Twitter: Friend or Foe? When, why & how to tweet

I was invited by Karin Cox of indiereviewtracker.com to write about the Twittersphere, to report on the best times and days to tweet, how to get involved using hashtag conversations and “future tweeting,” how to avoid common pitfalls, and why some people feel Twitter is not the “cure all” for our promotional ills that it might at first appear to be.

There is no question that social networking has become the online habitat for writers of almost all ages. We all treat it differently, and use it for a myriad of purposes, but I think we can all agree it is an essential tool for a writer, and particularly an indie writer. Twitter has become one of the most popular social applications since its launch in 2006. It now has 500 million active users, tweeting 340 million daily tweets. For writers, publishers, and those with a literary interest, it can be a fantastic promotional tool, and when used right, and over time, it can increase both your followers and your rabid-fan readers. So, even if you’re skeptical (and many are), it pays to learn how to use Twitter to your advantage.

As a social networking app, Twitter is best used as a conversation, sometimes among a group, the same as a face-to-face conversation—as if you’re at a party. As Ashley Barron writes, if Twitter is “one big party” then the hashtag is central to the fun. It is, Barron tells us, an “‘idea within an idea’” that Facebook lacks.”

As good as Twitter can be for promotion, the social element is far more important. Editor Belinda Pollard, from smallbluedog.com, explains why emerging writers need Twitter and how getting friendly on Twitter can improve your development as a writer and your presence online. There’s a share-alike, communal feel to indie publishing, which makes social media for authors even more effective.

By discussing what you are doing and by asking others what they are up to, you can easily expand your own knowledge or find information that could be vital to your project. You even can poll your followers and ask for feedback and advice. If you are generous with your time, people are more likely to reciprocate with theirs. Communicating via tweets on topics you’re knowledgeable about, conversing through tweets, and fostering new contacts, gives you greater credibility. If you attract a following, you could even soon be viewed as an expert, and your online presence will grow.

Hashtags for writers: reaching beyond your followers

Hashtags allow Twitter users to connect with people far beyond their “social reach.” By placing a # in front of a keyword at the end of a tweet, Twitter will slide your tweet into a conversation that involves people from all over the world, aligned by topic; thus allowing you to connect with people who don’t follow you, which is key to driving new traffic to your blog or website.

Some excellent hashtags for writers are:

#amwriting #amediting #IndiePub #Pubtips #WritingTip #WriteTip #PromoTip #Publishing #SelfPublishing #AskAgent #AskEditor #GetPublished #AskAuthor #Ebooks #BookMarketing #MyWANA #Creativity #FridayReads #BookGiveaway #IndieAuthors #Writechat #IndieChicksCafe #WritersChat #YALitChat (for Young Adult books)

But there are a host of other useful hashtags for writers too.

When is the best time to tweet?

There’s no point talking if no one is listening. So, is there a formula to successful tweeting? It certainly appears there are optimum times of day, and even best days of the week to tweet and post to attract maximum participation, retweets and click-throughs. Social media expert and author Dan Zarrella’s data for The Science of Social Timing, reported in The Social Times, suggests 5 p.m. Eastern Time midweek or on weekends is the best time to tweet, while sharing on Facebook is best done at noon on a Saturday. But how much is too much? Can we over-tweet? Zarrella’s research suggests 1 to 4 tweets per hour is effective, but many authors might find that kind of proliferation excessive. The key is to remember to tweet about other things, not just about your book or blog. And monitor your “drop offs” or increases in followers to see if you might be overdoing it.

Independent UK writer Andrew Beasley, from Bass Tuned To Red, finds his niche in tweeting soccer statistics and times his tweets around live soccer games. “If I tweet live stats from a game in progress and retweet the good ones, I can easily pick up 20+ new followers in the second half of the match, and then those people will see links to my work. It does drive traffic, albeit indirectly.”

Live tweeting of the proceedings of book conferences and conventions, and joining in live discussions via hashtags (anything from writers’ festivals to the Olympic games) can be a great way to attract new followers and can lead to a topic showing up as a “trend” on twitter, either locally or internationally. While being wary of hassling people, Andrew has contacted other widely known sports writers on Twitter and tweets them firsthand. If these writers feel it is worth a retweet, then they often will, enabling his single tweet to reach a bigger audience. In his sphere of writing, this approach works, and it also helps start trending topics.

