Social Media – What I’ve learned so far (Part 1)

In the not too distant future, I want to be able to write, full time, and not be a homeless bum. The chances of this happening are somewhere between small and insignificant. depending on a variety of factors. One of those factors is developing and keeping an audience. Right now, I've got 136 followers on Twitter, picking up an extra one or two a week. I think that's pretty decent, considering that I haven't even DONE anything yet, aside from being my delightful self out where everyone can see. So, I'm something of novice when it comes to socializing on the web. That being said though, I've learned some very valuable things in the last few months. I wanted to share some of those things here, and maybe encourage some discussion on the topic.

First off; I love Twitter. It is the perfect platform for someone who's brain is as riddled with ADD as mine is. It's also great training for learning how to concentrate complex thoughts into as short a space as you can. You've got 140 characters to express an idea, feeling or carry on a conversation. Just from a reading standpoint, its incredibly interesting and fun. If you're a bit of an introvert, sharing short succinct interactions with people is perfect too. If you're an author, looking to build an audience, you could do worse than to get yourself on Twitter and start tweeting. There are a few do's and don'ts that come with it though. Here's what I've learned:

  • Do: Find yourself a good Twitter agent. No, I don't mean hire someone to use it for you. I mean a program that helps you keep track of the things going on on Twitter. In my browser, I use the TweetDeck extension in Chrome. It's fantastic! You can have several columns that show your main feed, the interactions that you have with other users and create custom columns for hash-tags (I'll get to this.) On my iPad, I use TweetBot, at least for now. I'm always bouncing from one solution to another on my iPad and iPhone, because the pace of development is pretty quick. I'm also open to suggestions here. Does anyone else have a favorite program?
  • Do: Find people whose content you enjoy. This is a lot easier than it sounds. Twitter has quite a few ways of discovering fun and interesting people to follow. If you're an author, I recommend looking up other authors you like. One of the first things I do, when I discover a new author, is find out if they've got a Twitter account. Authors will also interact with each other, tweet about new books they're writing or that friend in their network are writing. Plus, they have some of the best conversations on Twitter. Writers are really awesome people.
  • Do: Learn how to use “lists”. Twitter has an excellent feature that allows you to create sub-feeds, called “lists”. Are you following 1000 people and unable to find the tweets from the people you're most interested in? Make a list! You'll find that you follow certain people back, just to be polite or for other various reasons (I'll address this too) but you don't really want to read every stupid thing they post. To this end I've created a “short list” of people that I follow who have the most interesting and entertaining or educational tweets. I've also got an “author's” list that just contains the authors that I follow. Another tip: You can make your list public so that other people can follow it. Find someone on Twitter you like? See if they have a list. It may lead you to more good people to follow.
  • Do: Learn how to use hashtags. Hashtags are a handy feature of Twitter, and a couple other social networks, that let you “tag” your tweets by putting a '#' in front of a word. This lets users search on that term and find everyone who's tweeting with that hashtag. A great one for authors to keep an eye on and use is #amwriting. This is where Twitter has really been shining for me in the past month since I made a special column in TweetDeck for that hashtag. Its increased how many people that I'm exposed to and I've had some very fun interactions because of it.
  • Do: Jump into a conversation. Its weird, I know. Twitter will sometimes seem like a bunch of people shouting into the void. You'll probably feel like that when you're just starting out: Like you're standing on a cliff in the middle of no-where, shouting out into nothingness. You're lonely, you're scared, and you'd just like someone to come along and tell you that you aren't a gibbering mad person. I think a lot of people on twitter feel this way. The truth is though, you're actually in an infinitely large room, full of people who are largely talking to themselves, alone in a crowd. This, is stupid. There's people everywhere! You don't need to be alone, and neither do they. Go up and talk to someone. Use the #amwriting tag. If someone says something interesting, or funny, tell them. If they ask a question, answer. Make a cheeky response. Sometimes this will work, sometimes it won't. I remember getting royally chewed out once for being friendly, but that's the exception, not the rule, in my experience. Put yourself out there and make some friends! You'll be glad you did.
  • Do: Be polite, damnit! Seriously, this isn't a hard one and it correlates to the next rule, and its a rule, not a “suggestion” but we'll get to that later on.

Wow…this is ending up being a lot more of a post than I thought it would be. So, for the sake of sanity, and having some good content to post the rest of the week, I'm going to break this into two parts. So, stay tuned for the second part of this post where I go into the “Don'ts” of using Twitter. Until then, get on Twitter and have some fun!