Getting a Handle on Twitter

Maybe it’s because I’m an antisocial writer-type (although some writers seem to be naturals on Twitter), but I have had trouble from the beginning getting traction on the network.

I finally posted about it to #WriterCommunity, expressing my frustration about doing everything right (as far as I could tell) but still failing to generate much feedback or engagement.

A few others responded to my plaintive post by suggesting that engaging with other peoples’ posts was probably the best way to get the kind of feedback I was after. I had just been experiencing that very phenomenon, so (for once) understood exactly what they were saying. And they’re right.

Up until days ago, I had been approaching Twitter as a writer/aspiring guru for younger writers – expecting an audience and getting disappointed when that audience didn’t materialize.

But in fact, the answer was in front of me the whole time – embedded in the hashtag for crying out loud! #WritersCommunity.

Engagement is not preaching or laying platitudes or wit or cool observations on people. That approach makes sense for famous actors or established politicians, who already have fans and devotees. All they have to do is alert fans of their presence then be themself. That pre-existing audience will find them.

But writers are different. There are tens of thousands of us beating the bushes, trying to entice readers (who, let’s face it, are mostly other writers rather than ‘fans’) into looking our direction. Most of us have no ready-made audience, and even for those of us who do, that audience is comparatively small. Whereas a movie star may be able to conjure 20K followers just by showing up, even a best-selling writer probably won’t start with more than a few hundred or a few thousand followers. You might build to 20K if you’re persistent, popular, interesting and entertaining enough.

But the method most of us need to use in order to attract more than a few followers at a time – is engage with people. Being an active member of the community requires being interested and involved in what they are doing. Check out and comment on what they have to say. Participate in their games and surveys. Laugh at their jokes. Like and comment and retweet.  If you’ve ever seen a political party parachute a candidate in from another riding, you know it seldom works for someone to simply show up and declare themselves worthy of your attention or devotion. You don’t know them and they don’t know you. They aren’t aware and don’t care about your issues and concerns.  
People you genuinely engage with will be far more valuable to you in the long run than people you connect with through those “follow me, follow you” circle jerks that are rampant on Twitter.

Being a part of a community is more than just proximity – it’s about responding to others. Rather than being one of the millions of people trying to outshout each other, I suspect that the true key to Twitter is learning to filter out the noise – and listening.
I also learned how to adjust the feed – to read things as they are posted rather than letting the algorithms dictate what I read.


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