Twitter: My 5 Unshakable Beliefs

Photo by rnv123

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!

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About Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet with stories and poems appearing or forthcoming in over fifty venues, including Black Static, Deep South Magazine, Fireside, and Buzzy Mag. She's an active member of the Horror Writers Association and webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas. When Annie’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m a Twitter newbie, and I’ve been just sort of finding my way, watching what everyone else does. At times I’ve thought, “why is s/he doing that? That doesn’t seem quite right.” But I couldn’t put my finger on why. Thankfully, YOU can, and you’ve articulated some of these things here. This list changed my perception, and I plan to alter my approach accordingly. Thank you so much for this post.

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    • says

      Twitter is a wild and wonderful place. It can be overwhelming at first, but if you hang in there you’ll probably fall as in love with as we all do. Look me up when you get started and say hi! =) Thanks Natalie!

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  2. says

    Twitter has definitely helped me learn to be more genuine online! I love that you can (and are even encouraged to) drop in on conversations with random strangers. Where else can you get that kind of practice?

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    • says

      Totally agree with you, Christian. I’ve had some wonderful conversations with people I don’t know. Plus, I’ve come across other writers who genuinely help encourage each other. I’ve never met any of them and yet they’re more than willing to give an encouraging word to lift me up when I’m dragging in my editing.

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      • says

        Jennifer, the supportive community of writers is by far one of my favorite things about Twitter! That harkens back to the idea of everyone offering *some*thing; it doesn’t have to be strictly potential book sales. Having a network of fellow writers who will cheer for you, cry with you, and lift you up is one of those rare magical things that Twitter can bring us. Pretty cool, if you think about it!

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    • says

      Absolutely, Christian. Some people jokingly call that “tweet-jacking,” because it feels odd to interject yourself into someone else’s conversation; but you’re right that that’s what you should do. If they’re having the talk on Twitter, they’re making it public, and nice people will let you right in! Thanks for the comment.

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  3. says

    I am on twitter sparingly, but I do go by there at least once a day — I don’t follow automatically, but I’m pretty open to what kinds of people I follow – I like an eclectic blend. Actually, I rarely re-tweet writing stuff because there’s so much of it and I’ve grown bored with it — which is why I rarely post writing stuff on FB or twitter – there’s just so much of it – ungh! ungh!

    Since I have interest beyond being a novelist – photography, fitness, health, etc etc – I like to explore that side, too.

    Mostly, yeah, I’m just myself -chaotic and all over the place and a little cray-cray – but sincere :-D

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    • says

      I think it’s wonderful that you follow an eclectic blend. I’m in whole-hearted agreement with Nina on that one; the more interesting you make your own Twitter feed, the more interesting what you share will be. No one ever said that you need to restrict your Twitter to nothing but writing topics. So good for you, Kathryn! Sincere is always, always good.

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  4. says

    Thank you for the timely info on Twitter, yes I do Twit but prefer to stay in my nest deep in the forest. The other night I listened to a know-it-all hoot owl waffling on about how important it was for us story-tellers to market our stories. I wished the old coot would shut up, but realized he was right. I gotta get out and flap a few feathers. At least I now I know what not to do when I whistle on Twitter. Thank you. Hey, can you tell me if it’s safe out there beyond the edge of the forest? Call me chicken, but I’m not venturing out if there are hawks on the prowl for supper.

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    • says

      Haha, a crusty old hoot owl, you say? I think I might know him. ;) Yes, it can be a wide-open and overwhelming place outside the forest, but I think the journey is worth it. No risk, no gain, right? You won’t know for sure until you try.

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  5. says

    Welcome to WU, Annie! It’s great to have you.

    I agree 100% with your points above. Taking the time to “check out” new followers, to see if I want to follow them back, is especially helpful and leads to a higher quality twitter follower feed.

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    • says

      Thank you so much, Therese! I feel almost giddy being here among so many I admire and respect.

      The high-quality Twitter feed is a whole topic all its own, truly. One I plan to talk about more in-depth in the future, because it is such a well-kept secret!

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  6. says

    Welcome Annie and thanks for a great post. Of course Nina is a tough act to follow, but a new perspective is also welcome. I look forward to your next post

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    • says

      Thank you, Laura! Nina *is* a tough act to follow — very much so. I’ll do my best to bring something new with my own perspective, since as Nina says, it’s more of an art than a science.

