Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Twitter Tutorial: The Long Version

Monday night I did a Twitter presentation at the Houston SCBWI meeting, as the chapter's official Twitter Goddess. Twitter is easy to use once you get started, but there was a lot of information to try to present to a group in a short time, so I wanted to post a long version of the notes online. I decided to do that in a blog post so anyone who needs help getting started on Twitter or needs a refresher can see the notes. We'll start out with the basic stuff and work our way up to more coolness, so start wherever you need to. At the end of the post are links to a few awesome Twitter articles that others have written.

If you don’t have an account yet, go to twitter.com and click the yellow “Sign Up” button. Fill out the form on the next page. You can choose whatever user name you want as long as it isn’t too long (over 20 characters) and isn’t taken, but it’s best to choose something close to your real name (or the name you use as a writer), so people will recognize you. Sure, I could use my stripper name @BubblesSunnyleather, but since most people I interact with are book people, I want to use my writer name.

It’s okay to use an underscore mark, like JimBob_Writer, but don’t use any other special characters or spaces. Twitter will walk you through a set up for selecting some followers and writing you bio. Fill in a short bio and upload a small picture. Having a bio and a picture lets people know you’re a real person they might like to follow. To edit your profile later, click your user name at the top of the page, then “Settings,” then “Profile.”

Once you have your account, you can start tweeting by typing something (up to 140 characters) in the box at the top of the page, then click “Tweet” to send it. This will show up on your followers’ pages, and anyone who visits your profile will be able to see your tweets. This is kind of like a status update on Facebook--let your followers know what you’re doing, mention a book you just read, ask a question, etc.

Retweets (RTs)
Retweeting is a way to copy what someone else said while still giving credit for it. If you see a tweet that’s funny or interesting, you may want to retweet it for your followers or for anyone who didn’t see it before. Suppose my imaginary friend @HoustonAuthor tweeted this:

Just got a 6-figure book deal! And Disney bought the movie rights! Yay!

So I want to share the good news with my followers who may not know @HoustonAuthor yet, or with those who missed it when this was tweeted hours ago. I could do this automatically by clicking the “Retweet” button just below the tweet:

That will copy the exact tweet from @HoustonAuthor, but with the RT symbol and my user name:  by LynneKelly to let my followers know this is something I've retweeted.

Or I might want to add something to it. In that case, I'll copy and paste the tweet by hand, then type my own message and an “RT” before @HoustonAuthor’s name. Then my tweet would look like this:

So now I’ve added my congratulations, and my followers know that everything after the RT refers to what @HoustonAuthor said. Also, they’ll be able to click on @HoustonAuthor’s name to see her Twitter feed if they’d like to.

An @reply is a way of saying something to a specific person, although it isn’t private. People who follow both you and the person you’re talking to will see it, as will anyone who visits your page. You can @reply someone by:
- typing @ in front of their user name
- clicking "reply" on one of their tweets
- selecting "Mention" from the tool icon in their profile

Example: @MyPretendDog You’re not sleeping on the bed, are you?

Because @ is the first character there, only people who follow both me and @mypretenddog will see that on their home pages. If I start with any other character, all my followers can see it:

.@MyPretendDog is the best dog ever.

I sure hope @MyPretendDog isn’t chewing on the couch.

Any of my followers can see that, because I didn’t start with the @. And @MyPretendDog will notice it when she checks her replies.

So don't do something like this:

@MyPretendDog is awesome and you should all follow her!

'Cause who's going to see that? People already following you and @MyPretendDog, because I started with the @. Put some other character in front of the @, or put the @username later in the sentence.

I could do this too as a way of passing along @HoustonAuthor’s good news. Instead of RTing her book deal tweet, I could write:

Congratulations to @HoustonAuthor on her awesome new book deal!

Interacting with other people is the best part of Twitter, so you want to know if people are talking to you or about you so you can reply back. You don’t want to ignore people, do you?
 At the top of the page is this bar:

By clicking on the “@Mentions” tab, you’ll see the tweets of people who mentioned you. When @MyPretendDog checks her replies, she’ll see the tweets that include her user name, like this one:

I sure hope @MyPretendDog isn’t chewing on the couch.

