People think of Twitter as that little bird icon on people’s websites or a small blue T but if you don’t use it, you might be confused as to what it is. For an author, it can be a crucial tool or make you look like one.

Think of Twitter as a stream. If you have an account, you’re at least standing on the side of it. If you pop in periodically to announce that you’ve done this or that, you are, at best, standing on the shore, throwing rocks into it. This is not a way for you to gain followers or to fully exploit that which Twitter is.

To maximize your social networking time, you need to fully dive into the Twitter stream and that means entering the conversation. How do you find people to follow? I went to people I knew of, such as @Smartbitches and @deirdreknight to see who they were following. I looked for people who were industry folks, not friends of theirs, though in some cases they were probably the same and I followed them. Then I repeated the same for other folks, expanding the network of people who I follow. It’s a wide web but when someone, say, @laurakinsale followed me, I about fell out of my chair. It’s a small thing, but it’s pretty cool from a fangirl perspective.

Twitter etiquette is that is someone follows you, you should follow them back. I don’t auto follow. There are also bots out there that auto follow everyone then you somehow end up tweeting blow job links to little kids in Brazil, which is Not. Cool. Or legal but that’s another discussion. So you have to watch your followers and block the spammers (though for the life of me, I can’t figure out why people twitter spam).

Once you have a list of folks you follow, pay attention. Read it. Yes, this is a time suck, which is why I do not have a twitter client installed on my laptop. I only use Twitter on my iPhone because when I sit down to work, it’s time to work and keeping it on my iPhone is one way of keeping my usage under control. Though I’m approaching 4000 tweets so whether it’s in control or not is up for discussion.

But Twitter isn’t always about me and if you’re on it, you know the authors who only show up to promote their book. This is not a good way to maximize your time because you’re only having one part of the conversation. The part about you. After a while, people will stop listening. Some authors have huge fan bases and people will follow regardless. But to truly have impact, you have to converse and that means retweeting. The Retweet means that you take someone else’s tweet about them or something other than you and pass it along. I routinely look for my fav author’s stuff and pass them along. If I see someone say something great about a book I enjoyed, I pass it along. Same goes with good news. Make Twitter about the stream and the people around you and people will notice and follow you.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my wordpress blog set up to automatically tweet when I have a new post. You still have to tell people your good news and hope they’ll pass it along. It goes a long way if you’ve done the same for others in the past. I try to maximize the social networking time I do have and so I have almost everything tied in together, so my blog and twitter both feed to facebook.  Which is another drawback to Twitter. If you feed into your facebook, you still need to take care of that page, too. But that will be part 3.

Being social means talking about other than yourself. Follow people and they will follow you back. Or maybe not. I don’t unfollow people who don’t follow me because then I miss out on what they’re saying and then I’d be missing part of the conversation.

And the conversation works because once more, I look for common tweeters. Fellow twitter users have entered onto my keeper book shelf because I discovered their stuff through twitter and I might not have learned about them otherwise. But it’s about the conversation. About getting in and making about something other than yourself. And if you’re not on twitter in the conversation, you may be missing the point.