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

Now that you’ve got the basics of Twitter covered, here are a few more tools to use as you build your platform.

Tool #3: Use trending topics and hashtags to jump into existing conversations. Just like back in the high school lunch room, there are topics that captured everyone’s attention and cross the hypothetical lines between the social groups. Whether it’s the Super Bowl, a big awards show, politics, an eclipse, or the latest stupid thing a certain celebrity did, people from around the world are talking about it and Twitter pays attention to those trending topics.

One cool thing I discovered about trending topics is that you can change the default filter that is based on your location and the people you follow to instead focus worldwide, nationally, regionally, or even locally. Several years ago, days of rain in the mountains caused a massive flood in our area that even closed the Interstate for a bit. Using this feature of Twitter, I found the absolute latest news on closures and even pictures from ordinary people like me. However, local businesses, organizations, and even authors can use trending topics to tailor their message or offer to show up in those conversations. (A word of caution: Make sure your message is relevant and contributes something of value to discussions about the trending topic. Slapping a Super Bowl tag on the link to my dinner theater romance book is simply spam.)

Hashtags (those strings of words or letters starting with the # sign) are more than a topic label. They can also create a type of chat room between like-minded people. By searching for or clicking on that hashtag inside a tweet, you get a filtered stream of posts that can help you get the information you want (like the score of a high school game across the state), find new people to follow because they have the same interests, or even discover related hashtags that are used more often. Anything you tweet with a particular hashtag becomes part of that new conversation. Some hashtags are generic like #amwriting or #newrelease but others are event specific like #ACFW2016.

In addition to joining an existing conversation, you can also work to create one. Many authors create a hashtag for their book title and I’ve seen some use this feature to attempt a true chat room to answer questions from readers during a scheduled time. It might take some time to build the momentum, but once it gets going, theoretically everything you said at the beginning is still there to be found.

Tool #4: Use images or memes or quote someone else’s tweet to get around that 140 character limit and maximize your message. Writing tweets is an exercise in brevity and the concise editing required would make Strunk and White proud. If you’re trying to comment on someone else’s tweet, often your words don’t make sense without the context but you don’t want to waste any of those precious characters explaining yourself. That’s where the quote feature comes in handy because it displays the original post in an indented box and leaves you the full tweet capacity for your brilliant words of wisdom on the topic.
Like on other platforms, images capture our attention above the noisy lunch room chatter scrolling by and we’re more likely to actually read at least part of the message that went with the picture. Many authors add words to that image to convey a larger message.

Recently, Twitter expanded to allow the addition of short video clips instead of a still picture along with the tweet’s text. And with the rise of live video on other platforms, look for Twitter to expand the chance to add that option as well beyond their separate Periscope application. (More about live video later on.)

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