Network: How to Use Twitter to Connect With Readers

Lauren Cerand
From the July/August 2011 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In the way that the nineteenth century was a golden age for newspapers and telegrams, and the twentieth century ushered in boom times for broadcast media and the telephone, the twenty-first century belongs to social media. As a writer, it’s where you want to be, connecting with readers and new opportunities in a congenial atmosphere where you have a competitive advantage because of your skills and talent.

While it’s one of the most increasingly popular social-media platforms, Twitter is also derided by some as the place where people with too much time on their hands announce in one hundred forty characters (or, hopefully, fewer) what they’ve had for lunch. It’s true, Twitter holds within it a staggering repository of mundane and meaningless information from across the globe. However, if you manage it correctly, you can use Twitter to promote yourself and your writing, to engage with your readers, or to stay current on the publishing and literary scenes. Here are a few simple rules to get started.

Establish a handle. When signing up for a Twitter account, your username will become your handle, the name to which your tweets (or posts) will be attributed. Keep in mind that tweets are limited to one hundred forty characters, so brevity is in your best interest, especially as a short and concise handle increases your chances of being mentioned by someone else. Also make sure it’s easy to spell and remember. 

Tweet twice a day. Much more than that—unless you have something especially compelling to convey—can keep you at the screen to the detriment of the page.

Join the literary conversation by tweeting about subjects that relate to your interests, achievements, and habits as a writer. Some authors tweet book recommendations; others tweet about the progress of their own work (crowdsourcing can be an invaluable way to get feedback). And reply to others’ tweets when you have something to say (click Reply under their tweet). That person may then respond by retweeting your comment, which would then post your message to her stream or feed (both terms that describe the aggregate of posts).

Categorize your tweets using hashtags, which organize topics of interest. For example, attendees at a one-day book-camp gathering might include #bookcamp in their tweets about the event. This allows other users to easily find and peruse all the posts with that mark system-wide, and is especially useful for both attendees at the conference and those keeping up from afar in real time.

Follow the leading lights in your field. Compile a list of critics, editors, publishing professionals, and publications; then follow them. The search box on the Twitter homepage can help you find people by name. Having them follow you back is not as important as being in a position to respond to a question or opportunity they might offer their followers. Reading Twitter daily can be as useful as reading every industry publication in the morning and going to a party every night.

Mind your manners and make new friends. Etiquette is a key aspect of social media, and adhering to a few conventions is crucial for success. When replying, keep your comments pertinent; randomly promoting your latest link to people who have not professed an interest is likely to fall flat. Much better to post your message to your stream, and if people take notice, retweet one, two, or three mentions in a day. More than that is aggravating and impolite. If you have something clever to say, you may add it when posting something someone has said about you. Otherwise, a simple and straightforward retweet will suffice. It’s also good manners to share good news about your fellow writers. Anyone you mention is likely to return the favor.

Be mindful of your presence online. As people take notice of your activity on Twitter, they may begin to follow you. Use this influence wisely and keep your posts topical and on message. Nurture the same positive, encouraging environment that makes literary connections thrive and flourish in the “real world,” and you will soon hear the power of your tweets amplified many times over.

Lauren Cerand is an independent public relations representative specializing in strategic consultation, whose clients this year include authors Diana Balmori, Meg Cabot, Tayari Jones, and Terese Svoboda.

See our list of informative and inspiring writing-related Twitter feeds to follow.