If you are only interested in the new plan, you can skip the history and scroll down to A New Idea.
Twitter and Me
by Eric B. Thomasma
As you probably know by now, I am no longer going to be tweeting daily alliteration shoutouts. Many of you have expressed disappointment at not seeing those greetings every morning and I appreciate that more than words can say, but the model I was following is not consistent with Twitter’s rules. Of course, I was only marginally aware of these rules. Like most people, I scanned the terms of service when I signed up, assuming it was the typical what-you-can-and-cannot-post guidelines, and the-owners-are-not-responsible-for-anything document, and didn’t see anything unusual. So I merrily agreed, and was welcomed into the Twitterverse.
I confess that I did not really understand Twitter and didn’t know what to do. So I asked a friend who was already on Twitter and was amassing a huge number of followers. His advice was simple, follow others. Pick someone, go to their list of followers, and follow them. Follow them all. Then pick someone else and follow their followers. It worked. I found that most people I followed, followed back and I was amassing followers at a rapid pace.
I will also mention that by the time I had accumulated more than a dozen followers my email was flooded with notifications of new tweets and new direct messages (DM). I was missing important emails from family and friends because I was so overwhelmed by the notifications. But this time I didn’t ask for help, I just went to my profile, assuming there was some way to control notifications. I was right. I disabled all notifications. After all, I was visiting Twitter every day and looking through the tweets and DMs anyway. I didn’t need to be notified.
Then I had my first encounter with “limits”. I was merrily following hundreds of other Tweeters a day until I reached 2000. Then I received a message telling me I had reached my limit and that I couldn’t follow any more until I had more followers. I didn’t know what to do, so again I asked my friend. “No problem, just unfollow those that don’t follow back,” he said. Easy. Or so I thought, but finding those that were not following back was not an obvious thing. I discovered that if I couldn’t send a DM, then that meant they were not following me back. So I would go through the list of those I was following, check to see if I could send a DM, and if not, I would unfollow them. Sure enough, as long as my ratio of following to followers wasn’t too far out of whack, I could continue to follow, and therefore continue to grow my followers list. However, I could still only follow a certain number each day, (I think it was about 250), no matter how acceptable my following/follower ratio was. And I kept it to that maximum every day.
Unfortunately, this took a lot of time. I found I was spending half my day following and unfollowing people on Twitter. I was gaining lots of followers, but I was only conversing with a few and having trouble following the conversation with the dozens of tweets I was receiving every 30 seconds or so. That’s when I discovered Lists. I built a Private list that included just the people I conversed with every day, and occasionally someone new would be added to that list. The down side of lists is that you only see the tweets of the people that are on it, so if someone you’re following is having a conversation with someone you’re not, you only see one side of it. So I either had to search out the other side of the conversation, or ignore the side I could see. In the interest of time, I usually opted for the latter. Just like you, and everyone else, I have many tasks to accomplish each day - not the least of which is working on my next book- and spending so much time dealing with Twitter was keeping me from doing the other things I needed to do, so I came to a decision. I needed to put a limit on how much time I spent with it each day.
So I decided on one hour. What I couldn’t get done in one hour would just have to wait until the next day. At least that’s what I told myself. I usually exceeded that hour. Sometimes by quite a bit. But I kept justifying it by telling myself that it’s part of marketing my book. You see, that’s one of the reasons why I got on Twitter in the first place. I had written a book, self-published through Lulu, and was looking for ways to market it. I can’t begin to count how many times I heard, “You need to be on Twitter.” Obviously, I followed that advice, but while I told myself that’s what I was doing, I didn’t have any indication that it was having an effect on sales. So was I marketing or wasting time when I should have been doing something else? After all, the more followers I had, the more people would see when I posted about my book, right? And I had a new one coming out soon. I wanted as many people to know about it as possible, right? Of course I did, but the amount of time I was spending on Twitter was even keeping me from preparing that new book for release.
I think it was about this time that I discovered the JustUnfollow service that logs into Twitter, compares your list of followers against the list of those you’re following and shows you those that aren’t following back, with a convenient Unfollow button by each name. This makes unfollowing quick and painless, but it has limits too. You are only allowed to unfollow 50 people a day, but for a fee, you can increase that to who knows how many. I don’t, because I didn’t have any money to subscribe with. Instead, I scaled back my following to insure that I couldn’t have more than 50 people to unfollow each day. This freed up a lot of time so I could easily stay within my allotted hour.
