Twitter can be a little overwhelming when you first register. Once you’ve learnt how to tweet, added a few friends, and posted a photo of your dinner or your cat, you can get a bit stuck, especially when it comes to figuring out how best to use Twitter to promote yourself.
I have to admit that when I first heard of Twitter many moons ago I was a little horrified. This was instant messaging, but where literally anyone could read your conversations and join in? I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do this, it sounded horrible! However, years later I decided to dip my toes in, and got completely hooked. The reality that I’ve discovered is that Twitter is an amazing place to randomly bump into awesome people. I’ve made quite a few friends on there over the years, and as well as attracting clients I’ve found it a great way to sell my prints.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you know what Twitter is, that you have an account, and that you’re already doing your thing out in Twitterland, but that you’re looking for some tips because it’s all a little confusing. And it is. Everyone finds that when they start out. But fear not!
Before we go into specifics, there are some general tips or guidelines that I try to adhere to on Twitter, and I’d recommend you do too:
As an individual rather than a company, I think it’s important to convey some of your personality, and not just be another robotic sounding Twitter automaton. People will tell you to hold back, tell you not to swear, be more professional etc, but I’ve found that being myself works best. Obviously you don’t want your feed to be pure filth, but as a general rule being yourself is good.
It’s important to remember that Twitter is a platform for people to communicate with each other, not just a place for you to promote yourself and ignore everyone. You may find it a little tedious at first, but it’s important to reply to people. Think of it as working in a store. If a potential customer asks you a question or says hi, it’s courteous to answer them. So try to do the same on Twitter.
If people like your work, they’ll invariably talk about you, retweet your tweets, and generally say nice things. Make sure you say thanks! If you’re getting a lot of it and can’t keep up because you’re busy, at the very least take the time to say thanks to your followers in general. Write a quick tweet saying that you’re very busy but really appreciate all the kind comments and retweets. Not everyone will see it, but at least you said it.
As tempting as it is, keep the self promotion to a minimum. There’s nothing worse than following a designer or artist that you like, and then finding your timeline filling up with crap. If you’re active on Twitter people will eventually check out your profile, visit your website, and generally stalk you a little, so there’s no need to tweet every 5 minutes with a link to your store.
This tip applies to both your tweets and your followers. In terms of tweets, remember it’s better to write something interesting than just write to break the silence. There’s never any silence on Twitter, it doesn’t need to be broken. Likewise, with your followers, it’s better to have 100 followers who really admire your work than 10,000 followers who don’t know the difference between you and a large potato.
Right, on to the nitty gritty…
Hash tags are the way that Twitter attempts to hold conversations between more than just a few people, a way to tag your tweets with relevant words so that people can find them, and often a good way to stumble on new people to stalk. Um, I mean follow.
If you’re posting an illustration for example, it’s a good idea to tag it with #illustration, either within your sentence ie “an #illustration of a #calculator” or just by sticking it on the end of your tweet. That way people might discover you randomly, or a company may find you when searching for people to do illustrations of calculators. Like they do.
Remember that hash tags can be whatever you want them to be. Nobody owns them, and you don’t have to use pre-existing tags. However, it’s usually best to use a tag that’s already in circulation, so try searching for variations of what you want to use. You might come across one that’s more specifically tailored to your target audience.
There are a lot of “days” and “hours” on Twitter, where people with common interests or people in a certain geographical location will set aside a day or an hour where they’ll communicate, share tips, promote themselves, or just chat. Look out for hash tags relating to you, and try to join in by sticking the tag at the end of your tweets. For example, there might be an #illustrationfriday or a #newyorkbusinesshour that you could join in with, so just keep watch and jump in like that random weirdo you always see on the bus.
You want to be well prepared when posting your work on Twitter, so here are a few things to think about, along with some tips on how to do it right like Barry White.
Whatever you do, don’t post your work over two tweets. It’s very hard to retweet that way, and often very hard to follow. Bear in mind that most people’s view of their timeline will be around 5-10 tweets per page, which will scroll off within a few minutes. It’s very easy for your tweet to get lost. I’m constantly only seeing the second part of what someone says on Twitter, and I have to admit that I’m usually either too lazy or too disinterested to scroll back and see what they were talking about, so keep it within 140 characters to be safe. You may have to get a little creative to fit it all in, but you’re a creative freelancer so you have no excuse!
If you’re posting your work, or even a link to a product that you’re selling, I think it’s important to include an image rather than just a link. Remember that a lot of people are on a mobile device, and clicking a link just to see what the hell you’re talking about may not be a priority for them. Images usually show as previews on most devices, so posting an image might just catch someone’s attention enough to stand out from all the other tweets.
