050. How to Use Twitter & Not Alienate People (Or: The Things I’ve Learned on Twitter).

In late February, I had the privilege of being hired as a social media intern for two separate authors.  Intern is a relative term; I get paid approximately $12 an hour to tweet, which I find somehow ridiculous but amazing all at once.

I won’t really go into my responsibilities, but suffice to say, I’m in charge of both writers’ Twitter accounts. I also take care of other social media platforms for Author #1 and supply my input on various marketing ideas, but the point is, I’ve been exposed to many a Twitter faux pas since I’ve been working here.

I’ve seen the Follow Friday meme (#FF) blow up from its purpose as a thoughtful recommendation of people you want to promote for their inspiring or funny or interesting posts, into a willy-nilly recommendation of half the people you follow without explanation. They post not once,  suggesting one or two tweeters, but seven or more times, suggesting ten or so tweeters — however many they can fit in the strict 140 character limit — in each post. And it has almost lost its meaning.

I’ve seen self-published writers (and others, but these are the biggest culprits) tooting their own horns, spamming incessantly instead of using Twitter the way it’s supposed to be used. Twitter is social media, not marketing media, and to use it accurately as a promotional tool, you must pretend it is not a promotional tool at all. I’ve seen people try to get retweets by saying “Please RT,” which, of course, makes people want to retweet you even less. The only reason to ever do this is if you are raising money for a dying child, because then and only then is it so important, and people will actually want to spread the word. This is especially bad if it’s said in conjunction with everything you post. As if unconcsiously trying to back me up, FakeEditor (@fakeeditor) just tweeted, “When I see a self-promotional tweet that starts with ‘Please RT,’ I assume the person meant to type ‘Please unfollow me,’ and I do.”

Nobody likes a self-promotional beggar. I repeat: Nobody.

The most successful Tweeters use Twitter as a social tool, not a promotional tool. The promo comes after the social. It’s the subtext, and shouldn’t be advertised in blinking neon lights. Let’s take Neil Gaiman, for instance, one of the most successful author tweeters around. He will talk about his own work. He’ll certainly tell followers when a new book is coming out, or when he’s having a reading, but he won’t post it 5+ a day (in fact, he’ll only do it once), and most of his Tweets are personal in nature. He shares links he finds useful, interesting, or important; he responds warmly to fans; he engages in adorable conversations with his friends and wife (Amanda Palmer, another A+ Tweeter); and he feeds the ether personal tidbits that are, more often than not, funny and interesting.

Of course, not all your Tweets can appeal to everyone. Twitter has that annoying reputation of being “overinformative,” but for celebrities, authors, chefs, musicians, etcetera, it has the unique ability to connect these people with the fans who look up to them. It offers a glimpse into these people’s lives, into their personalities. You feel you know them. And this personal connection, this personal investment, makes you more interested in learning about them and what they do and purchasing whatever product they may be selling — a book, a film, a fancy five course dinner, an mp3.

It is inevitable that people will misuse Twitter, and these are the people that give this platform a bad reputation. The people who lack a personal connection with their followers won’t do as well as the people who do make and foster this connection. The people who tweet twenty times a day talking about how wonderful their self-published novel or brand new album is comes across as what my roommate so deftly labeled “cacophonous noise.” And then, conversely, there are the people who spend every waking moment on Twitter, updating with dull, insignificant details: “I am drinking coffee,” or “Today, I’m going shopping with my sister.”

For your tweets to be interesting, you have to be you. What defines a good tweeter is not what he or she says, but how he or she says it. At the exact same moment in time, Nathan Fillion and fifty other people in the world could have left their coffee on their cars and driven to work. But the way he wrote this experience made it him and made it special, and as of now, this tweet has over 850 straight-up retweets — and that’s not including favourites, retweets with comments, or replies: “Dear Morning Coffee, how was your ride to work on the top of my car? Glad you made it. But now you’re iced coffee. Nathan.”

Moral of the story: Twitter is a social tool. Use it to be social, not as a marketing tool. Be you first, and then if people like you, they’ll be more likely to be interested in whatever you’re selling. If you aggressively self-promote, no matter how great your book or movie or charity OR WHATEVER ELSE is, you’re more likely than not going to alienate people. You’ll get followers, sure, but the number of followers you have does not (shock and surprise!) directly correlate to the number of people who are interested in what you have to offer — and most of these won’t give a flying fuck about whatever you’re promoting.

And, hey, if you’re not sure of the best way to use Twitter, look at the tweeters you watch the most, and see what the hell they do that makes you love them so damn much*.

Next week: The strangest people I’ve ever found on Twitter. Seriously, I don’t know how these people exist or have followers…


*In case you’re wondering, my top tweeters are Rob Swire (@rob_swire), Nathan Fillion (@NathanFillion), Gareth McGrillen (GarethPendulum), Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself), and Laura Vincent (@hungryandfrozen).


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