Monday 24 October 2016

Four Things you Need to Know About Twitter

By Iola Goulton

Last week, I talked about why authors need to be on Twitter. I promised I'd be back this week to discuss my favourite Twitter tools ... but realised there were a couple of things I needed to cover first.

So today I’m going to give you a little background to three important Twitter topics: hashtags, mentions, and lists. And an important Twitter Tip that you'll need to remember before you even think about automating any Twitter tasks. I'll be back next week to talk about Twitter tools and automation. Promise!

About Hashtags

You’ve all seen hashtags—they’re all over social media. Things like #amreading or #amwriting or #amediting … basically, anything preceeded by a hash symbol (#, which is what Americans call a pound key).

Hashtags are important because they are how people search for topics on Twitter (and Instagram). You want to find millions of Trump haters? Search for #dumptrump. Want the latest Game of Thrones gossip and spoilers (or to vent about the current episode)? Try #gameofthrones or simply #got. Looking for a book to read? Try #amreading or #christfic #inspy or #romance or #bookworm. Using #cr4u (Clean Reads for You) will always get you a lot of retweets.

You can even invent your own hashtag, for a book, a series, a genre (like #cr4u), or an event. For example, the Omega Christian Writer’s Conference is this weekend, so I was wondering what hashtag we could use so you can all find our posts to read and share (hint hint).

#Omega2016 was my first choice, so I searched for it on Twitter. There are already a number of tweets using that hashtag—it seems to have been used by a missions trip to Thailand, and a Spanish-speaking graduating class, as well as other odd tweets. Perhaps not a good choice.

#Omega16 looks like a better option: only a handful of tweets, and none recent. Yes, it’s that easy.

And you can use the same hashtag on Facebook and Instagram (Instagram loves hashtags. Facebook … allows them, but not everyone uses them proprerly #soyougetlotsofwordsjoinedtogetherwhichdontmeanmuch.

#Omega16 it is.

About Mentions

These are called @-mentions (at-mentions), because of the @ key which comes in front of your Twitter name (so I’m @iolagoulton). If you want someone to see your Tweet, you tag them with an @-mention. This also means your tweet will show up in the Twitter feed of all their followers … so it’s not something to abuse.

But it is considered good Twitter etiquette to @-mention someone if, say, you’re linking to a blog post about them. For example:

Or if you're reviewing their book:

Or interviewing them:

(This relates to my post last week, about why you need to be on Twitter. Why would you want to miss out on knowing when people are being nice about you?)

Twitter Lists

Once you’ve been on Twitter a while, you’ll find you can’t actually scan every tweet from every person you follow (and you wouldn’t want to, especially not if some of the people you follow are the spam-every-six-minutes types). But that doesn’t mean you want to unfollow them …

Twitter lists are the answer to this dilemma. Group similar accounts into a List, and you can just review tweets from that list. Sometimes I add interesting people to a list, then find out they are tweet-every-six-minute spammers. The solution is simple: take them off the list.

(As an aside, this is why you shouldn’t be a tweet-every-six-minute spammer. It’s possible no one will notice if they follow hundreds or thousands of active accounts. But if they put you on a list, spammy behaviour is easy to spot and difficult to ignore.)

The way they achieve this annoying omniscience is through automation. They’ll use a tool to preschedule hundreds of tweets each week, each promoting themselves or their books. This behaviour gives automation a bad name.

But there is a better way to use automation. I’ll talk about that next week.

Meanwhile, here’s my big #TwitterTip (hey! See the hashtag!):

Twitter is not all about you.
If you spend any time on Twitter (or read blog posts about Twitter or other social media), you’ll come across some variation of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80:20 rule:

No more than 20% of your posts should be about you.

Most of your posts (80%, or four out of five) should be posts from or about other people, such as retweets of interesting blog posts. That is, blog posts which are interesting to your target reader … which may or may not be people like you. Not blog posts you liked because they had useful writing or editing tips (unless your target reader is a writer).

If you can focus on this 80:20 principle, focus on providing content that your readers will find interesting, you’ll get interaction with readers and you might even find you come to enjoy using Twitter.

But if you make it all about you … Yeah. You might get nothing but tumbleweeds. Not so good.

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at

You can also find me on:
Facebook (Author)
Facebook (Editing)


  1. Great #tips once again, Iola. Thank you. Twitter Lists - ha. That's how people who follow squillions of people can still manage to hold down a day job and be on Twitter. I must explore that.

    See you in a few days, Iola at #Omega16. Great hashtag. When are you flying in?

    1. Glad you like the tips, Ian!

      I arrive at around 10:30 am on Friday after a 5am start (my time. I refuse to even contemplate what time that will be in Sydney). So my first stop will be for enough coffee and sugar to get me to the bus and through the day.

      Looking forward to meeting you in person :)

  2. Thanks for these last two posts about Twitter, Iola. I found them really helpful. I've been a bit lax on Twitter in the past, but have been trying to overcome that recently.

    1. You're welcome, Paula.

      I go through phases regarding how active I am on Twitter. Sometimes I'll just post and read my notifications. Other times I'll check out my Twitter stream and Lists. Either way, tasteful automation makes it look like I'm there even when I'm not.

  3. Great post, Iola. Discovering Twitters Lists transformed my use & enjoyment of Twitter. Up to that point it felt like being in a crowded marketplace with everyone spruiking stuff I wasn't interested in. My lists mean I can choose the content I'm interested in.

    I love hashtags too :) It is a great way to direct the people that most likely to be interested to your content (I also use #bookreview #fantasyfiction). One great #twittertip is to make hashtags relevant to your books - like the title (#heartofthemountain or #glimpsesoflight), series (#Akradslegacy) or overall theme (#nardva) - which then groups your tweets for easy reference.

    Totally agree that just constantly promoting oneself is tiresome and good to follow the 20/80 rule. I've shied away from automation - so I'm looking forward to your next post. Thank you.

    1. Great advice on using hashtags for books, Jeanette. Of course, you actually have a book. Which makes one of us :)

  4. Thank you Iola, I seem to be forever a newbie on social media and struggle to grasp the concepts of interacting this way. i find the blurred lines between social interaction and promotion rather tedious to deal with. I would never communicate with someone (socially) ordinarily with only a one-liner.
    I can talk on fb pm and in an email but other than that it's alien land to me. Your posts help me understand it all a bit better. Thank you.

    1. Pleased to help, Mimi!

      You are right - many of us were raised to write "proper" letters, and it can be difficult to write something short and still consider it polite without all the social niceties.


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