Friday, 1 May 2009

A writer’s guide to Twitter

As the popularity of Twitter grows writers are increasingly being told that they should be using the service as part of their online platform. The problem with Twitter is that you need to ‘get’ it to see why it can be such an important tool for writers. The aim of this article is to introduce writers to Twitter and hopefully teach you the basics so you can get up and running.

What is Twitter?

At its most basic level Twitter is a way to send small messages (140 characters) to everyone that has chosen to follow your Twitter feed. This means that when you send a message (known as a tweet) it will be visible to each of your followers. As a Twitterer you also elect to follow other people and consequently get a chance to read their tweets.

The biggest problem for new users of Twitter is actually ‘getting’ the process. The main twitter page does its self no favours with the phrase “What are you doing” plastered above the tweet box. Twitter is not about a stream of trivial ‘feeding the dog’ and ‘picking up the kids from school’ type comments. Yes, you will come across users who do this but you will soon learn ignore these. The best Twitterers are instead providing a stream of useful advice, relevant information and conversation. These are the people that ‘get’ Twitter. They set out to build networks, attract followers and participate in conversations.

How do I join?

Setting up a Twitter account is easy. Go to the Twitter website and fill out the form. In a couple of minutes you are up and running. I would suggest that you think carefully about your Twitter name, here are some thoughts:
  1. Do you want to use your real name? 
  2. If you are not using your real name then try and use a name that makes sense?
  3. Try to avoid using the name of your latest book, a year down the line you may be promoting a new book.
What should I do?

The first thing you should do is follow a few people. If you go to then you can follow BubbleCow. Take a look at the people that are also following BubbleCow, read their little bios and follow a few of these people. Then…watch.

The first step to Twittering is to get a feel for the water. Watch the tweets that are coming into your feed. Make a note of the way they are formed and the kind of things that are being said. Then, when you are ready, jump into a conversation. The best way to do this is to send what is known as an @reply. By using the @ symbol, your message will appear in the other Twitterers @reply box. 

So if you sent this message:

@bubblecow I am new to this twitter thing and I just wanted to say hi.

I would see it and then be able to react.

Before we go on one other thing you should know about is the ReTweet. This is when you see a good tweet and send it out to your followers. Messages that start with RT have been retweeted. Retweeting is good and you should do it a lot.

What’s a Twitter client?

Once you get into Twitter it will not be long before you have too many followers and are following too many people for the Twitter page to remain practical. At this point you need a Twitter client. This is a piece of free software that sits on your desktop and helps you to control your tweets. I suggest you try Tweet Deck.

So that’s the basics of Twitter. My advice would be to jump in and give it a try. If you @reply bubblecow (@bubblecow) I will retweet you to my followers and spread the love.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for the explanation, Gary - helps a lot.

    One thing I note is Twitters I follow leave links to interesting/relevant sites, which I assume means they must be on the internet a lot. I don't have the time to do that, either to find interesting stuff or to read all the sites.