My work life feels like it revolves around Twitter. I recently:
- Pitched a story about Twitter.
- Found sources for the story on Twitter.
- Had sources use Twitter to publicize the story once it went live.
- Watched my Twitter followers have a real-time debate over pros and cons of issues raised in story.
- Had a Twitter conversation with one of those followers over what was being debated that led to an idea for follow up piece.
When I mentioned this chain of events on a writers’ board, one friend wrote:
I joined recently and don’t get it. I thought I’d be able to drop in and out of streams of conversations on certain topics, but I don’t even know how to get anything meaningful out of anything. I click on “Everyone” and just have a static list of who said what in the last few min. I click refresh and get a bit more. I really thought I’d be able to see more real-time action.
I get similar questions from writers who’re just starting to use Twitter – and it wasn’t that long ago that I was in the same boat.
So for what it’s worth, I’ve taken everything I’ve learned since my first tweet and compiled this, a writers’ guide to getting the most out of Twitter.
Have a plan. Think about why you want to use Twitter. Is it to find sources? Troll for story ideas? Promote yourself as an expert on a specific topic? Build a platform for your book or blog? Look for work? Deciding what you want out of it will drive how you use it.
Follow people. Once you’ve figured out why you’re using it, follow other Twitter users who fall into one or more of your designated Twitter areas of interest. If you write about gardening, for example, you’ll want to follow gardening experts. Do a Twitter Search to find them. Use the Search link at the bottom of the Twitter home page and search for “gardening” or use the hashtag #gardening. If you spot someone who’s tweeted something interesting, click on their bio, read more about them, and if you like what you see, follow them. You can also use directories like WeFollow.com to find people whose interests you share or who you think would make good sources.
Introduce yourself. If someone you follow follows you back, or someone you don’t know follows you, introduce yourself. Send them a DM – Twitter speak for a private message – explaining who you are, where you’re located, what you write about, and throw in a link to your Website or blog. That’s a lot to fit into 140 characters, use a service like Tiny URL to keep it short. Tailor your DMs to new followers to their interests. I cover HR, tech and social media and when someone new follows me, I rewrite my initial DM depending on common interests or geography.
Tweet. That is to say, don’t just lurk, enter the frey. Most writers are born sharers so this shouldn’t be hard, but the 140-character format and constant stream of tweets it could take some getting used to. What to say? That’s the easy part: talk about what you’re working on (without giving too much away), crowdsource for stories you’re doing, vent about workplace frustrations or comment on someone else’s tweet. It’s also perfectly acceptable to promote something you’re written or your latest blog post, just be careful not to overdo it.
Use Twitter tools. Widgets and apps like TweetDeck and TweetGrid can keep track of followers or tweets by grouping them into categories and replying to comments after they’ve scrolled off the screen. Mashable, the social media Website, has as list of 140+ Twitter tools with links to even more.
Take it at your own pace. Freelance writer Donna Hull suggests:
Don’t feel like you need to read every twitter, even TweetDeck can’t help you keep up with all of it. Be sure to check your DM’s and @replies as they are the most important. Otherwise, think of it as communicating in real time. Jump in the info stream, get as much out of it as you can. When it’s time to jump out, forgot about it until the next Twitter session.
For a lot of people, Twitter is a numbers game that’s all about how many followers they can get – similar to the open networkers on LinkedIn or friend fiends on Facebook who collect connections like baseball cards. But a worthwhile social network is based on quality, not quantity. You want to know the people you’re adding are there for a reason. If that means you only add a couple new Twitter followers a week, so be it. On the other hand, the more people you follow, the more conversations will be going on in your tweet stream and the more you’ll have to read, learn from and reach out to when the occasion comes.
Restrict your intake. It’s easy to get caught up in the flow, literally. But if you’re billing by the hour or project like most freelancers, you can’t afford to spend all day on Twitter, even if it is great for finding sources and ideas. Donna Hull put herself on a “Twitter diet,” giving herself Twitter breaks like coffee breaks. Other writers check in before or after their workday.
Here are some other blog posts from tech-savvy freelancers sharing how they’re making the most of Twitter:
Getting started on Twitter – Twitter basics from Elizabeth Kricfalusi, the tech writer behind the excellent Tech for Luddites blog.
25 publishing industry people to follow – Former Writer’s Digest editor Maria Schneider’s list of Twitter must follows includes book agents, publishers and social media gurus.
Editorchat – In early February, Motley Fool writer Tim Beyers and freelancer Lydia Dishman started this gabfest for writers and editors that takes place live on Twitter every Wednesday from 8 to 9:30 p.m. EST. Use #editorchat to follow the action or read entire transcripts on the Editorchat blog.