Then @MyPretendDog will probably want to answer me back:

Even if I’m not on Twitter at the moment to see it on my main page, I’ll see it whenever I check my replies. But remember, it’s not private--anyone following both of us can see that conversation. Suppose I had a cat who followed @MyPretendDog and me. @ThePretendCat noticed our conversation, and tweeted this:

@LynneKelly Hey, @MyPretendDog is sleeping on your bed. Shall I bite her for you?

Both @MyPretendDog and I will see that on our pages and under our Mentions tab, since both our user names are there.

Check your retweets now and then too--if people RT you automatically by just clicking the “Retweet” button under your tweet, you may not see that in your replies. It’s good to thank people who’ve shared one of your tweets, and checking your RTs will show you who’s done that. Click the “Retweets” tab, then “Your tweets, retweeted.

That will bring up a list of your tweets that someone else RTed. Click on the arrow on the right side of the tweet to see who RTed that. Then you can click on each of their names and send them a message if you want. @HoustonAuthor may write something like:

Thanks for the RTs about the book deal! @LynneKelly @Mydog @OtherHoustonAuthor

But what if you want to say something to a person but don’t want the whole world to see it? That’s when you use the direct message, or DM.
Again, there’s more than one way to do this. You can type by hand:

But it’s easier to click the “Message” tab on a follower’s profile:

Once you're on your Messages page, click “New Message.” Type who you want to send a DM to, then type your message in the window.

On your Twitter page you’ll see the tweets of people you’re following. Now you know how to tweet, RT, and reply, but if you’re not following anyone your page will be blank. So how do you get followers, and who do you follow? 
If you know someone’s user name, you can go to their profile by adding it to the Twitter address in the address bar, like this: www.twitter.com/scbwihouston.

From there you can click the green “Follow” button. Now you’re following SCBWI Houston! [Or if you belong to another SCBWI chapter, you should be able to find them on Twitter also. Type the chapter name in the search window if you don't know their user name, or look at the SCBWIHouston "Following" list-- all the chapters should be there, and you can click "Follow" from there.]

For suggestions, click the “Who to Follow” tab at the top of the page. Twitter will suggest people you might like to follow, based on who you’ve followed so far. There will also be a “Who to Follow” section on the side of your page that Twitter will update with suggestions. You can also search for someone by typing a name in the search box at the top of the page.

Another good way to find people is by checking out others’ “Following” and “Followers” lists. Find out who they like to follow and who’s following them. Once you follow someone, they may decide to follow you back. You'll do the same for your new followers--check your list now and then and see if you'd like to follow back the people who are following you. If you're not interested in following them back, you don't have to do anything, but if they're so creepy you don't even want them following you, hit "Block."

For an easy way to find editors and agents to follow, go to my profile at http://twitter.com/lynnekelly then click "Lists," and select the Editors-Agents list. You'll see the recent tweets from the people on that list, but on the right side of the page, click "View all following" to see everyone I've added to it. (A lot of other writers or publishing people you will have similar lists.) Then check who those people are following--you'll find more people you want to follow.

It's not okay to pitch your novel or query an agent or editor via Twitter, but following them is a great way to find out what's going on in the publishing industry and with their own work; they might tweet "Finally getting to my January queries" or "I wish someone would send me a good mermaid erotica manuscript," for example. And if an agent tweets, "If I get one more manuscript about woodland creatures or wizards I'm going to throw my computer out the window," then you know to send your novel about a squirrel who goes to wizard school to someone else. Of course they also tweet about things that aren't work-related, like what's going on with their kids or pets or where they like to shop. They start to seem like real people, almost.

Look for businesses you like and follow them, too--they may tweet about specials or coupons, and a lot of companies are using Twitter as one more way to provide customer service. Check out the feeds of Overstock.com or Zappo's, for example. Notice how often they're responding to customers. They're watching for people who mention them, offering help to those who complain and saying thanks to those who compliment them.

You don’t have to use lists, but they’re a good way to organize your followers, especially if you’re following a lot of people. When you’re on someone’s page, click on the little arrow button to add them to a list you’ve made:

That way, you can quickly check the tweets only of the people on a certain list, like "My favorite funny people,” "Authors I like," "Friends from prison," or whatever you want to make a list for. Click on a list to weed out everybody else on the page.

