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Jun 20

What to Tweet: For Writers and Other Humans

My apologies, all, for the gap in blog posts. I was on vacation and had intended to post as usual, but APPARENTLY cabins in the mountains do not lend themselves to awesome cell or Internet access … and when you are on vacation with 31 other people (big family), writing does not want to happen. NOW I KNOW. Well anyway. I’m back now, and in this post I’ll talk about what to tweet.

Since in the last post we discussed who to follow on Twitter, I’m sure you took my advice and now have some followers yourself. So you have people watching for your tweets, right? The pressure to come up with great stuff is mounting, right?

Eh, not really.

No one is waiting breathlessly for your majestic words. You can relax. Still, to get the most from Twitter, you are going to have to tweet at some point. It’s the core of Twitter interaction and how you grow your following. But what? When? How often?

What do I tweet?

When Twitter first began, people tweeted about the burger they had for lunch and other mundane topics. Over time, though, Twitter has become a valuable medium for public conversations, and the lunch tweets have, thankfully, dwindled drastically. Oh, there’s still a bit of food talk, and some silliness (hooray for that!), but Twitter now is much more like normal human discourse, which makes it interesting.

So if the world doesn’t want to see what you have for lunch every day, what else mightn’t it want to see? This is going to hurt, writers, but: we do not want to see nonstop chatter about your work. Your books. Your poems. Your blogs. We do not want to read endless excerpts. I’m no marketing expert, but from a human perspective, I can tell you that I have unfollowed writers who do nothing but yak on about their stuff, because one, it’s irritating to see it crop up over and over in my feed, and two, constant advertising feels spammy and devalues your work in the eyes of your audience. Translation: there is such a thing as pushing too hard. I once saw an article that made the assertion that established writers could get away with tweeting pretty much about only their work. Well … maybe. But I agree with my writerly friend @iamrdriley: I don’t care how famous you are, if you only tweet about your own stuff, I will probably unfollow you.

If you’re not supposed to be tweeting about your writing (or art, or whatever), then what are you supposed to tweet about? Well, first, tweet about your work. YES I KNOW. I just told you not to do that too much. But you have to do it somewhat if you want people to know about it. So when should you tweet about things you’ve done? Well, Twitter works best as a conversation, so tweet about your work when it would naturally come up in conversation. Have something new coming out? Absolutely, tweet it! New blog post? Tweet it, with a teaser (I’ll read it). Saw a great review of your stuff somewhere? Tweet it (and thank the reviewer)! Got a mention of your work by a tweep? RT it (with thanks, always with thanks). Reached a sales goal, signed a new contract, got an idea for a new story? Tweet it, tweet it, tweet it.

JUST MAKE SURE YOU TWEET OTHER THINGS TOO.

Twitter is all about engagement. Engage your followers and those you follow in conversation. Put a bit of your personality in there. (Hint: if a robot or ad agency could generate your tweets, you’re doing it wrong.) Make sure you have a back and forth. Generally, of course, those with more followers get more @replies, more @mentions, more retweets, more engagement, and so they usually do not respond to every tweet directed their way. How could they? They’d never get any work done if they did. But most of us, even published authors, don’t have that issue. Most of us can and should interact with our followers when they make the effort to engage us. Doing so will inspire more retweets and thusly more quality follows; it’s a slow snowball effect. Some well-known authors/creatives whose tweets are really effective: @neilhimself (Neil Gaiman), @joe_hill, @OwenKingwriter (Owen King), @scalzi (John Scalzi), @SarahPinborough, @BevVincent, @malki (David Malki), @amandapalmer. They all approach Twitter very differently, but they have a few things in common: they engage with their followers, they tweet interesting stuff, and they don’t kill you with spammy promotional tweets.

You don’t have to carry the whole mental load by yourself. Besides the tweets that come from inside your head, remember that retweeting kills two birds with one stone: you’re sharing good content, and also you’re letting people know that you value their input. Also, share links to interesting news, blog posts, pictures, and video. Easy peasy. If it interests you, it will interest your followers. If not, you probably have the wrong followers, a problem time will cure.

When and how much should I tweet?

I know I said that most of us have the time to engage all the tweeps who retweet, @mention, and @reply us … BUT (again with the but). Unless all you ever want to get done is tweeting, you will need to put some kind of constraints around the time you spend there. No one knows better than I do that even with not very many followers, Twitter (and other social media) can siphon away precious hours of your day with little to show for it.

On the other hand, Twitter moves fast. I’m sure there is some app or service out there that has quantified the ideal posting ratio, but I think the main takeaway is this: you really don’t want to go more than a few days without tweeting if you want to build those relationships. Remember, your tweeps (mostly) don’t know you in person. All they generally know about you comes from 140-character bits of keyboarding. On Twitter, out of sight is indeed out of mind.

The best advice I’ve ever read is to schedule a few daily sessions, 20 minutes or so each, during which you fully, purposely engage in Twitter. That seems like a lot of time, but it’s nothing compared to the hours you can fritter away using a smartphone if you’re not paying attention. During each session, catch up on tweets, RT the interesting stuff, share the relevant media of the day, and so on. Try to schedule those times to accommodate your audience. For example, I try to make sure I don’t only tweet late in the day, because I have a lot of followers in the UK, and except for a few unemployed college students, most of them are asleep by the time I’ve had dinner.

I know all this sounds like a lot of work, and although it is not effortless, Monday we will talk about some tools that can make it a little easier, whether you are tweeting from your phone or a computer. Until then, go forth and tweet good tweets!  (And if you want to catch up on this series from the beginning, start here.)

2 comments

  1. Chichi

    Hi Evelyn,

    I enjoyed reading your post. Twitter is all about engagement, not promotional posts. It was good to connect with you on Twitter. I might even be inspired to start writing again. Let’s stay in touch.

    Chichi
    @socialsoul

    1. Evelyn Stice

      More writing could only be good! 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

      I hope this makes an impact. I’m no expert, but as a fairly new Twitter user and fairly new writer, it’s easy for me to spot the awkwardness.

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