Thursday 16 September 2010


This is one of my temporarily removed and now temporarily reinstated posts giving tutorials on Twitter. Please note that my forthcoming short ebook will do this much better and more conprehensively and more clearly! If I were you, I'd wait...


After my post on Sept 11th, I hope you've all got lots of followers now. Or at least a small but perfectly-formed crowd.

Today's lesson is hashtags, and the most well-known one, #ff or #FollowFriday. (And it's Friday tomorrow, so you have one day to prepare!)

First, if you haven't already, please read my earlier posts re Twitter  - here, here and here - and make sure that you are using Tweetdeck, which is explained in the first of those. As I've said before, you don't have to use Tweetdeck, but if you don't my instructions won't make sense.

The clever computery people behind Twitter use the # to enable anyone to collect all examples of a word/phrase with a # in front of it. When you search on a #, you will also see relevant tweets from people you do not follow, which you would not otherwise see. (Stay with me - this is going to become clearer.)

Let me give you an example. Before my Edinburgh Book Festival Twitter/blogging workshop, I decided to create a hashtag for it, partly so that I could show my workshoppees and partly because I wanted to ask a question that would go round the twitterverse and allow me to see all the answers collected in one place. I needed to choose a hashtag word/phrase that no one had ever used, otherwise some of the results would be irrelevant. (I checked this by searching on a couple of possibilities until I found one with no results.) The one I chose was #NicolaTwitterWorkshop. I then told people this, in a tweet. For example, I probably tweeted something like:
What do u all love / hate reTwitter? Need to know for my edbookfest workshop - please use #NicolaTwitterWorkshop to join in
Within seconds, people were tweeting their replies and I could see all the tweets (when people remembered to include #NicolaTwitterWorkshop) appearing in one column on my Tweetdeck screen. (Instructions follow.)

You will see how this works by doing this:
  1. In Tweetdeck, click on the circle with a + in the middle. ("Add New Column") In the search box, type #NicolaTwitterWorkshop and click Search.
  2. A few seconds later, a new column appears, which may or may not have anything in it, depending on whether anyone recently said anything using that hashtag. (In some versions of Tweetdeck the columns clear themselves after a certain amount of time. During the workshop itself there was HUGE and amusing activity!)
  3. If YOU now write a tweet, including the #NicolaTwitterWorkshop, you will see your tweet first go into the All Friends column, and a few seconds later into the new column.
NB - this will ONLY make sense if you are using Tweetdeck.

What is the point of this?
Mainly, it means that anyone can have a conversation, open to all, on a particular topic, over a period of time. The conversation can continue for as long as people want. If it becomes very popular, we say it has "trended". Anyone can start a new hashtag. Suppose you were particularly annoyed or fascinated by something; you could create a hashtag and start tweeting. If it was interesting or topical enough, people might join in. (I don't recommend you start any until you've seen a few working, though. Also, you can perfectly well enjoy and use Twitter without ever starting a hashtag conversation.)

Some other uses of hashtags:
Games - for example, there's a game called #cheesebooks - you just think of the name of a book, change the title slightly so that it sounds like a cheese and tweet it with #cheesebooks in the tweet. For example, Gorgonzolaghast. Yeah, really pointless but it can be funny. Just a game while you're taking a break! These games are ongoing, and, again, anyone can invent one.

Directed conversations on a topic, at set times in the week. (Though they also continue outside those times.) For example #litchat (about books) and #writechat (about writing). To be honest, I've forgotten what times these take place. They are like the "old" chat-rooms and I don't much enjoy them - I gave up a while ago after a few experiences of being bored or infuriated by lack of knowledge shown of the industry. There are a lot of unpublished writers saying things that just aren't true, though of course there's sense spoken as well. I just get a bit frustrated by the silly bits, and don't see why I should use my leisure time to put people right. I may have just been unlucky - I admit I didn't often try. I suggest you try and see for yourself. Just do a search on each one, following the instructions above, to set up a new column. (You can delete columns whenever you want.)

Arcane Twitter "humour" - I'm not sure if I can explain this one, as it is an example of arcane Twitter language. Just take my word for it. It involves the creation of a tongue-in-cheek hashtag which you have no intention that anyone should repeat, though they might. For example, suppose you were to tweet, "Just saw a pigeon moonwalking" you might add a hashtag such as #drinkhasnotbeentaken or #itsamadworld or #whereisdavidattenboroughwhenuneedhim? So, the hashtag becomes a way of commenting on your own tweet, as a sort of aside.

