What It Is
Twitter is a micro-blogging social network through which millions of people communicate with each other, and with the world at large, via 140-character “tweets.” Twitter can be accessed via their website, mobile apps, text messages, or a number of third-party applications, such as HootSuite.
Twitter is a vital tool for driving site traffic and also for participating in online conversations and communities.
How It Works
When you sign up for Twitter, you select an available handle, or username, then you choose who you want to “follow.” When you follow someone, each tweet that person sends shows up in your Twitter feed. People can also follow you, of course, and the more active you are, the more people will follow you and subsequently receive your tweets. You can converse with people directly by using the @ symbol followed by the person’s handle, or you can participate in larger group chats using hashtags, which are defined by the # symbol.
How to Sign up
From the Twitter homepage, simply enter your full name (use your real first and last name), email address, and password.
On the next screen, you will need to select a Twitter handle. This is important, as it will identify you in each tweet you send. If a logical version of your name is not available, consider adding “author” to your first initial and last name (i.e. JDoeAuthor). Try to keep your Twitter handle relatively short though, because each character in your username counts against the 140-character limit when someone is sending you a message on Twitter.
The Anatomy of Twitter
TWEET: Message sent via Twitter. 140-characters maximum.
FOLLOWER: A person who has chosen to receive your tweets. It’s generally not necessary or advisable to follow every single user who follows you. Rather, only follow people who you find interesting or with whom you engage on a regular basis.
REPLY: A public message directed to another Twitter user. Replies show up in the feed of everyone who follows you, as well as in the feed of the person to whom you’re sending the reply. If you want your reply to be visible to everyone, regardless of whom they follow, preface it with a period. To send a reply, start your message with @ followed directly by the person’s user name; so, to send a reply to Book Country (whose username is BookCountry), you would start it with “@BookCountry”. If you wanted to send it universally, it would use @BookCountry” to reply.
DIRECT MESSAGE: A message to another Twitter user that is visible only to that person. DMs can also be set up to be delivered to your phone like a text message. You should show the same consideration in sending a DM as you would in sending a text message. Don’t send DMs to strangers to “welcome” them to your Twitter account; it’s considered bad form and your message—and you!—are likely to be regarded as spam.
RETWEET: A “resending” of another person’s tweet. Generally, it is a compliment to the original author when someone retweets his or her comment. If you want to quote the tweet and add a comment of your own, place the comment before the original tweet and separate the two with “RT @BookCountry:” as in “Great Post! RT @BookCountry: SF/F writers! Want to build better worlds? Here are 3 questions to ask yourselves: ow.ly/uti39.” If you’re changing the wording of that person’s tweet, usually in order to shorten it, use “MT” instead: “Great post! MT @BookCountry: Want to build better worlds? 3 questions to ask yourselves: ow.ly/uti39.”
HASHTAG: The “#” symbol. It allows Twitter users to group tweets by topic, making it easier to search particular phrases. A hashtag can also be used to create Twitter chats. For example, pick a name for your chat (i.e., #bookcountry) and add it to your tweets. Then users will be able to follow and search your chat by looking for your hashtag. In addition, hashtags are often used facetiously, like #itseasytotellthedifference.
AVATAR: The small icon that identifies each Twitter user. When you first register, your icon defaults to an egg; it is advisable to change this as soon as possible, which you can do in the Settings – Profile screen. Otherwise, potential new followers may assume you are a spam account. An image of you, your book cover, or another appropriate image works best.
BIO: A short description of 160 or less that appears right under your avatar. Identify yourself as a writer, include the name of your WIP or published work if any, and mention a couple of memorable details that will help potential followers get an understanding of who you are and what you tweet about. Jane Friedman has a useful post that exclusively covers the Twitter author profile territory.
Using Twitter is simple, whether from the website, a mobile device, or third-party client. As you get more involved in the Twitter community, you will get a sense of how Twitter impacts everything from your personal time with friends and family, to your writing time, to book sales and traffic to your website.
As a general rule, if you are sending fewer than five tweets a day, then you’re not maximizing the potential of Twitter. If you get into a conversation with other people on Twitter, you‘re likely to send far more!
Sending a Tweet is easy; just type your 140 characters and click Tweet. If you need to shorten certain words or phrases, the same abbreviations used in text/SMS messages are often used in Tweets.
To meet Book Country members who are on Twitter, check out our Twitter list of Book Country members and follow them.
Special thanks to Colleen Lindsay for her help with this post.