Twitter: Useful Tool or (yet another) Waste of Time?

Twitter was 10 last week!

Twitter was 10 last week!

“I don’t get Twitter.”

I’ve heard that so many times, from writers and non-writers alike. I’ve even heard it from people who are on Twitter!

In fact, my younger brother – who’s an IT bod and runs his own business and who, you’d think, would be into all things ‘social-meedja’ – said it to me only yesterday.

I have an added interest in Twitter now as, as well as running my own Twitter account (the imaginatively-named @helenyendall, if you’re interested!), I’ve taken over the running of the Twitter account for the children’s charity that I work for, which had been stagnant (the Twitter, not the company!) for some time.

There’s a definite difference between tweeting ‘personally’ when, (as long as you don’t libel or troll anyone), almost anything goes and tweeting for a business and I’ll come to that in a minute.

So, for those who say they don’t ‘get’ Twitter, here’s what I like about it and how it might be useful for you, if you’re a writer:

1. Interacting with other writers. It’s a lonely old world out there when you’re a writer and a few minutes (ahem, of course that’s all I do..) on Twitter is the equivalent of a chat around the coffee machine or the water cooler at work. It makes you feel connected, it’s a break, there’s a bit of gossip sometimes or news. It’s – dare I say it – fun?

2. You can learn things! I follow everything that I’m interested in, so that ranges from tennis to local restaurants to Writing and Writers Forum magazines and authors that I like. For example, I found out that Louise Doughty’s book ‘Apple Tree Yard’ is being made into a BBC series through Twitter.

3. It’s creative! Much more so, I think, than Facebook because you’ve only got 140 characters so you have to be pithy when you Tweet!

4. Apparently, publishers and agents ‘expect’ it! You might disagree, but, depending on the kind of writing you’re involved with then yes, I think it’s true. It’s not just publishers and agents that expect you to be on Twitter: readers do, too. We want our authors to be accessible, living breathing people, not mysterious figures locked away in ivory towers.

Let me give you an example. A novelist that I know (a little), has just published her seventh book. I have a vested interest in reading it because I am mentioned in the acknowledgements at the front! (I was part of a group that gave her feedback when the novel was a work-in-progress).

But when I looked up some of the reviews (and they were favourable, on the whole) – some of which were linked to on Twitter – I realised that she doesn’t have a Twitter handle and she’s not on Facebook either and I felt rather disappointed and let down. I wanted some interaction, some feedback and perhaps even a photo of the launch party. The fact that she was ‘incommunicado’ gave me the impression, rightly or wrongly, that she’s not interested in her readers, or in those who’ve been reviewing the book. I didn’t get a warm fuzzy feeling. And that’s made me hesitate about buying her novel.

OK, but I don’t have a novel, you say, so why should I be on Twitter if I don’t have any readers to engage with? Well, you may have readers in the future and there’s nothing wrong with building your social media ‘platform’ in anticipation of that happy day!

5. You can promote yourself and your work. But do this with a very light touch, would be my advice. It’s a big turn off when a writer continually Tweets the equivalent of ‘buy my book, buy my book, buy my book!’ (Several times a day). In fact, that’s when I press the ‘unfollow’ button.

There are more subtle – and interesting – ways of getting someone to buy your book. Tweet about the inspiration for it, or Tweet a link to a favourable review or to a blog tour that you’ve done, run a giveaway or a competition.. GIVE something to the reader, rather than asking (demanding!) something from him.

I follow Marian Keyes on Twitter and she’s a writer who has, I think, got tweeting down to a fine art. Now, as a best-selling author, she doesn’t have to do as much self-promotion as many writers further down the ladder, I admit – she has a big team behind her and a host of adoring readers ready to snap up anything she writes – but she uses Twitter to Tweet about her life, what she’s up to, where she’s going, things that she’s seen. She uses lots of photos (Twitter likes photos! they lend colour and interest to your Tweet and they tend to be read more than Tweets without them), she is witty and self-depreciating and she is the only person who has actually made me cry with laughter through Twitter (it was a series of Tweets, not just one, I hasten to add. Now, that would be genius!). Oh, and if you reply to her Tweets, she will often ‘like’ your Tweet (which just shows that she’s read it but it’s a nice touch). Once she did actually reply to me, though! Wheeee!

I’m making this sound as though I’m on Twitter all the time. I go on it every day but only for a few minutes. That’s all it needs.

As for the business Twitter feed that I’m now running, it’s made me look at Twitter in a new way. Essentially, I want to get across two messages:

1. We need more volunteers
2. Would you like to fund (or continue to fund) us?

But if I continually tweet that, it’s going to be pretty boring! So I’m dressing it up a bit. Which is what I suggest you do, if you actually want to use Twitter to increase your book sales say, or drive people to your blog.

So, I am Tweeting about things that might be of interest to our followers, I’m re-tweeting items about charities, volunteering and issues that children have, such as bullying. Whenever possible (without using photos of the children that we help), I’m attaching a photo and I’m trying to portray The Friendship Project as a great charity to fund and volunteer for – caring, friendly, relevant and worthwhile.

