Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Twitter for Writers

When it comes to social media, I’m a big believer in doing what’s useful, helpful, and enjoyable for you—and that’s it. But I’m also an advocate for keeping an open mind about which platforms will fit the bill.

In what seems like another lifetime, I once vowed never to text. If I had something to say to someone, we’d have a conversation. Then my son told me about some great photos he’d taken, photos he would have shared with me if I texted.

Photos? I was so dumb about texting that I didn’t realize they were part of the package. I redrew the proverbial line. I’d text, but I’d never tweet.

Before long, I again proved the truth of that old adage never say never. A fellow writer convinced me to try Twitter, and I discovered it’s a great fit for me. In five or ten minutes a day, I stay informed about what’s going on with friends, fans, fellow writers, and publishing news. Unlike certain other platforms (are you listening, Mark Zuckerberg?), what I see isn’t controlled by algorithms—I make those choices myself. I can have multiple accounts under one email address. And Twitter cleans up now and then, casting out scammy followers.

But to have a good Twitter experience, you have to do it right. Here, some tips:

Getting started: Go to twitter.com. Open your account, choose your handle, which is the equivalent of your Twitter address. For most of us the best handle is first and last name, or whatever variation of that isn’t already taken. For instance, my handle is @debvanasse. In your profile, describe yourself in 140 characters or less (and don’t worry – Twitter will tell you when you’re over the limit, so you can adjust). Upload a photo of yourself (lest you literally look like an egghead) and a background photo.

Follow and get followed: The best way to get followers on Twitter is to follow like-minded people. That’s because if you’re an average person using Twitter—not a celebrity, not a scam artist—there’s follow-back etiquette, meaning that when you follow a person like yourself (not a celebrity, not a scam artist), that person will likely follow you back. To find people to follow, visit the account of someone whose interests are similar to yours, and follow the people whom that person follows. You can do this quickly and easily by using the “copy followers” feature at Crowdfire (www.crowdfireapp.com). Also use Crowdfire to unfollow people who don't follow you—some spammy-types follow and then unfollow as a way of ratcheting up their numbers.

Know the basics: When you post on Twitter, that’s tweeting (not twittering, as you might hear others say, or twerking, which is something entirely different, which we won’t go into here). You can put a hashtag (#) in front of any word in a tweet to create a searchable term, and in turn you can use the search icon (the magnifying glass), to search for what others are saying about a topic that interests you, say #gardening or #publishing. Your search results will show you which hashtags are most popular; for instance, #gardenchat is more popular than #gardening, and #amwriting is more popular than #writing. When you read a post you like, tap the heart. Twitter is all about sharing, so when you read a post you want to share, you can retweet (RT) it by clicking the icon with arrows. Everything you tweet and retweet will show up in your feed, which others will see if they look at your Twitter page. To send a direct message (DM) to someone, start the tweet with his or her handle (@). When you mention someone (MT) anyplace but at the beginning of a tweet (or with a period in front of the @ at the beginning – that’s a sneaky what to share what otherwise appears to be private), everyone will see.

Use lists: If you learn only one thing about Twitter, let it be this: disregard your feed. Instead, make private topical lists based on your interests, and only include in those lists people whose tweets you really want to see. To make a list, go to settings (the gear icon) and click on lists. Create your lists and then edit, manage members. Add and subtract from your lists as you like; as long as you remember to make the list private, no one will know.

Post only value-added information: Posts are for sharing information and thoughts that will actually interest people. Include links to relevant sites and articles. Add photos for visual interest. If you want to chat with a group, agree on a hashtag and include it in your posts.

If you like to post regularly, use a free app to schedule your posts: I use both Hootsuite and Buffer, each for a different handle.

Author of seventeen books published by six different presses, Deb Vanasse teaches on topics related to writing and publishing. She also edits and coaches writers of fiction and nonfiction. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon. For more social media tips, see this popular post