Twitter: a spotter’s guide

“How do you find the time to do it?”

“What on earth do you to talk about?”

“What’s the point of it?”

Just a handful of comments I receive fairly regularly from those who do not Tweet. Unless you have been dwelling in a cave in Timbuktu, you probably know that Twitter is a social networking platform; a “micro blogging service” which allows individuals and organisations to share comments, news, thoughts, information, links, pictures and more in the form of short bulletins (maximum 140 characters – that’s 140 characters, not 140 words). Twitter was probably made famous by Stephen Fry, who is an active member of the Twitterati, and infamous by various ‘slebs’ (celebrities) who choose to air their dirty laundry in the Twittersphere. For the rest of us, Twitter offers a quick and easy way to connect with other people: it’s like Facebook, only better.

I joined Twitter two years ago, initially to promote my blogs. Then, last spring, I was co-opted to help with the publicity for a series of concerts pianist Peter Donohoe was giving at a small arts venue in north London. And that’s when I learnt the usefulness and power of Twitter.

Twitter is the “postcards in the shop window” of the digital age; but it’s also like a big noisy café or pub, full of friends chatting away, sharing stories, information, thoughts, comments, moving swiftly from one subject to another, while also eavesdropping on lots of other interesting conversations. Every day on Twitter (and yes, I hold my hand up and admit I am on Twitter every day: you only have to look at my Tweet count to see how much I use it, 9460 tweets as of just now – some 175 times more tweets than a friend of mine) I find useful and interesting things to read, gather information, share information, have “a larf” with friends, or simply pass the time of day with like-minded people (that café/pub analogy again). I use Twitter to promote my writing: tick a box on your blogging platform (WordPress, Tumblr etc) and your posts automatically stream to Twitter (and Facebook, and LinkedIn, if you so desire). I use Twitter to share recordings I’ve uploaded to SoundCloud (another social networking platform where people can share music, their own and other people’s), or videos I’ve uploaded or favourited on YouTube. I use Twitter to promote other people’s concerts, events, exhibitions, book signings. I’ve made friends via Twitter – and I even met some of them in person at the Wigmore last winter. Because we had chatted on Twitter, we got all the small talk out of the way before we met, so we could concentrate on the “big talk” (music, books, art, chocolate) while enjoying pre-concert drinks, which was far more interesting! And at a party for Bachtrack reviewers earlier this year, an exchange between myself and another reviewer went something like this:

“Hello @CrossEyedPiano!”

“How nice to meet you, @AltoJane!”

So how do you get the best out of Twitter? Here are my tips for optimal Twitter enjoyment:

  • I only follow people who really interest me (fellow pianists, piano teachers, music journalists, writers, foodies) and who tweet regularly with interesting things to say. I am not keen on users who tweet profanities, slag off other people, or use Twitter as a place to rant.
  • The more you tweet, the more you are likely to be noticed and earn new followers. Dormant Twitterers just aren’t that interesting. Sorry.
  • Try not to go in for too much flagrant self-promotion. I know I am guilty of this, to a degree, but I do try to keep my tweets varied and interesting.
  • Using another user’s Twitter name (with the @ prefix) is called a mention. By doing this you alert other users to that person so they can check out that person’s profile – and maybe follow them!
  • Ask other users to retweet your tweets and watch the results of the “ripple effect” (this is what I did with Peter Donohoe’s concert series).
  • Twitter can react very quickly to certain comments, events, news etc. Take the angry reaction by the Twitterati to comedian Ricky Gervais’s off-colour remarks last year. So be careful what you tweet. No slagging off colleagues, students, etc (except in direct messages between friends!).
  • Remember – unless you direct message (DM) someone, all your tweets are public (hence see above!)
  • I tend to avoid the inane and profane: for this reason I follow neither Stephen Fry nor James Rhodes.
  • “Follow Friday” (#ff) is a Twitter tradition: on Fridays recommend users to others.
  • You can undo a rewtweet and delete one of your own tweets.

Twitter as a promotional tool:

  • Tweet upcoming concert dates (try to include a link for ticketing info etc), appearances, signings, CD releases. But don’t just tweet once two months before the event. Keep up the momentum: you want your concert/exhibition/signing to be at the forefront of people’s minds – and remember, the Twitterati have short memories. Twitter is very “here today gone tomorrow”.
  • Tweet reviews and other press coverage ahead of your event (again, remember to include a link, preferably to one of my reviews!)
  • Retweet any mentions by your agent/manager/PR/concert venue/friendly bloggers/other interested parties
  • If you have samples of your work on Spotify, iTunes or SoundCloud, share them on Twitter. (I was applauded for my ingenuity in including some links to Dutch composer Jan Vriend’s work on SoundCloud ahead of the premiere of his new work for piano earlier this year. It was a great way to offer a taster of his work ahead of the concerts.)
  • Use the hashtag (#) to facilitate easy searches (I regularly use #piano and #pianoteaching).
  • Enable a Tweet button on your website/blog so that readers can tweet to others.
  • If you’re on tour Tweet some bulletins of what you’re doing/where you’re playing. Pianist Peter Donohoe tweeted rolling updates from the Tchaikovsky competition last summer, which gave a real flavour of the tension and excitement of the event.
  • Don’t tweet “had a dry biscuit and a cup of tea at 11” or “rained again. took dog out”. We only tweet things like that in an entirely tongue-in-cheek way when we’re all enjoying the hashtag “original Twitter”.

Caveat emptor!

Beware spammers and sexbots. At the moment, Twitter seems fairly “clean” and free of spam, but just like anywhere else on the internet, it is liable to spam/inappropriate usage. You can block and report users whose tweets you feel are spam or inappropriate. We’ve all been followed by the sexbots whose tag line says “next summer I am having sex on the moon”, or offered a free iPad2. In many ways, Twitter is self-regulating, so help to keep it clean and enjoyable by reporting users who are there for the wrong reasons.

Just in case he reads this, many thanks to @Mangofantasy, who was my very first follower on Twitter, and who has subsequently become a friend, on Twitter and in Real Life, sharing my love of music, art, literature, blogging, food and more. Also thanks to all those people who retweet my tweets, share my blog posts via Twitter, and generally help to make life on Twitter engaging, amusing and informing.