Friday, January 26, 2018

How Not to Build a Twitter Platform

I made a mess of my social activities, and no, I'm not referring to being a massive shut-in.

Back when I first decided to actively pursue publication, agents and editors insisted on the importance of having a platform. Showing them your ability to gain followers would be a real foot in the door. It, of course, wouldn’t compensate for poor writing, but it demonstrated your ability to market yourself, and showed off what you could do for the publication company.

I didn’t really understand Twitter that much, but I became active in it. It was the summer when my ex-boyfriend first started to jerk my chain around. I felt a great deal of heartbreak and tried to distract myself through work. I looked around the internet and found other writers who had successful Twitter accounts, and it became very clear the simplicity of it; you merely followed other writers and they would most likely follow you back.

It was a good distraction that made me feel like I was doing something. Publication and writing were all going very slow, and I felt stagnant, almost in a perpetual loop. Every day I looked for followers of larger accounts or people on writing hashtags or groups and followed a group of them. I would follow back anyone who decided to follow me. Within a year, I found myself with 40K Twitter “fans.”

Then I went out to lunch with a friend of mine and her boyfriend. He was a special kind of competitive, and though I liked him fine at the time, in later years he proved to be a real self-serving ass. It’s not uncommon for my friends’ boyfriends to poke holes in any of my accomplishments, I’ve begun to realize. The majority of them found things to criticize in even achievements I am actually proud of. In fact, I am under the impression he was the aspiring graphic designer that led said friend to sending me a vague yet total tear-down of the literary journal I had produced, insisting I needed to hire “someone” for my graphic designs. It was uncharacteristic of her to deliver an opinion like that to me - out of the blue with no helpful specifics, hostile and disgusted - and her “I just don’t like anything!” diatribe caused me to distance myself from her for a while. I felt incredibly betrayed for the first time in my life, and she was almost the first friend I really lost. We made up later, after she got back in contact with me, and her attitude about the journal and everything else changed drastically once the boy was gone.

But while sitting in a restaurant booth out in the boonies of Tetonia, he turned to me and asked, “Did you just buy followers?” It was actually an enlightening moment. I didn’t realize until that point that having a huge number wasn’t really the point of it all. I liked how it gained me some credibility, but having 40K followers and only 20 likes on a good Tweet actually looked suspicious. (Ironically, when I mentioned this conversation to my friend about her ex, she laughed and said, “That’s because he does buy followers.”)

Having a platform isn’t just about looking popular, it’s about connecting with people. As soon as I stopped following a whole slew of new people, my favorites and retweets went down. Tweeters were only looking at my page when they first had seen I followed them. I realized that if I wanted to have a successful social media presence, I needed to actually make people feel an affinity for me and my work, not just throw a cursory ‘follow’ at each other and call it a day.

Then came a problem. I recognized that social media was just a virtual form of networking. The most successful authors that I know are personable and friendly. I mean, just last week I read Girlboss and had the CEO of a self-made company explain how her success came from making friends online. Cassandra Clare and E.L. James both got their start by publishing work online and interacting with a community. The way to make yourself stand out is to be familiar and have people develop positive associations with you.

I came across the obvious issue of it being more than a numbers’ game.

Now I always attempted to create good, interesting content in a timely fashion. I constantly think about how what I’m writing could be more effective. But at the end of the day, my most successful pieces were always what got people talking about me, and more returning fans have been the ones that I interacted with. It is about quality, but it’s also just about personability.

The issue? I had around 40K of people I was following, and most of the Tweets were crap. Sure, I had limited myself to following other authors, but I followed back anyone, giving me probably thousands of people who weren’t even posting in my own language. Plus, the number of just spammy tweets were ridiculous. Porn, clickbait, massive amounts of senseless retweets by people who were trying to get retweeted themselves.

At first, I just read through hashtags, #amwriting and #writerslife and the like, but it immediately brought up the issue that I was interacting with people, yet not the same ones. I created a group of “social writers” so I could just go and read what they have to say, yet many of them also turned into retweet junkies. Even when I vetted for people with original content, I still struggle to get a feed of original content.

It became pretty obvious. I had made a mistake in not better controlling my content. If I wanted to be entertaining… I would need to use Twitter for entertainment.

I actually do wish, somewhat I could start all over from scratch. On the other hand, I still get quite a few blog hits from my Twitter, and I really am meeting and interacting with new writers that I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t expand my resources.

I slowly began to unfollow people. Full honesty, it actually started with followers of a certain distasteful person I truly consider to be evil. All his methods and ideologies are what not to do in a society that hopes for improvement and community. From there, it became sort of easy.

I found a Follow Manager. For a while I just went through my feed unfollowing anyone who posted spammy messages, but that was slow going. I was searching for a way to cut out anyone who didn’t post in English when I found a wonderful app that filtered so much more. I used it to find “egg” accounts that really had no one behind them. I unfollowed follow-happy people like myself who probably didn’t read anything in their feed. I unfollowed people who posted gibberish, non-relevant retweets, and anything with hashtag blindness.

Soon I cut it down to 6,000 follows, and I have to say my page is much better. It is still filled with politics, but at least coherent messages. In between book sales, people make jokes and talk about their day.

I’m still not entirely sure what Twitter is actually for when you’re not being a number junkie, but it’s far easier to connect with people now. I actually hope that my unfollowing will lower my numbers to more natural degrees and that I can begin to efficiently utilize the app as a tool to get people interested and the word out there, rather than a quick glance for credibility.

If you’re considering starting work on your social media page, there are benefits to following and friending people you don’t know just to get a bigger platform, but use everything in moderation and always keep the main goal in sight.

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