It’s not that dissimilar to what you might want to do if you’re an author, hoping to attract new readers and followers. Tweet about things that will be of interest to your followers; re-tweet Tweets about writing or the issues that you write about; whenever possible, attach a photo of something or someone and build an image of yourself (a true one, I’m sure!) as a friendly, fun, likeable writer – or a serious, knowledgeable journalist (or whatever image you want your readers to have of you).

What d’you think? Do you ‘get’ Twitter? Does it work for you?

PS: If you live in or around Warwickshire and you’re on Twitter, please follow us – @FriendshipProj – thank you!)

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13 Responses to Twitter: Useful Tool or (yet another) Waste of Time?

  1. Like you, I’m an enthusiastic user of Twitter. It allows me to interact with other writers, to pick up the news and gossip, and generally to feel less isolated. I think of it as a virtual staff room where I go for a chat and to unwind with my writerly colleagues.

  2. Keith Havers says:

    I use Twitter for announcing (bragging about) my latest published stories and for congratulating others on their successes. I’ve been told that editors and agents like to see that an author has ‘internet presence’ whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or a blog. It’s certainly a useful tool in many ways if used properly.

    • Keith, I don’t think it’s bragging! (unless you do it all the time and drive everyone mad!). I agree that it needs to be used properly but what I like is that if someone isn’t using Twitter ‘properly’, you can always block or just unfollow someone, at the press of a button! (ah, the power!)

  3. Ninette says:

    I use twitter to keep up with things…also to brag…promote my blog and generally I find it more interesting than FB….talking of Facebook, I left for over three months but I’m now back but can moderate my use. I found I was missing out on a few things from friends and friends of friends…also missing out with hits on my blog so I succumbed a couple of weeks ago. Now though, I log out all the time and only look once or twice a day maximum 🙂 I hope they don’t change twitter so that you can write a longer tweet as I think this would spoil it. I do use it sometimes for photos but find Instagram better for that. Great blog post as usual Helen.

  4. Ooh, now Ninette, you’re one step ahead of me with Instagram! I’m not on that (yet?!). You did well to stay away from Facebook for so long. I agree with you, it’s not as interesting as Twitter. Too much bleating, moaning, boasting, photo-posting (‘here I am in the Bahamas!’ Yippee doo). I find Twitter is more sensible than that!

  5. juliathorley says:

    I’ve never had a Twitter account as me, but I used to tweet for my choir (in both senses!). It became a bit of a time sink, so I passed it on to someone else. There are so many e-avenues we could go down, but at the moment it’s as much as I can do to keep my two websites, my two blogs and my FB account up and running.

  6. Tracy Fells says:

    Despite having some dodgy followers (which I now know how to block!) I love Twitter. The writing community is really supportive and helps to promote any good news. I’ve been approached by lit agents and editors asking to see my work on Twitter – so it does seem to help in getting your profile/work ‘out there’.

  7. rosgemmell says:

    I do love twitter, Helen – good to see you there and thanks for following! It’s a balancing act between being social and promoting books, but I’ve met some great people there. You’re very wise to increase your social media presence before having a novel out. The RNA have a retweet day on Tuesdays which means we can all support each other once a week and there are other interesting days like #1linewed when you can tweet a line of writing to that week’s theme. Loads of other possibilities, most of which I haven’t explored yet – and don’t forget occasional agent and publisher pitch days (or hours). I’m also on Instagram, though I don’t use it so much yet and I don’t go on any social media more than once or twice a day for a short time.

  8. Looks like I’m in the minority here, one of the few who are not on Twitter. I’ve tried but failed to understand all the abbreviations used, and the whole thing just seems a bit frantic with lots of people all talking at once. I’ve been advised to open an account and just follow a few people to see how they do it before I start contributing any tweets of my own, but would that make me a stalker? It seems a bit rude to just listen into other people’s conversations!

    • Linda, I don’t think that would be rude at all! It’s how I ‘learned’ the best way to use Twitter – by seeing and enjoying other people’s tweets, so go ahead and follow some people (they certainly won’t mind) and then just ‘lurk’ in the shadows for a bit! Good luck!

  9. Wendy Clarke says:

    I use Twitter mainly to let people know when I have a story in a magazine and to advertise when I have written a new blog post. I have made a lot of new writing friends since I joined but probably don’t interact as much with other users as I should. Even though I use Tweetdeck, I still feel as though I can’t keep up with what’s going on. I think your comment about agents/publishers is very valid – I built up my social media platforms (blog, FB, Twitter) long before I needed them with this in mind (even when my novel was just a twinkle in my eye) and I’s sure it helped when it came to seeking representation. I shall now tweet your post!

    • Thanks for the re-tweet, Wendy! I also tweet when I’ve put on a new blog post, actually because someone (Linda Lewis!) asked me if I would! I find Tweetdeck a bit bewildering! I thought it would be handy to control the 2 Twitter accounts I run (my own and that of the charity I work for) BUT there was a serious risk of me getting the two mixed up (can you imagine me tweeting something like “Ah, I need a glass of wine!” on the charity’s Twitter page? Hmm, it wouldn’t go down very well!) So, I tend not to use it now and I just log in to the two accounts separately. It’s safer!

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