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  7. says

    Thank you for this terrific post. As a social media specialist as well as a writer, I’m excited about all that Twitter has to offer, but I also recommend caution so thank you for pointing that out. Twitter is all about building a profile and it’s done one tweet at a time.

    What this means is DON’T tweet about that wonderful party you went to last night and how much fun you had.

    DO Tweet about that Writer’s Seminar you are going to – better yet, tweet FROM that seminar.

    Do join writer groups on Twitter and tweet about your current WIP. There are some great writer-friendly groups on Twitter. Check out #amwriting, #amediting, #amrevising.

    If you don’t have a BIT.LY account, get one! That’s how you can shorten those pesky long URL to fit in the 140 characters.

    Twitter is also a point-of-contact for other social media sites, so people who start following you on twitter might find their way to your website, or your blog, or your Facebook page.

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    • says

      Thank you, Jeriann! I’m glad you like the post. And there’s some good advice there, too! I agree that bitly is a life-saver, and all signs (Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) should point back to your author website. Thanks for the comment!

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    • says

      Welcome to Twitter! It is a challenge. Maybe it will help not to think of it as a need to be witty, so much as a game to highlight your personal strengths. If wit comes naturally to you, that’s wonderful! If not, just play into whatever does. Not ever tweet has to be a one-liner. Just relax and try to have fun, and soon you’ll find people having fun with you. =)

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  8. says

    Another Twitter newbie here, too. Or maybe I’m not so much new as I am an ineffective Twitter-er. :) I spend most of my social networking time on my blog, but I want to use Twitter more efficiently. Thanks for some great starter tips, and I’ll be sure to follow your posts on this subject.

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  9. says

    Thank you! Your blog is a great place to focus your energy. Twitter can be great on its own, but I personally am a fan of the blog being the hub and all other social media directing toward that. If you have good content on your blog, Twitter followers will pay more attention to what you tweet. And if you tweet good content, your followers will be more likely to visit your blog. So really, it all plays together. If you want to use Twitter more efficiently, you could try giving yourself 30 minutes a day. You might be amazed by how much impact that has!

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  10. says

    Annie! You nailed it here! And of course thank you for the compliments and mentions. What a great first post and I love seeing you here.

    I agree so much with the quality over quantity both, like you said, in the numbers of followers, numbers of tweets, etc. I also cannot stress enough how boring a feed full of writing-related-only RTs can be. I follow so many writers and as more and more people turn to self-publishing, the feeds I read are turning into a self-publishing news only zone. SNORE! Not sure what to do about this. I might have to move those peeps to a list I read less . . . or unfollow. I don’t know. I feel like I’m seeing the word “indie” constantly. Not sure I can take it anymore. But you know me . . . low tolerance. ;)

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    • says

      Thank you so much, Nina! *hugs*

      Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. Do you use TweetDeck? Under settings, they have an option for “global filter.” If you type in the words you’re feeling bombarded with, like “indie,” it will remove all tweets with that word from your stream. It’s a nice option when you don’t want to unfollow someone but are worn down by a constant topic. Of course there’s always the slight risk that you’ll miss a tweet using that word in a different way, but if you’re really fed up that’s a risk worth taking. =)

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      • says

        ooooh! That’s a great fuction. And see– I had no idea about it. I use hootsuite. Wonder if they have something similar.

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  11. says

    Twitter newbie here. I’m trying to get the hang of these unshakable Twitter truths. It feels awkward not following someone who followed me, but lately I wonder why they followed me in the first place and guessed it was a robotic choice. Recently I un-followed some people that didn’t seem to be a good fit, in the name of ‘genuine connections’ and that felt bad too. I’m trying to figure out how to randomly post a kind comment @ someone in order to build a relationship, but so far I feel like I’m bumbling along.

    Please tell me the learning curve will be over soon, and I will have genuine connections who care to read my quality posts and retweet at a high rate – but not automatically, and who appreciate the complete and authentic Me.

