Welcome to my first Ask Annie column, where I’ll be answering all of your Twitter questions right here on Writer Unboxed every other month. I’ll pick 1-5 questions each time, depending on the length of the answers. I save all of the questions I receive, so if I didn’t get to yours this time, that doesn’t mean it’s out of the running! (More on how to submit your own question at the end of this post.) Let’s jump right in with our first question.
If I’m mentioned in a tweet, should I retweet it every time?
No! Forgive my jump to the punchline here, but no, no, no. Absolutely not. That’s a great way to clutter up your timeline and drive your followers crazy! If you retweet every compliment and/or every mention, people will start skimming over your tweets. You should only be retweeting the things you truly want all of your followers to see.
Now let me break this down a little better. Nicki, I think the root of your question is probably based in a concern for manners, which is a lovely concern. If someone takes the time to mention you, it seems only polite to give them something in return – or to at least acknowledge them – right? In general, this is true if you’re etiquette-geared, but retweeting every mention is not the answer! For one thing, it can make you seem egotistical; if you constantly retweet compliments it can come across braggy. But also, it simply isn’t practical. The more followers you get the more @mentions you’ll have, and retweeting them all is madness.
So what are some options to maintain good etiquette without retweeting every mention? One is to simply thank people. (If you do this, @reply directly, not publicly , because, again, public declarations look like boasting.) You really don’t need to thank every little retweet, but for mentions that are particularly kind I don’t see any problem in expressing gratitude. A shorthand version of that is to favorite their tweet, which is sort of like a tip of the hat letting them know you saw and appreciated their mention. But really the best option is to share something in return. Take a quick glance at their timeline. Have they tweeted something you like? Why not retweet it? It takes less than a minute and is more pleasant for everyone involved: you, your mentioner, and all of your followers.
Thanks for the great question!
As writers, we’re told to give potential fans more content unrelated to our books in social media. What if you don’t have any fans yet and anytime you tweet without #amwriting, you don’t get any interaction? Or is tweeting about #amwriting an entirely different monster than tweeting about your actual work/product/brand? And is it just as off-putting because you’re summoning only fellow writers to your inner circle rather than potential fans?
Hi anonymous! Thanks for sending in this very smart question. I learned this lesson the hard way: fellow writers, while fantastic to meet and befriend, are usually not our target audience.[pullquote]The point of “building a platform” is to gather your potential audience together so that when you do have a book out, you’re announcing it to the people most likely to want to read it. [/pullquote] Yes, writers are readers and there may be some crossover, but for the most part they’re too busy trying to get you to read their own books to stop and read yours. (The exception, of course, is if you’re writing nonfiction books about writing, in which case writers are exactly your target audience.)
Many of us, like myself, start out blogging and tweeting about writing, and we begin to build a following of other writers also blogging and tweeting about writing. When we finally realize that we’re building the wrong audience for our books, it becomes difficult and very scary to switch our content. No one likes to feel like they’re shouting into the void. But at the end of the day, we need to bite the bullet, even it if means garnering new followers from scratch. If you build the right platform, the right followers will eventually find you.
This doesn’t have to be a sudden switch; you can transition slowly from writer-geared content into potential-reader-geared content to make the process less painful. It also doesn’t have to be a rigid switch. You can still follow writers, support writers, and communicate with writers. Just don’t gear your content toward them. Writing isn’t a dirty word; it just shouldn’t take up the bulk of what you post about.
So what should your content be if you don’t have out any books yet? Basically, imagine your future readers. What sorts of things are they interested in? Tweet those things. Share authors and books similar to the ones you hope to publish. Share fun jokes and memes and reviews of things related to your book topics. Become a curator for future fans. For example, I write a lot of horror, so if I see a scary film short that I love on YouTube, I share that with my followers. That probably interests my potential readers more than how many words I wrote today.
To sum up: accommodate readers, not writers. Even if you don’t have a book out yet, the point of “building a platform” is to gather your potential audience together so that when you do have a book out, you’re announcing it to the people most likely to want to read it – not just peers who will pat you on the back (though those are nice too).
Dear glorious expert Annie, should I follow back everyone who follows me? #AskAnnieWU 
— Benjamin Inn (@BenjaminInn) January 28, 2015 
And a quickie for the road, because flattery will get you everywhere. There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this. In fact, it’s so complicated and so controversial that I wrote an entire blog post about your options. Feel free to check out my post here at WU: “The Great Twitter Debate: Should You Follow Back? ” for the long version. The short version is: No, I don’t think you “should” follow back everyone who follows you, but you certainly can if you want to.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my first Ask Annie column! Do you have a question about Twitter that you’d like answered here on Writer Unboxed? You can leave your question in the comments below, fill out this quick, easy online form  – there’s an anonymous option if you’re shy – or simply tweet your question with the hashtag #AskAnnieWU . (You can send them to me directly @AnnieNeugebauer  as well.) I look forward to getting your questions!