Twitter is probably one of the easier social media platforms to join: it’s free to sign up, tweets are limited to 140 characters so harder to get carried away and spend two thousand words and the best part of an afternoon saying what could have been said in fifty words, and it’s easy to share links.
The downsides are that it can easily become an excuse for avoiding writing if you know you would be easily distracted to checking for new tweets or following up tweeted links and it’s public so anyone with a basic understanding of how to search can find what you’ve tweeted.
Building a Profile
- Take care with the name you use when setting up an account. Twitter is a networking site so how will people find you or recognise you?
- Use the brief biographical field to say something about yourself and establish that you’re a writer and the genre you write in (if relevant) so people looking for writers can find you;
- Keep the personalised background professional – don’t deter potential publishers and buyers of your work;
- Use a photo or design a gravatar to replace the default twitter egg, but create an image that reflects you and try not to use flashing or colour-changing backgrounds (it distracts from your tweets and puts off followers).
- When you follow people, their tweets will show on your twitter homepage;
- When you first follow someone, they will get an alert telling them you are following them and showing the biographical detail on your profile – this is why it’s important to get the biographical detail as descriptive as possible so people understand why you’re following them if they don’t recognise your name;
- It’s courteous for someone you follow to follow you back, but don’t expect this to happen;
- Resist the temptation to unfollow someone and then follow them again so they get a second alert. There may be an entirely unconnected reason as to why they’ve not followed you back such as twitter’s limits, they’ve not logged on for a while because they’ve been away….
- Don’t suddenly start following large numbers of people, you’ll look like a spam account and may find yourself blocked;
- Keep your ratio of following to followers reasonably balanced, if you follow lots of people but only have a few people following you potential followers will ask why people aren’t following you back;
- Although people you follow get an alert when you follow them, they do not get an alert when you unfollow them unless they are using an app which does this.
- People who follow you can see your tweets on their homepage;
- If you are following a follower, you will see their tweets and they will see yours;
- If you follow someone who doesn’t follow you back, you will see their tweets but they won’t see yours;
- Likewise, if someone follows you but you don’t follow them back, you won’t see their tweets but they will see yours;
- If you get an alert that someone is following you, don’t automatically follow them back, but click on the link through to their account and judge whether you want to follow first. Use the block and/or report options if the follower is spammy or someone you don’t want to follow you;
- Don’t set up an auto-response that sends new followers a message especially one selling your book or services – you will be rapidly unfollowed;
- If you are aware that someone has unfollowed you, do not tweet about it but try to work out why. It may be that your tweets weren’t relevant to them as they’ve given up writing. If you do tweet about unfollowers, it will deter other potential followers.
Be aware of the company you are keeping. Other twitter users can browse a list of your followers and who you are following or who is following you.
- You can use privacy settings to restrict who can see your tweets, but treat your tweets as if they are public and will be seen by people who may be interested in your writing;
- Use tweets to link to interesting articles, news stories or writing tips by others as well as your own blog articles, book news, etc;
- You can retweet tweets of people you are following so that your followers can see tweets you found interesting or useful. Your followers may be not following the original tweeter so you enable the original tweeter to reach a wider audience. If you retweet, others will retweet your tweets if appropriate so you can reach a wider audience;
- Avoid becoming just a broadcaster and share and respond to others’ tweets. If you only flag up your books, your blog articles and your news, people will stop following you;
- If you want to respond to someone else’s tweet and are happy for others to see what your response is, use @twitteraccount in your tweet as this signifies your tweet is intended for them;
- If you want to respond or message someone without others being able to read it, use Direct Message (DM) instead. However, you can only DM people who are also following you so if the person you want to DM isn’t following you, contact them via their own website or blog;
- You can use @twitteraccount in a tweet even if you are not following that person or company. Some people/companies do monitor twitter and will see your tweet even if they don’t follow you – remember if they ask you to DM them, you can’t if they don’t follow you;
- Remember tweets are visible to search engines unless you’ve setting your privacy settings to restrict them;
- Avoid thanking people for following you – it gets boring to read;
- Avoid tweeting about your whereabouts unless it’s at an event that’s already being publicised – tweeting about a festival appearance is fine because the festival organisers should be publicising it, but don’t tweet about going on a private holiday;
- Avoid insulting people you might want to work with: criticising editors for rejecting your work or a reviewer for a negative review makes you look bad, not the person you’re criticising. Editors and publishers do not want to work with writers who don’t appear to have a professional attitude.
Hashtags are an unofficial way of labelling tweets to enable other twitter users to follow a topic or tweets about a conference or event. Use only when relevant.
- If you use #poetry every time you tweet, people will start ignoring your tweets;
- If you attended a festival and don’t label your tweets about that festival using a hashtag, then people searching for #festival won’t find yours;
- Follow Fridays #FF – on Fridays, it’s acceptable, but not obligatory, to send a tweet recommending people to follow listing their twitter accounts and using the #FF hashtag. However, it’s useful if you say why you’re recommending them so “poetry editors #FF @editor1, @editor2, @editor3”. is more useful than a list of accounts;
- Use the @mentions option to monitor any tweets that mention your twitter account. These can be followers retweeting your tweets, people responding to one of your tweets or non followers tweeting using your account name;
- If someone you don’t know or don’t follow uses your account name in a tweet, don’t respond. Check their twitter account first and get a feel for who they are and why they mentioned your account name.
- If it’s a positive use, such as linking to a review of your book, consider retweeting it and following them.
- If it’s a negative use, consider using the report or block options. Be careful about responding as you may encourage further negative responses.
Summary Guide to Twitter Etiquette for Writers
- Twitter can complement a social media platform and is a useful way for writers to follow contacts, see industry news and keep in touch with readers. It is not a direct sales platform, but useful for profile building and indirect promotions;
- Share – don’t tweet about yourself and your writing all the time, retweet others and link to news, interesting blog articles and writing tips;
- Use @mentions to monitor tweets that mention you, but don’t automatically respond;
- Learn the difference between using @joebloggs in a tweet everyone can read or direct messaging (DM) joebloggs so only he can read it and use the appropriate response;
- You cannot send a DM to someone who is not following you so don’t ask someone you are not following to DM you as it will backfire;
- Remember tweets are public and can be seen by search engines, so consider your reputation before you tweet;
- Be aware of the company you are keeping, don’t automatically follow twitter users who follow you.
By Emma Lee
I’m on twitter, @Emma_Lee1. I’m generally minded to follow back, particularly if I can see a relevant connection in your profile biography and you’re not a broadcaster.