Now, through all of this, I had been offering a morning greeting to the people on my private list. I’d say good morning, watch a few conversations, and occasionally have one of my own, but when I don’t have much to say, I don’t. Some people can talk all day and say nothing. That’s not me. But the key to success on Twitter is participating, so I kept looking for a way to actually contribute. My favorite days were Wednesdays and Fridays, or more precisely, #Writer Wednesdays (#WW), and #Follow Fridays (#FF). On these days the Twitterverse is filled with posts that are nothing more than lists of names and the hashtag label #WW or #FF as appropriate. Sometimes they would be accompanied by short notes such as “Follow these writers” or “Follow these great tweeps”. (Twitter peeps = tweeps.) This was something I could participate in. It made sense to me. Make a list of people you think are worth following, and tweet their names out. You can get through the list fairly quickly and help out your fellow tweeters. It wasn’t inane chatter. It had a purpose.
Most of the people that I was conversing with were fellow writers, and so it was easy to include the #WW tags with my morning greetings to the writers on Wednesday and the #FF tags to everyone on Fridays.
I’d been meeting many writers, not only on Twitter, but on other community forums as well. And everywhere I went, I found the whole community willing to help each other. Whether it was advice about a cover, help with formatting, a query critique, or just some encouraging words when someone received a negative review. The spirit of giving was everywhere. I decided that I needed to try to give back to the writer community too. I decided I would seek out writers to follow on Twitter and give out #WW- and #FF-like shoutouts, using the alliterations I had begun to use to say my greetings everyday. I no longer worried about growing my followers and simply concentrated on finding and following writers.
My numbers weren’t growing as fast as before, but I put on a quality-over-quantity mentality and forged on. Now mind you, I still follow back everyone who follows me. I believe there is still some validity to the more-followers, more-potential-readers theory, but every day, I looked for writers, while also acquiring followers. Eventually I stopped proactively following, because I could hardly keep up with following back those that had followed me, and always, there were writers among that group. The list of writers that I was following continued to grow daily. This list was not a Twitter list, but something I maintained off-line on my computer. At some point, someone asked if they could see the list. It didn’t occur to me before then that anyone else would want to see the list in its entirety, but once the request was made, it made perfect sense, so I created a public Twitter list, called it “Morning Shoutouts” and maintained it along side the off-line list. It’s a little extra effort to maintain two lists, but I felt it was well worth it.
I was going along, quite happily shouting out my daily alliterations, and adding new writers to the list both off-line and on-line until one day I ran into another Twitter limit. I couldn’t add anymore to the Morning Shoutout Twitter list. Apparently, Twitter only allows you to have 500 tweeters on a list. I’m not sure what the rational is for this limit, since it’s a follow list, not a broadcast list, but it is what it is, so I just created a second Twitter list and called it Morning Shoutout2. The first Morning Shoutout list is full and fairly stable, meaning the people that are on it continue to follow me, so it doesn’t require much in the way of upkeep. The off-line list continued to grow, and Morning Shoutout2 grew right along with it. I felt I had reached a certain stride and received many comments and expressions of thanks for my daily shoutouts. Not everyone understood what I was doing and some thought it was a wrong use of Twitter, even after I explained. I disagree, but I’m not saying they’re wrong. Everyone sees and uses Twitter in their own way, and I hope their way works for them. My way was working for me.
My schedule was to start off my day by tweeting my daily alliterations. It helped put me in a giving spirit, and gave me a lift that helped carry me through the day. Each day, I added more writers to the list and as it grew, it took more and more time to accomplish, but even with nearly 600 on the list, I was able to shout out to them comfortably within the time I allotted for it. I knew that eventually, it would become impractical to continue this way, but assumed that time was a long way off. I figured I’d run out of words to alliterate with the days long before that happened anyway. I had already accomplished going a full year without repeating, and while I was going to allow myself the luxury of occasionally reusing one, I still intended to look for and use words that I hadn’t used before. But then I discovered a new Twitter limit.
Twitter allows 1000 tweets a day and with an average of five or six names per tweet, I was only a tenth of the way to that limit and never considered that would pose a problem, but Twitter takes it further than that. It breaks that thousand down and only allows so many posts in rapid succession. Then Twitter puts you in “timeout” and tells you that you can’t post any more with the message to try again “in a few hours”. In my case I had posted 127 updates when I received the warning. That ambiguous “few hours” is the heart of my dilemma. When I first received that message, I was already done with the list for the day and was responding to a few people that made comments or asked questions. Realizing what this would mean to my process, I decided that I needed to halt what I was doing and come up with a new process. I wanted to let everyone on my list know what had happened and that I wouldn’t be able to continue as I had. I wanted to do this quickly or I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get the message out to everyone before being blocked, but apparently it was already too late.
