Writers in the digital age: Five lessons in Twitter

Writers in the digital age: Five lessons in Twitter Image

Being a writer in the digital age is a fickle business. It’s a constant uphill struggle to keep on top of your social media accounts, ensuring you make the most of them and interact with your fans, and yet at the same time devote enough time to other activities such as, y’know, writing.

One of the main social media sites that frequently gets the wrong end of the stick is Twitter. I hear on a regular basis things like, “I just don’t GET Twitter, what do you tweet about?” or “I’m a writer, I can’t limit myself to 140 characters!” Don’t worry, nobody’s asking you to write your novel on Twitter – although many have written sagas on that site. Instead, I’ve provided a few pointers to help you navigate around the Twitterverse.

1. Use your account

It may seem odd to stress this, but the only way you will reap the benefits that Twitter brings is by actively using your account. Too many people think it’s fine to just hook up your Facebook and Instagram accounts, automate all of the posts, and people will magically follow you. Unfortunately, you are not going to reach your target audience this way; I guarantee a fair proportion of those following you will be 1) bots or 2) people looking for a followback because they’re promoting something, who will then unfollow in a few days because you don’t interact.

“If people see there is a real person behind the account, they are much more likely to follow and interact with you.”

Take some time to craft Twitter-only content, whether related to your work or otherwise. Reply to tweets and messages, reach out to your followers. If people see there is a real person behind the account, they are much more likely to follow and interact with you. There are Twitter trends you can jump on (FollowFriday or #FF being one of the most famous) and these can net you a wider circle of followers, but make sure you use the account aside from this. A quick check once a day, with a tweet, is much better than a fallow or robotic account.

2. Balance your tweets

How you balance your work and life tweets depends entirely on your persona. If you have a very extroverted and chatty nature, then you can gear towards 70% of your tweets being related to personal life, or general musings, or current affairs. If you prefer a more private life and don’t feel so comfortable sharing personal opinions, you can lean towards 60% work tweets. The important thing is to ensure your profile looks genuine, with perhaps a bit of extra online flair.

Mark Angel Brandt

Mark Angel Brandt

If you are stuck for ideas, here is a list from Sam Missingham of authors who are great at Twitter. Take a look at the ways they are tweeting, and see if you can co-opt their methods for your own use. Obviously do not copy the tweets verbatim, because Twitter users will notice and comment on it, sometimes quite vocally. But get a feel for what some of the writers are putting out there, the things they are tweeting and retweeting (the latter of which is just as key as tweeting itself!), and build your online persona with these guidelines.

3. Ban auto-DMs

You wouldn’t walk up to someone, hand them a business card with barely a word of thanks, and then walk off into the sunset, would you? So why do the Twitter equivalent? Auto-DMing is at best a way of telling your newfound followers that you don’t have time to reach out to them, and at worst the quickest way to hover their hand over the ‘unfollow’ button. It’s a scattergun method which nets a far smaller reward than the loss of followers you may experience.

AutoDMYou do not need to reach out to every single new follower individually, and certainly not with the same message of ‘buy my book, check my Facebook page’ in truncated English. There are alternative methods, such as a tweet welcoming new followers (but not tagging individually, as I have seen some Twitter accounts do) that can make new people feel welcome, and some may reach out to you through that tweet. Interaction is sacred, and the more you make it look genuine – especially if you have a name for yourself – the more honoured the follower will feel that you replied to them.

4. Schedule some tweets

On the flipside to my genuine interaction comment, you can and should absolutely take advantage of scheduling some of your tweets. This has two main advantages: you can take your time with phrasing, and if you need to tweet something but won’t be available/online for it, you can set it up. So you can schedule a “Happy New Year everyone!” for midnight and still have had an early night, for instance.

Just because you schedule tweets, does not mean they have to be generic and devoid of flavour. You should still inject your own personality into scheduled tweets, so that even if they are screaming “Buy my book!” it comes across a little more creatively in your call-to-action. If you find yourself tweeting similar things, you can even set up a spreadsheet of common tweeting topics (whether it be work-related or otherwise), and you can schedule these a couple of times a day, adjusting the wording for variety and time zone differences.

5. #Watch #your #hashtags

Do not stuff your tweets with hashtags, this is not Tumblr or Instagram. A tweet with 7 hashtags looks ugly and overkill, and is unlikely to bring you much more attention than if you’d tweeted the words ‘normally.’ If you’re tweeting about a relaxing evening, how many people will be searching Twitter for tweets tagged “#evening”?

“A tweet with 7 hashtags looks ugly and overkill, and is unlikely to bring you much more attention than if you’d tweeted the words ‘normally’.”

That is not to say hashtags shouldn’t be used; if one is gaining a lot of traction then by all means jump on it. However, check what else is being tweeted with this hashtag. Hashtags have a habit of being taken out of context, and while it’s unlikely you’ll end up with anything as glorious a misfire as #susanalbumparty, it helps to do your research before you jump in.

Twitter Resources:

  • Tweetdeck: a fantastic social media management suite that allows you to schedule tweets, monitor activity, check hashtags and much more. In web version or as a standalone app.
  • Followerwonk: great site to search Twitter for specific users (including search by bio), and analyse your followers.
  • Unfollowers: if you want to clean up your Twitter feed because you follow too many people, or want to know who doesn’t follow you back, this is a great way of filtering through.

Mark Angel Brandt About the author: Mark Angel Brandt is a freelance writer, proofreader and music publicist. Follow him on Twitter @markangelbrandt or explore his website: www.markangelbrandt.com