“There’s a lot more to using social media for book promotion,” I wrote last week, “than simply knowing the names of the most popular sites or even how to set up an account with and update each one.”  Twitter is no exception.  This social media platform is often described as a “microblogging” website, a descriptor which implies that Twitter users manage their feed and profile content the way they would a blogging website––only in smaller chunks.  This is only partially true, in that some Twitter users who also have blogs may use the same parameters to manage both platforms, or in that some Twitter users treat the site as a tool for unspooling narrative.

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If you spend any quality time on Twitter, however, you’ll rapidly discover that terms like “microbloggers” or “microblogs” only describe a small fraction of the feeds out there; some users compile data and statistics while others use their feeds to start conversations, and still others mostly neglect their own feeds while spending their time watching other peoples’.  Back in 2013, Steve Faktor deconstructed and described ten types of Twitter users in a 2013 Forbes article that still, for the most part, holds up beautifully.  For the indie, hybrid, or self-published author, Twitter can be a minefield––rife with potential rewards for the daring and discerning user, yes, but a minefield nonetheless.  This is, in part, because the fundamental operating assumption out there about Twitter––that is actually preached by its own PR team––is that it is awash with activity, engagement, and avid disseminators of information.  This is simply untrue.

Debunking the Great Twitter Myth: “If I tweet regularly, followers will appear.”

Twitter, like any other website, has its active users and its passive users.  Many people set up Twitter accounts and then forget about them, or never really learn how to use them, or find that the website isn’t as cozy and endearing as it was made out to be.  (Lady Gaga doesn’t respond to every tweet her followers tag her in?  What?!  And your most engaged followers turn out to be spambots?  Uh-oh.)  It’s actually rather difficult to “break into” the Twitter community, which largely relies on name-recognition and a blend of appealing content, interactivity, and incentives to keep people coming back and checking their feeds.  As Faktor writes in his article, “Of the billions of tweets sent, 71% get no response, only 36% are worth reading, and a majority is generated by a tiny fraction of users.”  This isn’t to say that it’s pointless to try and become “Twitter Famous,” but it is important not to tie your entire book-promotion strategy back to a mythical welcoming Twitterverse.  “Twitter is a personal announcement system,” Faktor tells us, “that captures the collective pulse of a world screaming for attention––or revolution, or discounts, or Kanye.”  There will always be an element of unpredictability, as well as social utility, to what “makes it big” on Twitter.

So, how do we ensure that our time on the site isn’t wasted in producing content no one will ever read?

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Set it up––all of it––correctly.  Most Twitter accounts are “dark,” which means they’re either in hibernation––that is, they’re only rarely updated, if ever––or were never set up properly and are therefore the amputated leavings of someone’s digital footprint.  Your first task is to make yourself “findable,” which means that you use every detail of your profile––picture, avatar, short biography, and yes, even your Twitter name or “handle”––as a marketing opportunity.  A polished photograph of you and/or your book, a tagline that includes keyword-rich phrases that will show up in search engine indexing, and a distinctive yet readable handle (I.E.: neither “jane-doe17” nor “sweetROMANCEauthor4u”) will go a long, long way toward rendering you findable.

2. Set yourself a daily and weekly Twitter task.  In addition to being findable you have to be visible.  If you are competing with other Twitter users who are selling similar products (READ: books) and therefore producing similar content, then you absolutely must differentiate yourself from these other users.  Celebrities can get away with taking a haphazard approach to what material they post and when and how often, but you can’t.  Set yourself a routine, and stick to it––and you’ll develop a dedicated group of followers who know they can rely on you to produce, week in and week out, something that they wish to read.  Whether this means you post a link to a longer blog post every Monday, a revived “From the Archives” post every Tuesday, a “What I’m watching or reading or listening to now” post every Wednesday, or something else each day of the week is up to you.  Make sure you respond to all (legitimate) direct messages and public tags (when someone else uses your Twitter handle to mention you) on a set schedule, also, and that way your followers will know you care!

