Twitter — how to make it work for you

If you’re a writer, small business, or you’re a student hoping to become a writer or work for a small business, then you should be on Twitter.

If Facebook is sitting in the pub with your mates then Twitter is standing on the street-corner shouting at the passersby. Twitter is the way to meet new people, grow your network, and get new readers. Twitter is the place to find out breaking news, cutting-edge industry details, what’s in, what’s fun, and to check in with other people in your field. Taking a coffee break? Check out #Elevenseshour. Looking for encouragement to get that article or chapter written? Add #amwriting to your tweet and connect with everyone else churning out the words. If you’re listening to the radio and want to chip in with your opinion — @BBCRadio4 and tell them what you think about the latest development in @BBCTheArchers.

Twitter is a great way to be connected even if you’re working alone from home.

So how do you get started?

Open an account — fill in all the details, come up with a username — go for something fairly simple and check first to see if anyone else has a similar name.

Don’t keep the egg — you need to hatch!

Get a User Icon — this is the really important bit — get a nice user icon image. Unlike Facebook you won’t be changing your Twitter icon very often, if at all. You need to have an image that is memorable, simple, and can be seen easily on a small screen. Remember the Twitter icon is very small anyway, so go for simplicity. Source your user icon before you even open your account because most users won’t follow an ‘egg’ icon — that’s the default image for new users.

Once you’ve done that you can begin following accounts that look interesting. Twitter will suggest some users to you as part of the sign up process. If you’re a writer or student I suggest you follow publishers, newspapers, writers, and of course, your fellow students and friends.

Following someone isn’t the same as ‘friending’ someone on Facebook — they won’t automatically follow you back, and therefore they won’t see what you post unless you direct it at them using their username.

You can tweet to anyone on Twitter by simply including their @username in your tweet. If you put the @username at the beginning of your tweet it’ll only be seen by people who follow you AND them — that’s why a lot of tweets that appear to start like that will often have a full stop first — .@username. A better way to do this is by rewriting your tweet so the @username appears somewhere else in the message.

So, you’ve started following people and some are now following you back. Great.

But how do you find more followers and more people to follow?

First go looking for interesting people to follow. As a general rule of thumb anyone you follow should be useful to you for one or more of these reasons:

1. They tweet really interesting messages and/or interesting links.

2. They retweet your tweets.

3. They respond to your tweets with comments and useful interaction.

The first group of users might not be following you but they’re a great source of interesting tweets that you can use to keep your own Twitter messages interesting for your followers. These users provide great content.

The second group help you get your messages out to a wider audience. They’re often fellow students, writers, or maybe some of your lecturers. Most of the time you know these people IRL (in real life).

The third group are your potential friends — you chat to them, and you’re forming a relationship with them online. They’re your future readers.

Of course each of these groups will have users who overlap, but don’t discount those users who aren’t following you back if they’re providing you with an interesting Twitter feed.

Soon you’ll begin to get new followers that you haven’t followed first, and that you don’t know.

Which ones should you follow back?

First of all go and look at their Twitter home page. Read their mini-biography — does it mention getting you lots of new followers for money? Then don’t follow them; never pay for followers. Does their biography look interesting? And what have they tweeted recently? They might have a legitimate looking biography but their tweets might be only a stream of retweeted messages that are selling things. This is a spam-type account, don’t follow them.

The type of account to follow back is one that is written by a real person who tweets things you find interesting. Even if it’s a business account — say a publishers or literary agent — they are still run by real people who generally tweet useful messages. So follow them. What you want is a Twitter feed that’s interesting, informative, and probably entertaining too. So go for a mix of facts, fun, and insight.

What’s better with Twitter followers — quantity or quality? Is it more desirable to have 20,000 followers or 200?

If the 200 followers interact with you — they like and share your tweets, reply to you, and you do the same for them — then that’s a very valuable asset for a writer or business.

If the 20,000 followers are mostly dormant accounts, don’t interact, and are just a number, then they’re not worth having.

