Happy 6th Birthday to Twitter. The social media platform based on messages of 140 characters is growing up and it’s time to take it seriously, authors.

As a recovering academic who studied communications history, I’ve spent decades observing how new communication technologies come and go. Remember 8-track tapes? Beta-video? Reel-to-reel and cassette tapes? Anyone remember the TV show “Car 54 Where Are You?”?

Twitter is a lot like the old-fashioned communication channels of broadcasting – like radio and television. The model is one message-to-many receivers.  Just like the police dispatcher put out the APB (All Points Bulletin) over the cop’s radio airwaves, so Twitter is like broadcasting your message to anyone “listening.” You don’t know who will hear the message; just put it out there into the cybersphere. Twitter reaches people you would never find through your Facebook Friends, your professional connections on LinkedIn, or the subscribers to your blog. It’s like putting up your flyer or business card on the bulletin board in your community center. Someone else may see it that you might never meet otherwise.

Using Twitter is more like using the “party line” on an old fashioned rural telephone system. Those who “follow” you will listen in on the conversations, and probably repeat the news that matters. Think of the opening sequences to the 1960s sitcoms, “Green Acres” and “Petticoat Junction,” for how the “party line” worked as a channel of communication. On Twitter, your friends and neighbors can join in the conversation. Those who hear your broadcast can interact making it a two-way flow of information. What makes Twitter different from the one-to-many and one-to-one communication channels, is that it allows for many-to-many interactions.

Twitter is most valuable for driving traffic to your website and blog for content that is more than 140 characters. Tweets are more like headlines than haiku. If your tweet grabs someone’s attention, you want to direct it to your more substantive work. Adding links to your Tweets helps readers find out more.

Using Twitter as an author involves strategy. Late one night in January, I was reading Twitter feeds from authors with new releases out and one gentleman, who shall remain nameless, went a bit nuts. After an hour’s worth of tweeting the same message to buy his book, he tweeted “Why are you people following me if you don’t want to buy my book?”  This author had more than 10,000 followers and not one of him gave him a hint. People are not buying books on Twitter. It is a social forum, not a shopping center.

Twitter.com should not be used primarily to hawk product. “BUY MY BOOK” never seems to work as an effective marketing message on Twitter. Instead, people will stop following you if that’s your only message. Think of this as a HUGE mistake, as in HUGE screamed by a used-car salesman on a late-night TV commercial. Instead, make your status updates sound more like a public service announcement. The first time Ruth, Senior Editor, in Austin realized the potential for Twitter as news instead of advertising was when I called her on the telephone and told her to look out her windows for the fires on all three sides of her home. I knew what was happening there before she did. If you give Twitter a try it won’t be long before you get to that “Aha” moment.

Resistance to Twitter is beginning to crumble among authors who publish today. Almost a year ago Salman Rushdie took to Twitter. And earlier this month, one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott began to tweet. If you look at their numbers of followers you won’t be astonished to see Rushdie has a quarter million; and Lamott well over 10,000 in less than a month.

But don’t make the numbers the goal. Quality, not quantity. You want to have a balance between those you follow and those who follow you. And you want to follow those who follow you (unless they appear to be spammy). You don’t need 10,000 followers if none of them ever connect or interact with you. Start building your Tweeps like you have your Friends, Connections, and Subscribers. Be nice and be yourself. Leave your megaphone in the closet with your cheerleading costume.

What to tweet about? The joyful moments in your day to day life (writerlyobservations). Where you will be giving a reading/book signing (if you do have a book to sell). Links to reviews of your book. What books you are reading. What bookstores you like. What cities you are visiting on your tour. What organizations sponsored your event. What concert you attended. What theatrical production did you see. Where do you like to write. Tweet about things readers would want to know about. Other good books. Authors you admire. Movies you enjoyed. What kind of pen you use or what font you prefer to write drafts. The stories of people you meet along the way. Those who have helped you in your writing. Write three or four nice things about others for each message of self-promotion as an author.

So how do you find your Tweeps? Too many authors make the mistake of following only agents, editors, and other authors as they discover a level playing field of access in the many-to-many channel of Twitter. Your tweeps need to include your readers, your future customers. Find those with whom you share interests. The subject matter or themes of your book will help you find others. Use the search engine in the top menu bar of Twitter. Put the hastag (#) in front of key words to find tweets of relevance. A new screen of the tweetstream will appear. Each message identifies the sender. Listen in on the conversation and those whose messages you find interesting or helpful, follow them. If you spend 10 minutes a day on Twitter, you can begin to find a few new tweeps every day.

You don’t need 10,000 followers to build an effective audience platform. You need 1,000 reader-leaders who follow your Twitter feed because they choose to listen to what you have to say. It’s all about the quality. Twitter is just a medium. It’s the message that counts.

3 thoughts on “Twitter for Authors: Social Media Strategies

    • Thanks for the correction. That rain you had the first three days of SXSW should help keep those wild fires down this spring.

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