My social networking site of choice is Twitter. I’m active on more than a few other sites, but I keep Twitter open pretty much all the time. I post updates to it regularly — and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an impressive tool in any writer’s arsenal.
Hopefully, you’ve already spent some time playing with Twitter. If you haven’t, I recommend taking a few minutes to go do so: this post doesn’t provide entry level instruction. Instead, these are intermediate and advanced tips for using Twitter as a resource for earning money with writing.
The Question of Followers
As a social networking tool, Twitter is great. You’ll find, though, that there’s some inclination to stick to following (and being followed by) people that you actually know on some level. People you’ve met through forums, people you know away from your computer — those types of people. Resist that urge! I make a point of adding people that I find through just random encounters — the people that I see retweeted or addressed by other people on Twitter. You should, too: the greatest asset a writer can have on Twitter is an extensive network. There are plenty of articles out there that can show you how to get a huge network on Twitter. I recommend starting with 7 Ways to Be Worth Following on Twitter if you need some further information.
Don’t set up any sort of automatic following script, though. Grow your list of Twitter followers organically. For one thing, you have a much better chance of getting followed back when you just add people as you find them. For another, slower growth helps you learn how to manage all the information coming through Twitter at you.
Advanced tip: While Twitter’s website interface is quite nice, you’re going to need something more robust once you can count the people you’re following in the hundreds. I like TweetDeck. Being able to group the people I follow into different categories makes it much easier to sort through incoming tweets quickly — and to know what kind of outgoing tweets I need to be sending.
Fish in Other People’s Ponds
When you’re adding cool new people you’re finding on Twitter, go beyond freelance writers. Sure, it’s a great tool to keep in touch with other writers and to share war stories. But you’ve got to fish in other ponds: follow people tweeting about the topics you normally write about, and maybe about some other topics as well. And as much as it might sound painful, it’s worth following all those public relations folks hanging out on Twitter these days — especially if their clients include anyone you write about regularly.
I am pretty resistant to following any Twitter account that is nothing but links to a blog or some other news feed. I’d rather manage that kind of content through an RSS reader. But anyone who will actually respond to my tweets is totally fair game!
Once you’ve got a robust network of contacts on Twitter, you can actually use them to make your life much easier. One of the greatest uses I’ve discovered for Twitter is finding new sources for stories. Just posting a note that I’m working on a particular story and need sources can result in five contacts, all willing to be interviewed pretty much immediately. To get that sort of response, though, you absolutely have to have more than a hundred followers. Try as you might, with that small of a following — even if they’re all very relevant to your niche — you’ll overfish your pond very quickly. You don’t want to use the same sources in every article and your followers don’t want to see your requests every time they look at their accounts.
But with a larger network, you’ll get new responses. You’ll also find that someone will pass along any particularly interesting (at least in their field) request you post. And all those PR people you added? They’ll come in handy! If they’ve got a client relevant to your topic, you’ll hear about it!
You should also add @skydiver — that’s Peter Shankman, the guy behind Help A Reporter Out. He tweets urgent HAROs, among many other comments that you might find interesting. At the very least, following Peter Shankman can give you an idea of how other writers are relying on Twitter to find sources. It’s also possible that you’ll find an inquiry or two that you can respond to (and maybe get quoted in an article yourself).
Getting the Scoop
News hits Twitter faster than just about anywhere. People have tweeted from airplane crashes, traffic jams and (as of yesterday) inaugurations. If your beat is at all news-oriented, find the people involved in that beat. Follow them and get information on potential stories long before they hit most other websites. I also have found that if you’ve got a wide enough network, you’ll find people retweet some types of news very quickly. Even if only one person is on the scene of something extreme, retweets let it ripple through the rest of Twitter very quickly.
Your PR contacts may post particularly juicy bits of information that will let you build up a story as well — some may just post links to press releases, but others can let slip a little tidbit that will help you build a particularly unique angle on a story.
I’m dividing this post into parts because, honestly, there is a huge amount of information here. Come back on Friday for Part Two. EDIT: Part Two is now up!
And feel free to follow me on Twitter (@thursdayb). You can also add your Twitter information in the comments and we’ll see if we all can add on to our networks!