Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Twitter - Do not be Afraid of the Little Blue Bird

In keeping with our theme of "fear" leading up to Halloween, I decided to write about my fear of Twitter. Well, maybe not exactly my fear. More of my "oh, my gosh, what am I supposed to do" reaction to the social site when I first joined.

I was reminded of that at a writers' workshop I attended this past weekend in Pittsburg, Texas. Yes, Pennsylvania, there is another Pittsburgh and we do spell it differently. Pittsburg is the home of the Northeast Texas Writer's Organization (NETWO) and they do a terrific conference every spring, as well as these periodic day-long workshops. There are a lot of writers in the area, and many others make the 100-mile trek from the Dallas Metroplex to attend the workshops, so there can be up to 50 attendees. Which is pretty good for a rural area with towns of less than 4,000 people in a 50-mile radius.

At this last workshop, of those nearly 50 folks, there were only three of us who used Twitter. One of the presenters, Rusty Shelton @rustyshelton, said he was accustomed to speaking to writers who are not Twitter savvy. That was quite tactful of him to avoid saying that writers of a certain age are probably not drawn to this little blue bird. And that is true. Of the attendees there, most were over 50, and one woman flat-out declared that she would not be on Twitter no matter what Rusty said.

For those just starting out, Twitter can be a little scary. There are days that I am still overwhelmed by the number of tweets that pop up in even just a few minutes. And unless you know how to interact with people and how to use the hashtags and mentions, it can end up just being a stream of tweets on your page.

Rusty Shelton from Shelton Interactive, a digital marketing agency, said that next to a blog, Twitter is the most important tool for a writer to gain exposure on the web. He likened Twitter to a cocktail party, where people mingle and talk about current events and other things of interest. It is not a place where you would go up to a group of folks and say, "Hi, I'm Maryann Miller, and I just wrote this terrific book."

Well, maybe you would, but people would run from you. However, if you just go up and join in the conversation, someone may find you interesting enough to ask what you do.

Another fear of Twitter, and other social sites, is that they can be a great time-suck, but we can manage that if we stay focused and only spend as much time on them that fits for our schedules. Mystery author, Elizabeth Spann Craig, has a lot of good tips on how to balance the writing with social media, and I suggest you check out her blog, Mystery Writing is Murder.

After listening to Rusty, I am feeling more comfortable with Twitter and have decided that it can actually be fun. And Rusty did say that what we are doing in terms of online promoting should be fun, not drudgery, and what we find more drudgery than fun should be dropped.

Another tip Rusty shared was to be careful of what you post on Twitter. Later that day I saw this Non Sequitur cartoon in the newspaper. People are gathered at a new grave site and the headstone reads: "I think it's her butt that makes the pants look fat! LOL" The widow says, "Well, not his very last words. His last words on Twitter." 
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest book is Open Season, which has gotten nice reviews from Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. One Small Victory, is a top seller in the mystery bestseller list at the Amazon Kindle store. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. She will stop playing with her horse and work, honest.

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  1. Good advice. I highly recommend using one of the programs (I use TweetDeck) that lets you filter your incoming tweets based on who you actually want to follow. I can create columns for family, for cooking, for fellow writers, etc. and then I pretty much ignore the main feed, which is overwhelming.

    I haven't used the actual Twitter website interface at all. It might be better than it was, but I can see how it would scare people away.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. Twitter is actually my favorite "social networking site." I put that in quotes because I don't like to use it for social interaction. It wasn't designed as a chat site, but as a microblogging site. (Or as I like to call it "Speed blogging" which is what makes it more interactive.)

    A great way to get started with Twitter is to not post a lot, but follow interesting people or organizations. Use it as a "news" feed. My favorite Tweeps are Steve Martin and the Associated Press, as well as the above mentions Elizabeth Spann Craig.

  3. Oops, I got interrupted and sent the comment before I was done....

    After you read for a while, and get used to how it works, you can then decide how YOU fit in.

    (IMHO, you shouldn't let anybody else tell you the "right" way to use Twitter, because there are a lot of different subcultures. Some only like tweeps who post constantly and converse. Others, like me, only follow people who don't post to often. I am perfectly happy with people who only posts announcements, too.)

