Tuesday, January 17, 2012

To Tweet or Not to Tweet, That Is the Question

I have a Facebook friend who wanted to try Twitter but found it too confusing. 

I completely understand. It can be confusing at first, particularly in the area of "Why do I need this?"

For him and anyone like him who would like to start Tweeting but finds it overwhelming, here's the easy guide that should get you tweeting like @NeilHimself in no time.

First, the Twitter website is one of the worst ways to use Twitter. It just throws you in and doesn't explain anything.

The welcome page for Twitter.com

However, I would recommend you start there to set up your avatar and the basic info about yourself.

These two things are important, because they let people know you're a real person (it's best if it's a picture or drawing of your face), not some sort of spam bot, and because they give people a reason to follow you back.

I usually follow writers or funny people (particularly funny writers) back. I also follow back people who love books. I don't follow back people who want to show me how to lose weight or make $10,000 a month, and I really don't follow back girls with avatars showing them crawling on all fours and making eyes at the camera. I also don't follow back twitter birds or eggs, which are the generic avatars that Twitter comes with. Spammers usually use these, because they want to create and abandon Twitter profiles quickly. As Doctor Seuss almost said, "I do not like green eggs and spam." The two often come together, so you should try to avoid them.

You can also upload a nice Twitter background, so that people visiting your Twitter page can see you've put a little effort into it. If you have a digital camera, a nice panorama or a picture of flowers or leaves will do. For a while, I just had a photo I took of one of my bookshelves. I think that's a good way to show my interest in books. Right now, I have a bunch of my illustrations from Toren the Teller's Tale.

My current Twitter background with my illustrations for Toren the Teller's Tale

This might also be a good time to start following some people.

You can ask your friends on Facebook (if you're already on Facebook) for their Twitter names and the names of people they recommend following. You can also look up interesting people in your industry.

Give yourself a Twitter name, avatar, and bio that make it clear who you are
and why someone might want to follow your tweets.

Feel free to follow me, @SheviStories: http://twitter.com/shevistories.

You can also click on the list of people I'm following to see if there are people there you'd like to follow: http://twitter.com/#!/SheviStories/following Feel free to follow whoever you like. While most of the people I follow are writers, illustrators, or people in publishing, you'll find all sorts. For example, I'm a big geek, and I love Mythbusters, so you'll find I'm following AppyGeek and Adam Savage.

Pretty soon people will start following you. Just know that it's good manners to follow people back, although you should, obviously, never follow back a spammer. Also, don't expect a celebrity to follow you back. And if you're a writer, don't expect agents to follow you back. They might, but they probably won't. Still, you should follow them if you want to see what they're tweeting about.

Look up people you're interested in. I like Neil Gaiman, so I follow @NeilHimself. Editor Elizabeth Law is a lot of fun, so I follow @EgmontGal. And Ellen Hopkins is great, so I follow @EllenHopkinsYA. Type in the names of any people you're interested in, and, with any luck, you'll find them on Twitter.

Okay, once you're done with that, you can forget about the Twitter.com website, because you won't need to look at it until the next time you want to change your avatar, your information, or your background. That's because what you will be using--what almost everyone on Twitter uses--is TweetDeck.

Go to http://www.TweetDeck.com and click the button marked "Download."

When it comes to Twitter, TweetDeck is your new best friend.

Open the TweetDeck app, and everything after that should be clear.

TweetDeck starts with a page that looks like this:
The TweetDeck welcome page

See how all the information is there for  you to click on? You can find out how to compose a message, add multiple Twitter accounts, manage Twitter lists, sort information into columns, and so on. If you'd rather figure things out yourself, you can just click "Get Started" at the bottom of the window.

Here's what my TweetDeck window looks like:

I've created columns for the various topics I'm interested in.

In Twitter, a topic is usually, but not always, a word or group of words with a pound sign in front of it. That's why they're called hashtags, because of that hash mark, #, in front of them.

I created columns with the following hashtags, which let me follow conversations of interest to writers: #litchat #amwriting #writegoal #WritersRoad #askagent #YALitChat #KidLitChat.

Play around with hashtags to see what people are talking about. For example, do a search for "poet" if you're a poet, and find out if there are hashtags that contain the word "poet" or hashtags poets use. Create columns with the hashtags as the search terms, and read past conversations in those groups. If you'd like to join the next conversation, ask someone from the group if there's a scheduled chat and when the next one will be. Not all groups have scheduled chats, but they are one of the best uses for Twitter. To participate in a chat, make sure to incorporate the group's hashtag in your tweets.

Hover your cursor over someone's avatar, and you'll see several options. You can follow the person, reply to the tweet, or forward it. Start a conversation with someone. Don't be shy. A good way to start is by forwarding great tweets and saying how great you think they are. The original tweeter usually appreciates that.

Take it slow, have fun, and you should get the hang of it in a week.

Oh, and in answer to the "Why do I need this?" question, you don't. It's fun, though, and it's a good way to connect with people, make friends, and stay in the loop when it comes to developments and opportunities in the industry.

Have questions for agents, for example? The quickest way to get an answer is by using the #askagent hashtag. Feel good about writing 1,000 words in a day and you want to tell the world? The #amwriting and #writegoal hashtags are good for that. Have questions about writing YA? Try #WritersRoad, #YALitChat or #KidLitChat. You can even include multiple tags on the same tweet, provided you keep it under 140 characters.

Twitter is just another way to connect with people who share your interests--all of your interests. I even have columns in TweetDeck for #Eureka, #DoctorWho, #Grimm, and #OnceUponATime because I love these shows, and it's fun to talk to other people who love them too.

I hope this helps.

Oh, and there's one more thing. Blog posts like this often have buttons you can click below them in order to share them with your Facebook friends or Twitter followers. As a blogger, this makes it easier to share information that wouldn't fit into a 140-character tweet on Twitter. As a reader, this gives you an easy way to share helpful posts with other people. It's also a nice way to show your appreciation to whoever wrote that blog post, and most bloggers appreciate the recognition for their work.

I know I haven't included everything, not by a long shot, but I do hope it's enough to get you started without seeming too scary.

To tweet or not to tweet? I say give it a try! I look forward to reading your tweets.


Hardygirl said...

Okay, that was super-helpful! I'm twitter-challenged (a Facebook girl for the most part), but I'm trying!!

Time to reinstall tweet deck.


Shevi said...

Yes! Glad I could help.

Eric VanRaepenbusch said...

Thank you. My friends and I were just discussing this exact topic yesterday. I passed it on to them. Thanks.

Shevi said...

Thanks, Eric. You made me glad I wrote this post.

Billy Elm said...

Thanks Shevi. I'm twitter-challenged too, but will consider trying the tweet deck on your recommendation. I'll let you know how it goes.

Shevi said...

Hope it works out for you, Billy Elm.

Billy Elm said...

I think my answer is "Not to Tweet". I've been trying to get TweetDeck. I clicked the download button and followed install directions but when I tried to open it, it asked me again whether I wanted to install or cancel. I'm just frustrated and have more important ways of wasting my time. I will stick to facebook and blogging.