Social Muckery: A Lesson in Tweeting

OR Tossing Random Thoughts into the Void

Photo by Ian Baldwin on Unsplash

I had a talk with my boss the other day at my “real job.” He asked what the point of Twitter was. He just didn’t get it and thought it was a waste of time.

I found myself trying to defend it, trying to come up with reasons why it was good for marketing and getting the word out about whatever you’re promoting, in my case, my book. And he admitted that made some sense, but what he really didn’t get were the random tweets about what people are doing at any given moment, like playing a video game or seeing a movie with their friends, and so on. His opinion was “Who cares?”

And while I somewhat agreed, I again found myself trying to explain how it was a way that people can engage each other and in its way also a form of marketing. If you’re a fan of someone, you could be tickled pink by knowing that they play Overwatch too, or just by seeing a picture of their dog. But he wasn’t really buying that. I ultimately chalked it up to him being of an older generation that just wasn’t going to ever get it and slowly slipped out of the conversation.

But as I’ve been spending more time on Twitter lately, I have been thinking about his initial question, “What IS the point?” Really. Why am I on Twitter at all?

I just read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, and I loved it. I plan to read it again immediately. Gotta get those good lessons to stick.

I’m trying to apply some of the wisdom and not sweat the small stuff, not give f*cks where none are deserved. And instead of agonizing over social media and what the perfect tweet is, I’ve been posting thoughts and surveys and whatnot on Twitter and Facebook and just seeing what, if any, response I get. I’m trying to engage, and trying not to worry about it.

And I’ll be honest, nothing is really happening. Granted, it’s only been a few days, but I’m getting very close to absolute zero response from anything. I admit that I’m not really surprised, but at the same time, I do feel a little disappointed. I’m trying to let that feeling go though. It’s not really helpful.

What is helpful is that I’ve had a realization of sorts, far from mind-blowing, but important to me.

As of this moment, I have 948 Twitter followers. That’s really not a lot in the grand scheme of things. 1000 is a sort of minor milestone, but people who have real followings have at least in the 50k and much higher range. So just under 1k is pretty paltry.

It seems that those who have any real engagement have at least 100k followers. And even then, they often don’t get more than a few likes on their posts. It’s when you get into the millions that people really engage, and you can just watch the likes in real time flipping higher and higher.

These are people like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. They are the big guns in the author world who have real fans as followers. They kill it on Twitter.

But here’s the important thing!

They don’t kill on Twitter because they are awesome at composing perfect, witty 140-character tweets. No. They have that kind of following because they write great books, so people want to feel connected to them.

And it turns out that they are both intelligent, compassionate, and brutally witty people as well. They have a lot of wisdom and insight to offer about other issues in the world, so that’s a bonus. It’s worth having a Twitter account just to read J.K.’s take downs of her critics and trolls.

But it’s not really about the fact that they have millions of followers on Twitter. It’s because they were already famous.

As proof, this also works on a smaller scale. My wife has just over 1k followers at the moment, but she has a far greater engagement rate than I do. Why? Because she got on Twitter AFTER she was already being celebrated for other accomplishments. She stars in a very popular podcast called The Bright Sessions, so when she got on Twitter, her fans wanted to connect with her. She already had those fans. They didn’t show up because of her great tweets.

And there are examples of this at every follower level. There are people with 20k followers who kill it and people with 50k who get very little love. The former most likely has fans from some other avenue in their life. The latter probably paid for theirs.

Twitter is great for allowing us to connect with successful people and feel like we are part of their lives by engaging in their conversations and retweeting what they say. Even if they never personally respond to you, you have connected on some level. It is great for that.

But what it’s not great for is building a following in the first place. I’m no marketing guru—that’s clear—but from what I’ve seen, this seems to be pretty evident.

And while I’m grateful—if that’s the right feeling—for these almost 1k followers, the fact is that very few of them are actually fans. And that’s okay. That’s just how it is. I am just beginning my author journey. To expect anything more would be unreasonable.

The fact is that almost every one of my followers on Twitter followed me because they wanted me to follow them. And that’s exactly why I followed them, too. I wasn’t all that interested in their books or their weight loss program or their expert marketing advice. I just wanted them to like me and my book. It’s really a terrible way to start any kind of relationship, even if it’s a completely impersonal online social media relationship.

“Like me, oh, please like me!” is not the healthiest pickup line.

Sure, there’s the hope that I might connect with some other writers, and there have been moments, but they are few and far between. So I pretty much have nearly 1000 followers who don’t give a crap about me or my book (soon to be books). And like I said, I’m no different.

I don’t mean to be negative. I’m sure a lot of my fellow Tweeps have great books and are great authors. I’m just being honest. I don’t really know them at all, and simply don’t have time to read every book that’s being promoted—my to-read queue is already impossibly long—so how could I expect them to read mine?

There are a few people I follow because I value what they have to offer but almost across the board, I value it because of reasons outside of Twitter.

There are also those people whose tweets I appreciate and/or find entertaining who I didn’t know from outside of Twitter. But all the same, I’ve almost never looked further than their tweets. I haven’t gone to their websites. I haven’t bought their books. And if I miss a few days of tweets, I’m not losing sleep over it.

Some of them are very witty. One of them is super clever and funny. But she gets two or three likes a tweet maybe, often times none. She persists, and I appreciate her wit, but is it doing anything to further her writing career? I’m thinking not much.

Maybe I’m the exception and this works magically for everyone else. Maybe I’m too cynical. But I don’t think so. I think the assumption that you can build a great Twitter following and have it boost your business is backward. Almost no one is going from Twitter to my website, and I’d be surprised if I’ve sold a single book because of Twitter.

It’s actually the other way around. Twitter is just another way to engage your fans AFTER they are already your fans. I’m not saying that it can’t be part of your marketing strategy, but it is ridiculous to expect that you can attract that many fans primarily from Twitter, and there is far too much focus placed on it as being important.

Having a website is important. Having a mailing list is important. Twitter is optional.

Blogging, for example, is a much better way to connect, because it is long form and people can get a much better sense of who you are and what your writing style is. This clearly works far better for non-fiction than fiction, but I think us fiction writers can still use blogs to our advantage. And then you can promote those posts on Twitter! But good luck getting anyone to actually click on them until you actually have real fans.

All of this is good stuff though. I’m not complaining, even though it may sound like it. It’s actually great information and just the reality check I needed. Because I don’t want to be on Twitter and Facebook all day. It drains me and ultimately gains me very little. I want to be writing. I want to be creating. I want to be helping other people create.

So again. I’m grateful that I’ve come to this conclusion, and from now on, if I continue to tweet things (and I probably will), I will expect absolutely zero from doing it, apart from being able to toss my random thoughts into the void.

The real work is elsewhere. The real work is in the writing and the doing. Not in the tweeting.

So put down your phone—put it on silent—and open up that laptop. Get your words in today. Tell your story.

That’s what will get people talking about you on social media. You have to do something tweet-worthy before the tweets will have any effect.

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