Remember email forwards? If you spent any time in front of a computer between 1999 and 2004, I’m guessing you do. Conspiracy theories, chain letters, jokes, requests for prayers, virus hoaxes (not to mention actual viruses)… all delivered daily to your inbox from your friends, neighbors and – in my case – my grandmother. At one point in the early 2000’s it took me forty-five minutes each day just to clean out my inbox to get to the actual mail there.
My very favorite of these was the “National Friendship Week” email. Every single week between October 16, 2000 and April 3, 2004 was National Friendship Week. As you may know, our longstanding tradition for ‘NFW’ in this country is to honor our friends by sending them all an email, created by someone else, and containing a horrible poem and some form of animated dancing cherubs. This email is directed at everyone in our contact list, and while it has nothing personal in it whatsoever, it does end with a threat that if we don’t forward it to at least ten of our other friends, something horrible will happen. Every time I realize that I’ve lost touch with someone special I know it’s because I didn’t forward those damn cherubs.
For writers, especially new writers, Twitter, Facebook and Blogs are the platforms that have captured our attention the way email once did. And like the well-intended mother of my friend, who sent me those cherubs EVERY SINGLE TIME someone sent them to her, some of us are unintentionally making a nuisance of ourselves, undoing all the good we hoped to accomplish by signing up for social media to start with. And other writers are letting us know about it. Sometimes by complaining, sometimes by simply un-following us and never looking back.
I will say that I’m guilty of some of the faux pas the above writers have listed (I have tweeted too much about my books when they were free, and did quite cheerfully tweet how much I enjoyed hearing from fans after getting a particularly touching email). Some of this is owed to being new to the medium, some to the fact that different writers have varying opinions on what the purpose and propriety of social media really is — especially Twitter.
Some say more followers is good, and your ‘platform’ for marketing your books can be made on the weight of sheer numbers. Others eschew the concept of the ‘platform’ altogether, and feel that all social media is a place for making personal connections with other professionals. I happen to believe that both views are right and both can be wrong.
Twitter is something of an enigma. It’s both more and less possible to make real, meaningful connections through Twitter than Facebook or other venues. On the one hand, Twitter is real-time, so you can drop by a tweet stream like #amwriting or #myWANA and find writers who are there, right then, writing and tweeting. (Except for the ones who scheduled tweets with those hashtags, which is kind of annoying when you’re looking for real-time support. But maybe those people are new, too, and don’t yet understand that some hashtags are actually more like hangouts. See? There are some things you can only learn through experience.)
On the other hand, Twitter is really impersonal, too. Unless you have a private account and only follow 17 people, you don’t read your whole tweet stream. You don’t even read 5% of what floats through there. Most of the time, when I log on to Twitter, I read the 10 or so most recent tweets in my stream, and if I don’t see something there that catches my eye, I move on with my day. With that kind of noise, it’s hard to be heard unless you tweet fairly frequently. But not too frequently. And about what? Endless book promos aren’t interesting, but neither is a minute-by-minute update about the fact that you’re drinking coffee or what you’re planning to watch on TV later.
Twitter is a medium that requires people to be interesting, succinct, genuine, real-time, present but not too present, social media savvy, friendly and patient. And while you’re balancing all of that, you have to decide what you’re using Twitter for and to whom your tweets are targeted. That’s a tall order for any of us.
I submit that the best way to do all of that is to tweet experimentally, and spend a good deal of time reading and responding to the tweets of others. Follow the people you find interesting and model your strategy after those who share your vision, both for Twitter and success overall. It helps to review your own tweet stream periodically to ensure you’re coming across the way you intend.
In the meantime, be patient with yourself. You’ll make mistakes. We all do. You may alienate some people, or miss out on others who might have value to offer you. It happens. And later, when you have the hardened sophistication of months under your belt, others will annoy you with their aimless or overly self-focused twittering, and you should be patient and kind to them, too. After all, it’s National Friendship Week.