  4. Interesting comments, Daring Novelist. I agree that there is no absolute, written in stone, rules for doing anything. We must all find our own paths to wherever we want to end up. I just thought the suggestions about focusing on relationship building made a lot of sense. I have a lot of writer friends who are a bit more "in your face" with constant announcements and urges to buy their books. If the announcement is about something I would be interested in - an interview or a new blog related to writing or something else I am interested in - then I will check it out.

  5. Before I follow anyone on Twitter or Facebook, I look at their recent tweets or posts. That helps me decide if I want to follow them. I admit I don't use Twitter a lot. I'm trying to do more with them, partly because I think they're a good site to use to meet others and to promote yourself or your books - and partly because my daughter works for them. Hey, what kind of a mother would I be if I didn't support Twitter? Luckily, I do.

  6. I was afraid of Twitter! Or at least overwhelmed by the notion of it. But last spring I jumped on the bandwagon (follow me @kcraftwriter). My favorite uses so far are "listening in" with agents to assess their personalities and see what they are looking for, and also to announce my blog posts. My readership has grown wider, and a couple news aggregate-type papers have picked up my blog posts for their papers, expanding my reach. I will click through to articles and blogs recommended by those I follow, as well, and love inspirational quotes. But time management is the trick!

  7. I'm not afraid of Twitter ... I just don't get it. If anyone want's to tell me anything they can send me an email ... okay, maybe that's a clue as to why I'm the loneliest guy on the Internet ... tweet!

  8. Maryann, I'm afraid I'm one of those non-twitterites — or would that be non-tweeters? I've read all the positives about networking through this and other sites, but my negative experience on Facebook and lack on interaction (probably my fault)on LinkedIn have not inspired me to try any other form of social networking. Maybe I'll rethink this someday — we'll see.

  9. Oh, Maryann, I wasn't criticizing what you said! However, if you go out on the internet, you see a lot of strident misinformation about how you MUST post X amount a day, and you MUST interact in chat, and you should unfollow all those evil people who don't follow you back, and shun anyone who doesn't post at least four times an hour, etc.

    The truth is that culture is the minority on Twitter -- it's just a really active one. And yes, if you are on Twitter ONLY to do publicity, that's the group to hang with.

    That's why I say lurk at first. Follow people who seem interesting, and find your people. And then start making connections with them, in the way they prefer making connections.

  10. Thanks so much for the mention, Maryann!

    I do find Twitter really useful. It *can* be a time-suck, but timers help. There are some great free online timers out there. :)

  11. Daring Novelist, I was not offended at all by your comments. I am always open to a good discussion about a topic. (smile)

    Elizabeth, the trick is to stop when the timer goes off. LOL

    Helen, tell your daughter there are a whole bunch of us keeping her job safe.

    Katherine, connecting with aggregate papers is something that was just introduced to me this weekend. Not sure I understand exactly how that works. Need to take some time to learn.

  12. Excellent website. Lots of useful information here. I am sending it to a few friends ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thanks for your effort!

  13. Twitter can be overwhelming when you're just starting out. When I first started using Twitter about three years ago, I didn't really get the point, but now, as I try to create a usable platform and market myself, I find it to be more useful than Facebook.

  14. I've actually come to enjoy Twitter after meeting some awesome new Tweeps. (Twitter Peeps.)

    The biggest mistake I see, especially with brand-new self-pubbed authors, is that they use Twitter direct messages to spam people. They don't think of it as spam. The messages usually read, "Thanks for following me. Check out my book at www...."

    I ignore messages like that unless it's from people I've actually talked to via Twitter. I just might un-friend you if you do that. It's happened at least 5 times this week alone, and I find it very irritating.

    The trick to Twitter is building relationships instead of selling. If you do that, your Tweeps will sell for you.

  15. Thank you for it ! Really intreresting! It have been always interesting to read shuch news!)

  16. I cheat by having my Facebook comments automatically tweet on Twitter. I really should go over there more to respond to some of the other tweets.

    Morgan Mandel


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.