Twitter is not about having lots of followers, it’s about building relationships.

No Twitter account runs on its own — you have to find good content for it. If you’re a writer or a business using Twitter then you probably want to advertise your latest book or product. That’s fine, but you must remember that no one likes spam, so sending out twenty or thirty tweets a day that say ‘Buy this, buy this, buy this’ will very quickly lose you your followers. As a general rule for every tweet selling you should tweet another twenty that are social.

Twenty more tweets?!

Yep. And here’s how you do that:

1. Remember those people you’ve followed who maybe don’t follow you back? You retweet (RT) their tweets because they’re interesting, informative, and maybe entertaining — that’s why you’re following them — they produce good content.

2. Tell the world what you’re doing at the moment. Are you writing? Then use the hashtag #amwriting so other writers can find you, and you can find them. This is also the way to get new followers and new people to follow because you’re all interested in writing.

3. Are you out and about? Tweet about how great the coffee shop or restaurant, or city is right now. Include a photo too (you can also upload that to Instagram). Get better at giving out compliments to small businesses. We’re all quick to complain when things aren’t as we’d expect, but what about saying when things are better? You might even end up with new followers and friends.

4. Find interesting content online that you can share. This is easy and fun, if a little time-consuming, so I recommend limiting yourself to an hour or so for this. Get yourself a Stumbleupon account. If you haven’t come across SU yet it’s a simple ‘discovery engine’ rather than search engine. You tell SU what you’re interested in — there’s a huge list of topics for you to tick when you sign up. Then you begin ‘stumbling’ by clicking the Stumble button at the top of the screen. Each click will bring a new webpage related to your likes. If you like the page you click the thumbs up button, if not then click the thumbs down. The more you use it the better it gets. It’s quite addictive, so set a timer.

5. Use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to see your Twitter feed, your notifications, messages, and any hashtags you’re following — like #amwriting or #elevenseshour, or the feed from a list you’ve put together like my University of Kent students list Writing in the Media. This way you can easily retweet, reply, and see what’s happening without having to keep changing screens or views. You can also have more than one social media account on there too.

5. Use Buffer or a similar tweet scheduling app. You can also schedule tweets via Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, but Buffer is my favourite. Buffer’s free version allows you to link your social media and then to schedule up to 10 posts at a time to be sent when your followers are most active. These posts could be interesting pages you’ve stumbled upon and you want them to go out twice a day Monday-Friday. That’s a simple framework that quickly allows you freedom from live-tweeting throughout the day.

And that brings me on to my next point — how do you fit all of this in?

Set aside half an hour or so each morning before you begin writing or working. In that time check your Twitter notifications and tweet your thanks to anyone who’s retweeted you. Check your new followers — are they real people? Then follow them back. Read your Twitter feed — what’s happening in the world? What’s trending? Who’s said something worth retweeting? And so on. In this way you’ll very quickly find lots of good content that’s useful to you and your followers. You’ll be more informed about the world, your industry, and the latest internet meme.

And don’t forget to check apps like Who Unfollowed Me or ManageFlitter to keep a check on your followers. Some Twitter accounts ‘churn’ their followers — they follow you, you follow back, and then in a day or two they unfollow you. Sometimes that may not matter because they’re producing interesting content, but if not and now they’re not even your fan unfollow them. Generally I follow back nearly everyone who follows me, but even after checking their mini-biography and their tweets, sometimes I’ll get churned.

ManageFlitter is a great app for checking who your unfollowers are, whether they’re still active, and when you followed them. Go through and weed out your unfollowers regularly — if the account is now dormant, unfollow. If they’re a churner, unfollow.

So, get a great icon picture, use Stumbleupon for great content, schedule your tweets using Buffer, keep an eye on your unfollowers using Who unfollowed me and ManageFlitter, and don’t forget to get the Twitter app for your phone so you can tweet that cake picture in the cafe.

Don’t get hung up on numbers, concentrate on being friendly, social, and having fun.

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