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Grab your stealthiest coat and binoculars. I’m going to teach you some tips on following people.

When you first join Twitter, you have no followers. The best way to gain followers is to follow other people, preferably people who are in your field. If you write books about flying planes, you’ll probably want to follow people who write and publish books, who use social media, who fly planes, who make planes, who teach aviation courses, etc. But now you have hundreds of people in your feed. (Your feed is what you see on your front page of Twitter when you are logged in. You see the most recent posts of all the hundreds of people you are following). You have gained followers, but how are you ever going to make sense of all these posts? There are probably many of them who only tweet about how they are going to make fish for dinner or are dreading cutting the lawn. You could unfollow them (they aren’t likely to notice)…or…

Twitter Lists

You can create as many lists as you like. You can also follow other people’s lists. (You can also create private lists that only you can see.) You might want to make a list of book people you like, another for people who give good tips on social media, another on people who work with new plane technology, another for aviation educators, another for pilots. Then if you use something like Hootsuite or TweetDeck, you can line up all your lists and browse with ease.

You can also just pull the tweeters you actually want to follow into a list of your favorites. Maybe this includes your friends and family and your favorite bands who you like to follow in case they announce they’ll be playing in your town. Once you have this list, instead of checking up on the people you follow by going to twitter.com, you can go to

twitter.com/[yourtwittername]/[yourlistname]

 As an example, I am following 714 people, but I only want to read 35 of them, so I created a list called “besttweeters” and now instead of going to Twitter.com, I go to

twitter.com/milohtomb/besttweeters

So, how do you create a list?

Here’s one way. First you find a person who you want to add to the list. Let’s say you want to add Jim Keats. Here’s what his page looks like (twitter.com/jimkeats):

On the left, under the name “jimkeats” you’ll see the Follow button. On the right, you’ll see two more buttons: one that says “Lists” (big green arrow pointing to it) and the tools button that looks like a gear. Now, if you click that Lists button, it says “New list.” Click that and it will prompt you to name your list and give a description. Once you’ve done that (and chosen if you want it public (anyone can see it by putting in the URL) or private (only you can see it and only when you’re logged in)), you have created your first list. Congrats. To add other people to the list, start the same way by going to the person’s page. But now when you click the Lists button, you are given the choice to add another list or check mark the box to make this person go into the list you just created. Your new list will basically be like your front page feed (showing all the most recent tweets) but only of the people you put into the list.

Following other people’s lists

Sometimes creating a list is a lot of work, especially if there are people who have created better lists that suit your needs. Looking for a list of social media gurus? You could either seek out all those people yourself, or you could just follow http://twitter.com/ApplauseBooks/social-media

To follow it, you can:
A) Bookmark http://twitter.com/ApplauseBooks/social-media
B) Insert this list into your TweetDeck, Hootsuite, or any other tool you use to follow people
C) Click “follow this list” (which may be a bit messier)

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There is no mathmatical equation to getting Twitter followers, having influence, getting click-throughs, but there’s still right ways to do things and wrong ways to do things. Let’s go through some now:

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Don’t
Post a link with no explanation of what it is
Post boring things that happen in your day that even your closest friends don’t care about
Merely retweet what everyone else says. RT-ing is important, but it can’t be all you do.

Do
Be original
Show off your personality
Use mysterious or controversal intros to your links
Be relevant. Use hashtags and follow trending topics

Be Original
There are so many different things you can do with Twitter! Invent something new, see what inovators are doing, or look through this brainstormed list and see what works for you.

  • Give followers a glimpse into the writing process, or the publishing process. You’re listening to Brahms as you write chapter 3 but to Radiohead as you write chapter 4, and you’re beginning to wonder if it has an effect on the style. Or you just got the first proof of the book and it looks gorgeous!
  • Hold a competition: The first person to tell you why they love romance novels in 140 characters or less will get a character named after them. Or the first three people to RT this message will get an autographed book. Or put RT-ers into a drawing and once you get to 500 followers, pull a name and they’ll win a prize.
  • Ask questions. What are people’s favorite book blogs? Who’s their favorite author and why? Start conversations. Ask for opinions. Ask for advice.
  • Tell a joke. This here is my favorite joke telling Twitterer.
  • Ask trivia questions.
  • Link to specific features on your blog, website, interviews with you, excerpts from your work, etc.
  • Use yFrog or Twitpic to post photos. It doesn’t have to be of you. Is there a stack of author copies fresh from the printer in your living room? Is there a bookstore full of people waiting for you to sign their books? Take a picture!
  • Be creative!


