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Monday, October 17, 2011

Pruning Your Twitter Tree

I started on Twitter around 6 to 7 months ago. Last weekend, I got to looking at my follow to following ratio. For non-tweeters (shame on you) that means how many people I follow versus how many follow me. I realized I was following a lot of folks who weren't following me back. And that's bad, mmmkay?

It's bad to follow a bunch of folks who aren't following you back because Twitter works best as a communication medium. Following a crapload of folks who aren't following you holds all the appeal of listening to announcements over the loudspeaker in school. You'll never build relationships if the communication only works one way.

Following a bunch of folks who don't return the follow is also bad PR. Yes, Virginia, sometimes one must call a duck a duck. It's true - writers have discovered that Twitter is an amazing promotional tool. I've found that to be true as well. But if anyone - a reader, another writer, an agent, a publisher - boogles over to your profile to check you out, they're going to be put off if you're following 800 people and only 150 are following you back. It makes you look unpopular.

So from time to time, it's a good idea to prune your Twitter Tree. Think about your numbers and imagine them through the eye of a reader or industry professional. Even if you don't care about stats, you'll get more out of Twitter if it's working more like an intercom than a high school loudspeaker. When it's an avenue of mutual exchange, Twitter allows you to communicate with people all over the country who share particular common interests. Now that you've looked at your numbers, you may see the need for some pruning.

THE FIRST STEP is to look at who you're following. When I started, I just clicked to follow anyone I thought might be "neat" to hear from. I followed quite a few celebrities, for instance. And when I followed Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Henry Winkler and Ryan Seacrest, I knew they wouldn't be following me back. I think authors should generally return every follow from a legitimate person - as opposed to a business or other entity. But perhaps if authors followed everyone back they'd hit some upper Twitter limit. I don't know - I've seen people following many, many thousands of people. But actors and celebrities are just not going to return every follow. So when I pruned my tree, I eliminated most of those. But I don't think Bill, Henry or Ryan was especially hurt by my defection. Notice I didn't list Oprah. I still follow her because I find Ms. Winfrey's thoughts and insights valuable. She's well worth an unreturned follow.

Another of my particular interests is the TV show Grey's Anatomy. I've even written a book that's a tribute to the spirit of the show. (Griffin's Law - pick it up!) Thanks to the magic of my DVR, I've watched every single episode since it premiered as a mid-season replacement. (And yeah, I'm a big Mer/Der shipper.) I'd followed a bunch of Twitter accounts dedicated to Grey's stuff - some industry gossip sites, some people who were, apparently, even bigger fans of the show than me (to my hubby - yes there actually are such people). I'd followed most of the characters Twitter accounts but like celebrities, they're not going to return the follows either. Once in a while, McDreamy - or someone using the Derek Shepherd account - will Tweet a few things or answer some questions, but that really wasn't worth an unreturned follow to me. I pruned a bunch of the Grey's gossip sites, the fans who hadn't followed me back and even the characters. (If Dr. McDreamy or his lovely wife, Meredith Grey send me a direct message or a follow, I'll gladly reconsider. AS IF...) However, in the scope of Grey's - the real reason I watch the show is to marvel at the magical mastery of its creator, Shonda Rhimes (whom I've nicknamed Sunshine because she reminds me of the 70s song "Sunshine On My Shoulders." I change the words from on my shoulders or on the water or on the whatever to ......on my TV and it makes as much sense as most things I do). Ms. Rhimes, like Ms. Winfrey, was well worth an unreturned follow. She stayed.

I kept a couple of varied news sites. I also kept a few of my favorite authors who haven't - yet - followed me back, like Christina Dodd and Susan Mallery. But then, it was on to the hard work. The individual people. So, THE SECOND STEP is to figure out exactly who you're following and which of them is following you back. The way I did this - the first time I pruned - was to pull up a "following" browser window and then I pulled up a second window for "followers." The list appears by date rather than alphabetically, so searching it is a little challenging. I used a good old Ctrl-F search to compare the two. And what I found hurt me. It really did. Some of the first peeps I connected with were no longer following me back. So, with a heavy heart, I unfollowed them. But - guess what? I screwed up!

