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Twitter is a micro-blogging platform, meaning that it's a social network that allows the exchange of bite-sized piece of content (up to 140 characters). You choose who and what you'd like to follow, then receive a news feed of all posts (tweets) by the people running those accounts. In turn, people can choose to follow you. It's ideal for quick and brief interactions.

Getting the most from Twitter

A constant problem for authors trying to promote their books is to work out what is effective. The writer only has so much time in which to write, promote their work, and to live whatever passes as a normal life. This time has to be managed properly to get the most out of it.

Attracting followers

People you know

Twitter allows you to build up a following (people who see your tweets in their news feed). It's advisable to try and connect with most people you meet or have contact with. You do this by looking them up on Twitter (using either Twitter's search feature, or getting their Twitter details from their website, email footer or business card) and following them. If they're interested, they'll follow back.

Twitter's recommendations

Another way to get followers on Twitter is to use Twitter's recommendations. It suggests people similar to you who you might want to follow. Unfortunately for aspiring authors with books to promote, the people most similar to them are often aspiring authors with books to promote. These people are unlikely to be your best market. Try to follow people who are not trying to sell books but show an interest in your genre.

Twitter allows you to run very targeted advertising campaigns to attract followers. This can work out pricey for authors, for whom the cost of gaining a new follower is more than they'd make back in royalties if the new follower bought a book.

Posting engaging content

If you post interesting content, followers with come. See Twitter#Effective Twitter strategies.

Ways to get a post onto Twitter

Post directly

If you post your own tweet then, in theory, it will be broadcast to everybody who follows you. (In practice, this tends not to be the case as your tweets compete with the tweets by everybody else that your followers follow.) This is the cheapest (it's free!), easiest way to get a tweet onto Twitter.

  • you can tailor content for Twitter
  • target an audience you grew yourself
  • time consuming

You can pay Twitter to advertise a tweet, which can be used either to give it priority positioning in your followers' news feeds, or to reach people who don't follow you.

Automatically tweet content from other websites

If you have a blog or a Facebook page you can set up the systems so that they automatically post to Twitter whenever you post anything to them. This allows you to quickly get interesting content onto Twitter. This content is broadcast to your own followers.

  • quick once set up
  • target an audience you grew yourself
  • content might not be ideally suited to 140 characters

Massed postings by other users

This involves getting your book tweeted by as many people as you can, so as many people as possible hear about it. As methods go it’s indiscriminate and doesn’t really target specific groups.

There are people for whom their twitter account is an income stream; they mingle tweets suggesting things people might like to buy on Amazon with their other tweets, giving their followers Amazon affiliate links to click on. The effectiveness of these varies enormously. Often the number of followers an account has can be relatively meaningless, with such low conversion rates that even a tweet seen by quarter of a million people, results in only one sale. The account holder's fame, reputation and standing in the Twitter community is likely to be more important than follower count.

  • reach a massive amount of people
  • low conversion rate if audience is not targeted
  • you have to convince somebody else to send the tweet
  • many scams out there

Targeted postings by other users

There are currently a number of businesses that offer to promote your book via tweeting the details to followers that are specifically interested in your type of book. For example, they may allege up to 10,000 followers who are claimed to be enthusiastic readers.

To assess which services are worth using, you can monitor the performance of another book they tweeted, by watching its Amazon Bestsellers’ Rank and comparing the performance with a book that isn’t being promoted.

  • reach a fair amount of people
  • targeted audience
  • you have to convince somebody else to send the tweet
  • many scams out there

Effective Twitter strategies

Posting (extremely) regularly

Many popular Twitter users send at least one tweet an hour, usually something funny, witty, or at least interesting. (Not to be confused with incessant, uninteresting self-indulgent tweeting, which is also common, but not popular.)

Ostentatiously not selling things

You might have joined Twitter to sell, but very few people join Twitter to be sold to. For them Twitter is ‘Social’ media; they use it to interact with people, not to sell to people. They create a community around them that they can talk to.

Hashtags and wider debates

One feature of Twitter is trending topics and hashtags. This is where multiple users discuss a particular topic or idea, tying their thoughts together with a hashtag that identifies the conversation. A hashtag is a short string, usually comprised of multiple words strung together, and starting with the hash symbol, (e.g. #greatBooks, #naffBooks, #harryPotter).

Posting a tweet in a discussion that ten or twenty thousand people are following might attract some followers who fall under the enchantment of your wit. On the other hand it could lose you some of your existing followers who disagree with you.

Flame wars

A flame war is a lengthy exchange of angry or abusive messages between users of social media. The more controversial a topic, the more chance you have of falling into a flame war. If you want to discuss something controversial via Twitter, is might be a good idea to set up separate personal and professional accounts. Unless you write political fiction, or fiction that appeals to people with a particular political leaning, it can be beneficial for an author to appear politically neutral on Twitter.

Be natural

Observation shows that those who are most successful effectively live on their phone. If something happens or somebody says something, those who’re making a success of Twitter then tweet it. The aim is to get people following and enjoying your tweets. Then when you slip in one along the lines of, “Really chuffed, got a new review for my latest book” with an Amazon link, it’s a natural thing.

Respond to followers

Respond to your followers. Engage them in banter and if one of your followers says something witty, profound, or newsworthy, mark it as a favourite and retweet it. It seems that the successful are not afraid of promoting somebody else.

Be entertaining

remember people follow you because it’s fun. They have fun reading your posts. Ideally you will have fun posting your posts. You’re trying to create an atmosphere where these people think of you as fun and interesting and might well feel that your books could also be fun and interesting. If you’re not enjoying doing it, frankly, don’t do it. Life is too short.