Be Mysterious and Controversial
Make this a goal: get people to click on your links. If you’re using a URL shrinker that tracks your click-throughs, like Hootsuite, you’ll be able to tell if it’s working. Which of these will get more click throughs?

Family arrested for fraud after lying about their grandfather being the oldest man in Tokyo.   OR
Japanese mummy receives $109,000 in widowers pension.

They both lead to the same article, but one tells you enough so you don’t really need to read on, while the other makes you go “What is this? I have to click on this to find out what’s going on.” Think like a headline writer.

Be relevant
The front page of Twitter will always tell you what’s trending now. There are also various free tools to help you track the trends. Anything you see that applies to your work, make a mention of it. Don’t forget to use a hashtag to help people follow you. For example, if the hot topic of the day seems to be the hurricane, you would include #hurricane somewhere in your tweet about the hurricane. When people search for #hurricane, they will get all the tweets that have included #hurricane in them. It’s a nifty way to get noticed.

You can also use hashtags to get involved in chats. Sometimes people will schedule a live chat or interview on Twitter. Everyone who wants to participate just has to do a Twitter search for that hashtag and make sure they use that hashtag in all their posts. For example, there is a weekly #musicedchat hashtag chat. You’d search for #musicedchat on Twitter and then participate live by writing your responses in your What’s Happening box up top.

Useful Links
151 Ways to Tweet (Book Market)
Twitter 101 (eHow)
14 Cool Things People Do On Twitter (Penn Olson)
What Motivates People to Participate in Social Media? (Ami’s Space)

Social media is important to your career as a writer, but it doesn’t have to rule your life! Time and time again, I hear complaints about how people don’t want to join Twitter because they’ve heard that it takes up so much time. It depends how you use it. It doesn’t rule you–you rule it. So let’s talk budgeting your time.

Before you start, decide how much time you want to spend per day or per week on Twitter. Maybe you want to do 15 minutes per day, maybe an hour per week. You can always adjust your budget later on. Let’s talk about what you can do to use this time most efficiently.

Sign up for a free service that allows you to use Twitter and monitor your progress at the same time. I like http://hootsuite.com because of the owl. No, really, though, it’s a powerful tool that allows you to post your tweets; schedule tweets for the future; manage multiple accounts at the same time; read tweets based on who you follow, search words, twitter lists, and more. It also allows you to shrink URLs, which then allows you to see how many people have clicked on each of your links. It takes this data and breaks it into graphs for you based on location as well.

Break up your time as follows:
1. Post original material
2. Interact
3. Monitor

1. Post original material
Make it personal (show off your personality), make it interactive, make it fun, make it relevant (nobody wants to know what kind of cereal you had for breakfast). Write about the writing process. Are you having trouble with character development? Did you just turn in your manuscript? Is the publisher trying to change your title? Did the book just go to press? Is it on sale today? Let us know! Also include links to reviews, interviews, and free stuff. Don’t forget to link back to your website or blog frequently. I’ll post more about Twitter content in another post.

2. Interact
Read what other people are writing. Re-tweet the stuff you like and things you think your readers will be interested in too. The original tweeter will see that you retweeted and may return the favor.

See what other people are talking about. Follow the people who are in your genre, other writers, people in the writing industry, people involved with the concept of your book. Start conversations with them. They might introduce you to other influential tweeters.

FollowFriday is a meme that’s debatable as far as impact goes. It’s a polite way of saying that you like someone’s tweets and think others should follow them. They will often FF you back. You do this on Fridays by writing “#ff# and then listing people’s screen names with the @ symbol in front of each one.

Do searches for topics that you’re interested in now, either with or without the hash tag. You can run these searches right from the front page of Twitter. If your favorite Barnes and Noble is closing and you want to see who is talking about it, search “Barnes and Noble,” “B&N,” “#BN,” etc. and start talking with people about it.

3. Monitor
Real quick, before you sign off for the day, click the owl in the upper left. Choose Stats and Summary. It will tell you how many clicks you’ve gotten each day of the week. You can also view which links are getting the clicks. This will help you become better at writing intriguing links.