There’s nothing worse than someone who promotes their work as though they’d much rather be mowing the lawn or reading the instruction manual for their microwave. If you put a little enthusiasm into your tweets and make them entertaining or interesting to read then people will be far more likely to click on them or retweet them. It doesn’t matter if you write something cheesy or silly, as long as it doesn’t have the same effect as taking extra strength sleeping pills. Yawn.
It’s hard to gain followers on Twitter, but easy to lose them, so you want to make sure you avoid doing all the dumb things that you didn’t necessarily know about. Here goes…
Sometimes you’ll forget that Twitter is public, and get into a big argument with someone. Don’t, just don’t. Even if you delete your tweets there are services that archive tweets and the person you’re arguing with will most likely still have their replies on their timeline. So just don’t bother, it’s not worth it. If someone annoys you, step away from the computer and do something relaxing. That being said, you shouldn’t be afraid of voicing your opinion, just don’t get into a huge negative discussion.
Direct messaging people the second they follow you has to be one of the easiest ways to make a new follower immediately disappear. Luckily it’s getting less popular these days, but there are still people who use automatic services to send a DM to new followers telling them about their website, selling them Viagra, or just saying how super duper awesome it is that you just followed them. Of course the most heartfelt and genuine messages are automatically generated by robots, but not everyone will share your opinion on that, so just don’t do it.
Sometimes you may feel that Twitter is a bit of a chore, that your tweets aren’t being read, or that you’re just not getting enough retweets. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to start begging people for help ie asking them directly to retweet you or asking them to mention you etc. In the long run you’ll end up losing the followers who are most able to help you out. If they see something they like, they’ll let their followers know, so leave them to it.
Good question. Let’s go through and explain some of Twitter’s extra features…
Very broadly speaking, lists are like custom searches for your timeline. They enable you to sort everything that’s coming in, and only display tweets from a specific list of people that you’re following. You could create a list called “Friends” and add your close friends to it, create another list called “French designers” and add all your favourite designers that are based in France, and so on. Just remember that people get informed when you add them to a list, so don’t make a list called “Bastards” thinking they won’t know.
The favourites feature makes it easy to bookmark tweets. For example, someone may have given you a link when you asked if anyone knew a good website to buy edible t-shirts from. You can then favourite it and you won’t lose it. Or if you got mentioned by someone famous you could favourite it to show people later or retweet in a few weeks when you feel like you need an ego boost. The possibilities are endless!
The main point you need to remember when you set out on that mission to get more followers is that you’re looking for quality over quantity. Gaining followers on Twitter is a slow process, but in the end it’s best if you don’t just have a load of random people following you. Remember you’re not Justin Gaga.
Fortunately there are a number of ways to expand your list of minions.
The first step you should take is to follow people who interest you. Find people whose work you admire, friends, family (if you dare!), and anyone else that you think would be interesting to follow. Do some searches for hash tags like #design or #illustration, check out some of the random work that pops up, and follow the ones you like. A lot of them will follow you back, but don’t worry if they don’t. It doesn’t mean they hate you, unless they do actually hate you, but that’s unlikely at this stage in your relationship.
There are a lot of places on the Internet where you can link your Twitter account and display it in your profile. Make sure you do this! Put it in your e-mail signature, display it on your Facebook page, put it on your business card, stick an icon on your website, and get a tattoo on your forehead. The more people that see your username, the more likely they are to follow you.
I could write a whole other article about this very thing, since it can get complicated, but running a competition on Twitter can be fun and get you more followers. It’s not always the best way to get the followers you want, but it’s not bad if you run it properly. Just pick something you want to give away, figure out a hash tag nobody else is using ie #winadatewithtim, and then write a tweet telling people to follow you, retweet you, and include the hash tag to enter. You can then track entries by setting up a search for your chosen hash tag. Set a limit of a number of days, and at the end of it pick a winner at random (you can just throw darts at the screen if you can’t think of a way to pick a random winner).
One warning though, is to be careful with your hash tags. You can include such tags as #competition or #free, but you have to think about who’s searching for those tags. If you don’t mind getting entries from random people who only use Twitter to enter competitions then including those tags is fine, but you may want to limit your reach a little.
Right, that’s about it for now! Hopefully I’ve equipped you with enough knowledge to take over the world, but if not please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think I’m missing! Either way, if you’ve found this article useful please consider letting other people know by tweeting about it, and why not follow me on @timeasley while you’re at it? :)
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Tim: I'm a self taught designer, illustrator & photographer from London, you could call me a designustratographer, or maybe just Tim.