3. Use a third-party website to schedule your tweets.  There are plenty of options out there, these days, and it doesn’t matter which one you use so much as the fact that you are willing to use them.  (I personally have used the very simple TwitterFeed website, but I recommend looking at a couple before you decide.  Kristi Hines over at KissMetrics has reviewed quite a few of them, and several look like they show promise.  But first: What does it mean to “schedule” your tweets?  It means that you write them all at once, but spread out when they actually post to your feed so that other people can read and respond to them.  You can go on vacation, for example, and rest easy knowing that your Twitter feed will run smoothly in your absence, without interruption.  The best part of scheduling your tweets is that you can develop better personal time-management skills––you can write all of your tweets for the week on a Saturday night, and that frees you up to chase as many bunny trails and respond to as many questions and maybe even spend more time offline than you would otherwise.

4. Listen to your followers, and don’t overdo it.  A lot of people, including myself, are tempted to give up Twitter because it can quickly devolve into a hot mess of confusing data, links, conversations, and other disconnected tidbits.  There’s quite literally way too much to keep up with going on at any point in time on Twitter––we live in a restless world, and everyone wants to announce their place in it.  Don’t be afraid to trumpet your own fine product (READ: book), but be aware that an effective tweet isn’t always a simple declaration of “here’s a thing you should buy.”  An engaged and interested follower will be far more likely to plonk down the money for your book or ebook than someone who just sees that “here’s a thing” tweet without any context.  Especially if that tweet is buried amidst a whole bunch of other content that isn’t interactive, and isn’t encouraging them to enter your world in a personal and fun way.  Before you know what constitutes “too much” and “just right” for your followers, you have to listen to them.  Don’t pile on tweet after tweet without pause, without taking a breath, and without waiting for followers to retweet, reply, or “favorite” your last tweet.  Don’t waste your time; time is a precious commodity when it comes to shaping your digital identity.  Save it for tweets that matter––and that speak to what your followers actually respond to.

5. Remember to incentivize.  Incentives can be tangible (like a giveaway or a discount), or intangible (like special “insider” or “behind-the-scenes” content), but they perform at least two vital functions: they make your followers feel valued, and they keep your followers coming back for more.  One of the greatest failings of the “here’s a thing” tweet I mentioned above is that there’s absolutely nothing to it that hooks a follower and reels him in.  There’s no privilege or sense of inclusion or outright benefit to someone reading that tweet, much less deciding to follow through and buy your book.  Twitter, at its best, is a conversation.  At its worst, it is a one-sided conversation.

Most Overlooked Feature:

Twitter’s most overlooked feature is its hashtags.  I’m not saying that people don’t use hashtags––believe me, they do, and they do and they do and they do and they do––but they rarely use them effectively.  The best hashtags will group related tweets together so that when you click on one (like #weneeddiversebooks), all tweets with that particular hashtag will show up in a separate but continuous feed.  If the hashtag is too common (like #love, for example), far too many tweets will show up and it will turn into a big bowl of nonsensical mishmash.  If the hashtag is too specific (like #ramennoodlesareforqueens), then it’s unlikely that anyone else will ever tag their tweets with that same hashtag––and while that can definitely be useful, if you are up for the challenge of starting your own hashtag movement, it effectively excludes everyone else from the conversation.  (And, well, there goes the “social” part of “social networking.)

The current trend is, of course, over-tagging.  (There’s even a hashtag for that!)  You can end up with a hilarious Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake skit, but you can also end up with a whole lot of confused or disinterested followers.  (In real life.  The skit is hilarious.)

Build your own hashtag(s), absolutely.  Build them wisely.  And shape them, as you do all of your Twitter habits, to structured and intentional ends.  I have every confidence you can use Twitter effectively to promote your book(s)––but it’s not the only way to do so, and we’ll be examining many other ways as the Wednesdays roll around!

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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