I’ve been using Twitter for about a year, and admittedly I’m still pretty wary of it. It can be a really valuable tool for keeping up with the latest in your field of interest and connecting with a like-minded community. Plus it can be funny, empowering or moving. But it can also be a minefield, taking a mere 140 characters to make yourself look a fool or worse. Most popstars and some presidents, for example, should probably not be let loose on it. So to anyone just about to join the twittersphere, I understand how trepidatious you feel (this was my initial experience of it – it reminded me mostly of arriving alone at an excruciating party). But maybe these few pointers, gleaned from common sense, trial-and-error and watching more gung-ho types crash and burn, will make it slightly easier to navigate.
Do: try to actively engage. It’s a great way to promote yourself/your work/your Auntie Grimelda’s prize-winning plum jam, but it’s first and foremost an informal virtual chat.
Just don’t: follow people for the sole purpose of having them follow you, only to unfollow them in a huff when they don’t immediately return the favour. Well, you can, no one’s stopping you, but it’s a pretty transparent move. Would you follow me purely because I wanted to market a book at you? Twitter users follow accounts that are of interest to them, and nothing makes a person more resistant than knowing they’re going to be at the pointy end of a hard sell. You know the way you speed up and avoid eye contact with that clipboard person looming ahead of you on the street? Don’t be the one in the tabard waving like a mad thing; everyone’s late for an important meeting and they only speak Cantonese, anyway. If you are using Twitter to market your self-published book (for example), you’re going to have to be patient and think in terms of building a profile rather than straight sales. And that takes time.
Do: thank people if they retweet you, particularly if it’s something you’re trying to promote, such as a blog post or an event you’re organising. The majority of people using this kind of social media tool are savvy, so they’re actively trying to help you out by spreading the word. But they’re under no obligation, so a thank you is only courteous. You could also return the favour sometime and retweet something they’re promoting. Which leads on to this –
Seriously, don’t: think that Twitter is purely a broadcasting method. It’s a useful and often powerful way of getting the word out to the world, but it’s important to remember that Twitter is a conversation. Would you go to a party and honk on all night about your own stuff, disregarding what anyone else has to say? You would? Oh… *suddenly remembers that important thing that needs doing and sidles off to hunt for the salmon puffs at the buffet table*
Do: make an effort. If someone bothers to engage with you – responding to an important question you’ve put out into the ether, such as what you should have for dinner – acknowledge them. But don’t just click ‘Like’, which is the lazy way out. Why put something out there if you aren’t even going to respond to the response? Also, though everyone can of course use Twitter in their own way, it’s wise to tweet about things other than your meal quandaries. Some of the best Twitter accounts I follow say little about the users other than that they have a great sense of humour and/or are able to root out amazing stuff on the internet. However, a word of caution here…
What, are you crazy? Don’t: flood your followers’ newsfeeds with nonsense. It’s sweet of you to share the many interesting things you come across, but for heaven’s sake, pace yourself. No one will thank you if all they see on their newsfeed is 30 consecutive pictures of literary hamsters. Reign it in and only post or retweet something after weighing up its value to others, either in newsworthiness or entertainment. And that is NEVER a guinea pig in a bonnet.
I hope this is of use to someone out there, and if you need a Twitter buddy to hold your hand initially I’m @wordherding. I really think you should have the beef chow mein for dinner, and I regrettably won’t be buying your book because my TBR pile is big enough to build a small bungalow with. But I’d love to tell you all about my Auntie Grimelda’s plum jam, which is world-class.