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Hello Writer Unboxed readers! I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Annie Neugebauer, and I’m the new Twitter columnist around these parts. I’ll be blogging Twitter tips, theory, and practice every other month. Many thanks to Nina Badzin for recommending me, and to Therese Walsh and the whole WU crew for welcoming me with open arms.

I’m going to assume that you guys have been following Nina’s posts (archived here, if you need to go back) and that you also know some basic Twitter etiquette. I thought I would use this first post to reveal my Twitter philosophy with five unshakeable beliefs. These fundamentals have evolved since I really started using Twitter in 2011 and have served me well, and I believe that if you take them to heart they’ll serve you well too.

1) It’s All About Balance

Twitter for writers is a conundrum. We’re told to “build a platform” and “network,” and indeed, Twitter is fantastic for both of those things. If used correctly, it’s an incredibly powerful marketing tool. Yet Twitter is inherently an informal social forum. It started out with the simple concept of quickly answering the question “What are you doing?” …not “Why should I buy your book?”

If you use Twitter strictly as a professional venue, your feed might be useful, but it’ll be about as exciting as a five-hour board meeting. But if you use it playfully and personally, an editor considering your manuscript might see your tweets about your cat licking his butt. So what’s a writer to do?

This is where balance comes into play. Be personal. Be yourself. Share jokes and frustrations and tidbits from your life interspersed with your tweets about the industry and your work. BUT, censor yourself. That’s my personal rule: never censor your actual work, but always censor your public media presence. Would you say what you’re about to tweet at a party full of people you don’t know? If the answer is no, you probably shouldn’t tweet it. Because once it’s out there, you can never, ever take it back.

If you feel tempted to tweet something you know deep down shouldn’t be public, steal my trick: put it in the incubator. I keep “drafts” of tweets in a word document. If I still want to post the iffy tweet after two days, I do it. But nine times out of ten, it gets deleted with no harm done. Whew.

2) Quality over Quantity

Quality applies to both followers and tweets. Deciding who to follow is an entire topic unto itself that I’ll get into at a later time, but I firmly believe that a healthy, streamlined following list makes Twitter a more valuable experience. As cold as it might sound, everyone you follow should have something to offer. To soften that a bit: there are many, many things people have to offer, including friendship, connections, and entertainment value. (Still genuinely can’t bear not to automatically follow back? I recommend using Nina’s tips on how to set up lists.)

So on the flip side, you should offer something to your followers. And that something should be quality, not quantity. Anyone can create an account full of “ZOMG I had the worst day!” tweets. Anyone can retweet every writing blog they see. You (and me and all of us) should be aiming for quality. Three quality tweets a day offers significantly more value than twelve empty tweets. The more consistently you put out value, the more your followers will trust you and the further your reach will actually go.

3) Genuine Connections Mean More

Tying right into that, your connections with people need to be quality as well. And honest. Back-scratching might rack up your RT numbers, but it doesn’t mean anything. Someone with 20,000 followers who has low quality tweets might retweet everyone for the sake of getting the favor returned. (And there’s nothing wrong with returning favors, but that’s a topic for another day.) But as soon as that person’s followers realize that they retweet EVERYTHING, they’ll stop clicking on those things.

Meanwhile, if someone with 800 followers takes time and effort to only share the most quality content, their followers will trust them. Their shares will actually get read. 20k user might have links read by 20 followers while 800 user might have them read by 80.

This is why numbers don’t actually matter. Seriously. Genuine, quality connections with your followers matter.

4) Nobody Likes a Robot – Nobody Likes Flyers on Their Car

Poor robots. If only they could get over their programming and join the human race in love and life. But alas, they can’t, and we humans are left suspicious of world domination.*

This, again, ties into quality and genuine connections. If your followers sense that you’ve automated tweets, they’ll start ignoring them. Then your automated tweets do no good and you’re wasting your time and clogging everyone’s feed. Nobody likes to come out of the mall to find flyers under their windshield wiper. That’s how it feels when self-promotion becomes spam.

And it’s a fine line, so err on the side of too little. Every Twitter user worth her salt knows that you have a link to your website in your profile. (You do, right?!) Keep your work available there and promote on Twitter sparingly. If you make genuine connections and tweet quality content, your followers will find your product. Promise.

5) Authenticity Matters

People are very intuitive. We know when someone is acting “fake,” and we don’t like it. Some people are super cheerful and bubbly and draw others to them because of their positivity. If that’s not you, don’t do an imitation. Some people are wry and hilarious and earthy. Some people are no-nonsense. Some are mushy and philosophical. All of these things are okay, as long as they’re honest. Your followers will know if you’re being genuine, and they’ll love you for it. And if they don’t, they aren’t the right followers. Be yourself and let your personality draw the right following for you.

It pays to be authentic. Unless you’re a dilhole. Then you should probably be fake.

*My apologies to any robots reading this post.

So Twitter regulars, do you have any philosophies of your own to add? Do you find the five I’ve outlined here ring true to you as well?

And Twitter newbies, I hope I’ve steered you in the right direction! If anyone has a question or topic they’d like covered in future Twitter columns, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!

About Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet represented by Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary Agency. She has work appearing in over thirty venues, including Buzzy Mag, The Spirit of Poe, the British Fantasy Society journal Dark Horizons, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies' prize anthology Encore. She's a member of the Horror Writers Association, webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas, and president of the North Branch Writers' Critique Group. When she’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.