I prepared a blog entry for the purpose of explaining what happened. I then created a shortURL to point to that blog and put that and the words “No Alliteration” in place of the normal daily greeting, and started down the list. Sure enough, before I could finish, I received the message to try again in a few hours. Not too surprised, I decided to set it aside and finish it later, and went and checked my DMs. There was a new one from someone who told me the link didn’t work. The link that I had just sent out to well over 500 people didn’t work. I tested it, and it seemed to work. I clicked the link and there was my blog post. Then I noticed that I was looking at it in edit mode. Only I could see it with the link I had provided. I quickly got the correct address and created a new link, but I couldn’t do anything with it. I was still in timeout. I gave it to the person who advised me of the problem and he verified it did work, and he and another friend agreed to help spread the word, until I could do it myself. It took nearly 4 hours before I could post again, but when I could, I sent out the corrected link to everyone.
A New Idea
So I need a new idea. As I explained in the blog, because of the Twitter limits, I cannot shoutout to everyone on the list, so the new idea will not involve alliterations, or a series of tweets with lists of names. But I want the list to continue to grow. I will continue to add writers to the Morning Shoutout Twitter lists. I hope to have a Morning Shoutout3, then Morning Shoutout 4, and more, (although I probably should come up with a new name for them). I want to continue to use Twitter to support my fellow writers.
I have a new plan designed, but it is not yet ready to implement. It is somewhat ambitious, and will take some time to prepare. There are some details that need to be worked out and software to be developed, but those things are already underway. The old plan was designed to get Twitter followers for my fellow writers. The new plan is designed to get them readers. It is my hope to start within the next few days. Until then, here is an overview. When the details are worked out, I’ll post a blog similar to the overview below but with more detail. When I add writers to the list, I’ll direct them to it so they can understand what I’m doing and why.
I will continue to update my Morning Shoutout Lists as I discover writers. I will participate in Writer Wednesdays and Follow Fridays, using randomly selected members from the list in the following way. On Wednesday I will shout out #WW greetings to every new writer that has been added to the list, and I will randomly select a number of names (quantity to be determined) from those already on the list. On Friday, I will shout out #FF greetings to everyone added since Wednesday's greetings, plus another number of names from the lists. (The same number as on Wednesdays.) Once a name is used for either #WW or #FF, it will not be used again until everyone on the list has received a shoutout on one of those two days. The rest of the week, I will be introducing my fellow writers, one per tweet, (quantity to be determined). This tweet will include the writer’s website as listed in their Twitter profile. If more than one website is listed, only the first one will be used. If a writer doesn’t have a website listed in their Twitter profile, the tweet will ask for one. This will be the only request. If a writer does not provide one by the time their turn comes up again, they will be skipped until one is provided, and there will be no reminder. They are not removed from the list and will still be included in the #WW and #FF shoutouts. I will not be going back to check the profiles to see if a website has been added since I initially added them to the list, so it's up to the writer to tweet or DM me with the web address. This is also true of anyone that changes their web address, or would prefer I use a different address than the first one listed in their profile.
This plan is not perfect. A day may come when I get more follows from writers than I can keep up with. That the number of new writers being added outpaces the list so that only the new writers get mentioned. Or maybe even more new writers than Twitter will allow me to include. Hopefully, by that time, I can come up with a new plan. But until then, I’ll try and make this work.
What I Ask In Return
Do not feel obligated to reciprocate in any way. This is my payback and pay forward to the community of writers that I have received so much support from. Having said that, I hope you will look beyond this message. Explore my website, read my writings and blogs, sample my books, and if you find them of interest, buy them. If you enjoy them, tell your friends or write a review. If you didn’t, but can think of someone who might, tell them. If you want to be notified of future releases, go to my contacts page and join my email list. Do likewise for the writers I introduce you to in my Tweets, or other writers you meet on your own. It is my hope that the people who read my introduction Tweets will do the same for you.
