Using Twitter Effectively: Part 1 of 10 – The Basics

Nat RussoHow-To, Twitter, Writing 25 Comments

[UPDATED 09/12/2018]

Twitter is, arguably, the most far-reaching social platform in the world. But the overwhelming majority of users don’t know how to use it effectively. Worse, they abuse it and risk getting shackled with a poor reputation that can be difficult to change. 

With the right tools and techniques, Twitter can help you build a stable writer’s platform that allows you to reach tens of thousands of people with a single click. Awesome power. But, as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Even if you’re not a writer, I believe you’ll find most of these techniques invaluable.

In this 10-part series, spread out over the next ten days, I’ll cover the following Twitter basics:


A Disclaimer

This series was originally written over a 10-day period in 2013. I’ve included relevant updates throughout the series as Twitter changed policies and procedures. Please be aware that I may not have caught all of the changes. If you find such a change that isn’t captured in this series, please leave a comment with the new Twitter policy, and I’ll update the series accordingly. Cheers!

First…What Twitter Is And Is Not

Twitter is about now, not five minutes ago, and not (heavens forbid!) an hour ago. It took me a long time to figure this out, and when I did everything just sort of *clicked* into place. Twitter is, by design, a fire hose of current events that you’ll never consume completely. 
Twitter is not designed for you to keep up with your entire timeline. If this is how you’re trying to use it, then you’re doing exactly what I was doing: getting frustrated, failing to see “the point”, and not understanding how or why someone would want to follow thousands of people.
Like me, your first significant use of modern Social Media was probably Facebook. (OK…mine was MySpace, but we won’t go there…). Facebook is a great tool, but it has a different purpose than Twitter. I have about 200 friends on Facebook, all of whom I know (or have known) personally. Traffic on my Facebook news feed is kept to a minimum., and I can easily keep up with everything my friends are doing (if I spend a few minutes at least once per day). 
Not so with Twitter. Not so at all. If you’re going to make the most of Twitter, start by not treating it like Facebook, and know that everything will soon become clear.

Let’s shed some light on the mystery.

What To Do

As with most things in life, there are certain Dos and Don’ts we should all abide by. I’m going to spend the first half of this series addressing the Dos. Over the next five days I’m going to share the techniques I’ve used that have brought value to my Twitter experience, and with a meager investment of time and effort I believe they’ll bring value to yours as well.

Let’s start with some Twitter basics…

Fill Out Your Bio!

Twitter gives you 160 characters to tell the world about yourself so use them! It’s likely the first impression you’ll make on a potential follower. The bio gets posted right on your profile page for the world to see. On your settings page you’ll see a text box where you can type your bio. Mine looks like this (as of 12/7/2013):

The importance of your bio cannot be overstated. When I’m deciding whether or not to interact with someone I always look at their bio. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who does this.
When someone visits my profile page this is what they see:
Twitter automatically centers and justifies the text, which is why the last line is dead center. You see those words with that start with the funny “#” character? Those are called “hashtags”, and we’ll get to those later in the series. Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered!
[UPDATE 5/09/2014] In the ever-evolving world of social media, Twitter now has a new profile page it is rolling out to some members. I was recently tapped on the shoulder to try this new profile. Everything can be done from a single location now, which is pretty cool. My new profile looks like this (with updated text included):


Upload a Profile Picture

If your profile picture is the default Twitter egg, no one will take you seriously. If you don’t have a profile picture, you really need one…now. Find or take a decent-resolution picture of your face. Now is not the time to be shy or self-conscious. People want to interact with other people, not cartoons…not your latest book cover. And remember, when people click on the thumbnail provided by Twitter, it’s going to attempt to load a larger version, so upload something that looks good when blown up about 3-4 times the original size.

Are there exceptions to this? Let me answer that by saying I’m not trying to give the impression these are rules. Take them as nothing more than recommendations from someone who has walked the path before you. There are many writers who create a new Twitter account every time they release a book, and attempt to build a following for the book through period quotes or news. Others create accounts for their main characters and tweet in character. But keep in mind that people are more likely to get interested in your work if they are interested in you first.

The publishing world has changed dramatically since I was a kid. There was a time authors would build a fan base by getting published. Then they’d publish some more and gain more fans, and the whole thing had a sort of snowball effect. Now, with the rise of social media, authors often have a fan base before they’ve officially published a single line of text…and they’re finding this approach successful. Why? Because people who take an interest in them personally are often highly motivated to take an interest in them professionally. And the mainstream publishing world is starting to recognize this.

The way you approach your profile picture should differ very little from the way you approach everything else on Twitter (or other public forums). As a writer, unless you’re writing under a pseudonym, you are your brand. Always ask yourself, is the image I’m presenting representative of my brand…representative of me

Notice I never said anything about censoring yourself. This is about being true to your brand. So I’ll repeat: As a writer, you are your brand

Performing these basic tasks will get you off on the right foot. In no time you’ll be on the path to building a new community of people who value and respect one another

In the next post I’ll share the techniques I used to build a meaningful following on Twitter. 

