My work life revolves around Twitter. I use it to:
- Keep track of the news.
- Find sources.
- Do story research.
- Promote my work.
- Chat with friends.
- Run a monthly chat for writers.
- Publicize the WordCount Blogathon.
When I mentioned this once on an online forum for writers I belong to, another writer 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. Before I joined, I was in the same boat.
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.
How Writers Can Use Twitter
1. 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.
2. 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 box at the top right of your Twitter home screen and search “gardening” or “#gardening.” If you spot someone who’s tweeted something interesting, click on their profile, 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.
3. Introduce yourself.
If someone you follow follows you back, or someone you don’t know follows you, introduce yourself. Send them a direct message or DM – Twitter speak for a private message – explaining who you are, where you’re located, what you do, and throw in a link to your website or blog. That’s a lot to fit into 140 characters, use a link-shortener like bit.ly to help keep it short. Tailor your DMs to new followers to their interests. I write about work, tech and business, and when someone new follows me, I tailor an initial DM to any common interests or geography.
4. Tweet and retweet.
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, or vent about workplace frustrations. It’s also perfectly acceptable to promote something you’re written or your latest blog post, just be careful not to overdo it. A good rule of thumb is to spend a third of the time sharing your own work, a third sharing links to interesting material you’ve found elsewhere online, and a third retweeting interesting things that other people are sharing. Here’s more from Twitter on how to retweet another person’s tweet.
5. Use Lists.
I use Lists to make it easier to keep track of people, companies and organizations I follow on Twitter. For example, I created a 2013 WordCount Blogathon list to see tweets from people who signed up for this year’s blogging challenge. I also have lists for headline news, apps for writers, women who rock Twitter, fellow Portlanders, and a lot more. Here are all of my Twitter lists.
To create a list, go to your profile page, click on “Lists” and click on the button that says “Create List.” Give your list a name and description and decide whether you want make the list public or private. Then hop back to your profile page, click on the “Following” button and go through the list of people or organizations you follow to see who you’d want to put on the list. Click on a person’s profile and use the gear icon drop down menu to add them to the list. Twitter’s List feature also lets you create a new list anytime you pull up someone’s profile page. Here’s more from Twitter on how to create lists and add people you’re following to them.
6. Use Twitter tools.
If you wind up needing two Twitter accounts or managing a Twitter account for a client, you can use a Twitter apps such as TweetDeck and HootSuite to keep track of followers or tweets by groups or categories. TechRadar put together a list of 22 Twitter apps (free and paid). These days you can find Twitter apps for smartphones too — here’s a list of 24 Twitter apps for Android phones, and for Apple iOS devices.
7. Take it at your own pace.
Don’t feel like you have to do it all, or keep up with it all. One freelancer suggests: “Be sure to check your DMs 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 Facebook users who collect friends 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.
8. 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. If you find yourself spending too much time, consider using a web browser extension such as Stayfocusd or Anti-Social to limit how much time you can spend on Twitter and other social networks.