The Author Toolbox: Being Heard on Twitter (Part One)

Did you ever walk into a crowded lunch room on the first day at a new school and feel a bit overwhelmed by all the people and chattering conversations swirling around you? Almost panic wondering where “your” friends were hiding in the chaos?

That’s Twitter with it’s 328 million users worldwide and 70 million active monthly users in the United States. It’s one giant conversation where everyone is talking all at once. But just like you might be able to pick out a few key words in conversations enough to know which group is dissecting the latest football game and which is arguing the finer points of a movie’s plot, Twitter also has ways to search for your kind of people.

Unlike Facebook’s neighborhood full of friends, businesses, and groups, Twitter is basically eavesdropping. It’s like sitting down with the cool kids and listening to what they have to say, then occasionally interjecting a comment or reply…and maybe they will pay attention to you long enough to listen back. Or another eavesdropper does. Twitter is also standing up in that same room with a quick announcement (after all, you only get 140 characters) and hoping someone heard you above the noise.

Sound intimidating? Don’t worry. Just like that school lunch room, you will eventually find your table with the people who just might become your best friends. Better yet, you’ll find the people who want to eavesdrop on your conversation because *you* are their idea of a cool kid.

Tool #1: Get followers the organic way. How? Start by finding people with whom you have something in common. You should know the name of someone who writes in your genre or is an expert on your non-fiction topic. Search for their name or for a key word. In the search results, if you click on the person’s name, you’ll see their profile with their most recent tweets listed. If what they have to say sounds interesting, click to follow them. (This is a great source of content to retweet to your own followers later so you sound smart and offer value to others plus this individual will be glad for the exposure to a larger audience. Win-win.)

While you’re on the profile of that someone-famous-you-want-to-follow, click to see who they are following. This will lead you more people to eavesdrop on or interact with as well as more content to share. Then click over to see who is also following the famous person. These are some of their fans and if you’re going to write in that same area, these are the people you’ll want to win over. Check out what a few of them have to say, see who is the most active or gets a lot of retweets, and add them to your “who I’m following” list. However, while you’re on a follow-lots-of-people binge, be careful not to trigger Twitter’s creepy stalker alarms. Rather, add a dozen or so per day.

Now what? Say something so Twitter knows you’re a real person with a personality. Retweet or share something profound that someone else said. Reply to a question someone you’re now following asked. Thank them for the thought to ponder today. Keep talking at regular intervals and people will start to listen.

Some people you follow will automatically follow you back in a bit of Twitter-etiquette. Whew. You’re not a loner in the lunch room. Others will start following you first. When this happens, rejoice…then go check out their profile. If they seem normal, follow them back. (Yes, there are trolls out there with inappropriate content you might have to block.) As you interact and continue to provide valuable and interesting content, your numbers will grow. While agents and editors will tell you it’s a numbers game, the quality of your followers matters more than talking to the masses but only a few even care. Please don’t be tempted to buy followers just to look more important than you really are.

One last tip about followers. There are some who will “un-follow” you a couple days after you responded to follow them because their only objective was to pad their numbers rather than build relationships. However, it’s also a good idea for you to occasionally wean out the list of those you follow especially if there’s a large imbalance between the number you follow and your own followers. Free tools like ManageFlitter or CrowdFire will analyze the list of who you follow in order to find inactive accounts and identify those who don’t follow you back. Then you can decide if you want to stop eavesdropping on them or not depending on the quality of content they share.

The more people you follow, the more “noisy” your Twitter feed will become and the more likely it becomes that you will miss out on something important. That’s where the power of Twitter’s built-in tools happens.

Tool #2: Use lists to sort through the noise. Back in the section about scheduling, I mentioned a feature of Hootsuite that allows you to set up filters to show a stream of certain people or key words. You can do the same thing inside Twitter using lists. This is almost like designating a lunchroom table for the band, the cheerleaders, or the math team.

First, on your profile, you create a new list and make it either private or public. A private list might contain family members or even anyone associated with your son’s college basketball team that you want to eavesdrop on. A public list is public so be careful what you name the list. Then, it’s time to add people to each list you created. Depending on the device you use to access Twitter, go to that person’s profile and look for the three vertical dots next to the follow button or the three tiny dots in the upper right corner on your phone. Find the option that says “add to list” then select which list.

The power of a public list is that you can subscribe to someone else’s list and save yourself the work of doing it yourself. Just go to the profile of someone you’d like to copy and click on the “lists” tab to see what public lists they have created or subscribed to and even who is on that list. Examples of lists I’ve found are book bloggers, reviewers, book promotion sites, or even authors who belong to the same organization I do.

Once the lists are in place, it’s time to filter the noise. Click on your profile, select “Lists,” and then pick the one you want. That will bring up a feed of tweets and retweets from only the people on that list. A quick scroll later and you are caught up on all the gossip, er conversation happening around that table. If you have a list comprised of inspirational people or quote sites, this is a great way to easily find the best content to share with your own followers. It’s also helpful to see what other authors are tweeting about for ideas of what types of things are getting the most interaction.

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