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    • says

      Hi Angie! Thanks for commenting. Yes, it can be awkward at first to not automatically follow back, but in my experience, following back only to realize you need to unfollow is ever more awkward. If you’re aiming for a quality feed, there are just some people who work against that (sad fact of Twitter life). So for me, it feels more gracious to wait and see if they’ll interact with me before following back – as this lets me know they’re interested in a genuine connection – than following back only to realize we’re not a good fit and unfollowing.

      I’ll give you a little trick, though. You can put anyone in a list, even if you’re not following them. I have a private list called “test-drive.” In it, I have everyone who I’m unsure whether to follow back or not. Occasionally, I look at that list. If there’s obvious annoying or spammy behavior from someone, I take them out of the list without following back. Quality tweeters get followed back and taken off the list. This way, I get to “try them out” in a feed before pushing that blue button.

      Twitter can be so awkward at first. Honestly, I almost deleted my account after my first week. But I stuck in there, and now I’m so glad I did. Making genuine connections and getting used to the etiquette of Twitter isn’t instant, but it will become more natural as you go. Hang in there, Angie. Somewhere out there are some tweeps who don’t even know they want to get to know you. Including me. =) I follow back almost everyone who @ mentions me, because I’m always looking for new tweeps who care to interact.

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  12. says

    Annie – loved the post. Agree with all that you’ve said (and got a good chuckle out of ‘dillhole’ — and here I thought I was the only one who used that word). And of course the ‘cat licking butt’ comment.

    This comment also resonated: “never censor your actual work, but always censor your public media presence” Yes (and the whole notion of asking if you’d say such-and-such in a room full of strangers)!. Looking forward to reading more of your Twitter tips!

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    • says

      Thanks Melissa! I’m glad I made you chuckle. Sometimes my humor is a little off-beat, and I never know how people are going to take it. I’m really glad you liked the post. Thanks so much!

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  13. says

    Congratulations on your new gig!

    I so agree on the quality versus quantity thing. Every week or two, I check the streams of my new followers (or at least I try to) to see who, if anyone, I want to follow back. I look for people who are engaged and interesting… NOT self-publishing-self-promotional-only tweeters, which so many writers are.

    Also, one of the super smart programmers I follow developed a tool called Twit Cleaner. It analyzes your feed and tells you about the people you follow – who is only self-tweeting, who is only sharing links, who is engaged with their followers, etc. Then you can decide who you might want to unfollow, and Twit Cleaner unfollows them over time, the way Twitter likes it. Very cool.

    Oh, and then you can click to have Twit Cleaner evaluate your own Twitter usage. I loved that, but mostly because it said I was “awesome.” ;)

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  14. says

    Checking new followers is a great thing to do, and I admit I need to get back to doing that more consistently. I tried to check out Twit Cleaner, but the website I found said it has closed. Am I looking at the wrong thing? If you have a link, please send it my way! It sounds pretty handy.

    Thanks for stopping by, j!

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  15. says

    Yay for your WU debut! I don’t know how I missed this (well, actually I haven’t spent as much time on Twitter because work’s kept me pretty busy, so that’s probably how, but better late than never, right?).

    Great advice, and #2 especially rings true for me since I haven’t had as much time to tweet, and inevitably I worry that I’m not doing enough. Writing that down now sounds silly, though, doesn’t it? It’s not about filling up a twitter stream; it’s about saying something worthwhile when you do pop your head in (and also: listening! I’ve found that’s huge.)

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  16. says

    Absolutely! Listening *is* huge; great point. And you tweet a good amount, Natalia. Most people follow tons of people, so tweeps like you who tweet less are refreshing. I actually look for those people, because I get less fatigued of/from them, if that makes any sense. So keep it up; you’re doing great.

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  17. Steve C says

    I’ve been thinking of diving in, but didn’t want to do a belly flop, and I think with a few more lessons like this I’ll be ready.

    Really like your “test-drive” idea, and you’re right about the link on people’s Twitter pages – I’ve often clicked on it to check out an author’s blog and books, and it gives one a sense of discovery. Like finding some blueberries in the woods instead of having them shoved in your face. :-)

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  18. says

    Haha, some good analogies there, Steve! Yes, I hope that my posts will help new users feel ready to dive in head-first with some small amount of grace. =) And as amusing as the blueberries comparison is, I think you’re spot-on with it. I value my quiet, less-promotional tweeps so much because I found the quality of their work on my own. Well said!

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