A search on your follower window will only look at the whole list if you're at the very bottom. I realized I'd screwed up when I went back a few days later and found one person I'd unfollowed right there, near the bottom of my followers' window. Jeepers.... (Let me say right here that one of those peeps was @bridgemama. I connected with her early on and she's awesome. I went back and followed her again. Everyone should go follow her right now! And any authors looking for some book covers or graphic art for bookmarkers or whatever should reach out to her. She's a talented artist! Okay, I'm lucky that my artistic genius of a hubby does my covers but if I needed to hire someone, @bridgemama would be at the top of my list.)

The way I fixed that was to pull up a good old fashioned Word document and insert a table. I put in a following column and a follower's column. And I went through and typed in every single person I was following on Twitter. If you're any kind of typist it doesn't take all that long to do - space it out over several days if need be. Then, you can go in at random, pull up the followers list, hit Ctrl-End so that Word takes you to the bottom, pull up a search screen via Ctrl-F and plug in a name. I'll do several at a time and put a U for Unfollow on my table. Then, when I get around to it, I just go to Twitter, cut and paste in the name from my table to the Twitter search screen and when the account comes up, press the unfollow button.

THE LAST STEP is to keep your table current. When you unfollow someone delete the row in your table. When you get a new follower, you boogle over, return the follow and then pull up your table to add that person at the top. Because you typed in your list in the order Twitter had it, your list is sorted by timeline and because you're adding new people at the top, it stays that way.

Note that your table can be used for other things too. If you like to give shout outs to new followers, you can have a column or a symbol to show you that you've done that for each new member of your Twitter family. You could also have a column to let you know when you've shown followers some #FF or Friday Follows love. If you need help with something, you'll be able to review your table list easier and it'll help you mentally sort through to find the perfect person to DM (direct message).

I realize that there are services that will organize all your Twitter stuff for you. And if you have $18 a month or so to invest in those - WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THE PRETTY LITTLE DUCKS IN THE UNIVERSE DID YOU READ A BLOG POST THIS LONG!!! If you're like me, and this economy has made DIY a way of life for you, or if you're one of those stubborn folks (love 'em, am one too) who just rather do it yourself, then I recommend good old fashioned tables as a great way to keep your Twitter account current.

Since I pruned my Twitter Tree I've found a bunch of great new folks to follow, most of whom have followed me back. There are lots of authors doing just what I'm doing - trying to grow a "dream" into a full time job. And there are lots of readers who enjoy another thing I enjoy - romance novels. I've kept a couple of the "big deal" authors on my list, some of the news and TV sites, and a few other folks that just matter to me - like Oprah and Shonda "Sunshine" Rhimes. But overall, these days @quackingalone is pretty much a two way street and I aim to keep it that way. Follow me, and if you're a real live breathing person who's not using Twitter to run a business - then I'll follow you back because if you're interested in my insanity, you're probably someone I'd find pretty interesting too!

I heartily recommend regular pruning of your Twitter Tree and the use of old fashioned word processor tables as a way to control your Twitter profile, rather than having it control you. NOW, IF YOU HAVE ANY TWITTER TIPS OR TRICKS - if you have a great system for managing any of your social profile, I'd love to hear from you - comment away. I monitor those too and (try to) reply to each and every one.

Mary Anne Graham
Quacking Alone Romances
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  1. Wow! My twitter tree doesn't have too many branches but pruning now will help prevent dead logs in the future. :)) Thanks for the great advice, Mary Anne!

  2. @Susanne:

    I got click-happy. You know, a follow here and follow there. Then one day you look back and wonder why on God's Green Earth you're following Ryan Seacrest and Perez Hilton. (OK - I still follow Perez. It's a guilty pleasure).

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Wow...I'm way behind in Twitter upkeep. I've used it sparingly, but maybe need to pay more attention! Thanks for the info!


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