Non-writer Twitter Friends
To my non-writer friends that have been receiving my daily alliterations,
For quite some time I have only been adding writers to the list that I shout out every day. You were added before I decided to use my tweets in support of writers, and I've kept you on the list because I felt a more personal relationship with you. I'm sure by now you've read my trials and tribulations with Twitter limits. I've explained in the post entitled Twitter and Me what happened and what my new plan to help writers is.
Unfortunately, the new plan is designed around the concept that everyone on the list is a writer. I will try to find a way to include you back in, but for the time being, you won't be getting your website shared like the writers. I'm hoping to figure out a way to promote you as well, but it will not happen right away, and I feel it's urgent to get started on the new promotions as soon as I can. I hope you understand and will forgive me for not including you up front, but I will do the best I can to make the time you have to wait as short as possible.
Thanks for your understanding,
I called my old software TweetGreet, and I am creatively calling my new software TweetGreet2. Isn't that clever? OK, well, hopefully the software itself is more clever than its name.
It's coming together. Not as quickly as I'd hoped, but it's coming. I do have a correction to make in what I said about writers that have more than one website listed in their profile. I said I would be using the first one listed, but as I've been going through and building the list, I find that the first one is not necessarily the one that I think is the best choice to share. So I have been making a judgment call. If you would like it changed to a different web address (even if it's not listed in your profile), send me a DM and I'll make the change.
I'm also a little surprised how many writers out there don't have a website listed. Hopefully they have one that they can provide (and the first time through I'll be asking for it) but if not, then we'll just have to be content with the #WW and #FF shoutouts.
Anyway, I had hoped to be able to start the new plan tomorrow morning for #WriterWednesday, but the software doesn’t look like it will be ready in time. I’m working on it and with a little luck, I may still be able to give #WW shoutouts before the day is done, so keep your fingers crossed.
But if not tomorrow, soon.
OK folks, I’m back on Twitter. Yesterday and today were the live tests of my new software’s functionality and I’m happy to report that it performed well. Now that basic functionality is proven, I will set about the task of making it more user friendly and less prone to errors. Not that you will see any of that part of the work, but I want to make sure it doesn’t crash on me in the middle of posting.
In a nutshell, the software first checks what day of the week it is, then builds a working database for that day. It starts by putting the list in a random order, then on Wednesdays and Fridays, it selects any new additions to the list, plus another 300 members that haven’t received a #WW or #FF shout out recently. On the other days that working database is comprised of 60 members who haven’t had an introduction shout out. The two methods of promotion are independent of each other, however new additions aren’t included in the Intro promos until they’ve been included in a #WW or #FF. The reason for this is that at the end of the #WW/#FF shout outs, I send a shout out to the new people that gives a link to my website where I explain what I’m doing and why.
While building the database, I discovered there were several writers that don’t have a website listed in their Twitter profile. On the days when I do Intro promos, the software checks to see if there is a valid website, and if not, changes the message. Instead of introducing the writer to the Twitterverse, it poses a question to the writer, “Do you have a website?” This gives the writer an opportunity to provide one, or at least let me know if they don’t have one. If they provide one, I update their information, but if the don’t, or don’t respond, their name is flagged and won’t be included in the Intro promos until one is provided. They are still included in the #WWs and #FFs, though.
So far, I’ve had positive feedback about the process and someone who didn’t have a website listed in their profile was able to provide one to a site where some information about them is available for now, while they looking into getting a site of their own. I was once told that every writer should have a website or blog (or both), and I agree. It’s a necessity if you want your writing to be read. So this approach has the unintended but welcome benefit of suggesting to those writers that don’t have a website, to get one, and take advantage of these introductions.
This will probably be the last post on this subject, but you never know. I may write up something to explain in more detail how the software works to help me do what I do. I guess it depends on if anyone expresses any interest in that. Thanks for sticking with me through this change. I appreciate the support I received from you, whether spoken or unspoken and will continue doing what I can to get us all readers.
More Twitter stuff. (2/6/12)
Well, it’s been several months on the “new” plan and overall it seems to be a success. Every day I gain followers and add more writers to the TweetGreet2 list. Since starting, I have doubled the number of writers that I give a shoutout for, and I receive feedback from many of them that they see their website “hits” increase every time I tweet their name. This is positive feedback indicating that the plan is working as I intended.
I’ve also seen an increase in the number of retweets. I’m not talking about retweets by the writer I gave the shoutout for, but retweets for other writers. I’m seeing an increase in the support writers are giving each other. I started this with the intention of giving back for the support I’ve received from the writer community, and to see my small contribution being expanded on by others means more to me than I can adequately express.