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

Comments 25

    1. I’m glad you liked it Diane! Twitter was truly a black box of mystery to me for quite some time. It can be an odd thing to wrap your head around without some tips and tricks.

  1. It’s very timely for me. I started tweeting last weekend, even though I had a profile for months. I didn’t know what to do with it. I have been using Facebook and I have a website and my first book is listed on Amazon, but Twitter? It made no sense to me. I spent all of last weekend after @ChrisLockey explained a few things to me.
    Now i understand a few things but am really looking forward to the next installment, #hashtage.
    I have found your postings to be helpful and look forward to more info from you.
    H.V. Purvis

  2. Thanks so much for the kind words, folks! I’m really glad you’re all finding this series useful. Twitter was a great unknown to me when I first got started, and it took quite a while to wrap my head around it all.

    As with most forms of technology, the landscape changes frequently. I’ll make sure and write updates as they occur.

  3. …thanks for this blog, I enjoyed part one and look forward to the rest…I’ve riposted on my formats (twitter, G+, Blogger, tumblr)…I really enjoy social media but there is always more info to consume….thanks again….

    1. Good point, Rie. A lesson we can take from marketing professionals is branding. Your branding should be readily identifiable across all media outlets. If that caricature is your brand/logo, then changing it now could actually harm your marketing efforts.

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  8. Burning question: I am a newbie at Twitter. As I understand your blog, Twitter is a now now type of social network, meaning that people only see tweets posted in the past hour or so, correct? So, when you tweet, do you tweet the same tweet at given time intervals? If not, how in the heck do you find enough stuff to tweet about if your goal is, say 4 tweets per hour?

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      I’m glad you asked this question, Laurie! I think this clear up a lot of confusion for others who are new to Twitter.

      The “lifetime” of a tweet varies between 10 minutes and 2 hours. It’s not that they disappear. They never actually go away. The lifetime reflects how people *use* Twitter. As you mentioned, Twitter is about NOW, not five minutes ago.

      Folks who live on Twitter all day will see repeated content. But most folks only check in once or twice a day. They usually check their “mentions” or “notifications” first, and if they run out of content they’ll check their lists. But when they get to that stage, they rarely scroll back more than a couple hours. And folks who follow a lot of people (or who have large lists) usually only scroll back about 10 minutes due to the sheer volume of tweets they receive in that period of time.

      Building your content, if your goal is to be a content provider, is something that just takes time. I built up my #writetip tweets over the course of 2-3 years. Then, I wrote some software that dips into my “collection” of tweets and pulls out a set of randomly selected ones to be loaded into HootSuite every week. This way, if someone ONLY checks Twitter every day at noon, they probably won’t see the exact same tweets from me every day.

      I have a total (now) of about 350 unique tweets that get broadcast over a period of 7 days. My total collection is twice that, I believe, but my software narrows it to 350 per week (Not a coincidence or arbitrary number. 350 is the technical limit of HootSuite). The interesting thing is that I get daily messages from followers who have been with me for 2 years who are just now discovering some of my #writetip tweets that have been in my automation system for 3 years. So this is confirmation, to me, that the system is working as intended.

      I continue to build content, but not as actively as in the beginning. I think that’s because my content primarily reflects my own learning experience, and I learn the most when I’m in revision on a project.

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  9. Great Tips..!! Very very Useful.Thank you
    Very well said “As a writer, you are your brand.”
    it definitely helps when others who have been there and done it are open and honest.
    I am a newbie at Twitter a month ago. As I understand your blog, i believe i will find most of these techniques valuable in your all series of the following Twitter basics what to do And what not to do.

    Want to ask a Question ?
    Why Twitter not having “edit” option?

    I am Admin Of Number Of page In Facebook. There is a option called “EDIT” If you have commented in anyone’s post, then you want edited your comment or make changes you can do with this option ‘edit’ but as i am a newbie at Twitter, I am finding it difficult sometimes because we need to delete the tweet and re-write the tweet Again and delete the old one in which the mistake happen.

    1. Post

      Hi Debashish,

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the series! Twitter has left an “edit” function out because of the nature of the medium. Twitter is about *now*…right this instant. When you tweet, it appears in the twitter stream of your followers, and it lives for about 10 mins to 2 hours. No longer. People almost never scroll back in the time stream, because Twitter is constantly feeding them new tweets.

      If you have a correction to send out, even if Twitter allowed you to edit previous tweets, it would do little good. Because people probably aren’t going to see the corrected *old* tweet again. They’ve already passed it by.

      The good news is that the short lifespan of a tweet works in both directions. In other words, whether the info you put out there was correct or contained errors, it’s only going to live for 10 minutes to 2 hours anyway. The best thing you can do for your marketing efforts is to treat Facebook and Twitter as two entirely different mediums, with two different audiences (who have two entirely different expectations of what they’re going to see in their respective mediums).

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