Just the other day, Rarasaur posted about how she was planning to use her Twitter account (you can find out at her blog or on Twitter @rarasaur). I got interested in the discussion as lots of folk were saying the exact same things as I had, before I tried it. Stuff along the lines of ‘hmm, I can’t say anything in less than 140 characters’ or ‘I can’t/don’t want to be constantly online looking at a Twitter stream’, or ‘I just don’t get the point of it’. I posted a comment summarising my thoughts after trying Twitter out for a couple of months and Rara (bless her, much smarter than me!) suggested it could be the basis of a blog post that might be helpful for others who are contemplating whether they want to use Twitter or not. So here it is.
I completely agree with the brevity thing. I’m pretty long-winded, and it’s a whole art form in itself, learning to say a lot in a few words. You could think of it like haiku…
Another option is you don’t have to say anything at all. There is no obligation to send a certain amount of Tweets, or indeed any. My ‘real-life-non-virtual’ friend who persuaded me to try Twitter doesn’t write Tweets. She just follows news and other organisations and people she is interested in.
After two months using it, I am still ambivalent about Twitter, but then that’s true of blogging too – if I pause to think, I am freaked out at the idea anyone, anywhere, could read what I write. I feel vulnerable about that and, as I said in the last post, I also felt vulnerable about starting out in Twitter knowing nobody who would want to ‘follow’ or chat to me. I moved schools a few times as a young child, and it brought back all those feelings of standing on the edge of the classroom or playground thinking ‘will anyone talk to me? will anyone like me?’ Ugh. I still hate going to actual parties, unless I know lots of the people there.
But even though I felt like that, and I’m still ambivalent, I say: give Twitter a try. It has benefits, and if you don’t like it – you can just stop.
If you’re thinking about using Twitter, a really helpful guide is ‘Tweet Right’ by author Nicola Morgan. She has a website and blog at http://www.nicolamorgan.com. ‘Tweet Right’ and her other e-books such as ‘Write to be Published’ developed out of her earlier website, http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.co.uk/. If you don’t have an e-book reader, or you want to get a flavour of her writing voice, all the archived posts are still there.
‘Tweet Right’ contains lots of useful information and tips, including etiquette. Here, I’m only going to flag up one important thing that Morgan rightly emphasises is vital: remember to use your normal social skills.
If a friend invited you to dinner at her house with a group of her other friends you hadn’t met before, you wouldn’t walk in yelling ‘Read my blog post about diamonds and zen!’ Or at least I hope not. You’d get chatting, show interest in people, listen – then perhaps later in the evening when someone asked you how you spent your time, you might say ‘I work in a diamond mine / I’m a monk / I write …’ and if they were interested, you’d tell them about your blog/book. I think Nicola Morgan and others refer to it as the 80/20 rule – i.e. at least 80% of your tweets should not be self-promotion or product selling. Ideally, I think almost none of them should be self-promotion. But then, I’m Scottish.
Having hung out in Twitter for just two months, I have already ‘unfollowed’ an author who did nothing but Tweet several times a day about her own books and where you could buy them. Whereas, to take another author example, Joanne Harris (Chocolat, blueeyedboy, etc.) rarely does that – she tells you things she’s up to, Tweets stories in instalments, and sets little fun writing challenges that she wants you to contribute to.
Once you’ve set up the Publicize function in WordPress to link your blog to Twitter (and, if you wish, to other social media sites like Facebook), my tip would be not to let it send automatic Tweets.
When you are in the Dashboard, writing a post, there is a box at the right titled ‘Publish’, with the buttons ‘save draft’, ‘preview’, etc. It also has:
Publicize: Twitter: @CatCattanach Edit Settings
Well, obviously that’s my own one – you won’t be publicising your posts on my Twitter! But the crucial thing is that ‘Edit’ button. If you don’t click that and put your own words in, all that anyone who follows you on Twitter will see is the title of your blog post and a clickable link which always begins ‘wp.me’ So if I forget to click my Edit button and change that, this post would simply be publicised as a Tweet that said ‘And dipping a toe in Twitter wp.me,blahblah’.
I have noticed that when I am looking down my Twitter home page, I am more inclined to read and be interested in things that are a little more detailed and personal. So, when I’m ready to publish this post, I’ll click Edit and change it a little – perhaps something as simple as ‘I just wrote a post about how I’m getting on as a Twitter newbie. Thanks for the suggestion, @rarasaur!’
I don’t have a smartphone, the time, or the inclination to be looking at my Twitter feed constantly or even often. I just vowed to myself I would have Twitter on for at least half an hour a day while checking my email or blog, and dip into it to read bits, and send at least one Tweet a day myself. Most of those Tweets are just replies to someone. You can show Tweets and your Twitter link on the sidebar of your Home page by going into the WordPress Dashboard, then Appearance, then Widgets. I think the options vary with different themes – mine lets me show a minimum of my three most recent Tweets (I’d prefer it to show just one, which some themes seem to allow).
It does feel hard to get started if you don’t know anyone who uses Twitter, but I’m glad I did. I’m working at home in a remote rural area – and there are lots of writers on Twitter, so it’s a bit like having a wee chat in the corridor if you work in an office. Sure, it might just be trivia, but trivia can take you some unexpected places, and it can be nice making a little connection with someone you’d never bump into in the normal course of things. Even famous folk with eleventy-million followers are human beings who sometimes enjoy interacting with other human beings.
Twitter can also bring new people to your blog – for example, a sighthound rescue organisation, that I had been following since I joined up, Retweeted the link for my greyhound post to all their Facebook followers, and I got more readers in a day than I ever had before.
It’s definitely a good way of news-gathering. You can ‘follow’ newspapers and magazines and you will get Tweet summaries of things in the headlines. If you want to know more, you can click on the link in the Tweet to go straight to the relevant article.
My final benefit is that Twitter can sometimes fling a bit of unexpected, heartwarming positivity into your day. For example:
Joanne Harris was having a daily advent calendar writing event. On the 17th of December, it was:
‘Door 17: The best Christmas present you ever had, rescued from the archives of time and tied with a scarlet ribbon’
I replied with:
‘Age 8 – stilts AND striped socks with separate toes. Magic legs & the giddy feeling of being taller than Daddy’
Joanne Harris liked it enough to Retweet it to all her 9,000 followers. Which was enough in itself to make me smile. Then not long after that, I got a Tweet from someone I’d never met, saying it had inspired her to buy stilts for her 8 year old daughter’s Christmas. Which completely made my day – although I was a bit nervous her daughter might either think they were boring, or fall off them and end up in Casualty on Boxing Day! However, all’s well that ends well – I heard yesterday that they were ‘the best present ever’ and the little girl can go forwards and backwards on them already, though she hasn’t tried stairs yet. Thankfully.
That’s the kind of thing that can really put on a smile on your face when you are sitting alone on a chilly, wet January day, slogging through to the end of an interminable first draft. So, I’ll be keeping up my Twitter account for the forseeable future.