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Friday, December 12, 2008

The Benefits of Twitter for Writers

I've been on Twitter for over seven months now, and have just reached 100 followers. So I thought this would be a good time to update you on my progress, and share my thoughts on the pros and cons of Twitter for writers.

For those still unfamiliar with Twitter, I should explain that it's a free social networking and micro-blogging service.

As a Twitter member, you can post short messages or 'tweets' of up to 140 characters. These are displayed on your Twitter homepage and instantly delivered to any other Twitter users who have signed up to receive them (your 'followers').

Looking at this blog post I wrote shortly after joining Twitter, I see that I originally anticipated using it as a method for notifying people when I made a post on this blog. I still use it for that, but actually I have found it useful in many other respects as well.

One is that being on Twitter has significantly boosted the readership of this blog. This typically happens due to the 'viral' qualities of Twitter. Here's how this can work. You post an interesting article on your blog and share it with your followers via Twitter. Some of them find it interesting enough to re-tweet to their followers as well, and some of these people in turn re-tweet it to others. In this way, word of a good post (or website) can reach hundreds or even thousands of other people in an ever-widening circle.

Through Twitter, also, I have got to hear about other useful resources, markets, opportunities, and so on. I've discovered some great websites and online tools that I wouldn't otherwise have heard about from other users. I also try to spread this information to my own followers, of course.

And Twitter also generates a surprising sense of community. Even though messages have a maximum of 140 characters, this is still enough to interact with other members, ask and answer questions, and so on. Through my circle of Twitter followers, I've obtained advice on buying a new netbook computer, feedback on my blog posts, invitations to write guest posts for other blogs, and offers to write guest posts for mine.

I know that other writers on Twitter have actually received job offers and joint-venture proposals as a direct result of their membership. This hasn't happened to me yet, but I can certainly see how it might.

Are there any downsides to Twitter? Only one as far as I can see, which is that it can start consuming large amounts of your time, especially if you follow a lot of people and want to read all their updates. I try to get around this in two ways.

One is to confine most of my Twittering to short bursts, when (for example) I'm going through my email and RSS feeds and find things I want to share. And second, I have been quite cautious about the number of people I follow. I know some people automatically follow anyone who follows them, but I don't feel able to do this for fear of being swamped - even though I know I would probably get more followers if I did. I'm still trying to work out the best way of dealing with this issue.

To any writer considering whether or not to join Twitter, I would strongly advise giving it a go, especially if you already have a website and/or blog. I would also highly recommend using a Twitter client to get the most from the service. You can just operate via your Twitter homepage, but then the only time you will see incoming messages is when you visit that page.

Personally I use Twitterfox, a Firefox add-on that sits at the bottom of the screen when I am online and flashes up any incoming messages as they arrive. Twitterfox lets me view all recent messages at any time, and also has other useful features, e.g. a facility to quickly add the URL of any page I am viewing to an update, so that I can share it with my followers.

You can also get dedicated desktop clients for Twitter like Twhirl and Tweetdeck. I can see myself graduating to one of these at some point, but for now Twitterfox meets my needs. I also use several other add-on services, including Twitterfeed, which automatically tweets my blog updates; Twitthat, which is handy for quickly recommending a web page on Twitter; and TwitWall, a service that lets you post longer messages, pictures and videos, and automatically tweets them to your followers.

To sum up, since joining I've become a big Twitter fan. I now see it not just as an 'announcement service', but as a means of sharing useful info and building a community of fellow writers. In addition, it provides a method for me to publicise my blog and broaden my base of (potential) readers, publishers, clients and collaborators. If I've persuaded you of the benefits of joining, please visit my Twitter homepage at www.twitter.com/nickdaws and, if you like what you see, do sign up to follow me.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Christian-Mark Cawley said...

I can't believe how cool Twitter is - one day I get messages from Stephen Fry, the next from Darren Rowse of Problogger, and I'm sure it has benefitted my Doctor Who webzine Kasterborous.com

I also use Twitter with a Facebook App that copies my Twitters to my Facebook status, which is very useful.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for your comment, CM. I'll be sure to check out your Doctor Who webzine :)

6:51 PM  

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