By typing a hashtag (#) in front of a word or phrase, people can click on that word or phrase to follow a conversation about that topic, or see what others are saying about it. Good examples are the Tuesday evening #kidlitchat and Wednesday evening #YAlitchat. People interested in children’s and young adult literature discuss that night’s topic by adding #kidlitchat or #YAlitchat to their tweets. When you click on a hashtag like #kidlitchat, a page comes up showing all the tweets with that hashtag, whether you’re following the participants or not. Even if you can’t participate in real-time, you can bring it up later to read the conversation. Either click on the hashtag in someone’s tweet or type it in the search box at the top of the page.

A popular hashtag on Fridays is #FF, for "Follow Friday," used for suggesting other users to follow. Check out the follow recommendations from people you like following, and you may find some new ones to add to your follow list. (@DiandraMae explained at the meeting that while an @ is kind of like the "To:" in an email, a hashtag is like a subject. You don't have to use a hashtag, but it's a way to follow a subject.)

Under "trending topics" on the right side of your home page, Twitter lists the popular topics people are talking about, and those are often hashtag phrases.

A Bit About Marketing
There were some questions about using Twitter to market yourself, but really, the best way to market yourself is to NOT actively market yourself, if that makes sense. Or at least not to look like you are. It's not interesting to follow people who tweet about their own book (or themselves in general) over and over, but users who have a lot of followers are those who interact with others and are funny, helpful, supportive, entertaining, or otherwise interesting. For users who tweet about all kinds of stuff and interact with their followers, I celebrate with them when they tweet, "Hey, I just got a book deal!" because I feel like I already know them. And I'll probably look for that book when it comes out. I'll give a couple popular authors on Twitter as examples (please share your favorites in the comments--there are so many great authors on Twitter.

Look how many followers Maureen Johnson has. She didn't get many by talking about her books. Notice how many of her tweets show her interacting with those followers. (When she has a phrase in quotes with someone's user name, that's her way of RTing a question or comment to her, then she'll type her answer after that.) Whenever she does mention a new release or other good news about her books, it doesn't bother anyone because that's not what her twitter feed is about. It's about her being herself and having fun talking to people about whatever's going on with her (or her weird neighbors). I'm not saying you have to tweet as much as she does--she's obviously a vampire who needs no sleep, or she has a well-trained army of monkeys to do her work for her. Tweet as little or as much as you're comfortable with, but remember to be yourself and get to know people.

Libba Bray is another great example of a funny/interesting/nice/wacky person to follow. You'll notice she too has a good balance of tweets, retweets, and replies in her feed. (She'd probably say that she's not well-balanced otherwise.)

Follow Cynthia Leitich Smith because she knows everyone and everything. Great links to author/agent/editor interviews and articles about the publishing industry, and she's super-supportive of other authors.

The Writer's Digest article listed below goes more in depth into social networking and book sales.

You can do everything on Twitter straight from the web page, but there are applications you can download to make it easier to organize and follow. Tweetdeck, for example (downloaded from tweetdeck.com) organizes your lists, replies, and hashtags you’re following into columns, automatically shortens web page addresses, and makes it easy to add pictures to your tweets.

See these excellent articles for more information:

Nathan Bransford's post about how to use Twitter
Twitter Tips For Writers
Mom, This Is How Twitter Works (Not Just For Moms!)
Don't Tweet That: How Not To Be A Twitter Dork (includes easy fixes)

Still have questions? Send me an @reply on Twitter. Like this:


  1. I have read a few of these blogs explaining how twitter works and I cant find the info Im looking for. If I mention @someone in a tweet, do I show up in their feed for all @someone's followers to see?

  2. I think I know what you mean, Cal, so let me know if this answers your question-- if you @reply someone, the tweet will show up on the feeds of people who are following both of you (like in the example of @MyPretendCat above), but anyone who goes to your page will see your @reply also. It doesn't show up on the other person's profile page like you're posting on a Facebook wall, though.

  3. Same thing-- if you use @ plus their user name in a tweet, that person will see it, and so will your followers. (Unless @ is the first character; in that case, people following you and @someone will see it.)
    It doesn't show up on @someone's profile page for their followers to see.
    If someone visits your profile, they're see it in your feed with all your other tweets.
    If you go to my profile, for example, www.twitter.com/lynnekelly, everything you see there is something I've tweeted or retweeted; you won't see what others have said to me or about me in an @mention.