The hashtag. It has nothing to do with illegal drugs. Or childhood games (you're it). Nope, it is more humble and yet more powerful—it's an essential tool on Twitter. And if you want to network (who doesn't?) with other writers, agents, editors, and publishers, or reviewers, or bloggers, or—you guessed it, readers—then you have to master the art of using hashtags.
Believe it or not, this is a skill that a lot of people haven't figured out. I know, because I've seen it a million times. And you have too. The tweet with about three relevant words, a link to who knows where, and every hashtag that can fit within the 140 character limit.
That's not the way to do it. Here's why: Networking online is largely about getting to know people, developing relationships, being social. A single tweet with too many hashtags in it is not social. It's like taking a bullhorn into Times Square and yelling, "Hey, if you're male, female, straight, gay, local, and from out of town, I'd like you to come over here."
First of all, no one worth his or her salt is coming over to you in Times Square if you shout at them like that, because they know you want to talk at them instead of with them. And second, the ones who do come over... Let's just say you probably don't want them around. In fact, don't even make eye contact. Sneak away while you still can.
In other words, it's not a good idea to tweet like you're shooting scattershot. Instead, focus your tweets to a specific group of individuals. Think about them. What do they need? Want? Like? Then share that with them. Meet them where they're at. You know what I mean?
Even if you have tweets to share with every hashtag on the planet, you can phrase the idea differently and send it to a different group during different times of the day. You're more likely to figure out which hashtag groups fit you best, and you may also learn what times of day are most likely to get you the responses you want. That's valuable information.
Consider sharing certain ideas only with one or two hashtag groups. I take this approach on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Sometimes I communicate the same thing on all three channels. Sometimes on two. Sometimes, one channel gets something unique. That's my way of making relationships special. I don't always say the same things to all my friends. And I don't always say the same things on all my social networks. I think this can apply to hashtags too. Try it, and see what you think. It may or may not work for you. But at least, it can get you thinking about how to dialogue on Twitter instead of giving a monologue.
Before you go hunting for readers, practice building online relationships with other writers. Other writers like to share information that you may need. That's why you're here reading this blog, right? To see what you can learn. And that's cool with me, because that's why I'm writing it. We're in this together. Bottom line, writers do like to talk to one another. And there are a lot of hashtags to facilitate conversing and talking craft. You may know them already, but here's a short list for reference:
I know there are others. Search them out and use them. But here's a BIG tip: Get to know the people who use that hashtag, and get to know how they use that hashtag and why. Example: the #pubwrite people like to use their hashtag for conversation (to foster relationships). They're not too keen on people fouling up the #pubwrite pipeline with endless self-promotions. That's probably true for all the writer hashtags, although other groups may simply ignore you instead of telling you to quit it. Either way, though, you won't build many relationships if you only talk about yourself. (Save that for Facebook and phone calls to your parents.)
Let the relationships evolve naturally, and be genuine. That's my approach because it's my conviction that it's best for everyone if they see the real me, but I think it also makes sense to build your platform around the real me. So, when you follow me on Twitter, when you read my blog, you get me. Not the packaged brand me. The person me.
You'll recognize the people who take this same approach on Twitter through these signs: They talk about more than just themselves. They respond to your comments and questions when they can. They pay attention to others. They engage in give and take. They don't take a bullhorn and shout.
Which leads me to tip #2: When you connect with others on Twitter (friends, fellow writers, industry people, readers), the responses you get are going to vary. Be flexible and vary with them. Some people prefer direct messages, and that's okay, as long as they're doing more than asking you to follow them on Facebook. Some people won't ever respond back. But if they have useful information to share, follow them anyway and forward their tweets sometimes. Other people will respond to your tweets with a long conversation. Personally, as long as it's not a weird conversation, I chat as much as I'm able, because it's a chance to build a friendship. If it's weird though, all bets are off. (Tip #3: don't be weird.)
And there are a priceless few who work hard to get to know others, share information, answer your questions, and otherwise show willingness to help you out, even though their networks are huge. But remember, they're still people too. They have needs, wants, ideas of their own. They have demands on their time. So, don't bombard them. Respect them. Treat them like good folks, because they are.
Use the writer hashtags to meet people, to gain knowledge about the writing world, to learn how to master Twitter, and to practice being yourself. Consider it necessary preparation for how you're going to connect with the readers you want to buy your book. If it helps, think of it like this: Your online presence is like the cover of the book you want to sell. It is the first thing potential readers see, and they will have a visceral reaction to it, the same way they react to a cover by picking up the book or putting it down.
Next week, I'll be posting on hashtags that can help you connect with readers. In the meantime, if you have other hashtags for connecting with writers, I'd love to hear about them. And let me know if you agree or disagree with the ideas I've offered in this post. What's working for you? What do you think?
Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.