I have been expanding the TweetGreet2 software, adding features and refining the process, and I have discovered some interesting things. One of the refinements was to include the sex of the person, so instead of saying “visit their website” for everyone, I can say “visit her website” or “visit his website” as appropriate. As of this writing, I have 1292 people on the list. Of those, 577 are male, 695 are female, and 20 are listed as unknown. Some of the “unknowns” are actually partnerships, so using “their website” is appropriate, but some of them are because I could not identify whether they were male or female. And I tried. I watched their tweets, scoured their websites, profiles, and blog entries, and nothing I could find on them provided insight into which sex they are. I understand that there may be reasons to keep this hidden and it’s not my intention to expose anyone who doesn’t want it known. I just think it’s an interesting item I discovered in the process.
I’ve also learned that much of what I thought I knew about names is wrong. Or to give myself the benefit of the doubt, at least no longer valid. I discovered that I can no longer assume the sex based on the name, or the spelling of the name. And I discovered an untold number of names I had never encountered before. It was an eye opening experience and I may start mining that database for character names to use in my books. Of course, I learned this by making assumptions and having those mistakes pointed out. I correct the error as soon as I can and fortunately, everyone has been good natured about it, but by all means, if I have yours wrong, tell me. And please accept my sincerest apologies.
Anyway, back to the software... I’ve also added some tools to help me maintain the database. I can now identify tweeters on the list that are no longer following me, have changed their Twitter name, or have cancelled their account. The process takes about an hour, so I only do it once a week, (usually Sunday evening), and entails using JustUnfollow to un-follow everyone who is not following me, going through the Morning Shoutout lists on Twitter and removing those I’m no longer following, then copying the lists, saving them as text files, then importing them into TweetGreet2. The software compares the list from Twitter to the internal database and provides two lists. The first list is those that show up on Twitter, but not in the database. The second is those that are in the database, but not on the imported Twitter list. I can then use those lists to determine who needs to be deleted, changed, or added. (Yes, sometimes I add them to the Morning Shoutout lists, but forget to add them to the TweetGreet2 database. Did I mention I’m not a robot?)
With nearly 1300 tweeters, I’m up to three Morning Shoutout lists. (Remember, Twitter only allows you to follow 500 people per list.) Updating the TweetGreet2 list sometimes causes openings in the Morning Shoutout lists so I move people from one list to another to keep them filled. So if you saw your name on list 2 and now it’s no longer there, chances are it got moved to list 1, or if you were on list 3, you may now be on list 2, but as long as you’re still following me, you’ll still be on one of the lists.
One final note: Many of you send me thanks after I tweet your name or mention you in #FF or #WW. I want you to know that I appreciate it, and I don’t want to be rude, but I can’t respond. By the time I reach the end of the list each day, I only have a few tweets left before I reach the Twitter limit. I try to reserve those for answering people with specific questions or to follow up on those that went out of their way to do something nice for me. (Such as providing a promo plug for me and my website, or composing a tweet to promote my books.) Remember, my tweets are my way of thanking the writer community, so when you thank me, it’s like thanking me for thanking you.
So no, really, thank you.
Even More Twitter Stuff - 10/30/13
Twitter has changed the limits on their lists. They are no longer limited to 500. This means I can now fit all of my writer lists in one, and have done just that. I was up to over 2300 writers in my database and was well on my way to filling a 5th list when I noticed the change. So over the course of several weeks, on and off, I combined them all into the original "Morning Shoutout" list. Now I use the "Morning Shoutout2" list as a "holding" list for newly added writers during the week, and add them to the main list when I do my weekly maintenance. The list now has over 2500 members which means I would have been in my 6th list right now. I don't know what the new limit is (if any), but so far I haven't hit it.
On another note, I no longer check my DMs. If you send me a DM, send me a regular Tweet telling me you've done so or I'll never see it. I get so many DMs now, most of which are auto-responses and/or spam, that I don't have time to go through them. For a while I tried to flag/report the spam, but it wastes too much of my time and for the number of legitimate messages I get, just isn't worth it.
Quick Update - 1/18/17
Twitter's list limit is 5000 members, which I learned when I exceeded that amount several months ago. The "Morning Shoutout2" list is now a permanent list. I have also learned that the Unfollow service (now called Crowdfire) is not completely accurate when showing tweeters no longer following. On many occasions it has shown as many as 21 tweeters that were, in fact, still following.