How To Use Twitter

Steve explains how to compose an effective profile bio, what #hashtags are, why you should use links, and offers up examples of good, bad, and ugly self-promotional tweets.

1. Create an informative, concise, and unique bio.

You want potential followers to know who you are, what you do, and why you do it, without appearing arrogant, hasty, or a bore. Think like a (micro)journalist: answer the obligatory who? what? when? where? and why? as briefly as possible. Alternatively, think like you're filling out an online dating application. What kind of followers are you trying to attract? Bloggers? Reviewers? Agents? Readers? Ex-cons? Marine Biologists?

Example of a good profile bio:

Ellen Jones   @ellenjones
Oakland-based motorcycle rider and author of the Jane Smith YA mystery series. Read more about Jane's latest adventures: www.janegoestowashington.thebook.com

Why this bio is good:

It tells us that a woman (presumably) named Ellen lives in California, likes to do crazy things like ride motorcycles (without obnoxiously proclaiming "I'm wild! I ride motorcycles!"), and writes a mystery series of young adult novels about a girl named Jane who most recently took on Washington. If I'm curious, I can click on her link for more information. Short and sweet.

Example of a bad profile:

Joe Smith   @joesmithcool
My name is Joe Smith. I am an author. I have written 4 books. Two were published with Book Publishing, Inc. One is self-published because I'm trying to stick it to The Man! My books are, without a doubt, some of the bestest books in the whole wide world!!! Read more about "The Awesome Series" (including tons of 5-star reviews) on Amazon!!

Why this bio is bad:

It tells us that an author named Joe Smith has written 4 books, is bitter about the fact that only 2 of them were traditionally published, and is (likely unfoundedly) convinced that he's an extraordinary writer. The extraneous exclamation points take up unnecessary space and suggest he might secretly be a 6th grade girl. I know the title of his book series, but if I want to read it, I have to search for it on my own. This bio is long-winded, immature, and ineffectual.

2. Self-promotional tweets

When tweeting to promote to your followers, be it an event you're publicizing, a blog entry you'd like them to read, or a product you'd like them to buy, tread carefully. In a world ripe with bombarding advertisement, it's difficult to convince people that your self-promotion is any different from or better than everyone else's self-promotion. Make it your goal to pique interest. Promote creatively, humbly, and concisely. Come up with 140-character phrases that would make even the busiest, pickiest reader just have to know more.

And... Never underestimate the value of hyperlinks and hashtags.

For the uninitiated, a hashtag consists of a # sign followed by a word or words that categorize a tweet (no spaces in between). #books denotes a tweet about a book or books. #Obama2012 denotes a tweet about Obama's reelection campaign, including event listings, press coverage, and commentary. Anyone can employ any hashtag at any time. Hashtags that are trending as I write (you can find trends on the left hand side of your Twitter home page) include #MayWeather, denoting tweets about thunderstorms and sunshine, and #AJBurnett, denoting tweets about whatever sport that dude is playing right now.

Hashtags authors commonly use:

#books
#ebooks
#kindle
#nook
#amreading
#mustread
#read
#bookclub

Hashtags useful in promoting KDP free days:

#freekindlebook
#freebooks
#freeebook (that's "free ebook")
#free

Why these hashtags will help you:

If I'm searching for a new book to read, I can type "#books," for example, in the search field located in Twitter's upper right hand menu. Twitter will send me to a page listing all tweets including the hashtag #books, whether I'm following those users or not. If I'm looking for a replacement for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I've just finished reading, I can search for #thriller, #crimenovel, or #SteigLarsson.

This search feature works for promoters as well. If I've just written a crime novel I would compare to Larsson's series, I can run searches for those books in Twitter and use hashtags I find in my own future tweets, such as #MillenniumTrilogy.

Apart from using by the book (no pun intended) categorical hashtags, use your imagination in your tweets! Don't be afraid to be funny.

Bad self-promotional tweet:

Back to Basics is free today! Please Retweet you guys! I love you!

Why this tweet is bad:

It's lacking information. Remember that people use Twitter for various reasons, not just to find books they'd just like to buy and read and share with their friends. We have no idea what "Back to Basics" is. A book? A work-out video? Even if I were to assume Back to Basics is this author's book, there's no link to it, which means I'd have to search for it. Then he asks me to retweet to my followers with the additional qualifier that he loves me. Not only am I annoyed, I'm a little creeped out.

Good self-promotional tweet:

#freekindlebook: Back to Basics www.amazon.com/backtobasicsbook A case for resuscitating the electric #car. #books #nonfiction #amreading #green #energy #algore #hybrids #free

Why this tweet is good:

Right off the bat, it informs followers that the tweet is about a free kindle book. It gives the book's title, a direct link to where it can be purchased, and a phrase explaining what the book is about. Hashtags in the tweet explain that the product is a book, is nonfiction, and pertains to energy policy, green energy, that it is related to hybrid vehicles, and that it is a free product.

More examples of good self-promotional tweets:

Now out on #kindle: #Murder in #Miami, the 2nd #book in the Jan Austin #mystery series: www.amazon.com/janaustinbooks #chicklit #femalesleuth #romance #florida #mustread

Is #Twitter REALLY an effective tool for #selfpromotion? An interview with #selfpub #author @JackieJCollins www.interviewjackie.com

"Joe Jones does it again. Before There Was #Coffee is #hilarious & #moving. A page-turner to the last drop." www.link.com #books #satire #humor #capitalism #starbucks

Non-promotional tweets:

Don't use Twitter only to sell yourself! Think of it as a bar conversation with an acquaintance. Retweet (denoted by "RT") tweets you're interested in by large publications and individuals, ask your followers questions, find common ground with other Twitter users, start conversations with those you follow, make small talk about day-to-day happenings. You wouldn't talk incessantly about your job or divulge gory details about your recent divorce to the stranger sipping a beer on the bar stool to your right; don't do it on Twitter, either.

3. Quick Tips:

Twitter now has a built-in link shortener, which automatically codes your hyperlinks to take up no more than 20 characters. This means you can copy and paste links without having to worry about losing precious characters.


Running out of room in a tweet? Can't figure out how to shorten it any further? Replace "and"s with "&," and compound words w/ (hint!) contractions.

Important Fact!  

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