Future tweets and scheduling your ebook promotions

Being involved in multiple conversations on Twitter is great. But how do we stay on top of them all? Many of us have lives away from Twitter and our writing. (Don’t we?) The good folk behind TweetDeck, Hootsuite, Justunfollow and Socialoomph think we do. These applications, and others like them, allow us to use Twitter more effectively by organizing our followers (or non-followers), making Twitter “lists,” or scheduling our future tweets with ease while we continue to network old school style by drinking conversing in a bar. There are plenty of similar apps, and to help you find the best The Social Times reveals a Top 10 Apps for Future Tweets breakdown. Most integrate popular social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and WordPress, too, which means news can travel far and wide without needing to repeat your post several times.Tweets are only 140 characters, but when perfectly timed those punchy, concise words can grab potential followers in the time it takes to read the tweet or click that link—a little piece of mass media style promotion on a social media scale.

However time-saving future tweeting can be, remember that it can go wrong—very wrong if you’re not careful. A future tweet’s content might become irrelevant before the scheduled tweet goes live. You’re going to look out of step if sensational breaking news makes your announcement redundant. Also, followers may drop off if they feel you are doing too much automated tweeting. Remember, Twitter is a social app: interaction raises interest. If there’s no human involvement, it’s like a ticker tape newsreel and people are going to be put off. Bestselling author and social media guru Kristen Lamb discusses the need for actual human interaction on Twitter at length on her blog.

Effective use of Twitter

There is no point just yelling and telling. There is a point at which your tweets turn from informative into bombardment. Marketing expert Christopher Penn believes you can choose between two strategies: Serendipity or Segmentation. When turning marketer, each self-published author needs to find the approach that suits their audience and overall aims. Either cast the net high and wide in a “catch-all” campaign or specifically target highly trusted connections.

If you decide to go for a “catch-all” approach, all the tweeting going on at optimum times on the right days and with an automated set up to continually tweet around the clock will take your social media attack to the masses. But are you also just preaching to the converted?

The bad news is that social media might not be all it is cracked up to be. It might share your information but not actually sell your book. This post over on Red Pen Of Doom delivers some bad news: Twitter isn’t for selling books. It’s not even close. According to that data, when the numbers are dissected and correlated with sales, your bestseller is more likely to gather dust than fans unless you utilize mass media coverage and garner ten minutes on Ellen. Name recognition wins out time after time.

So should we all pack in Twitter, and go back to annoying television and radio stations in the old fashioned way instead? Is the bubble about to burst as the somewhat misguided Ewan Morrison would have us believe in his recent post Why Social Media Isn’t the Magic Bullet for Self-epublished Authors? (Self-epublished authors? Now there’s an awkward phrase.) Probably not. Be sure to see Dave Gaughran’s lucid rebuttal The Bonfire of the Straw Men on his blog today. As for most strategies, a diversified portfolio is usually best. At least online we can keep writing, keep talking to each other, keep learning and sharing what works, get our name about and increase that vital “presence” in the hope that one day Ellen may see us, invite us along, and make us the Justin Beibers of the literary world. Online, if nothing else, we are visible, we are communicating, and we are learning. The Internet has already proved a successful medium for aspiring musicians, there’s no reason why it can’t provide an “in” for literary genius too, if we use it appropriately and keep reaching for our goals, 140 characters at a time.

This article first appeared on indiereviewtracker.com on 7 August 2012.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Twitter: Friend or Foe? When, why & how to tweet”
  1. Great post, Alexander, and thanks for the mention of my blog. I’m honoured. 🙂

    I agree that “yelling and telling” is not really the way to go.

    I try to tweet links to useful articles for writers, and other than that I mostly interact – replying to mentions, commenting on interesting things others have said. In the past 18 months I’ve met some wonderful writers and publishing people on Twitter and we have genuine interactions, sometimes even in person. The key is probably to remember that all those profiles are not “prospects” but people. All the best with your music career!

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Belinda. You really need to thank Karin from indiereviewtracker.com for the mention as she gave me your link!

      Twitter is still new ground for so many people and we’re learning all the time, I feel the key is finding what is right for each user.

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