How Writers Can Use Twitter Effectively

by Kristen Lamb

February 2014

Twitter is one of the most powerful forms of social media for authors and one of the best ways to go viral. Yet, I’m amazed at how many writers ignore or abuse this platform due to ignorance or misinformation. Twitter is a tool, and when used improperly it’s ineffective and can even create epic damage.  

Try hanging pictures with a chainsaw and see how that works out. 

What is that # Thingy? 

The # is called a hashtag. The purpose of the hashtag is to connect people all over the globe according to interests and hobbies. The # is a word filter. Twitter uses magic algorithmic fairies (#s) to gently guide our 140 characters to where others might actually see them and care. 

This means if I want to connect with people who love puppies, I can add #puppies at the end of a tweet, click that hashtag and POOF!!!! A magical column will appear filled with other people who love sharing and chatting about #puppies, too.  

There’s a reason the information and entertainment industries all have hashtags. The History Channel wants fans to be able to talk about #AncientAliens. Fans can collectively chat about #DowntownAbbey or gasp about #hoarders, #dancemoms, or #preppers. We can even join global viewing parties to make friends and have fun as we watch #Sharknado.  

Best BAD movie EVER. 

The # is How We Find READERS

Who cares if someone only buys one or two books a year if they are your books? If we write techno-thrillers, then it’s probably a good idea to connect with servicemen and servicewomen on #Army, #Navy, #Airforce or #Marines. Chat with military people. They are your audience.

If we write suspense or thrillers? Audiences who can’t get enough #wiveswithknives, #SwampMurders, or #DiscoveryID are probably open to books about serial killers, kidnappings, or murder for hire. 

Yes, writing hashtags are fabulous for connecting with a community of peers. It’s why I created #MyWANA, which is meant to be a virtual water cooler for writers. But, we should never mistake our professional peers for potential readers. Yes, writers buy and read a lot of books. In fact, most of us probably need a 12 Step Program. But, we’re oversold and worn out. And, at the end of the day, writers make up an infinitesimally small percentage of the overall population craving information or entertainment

The # is How We Find and Make Friends 

Many writers sign up for Twitter and feel like they’re tweeting to the ether. If we don’t use hashtags, Twitter can be very boring and lonely. Write a list of all your interests (OTHER than writing) and try hashtags.  

I will warn you that this is a process of trial and error for a number of reasons. First, people might not be using a hashtag. For instance, I tried chatting on #BBT only to realize fans were talking on #TheBigBangTheory. Easy fix. 

The other problem is spammers will poison hashtags with automation. The second lazy opportunists notice a thriving community of real people they’ll often begin automating their non-stop infomercials and ads and include the hashtag. Unless the hashtag has a vigilant Overwatch (reporting and correcting abusers), the hashtag eventually withers and dies. 

Wow, people are on social media to…socialize? YES.

Being Responsible with Hashtags 

I am against all automation. If we wanted to chat with robots, we’d call AT&T. We are writers, and typing 140 characters a few times a day should be easy. 

People will notice a real person, but automation quickly becomes invisible and eventually annoying. Too much automation (especially with #s) can even create negative branding. If people begin to associate our face and name with non-stop self-promotion? Bad way to make friends. Great way to make people want to punch us in the face. 

I detest automation, but automation that includes hashtags is particularly evil. Why? If we follow someone on Twitter and all they do is tweet “Buy my book! Buy my book! Look at ME!” we can unfollow and escape. But, if someone uses a hashtag in their automation, those following that # have no way to escape short of abandoning the hashtag community.  

Also, there may be a major world event, tragedy, holiday or some flicker in the Twitter-Time-Space-Continuum that makes a hashtag less active for a period of time. Sure, if a bunch of people are talking using #MyWANA, automation gets buried in the conversations and might be missed. BUT, if the community isn’t active, this can happen: 

@KristenLambTX Hey, what is everyone writing today? My book on feral nuns is ready for sale #MyWANA 

@KristenLambTX Hey, what is everyone writing today? My book on feral nuns is ready for sale #MyWANA 

@KristenLambTX Hey, what is everyone writing today? My book on feral nuns is ready for sale #MyWANA 

@KristenLambTX Hey, what is everyone writing today? My book on feral nuns is ready for sale #MyWANA 

My tweet might appear to be a real person any other active day, except it’s now appeared four times in a row. Automation pretending to be present is a major peeve of mine. When someone sees this stuff, they 1) know I’m a bot, and 2) are insulted because it seems I think my fellow tweeters have the IQ of overcooked escargot. 

Also, a chatty automated tweet can land us in a MAJOR BRAND DISASTER. Most regular people on Twitter (code for readers) only have 20-100 friends, and are often unaware of automation tools. When the Boston Marathon Bombing had the world reeling, many people ended up in serious hot water. They couldn’t get to SocialOomph fast enough to shut off the auto-tweets.  

Kim Kardashian was razed for tweeting prayers to the families of the bomb victims only to have “Hey Guys, come check out my mom’s new jewelry line on QVC tonight!” appear 12 minutes later. 


Change the Hashtag BEFORE Retweeting

Hashtags are great. I recommend them, but change or delete the hashtags before passing the tweet. Otherwise, we can make other people appear to be spammers because we’ve crowded a hashtag community with the same tweet. 

Also, when we change the hashtags, we can share this tweet with new communities. If I tweet something clever about #StarWars, then someone can retweet, delete the #StarWarsand replace it with #scifi. This prevents blitzing one community and gives the original tweet a far broader audience. 

Social media is a community, and we have to look out for one another. Twitter is a great way to connect, make friends, cultivate fans, find experts, or have fun. But, we have a responsibility to be vested, authentic and responsible.

Kristen is the author of the new best-selling book, Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World in addition to the #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone: The Writer's Guide to Social Media and Are You There Blog? It's Me, Writer. Kristen is the founder of the WANA movement, the CEO of WANA International and creator of WANATribe, the social network for creative professionals. She's a contributing humor blogger for SocialIn, a blog that reaches 2.5 million. She also blogs The Huffington Post . Feel free to follow her on Twitter at @KristenLambTX and on Facebook.

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