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5 Tips for Using Twitter More Effectively

I’ve just spent three hours reading tweets, looking at Twitter sites and reading about Twitter. Rest assured, even though I’m normally an active tweeter — or should that be a twit? — this is not how I usually spend my time.

Thing is, I was giving a speech about Twitter  and I needed to ready my notes. While preparing I re-discovered how intensely distracting Twitter can be. Useful information: Check! Funny comments: Double check! Links to great sites: Check like a maniac! (I particularly enjoyed stumbling across this link to a gleeful New Yorker article about hashtags written by Susan Orlean.)

I learned a lot but didn’t get much crossed off of my old-fashioned “to do” list. In fact, the three hours zipped by so speedily I was reminded why it’s necessary for writers to draw boxes around their time. If you don’t safeguard your writing time, it will just dribble away, like coffee from a Styrofoam cup with a pin-sized hole in the bottom of it.

I hope this doesn’t discourage you from using Twitter. That’s not my intent. But if you tweet (and I suggest you should) here are five ways to spend your time more fruitfully:

1) Don’t automatically follow everyone who follows you. I know I have an overwhelming desire to complete every project I start. I’m such a completion-monster that I will occasionally become annoyed when my husband tries to help me empty the dishwasher — because I want to be the one to finish what I start! Can you imagine how disastrous my life would be if I tried to follow 3,000 Twitter accounts? Unthinkable! That’s why I never follow more than 300 people.  This less-is-more philosophy may not be to your taste, but know that it’s an option. If the fear of being overwhelmed has kept you from tweeting, realize that there are ways to limit the influx.

2) When choosing which people to follow, check out their biographies, first. How often do they post? (Generally speaking, I try to avoid people who post more than a dozen times a day.) Do they offer useful and interesting information or just idle backchat? Just click on the Tweeter’s name and his or her profile will appear. From there you can easily click to see the person’s Twitter page and scan the most recent posts. Like what you see? Follow them! Find them boring as a rerun of an old Law & Order episode? Run like the wind! I generally do this sort of checking no more than once a week.

3) Follow hashtags. When I have more time to spend on Twitter (evenings, weekends, reward time for doing a much-loathed project like bookkeeping), I have search columns set up for various hashtags. Hashtags are the # symbols often used in tweets and they are essentially a code allowing you to see every tweet that contains that symbol. Here are some of the hashtags I follow: #writetip #writer #productivity #pubtip #reading.

4) Schedule your tweets. I used to tweet through the day, as the spirit moved me. Now I schedule 10 tweets a day. I do this first thing in the morning and I schedule my tweets for once an hour, using Buffer. Batching tasks is ferociously efficient and allows me to maintain my presence on Twitter, throughout the day, without boring my followers senseless or driving myself crazy. It also means I’m far less likely to be distracted by Twitter when I should be working.

5) Pick your subject and stick to it. Even though I have more than a casual interest in politics and I’m seriously interested in food and a small handful of very good TV shows, I tweet about none of those things. I’m a writer and editor so I tweet about words and books. That’s it! Every working day I see several dozen things that would make excellent tweets — but I put my head down and walk away. I’m not a Renaissance woman. I’m not trying to be all things to all people. I know my limits.

Being good at Twitter is not just about being able to make pithy comments. It’s also about time management. Sure, I could let Twitter occupy my entire day. But I wouldn’t be a writer, then, would I?

P.S. If you want to follow me I’m at: @pubcoach

Daphne Gray-Grant

Daphne Gray-Grant

A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8 1⁄2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. It's brief. It's smart. And it's free.
Daphne Gray-Grant
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