a topic that interests you and selecting a few people to follow from the results. When you find someone that you enjoy following or someone who is important in your field, check and see who they follow. You can then choose from the people whose tweets they read and follow accordingly.
When you follow someone it isn’t necessary to say hello, but no one will fault you for introducing yourself. If they didn’t want to interact with people, they wouldn’t have joined Twitter to begin with! Don’t annoy people with excessive tweets directed to them, though, this will get you blocked. A little common sense goes a long way!
“But I don’t have anything interesting to say!”
Sure you do. Do you have favorite things? A favorite song, book, tv show, movie? Talk about what you like if you’re stuck for something to tweet. You might be surprised who else likes the same things you do. You can also always check out what is Trending. Trending topics (TT’s) are words, names or phrases that Twitter selects as most frequently tweeted and posts as what is trending. Comment on a trending topic, add the appropriate hashtag, and you’ll be part of the conversation in a jiffy.
If you’re promoting something (a blog, a book, a product, music, a website) tweet about it, but don’t over-do it. No one likes spammers. Spammers get blocked. Being blocked is just the opposite of what you want. When you tweet a link to something, be sure to let readers know what it is you are linking to and use words that fit the subject. Don’t say, “my blog (link),” rather say, “Please visit my blog about recipes and candies at (link). Thanks! #recipes #candy” Not only will you get more visitors this way, but it will help your tweet make it higher up in the search engines.
There are sites that will automate tweeting for you. You put in what you want to tweet, how often and when to tweet and it does it for you. This can work for you as long as you don’t set it to tweet too often. Over-tweeting will get you blocked and unfollowed. Personally, this isn’t something I recommend doing, but if you do, please use it carefully.
Direct Messages (DMs)
Direct messages are seen only by you and the person you are messaging with, sort of like mini-emails addressed only to you. What people will say “privately” is often very different than what they will say “publically.” A DM is a way to send a message via Twitter that won’t get lost in the twitter stream.
I always get amused when I follow someone and they send me a direct message without following me back first because this means I can’t answer them via direct message. I usually just send them a tweet that says, “Hey @name, sorry I couldn’t answer your DM, you’ll need to follow me before I can.” Twitter designed their direct message system so that only people you follow can send you direct messages. While it may not seem logical at first, give it a little consideration and you’ll see that, yes, it is a good policy.
A Few Last Things
Common sense. Courtesy. Thank people. Don’t be afraid to say hi. Proofread. Manners. Pretty soon you’ll have the “Best. Tweets. Ever. “
Drop by and shoot me a tweet! Also feel free to connect with the tweeps I follow. Most are involved with books in some way, but there are some entertainment folks too, as befits my past in theatre.