And finally, #FollowFriday, or #ff...
Every Friday, everyone becomes a bit manic and starts recommending people to follow. There are two ways to do this: the wrong way and the right way.
  • The wrong way involves simply saying #ff, followed by a long list of Twitter names of people you recommend following. Most Twitter experts - ie people with lots of followers and lots of people to follow - will take not a blind bit of notice, so this is a very ineffective way of doing it. I NEVER bother to look at anyone in any of those lists. Ever.
  • The right way involves saying WHY you are recommending this person (or few people). For example, "#ff people who review and blog about books @name @name @name" etc. People will take more notice of this because it gives them a reason to know whether or not they should bother following. So, I might use categories such as "#ff these new writers on Twitter......." or "#ff people who have made my week happy ......". It just makes it more personal and gives others a reason for bothering to check the person out and follow them.

It's polite to say thank you when someone includes you in an #ff but it's not always possible / practical / easy if several people have #ffd you, or if you were away or couldn't get access to Twitter. So, don't fret if you can't.

Which reminds me that it's also polite to thank someone for RTing (retweeting - are you keeping up? I talked about that in the second post, I think.)

Edited to add: as Mary Hoffman points out, when you follow someone or are followed by them, go and see who THEY follow. That way, you can find like-minded people to follow - and be followed by.

Here ends this lesson on Twitter. Is there anything else you'd like me to cover? I know someone asked about lists, and maybe I should cover that, but it doesn't quite seem fascinating enough. :(

One thing I do want to cover though is what makes me decide to follow or not follow someone on Twitter. I'm reminded of this every day when I see the biogs of new followers and I thought it might be interesting to think about things that attract people and things that don't. There are certain things that hugely put me off, though everyone will be different, I know.

Happy tweeting!


catdownunder said...

There endeth the lesson for the day? Hmmm I must go and get my cat hairs in order. I am going to purrowl carefully and take my time but thankyou very much for the help. It is appurreciated!

fairyhedgehog said...

That's all good stuff! I have to admit that I'm not very good at thanking for ReTweeting as I don't always see the ReTweets. And I'm not sure I've ever clicked on a #ff link, even a good one! It's too overwhelming.

Oh, and I'd have loved to learn about lists! Just yesterday I finally found out how to make lists work by using different columns on TweetDeck and now my Twitter stream comes in organised! It's so much easier to sort out.

Mary Hoffman said...

Is it worth saying how to make a hashtag? On a Mac it's alt+3 but I don't know about PCs.

About #ffs, it's a good way of finding good people to follow but don't forget to look at their Followers too,because you might pick up some more interesting-sounding folk.

Nicola Morgan said...

Mary - I hadn't thought of that because on a PC it's just there, as a normal key, middle row at the far right. It didn't occur to me that on a Mac it wouldn't be. But then I suppose there are other keyboards for other languages, too, aren't there? Beyond my capabilities!

Nicola Morgan said...

fairyhedgehog - sounds to me as though YOU ought to write the lists post!

And Mary - yes, good point. I'll go and add that.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, your advice on Twitter for writers is much more cogent than mine was. Then again, I was just being my usual idiotic self rather than trying to create an actual resource for fellow writers. I wonder who the professional is, here....

I'm going to blame it on Mad Cow Disease. I mean, the word verification is "prion," so it seems as though the universe is trying to tell me something. Huh.

Katherine Roberts said...

Thanks Nicola. I didn't realize we were allowed to create these hallowed hash tags ourselves!

I've noticed writerly people use #amwriting and #writers in their posts - is this a good idea? Is there one for #amblogging?

Katherine Roberts said...

PS It took five tries to get that last comment accepted! Why does blogger keep coming up with "Error -service unavailable?" when I try to post?

Dan Holloway said...

the games are the best of all. There are so many wonderful ones on the lines of #cheesebooks most of them unrepeatable here :)

#litchat takes place Mon, Wed & Fri ofrom 4-5pm EST which is usually 9-10pm in the UK. The chats are topic-based which means their usefulness is variable. This week we are discussing women in fiction, which has got somewhat bogged down in the definition of "women's fiction" but there have been great ones on, for example, the impact of To Kill a Mockingbird. And Friday sessions always take the form of a Q&A with an author who has published in the area under discussion, which can be very useful indeed.

Jesse Owen (Reading to Life) said...

@Katherine It's a problem with blogger which has been happening quite a lot recently - normally refreshing the browser clears it up :)

Private said...

Yes, do that last thing you suggested! That "list" would be very useful! Thanks so much for all these lessons, Nicola, you've been a big help!

David John Griffin said...

Very useful, thank you! Especially the #FF; I've been doing it wrong.


Alice Turing said...

"There are certain things that hugely put me off"

Eek, feeling paranoid now...