Tuesday, October 15, 2013
New to the Twitter world, I have taken on this social media platform warily, even disdainfully at first, considering it a vacuous "Look-at-me!" exercise. But at a recent writers' conference, I kept hearing about how important tweeting is to drive people to read more from you if you hooked them with your cleverness. "That's how you get people to visit your website, read your blogs, know your name," claimed the presenters. So I signed up, and then studied tweet patterns like a birdwatcher, noting whose tweets turned my gaze to them, which inspired me to tweet back, and which of my new flock bore bands that showed they're being tracked.
I found out it's a game. First, it's about who can make the best move in 140 characters, catching the eyes of followers and inspiring them to retweet a post; second, who can be consistently clever, snagging the top branch of the Twitter feed at just the right time for maximum exposure; and third, who can achieve the highest number of followers, without following more than follow him/her ("Mom, you never want to be following more people than follow you," advised my daughter, a more experienced player. "AND you should follow people who follow you if their posts interest you and they have a lot of their own followers, because they might retweet you to their people. See?") Yes, it's definitely a game. A game with rules that reveal themselves as you play. A game that makes me nervous about the etiquette that seems to underly it (regarding who to follow or unfollow), and makes me hesitate to type something for unknown eyes that might mislabel me and end up on "my permanent record." Yes, I feel like I'm back in elementary school, tweeting hesitantly and hoping others like me.
Aside from the realization that the Twitter game requires strategy, I notice something else that has to do with its worth to writers: forced conciseness. Like a poetic structure, a tweet must use hashtags sparingly--I still haven't quite figured out how to use them!--leaving room for the strongest possible words. I find myself cutting down tweets to fit the 140 character limit, substituting words for shorter synonyms, and paying more attention to word choices than I have to do on Facebook. It's like the difference between poetry and prose. I advocate that all writers practice writing poetry to tighten their prose. Now I'm advocating that writers use Twitter not just as "Look-at-me-and-follow-me" tool, but as an exercise in the economy of words!
And now I'm off to tweet an interesting observation that just occurred outside my window. Curious? Come follow me on Twitter: @sllipson.