Do Writers Really Need Twitter?

The short answer: No.

When you first become immersed with the online writer/author community, one of the first tidbits of advice doled out is, to invoke the ancient wisdom of the meme gods and a cringey dead meme, join ALL the social media. Make a Facebook page, and share links to your writer’s website specifically designed to look like every other early ’20 minimalist Squarespace clone in sight. Share aesthetic shots of your favourite, specially crafted book collection on Instagram. Try to appear hip with the Zoomer and Alpha kids on TikTok. Shill your book on Reddit but act like you’re not advertising and accidentally just stumbled upon this awesome book no-one else has ever heard of until now. But the one you’re told you have to join, to see what all the other writers and authors and BookTubers and book bloggers and creative minds are saying…is Twitter. And, while there are some positives to joining Twitter, the net result appears only to be worthless.

There are positives to Twitter. Authors and writers can meet with like-minded individuals; if they’re willing to sift through the authors who’ve relegated their social media presence to Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, it’s relatively simple to find folks for networking and compassion of the creative struggle. It’s easy to keep abreast of publishing trends in one convenient space, if you’re not savvy enough to have an RSS feed or too broke to subscribe to publishing magazines or too busy/overwhelmed to keep track of seventy different websites for specific different publishers and agents and other industry types. It’s nice to hear what your favourite author and friends in the biz are saying.

I used to think Twitter was a necessity as an author. If you look up all the bigwigs in the game, they have accounts. Every time you search “social media” and “author” together, there are a metric tonne’s worth of results on how to best game and revolutionise the social media scene and get yourself noticed. The ultimate guide to social media for writers, Current Year Edition! The best social media strategies! Authors who are brilliant at Twitter! Lol my faves are sooo relatable. Marketing 101! Much like following advice about crypto and the stock market, these results are just as successful as the thousand and one people who copied it verbatim before you. Results may vary. They really do. Studies show that organic posting on social media—Facebook, as well as sites like Twitter—are falling, falling. Never mind you’re competing alongside those thousand and one people following the same advice as you, all shouting into the void desperately seeking validation and trying to get the most clicks possible…so that maybe one day they may get that coveted blue checkmark.

After reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson during the COVID lockdown in 2020, I decided to take periodic breaks from Twitter. And you know what? I didn’t miss anything. I returned briefly this year, but unless something changes within the inherent nature of these insidious websites, it doesn’t look like I’ll be returning even part time. But it doesn’t matter if you’re a part-time Tweeter like I was, or full time like certain no-lives who have 700,000 tweets—holy fuck, do these people even have lives? Do you really have time to do what you really wanted to do in the first place? Are there enough hours in the day, even in countries like the United States where lockdowns are still in place, to eat and sleep and tweet that many times? How does someone who has tweeted hundreds of thousands of times, or even just thousands of time, even manage to put in the effort to create rather than just needlessly consuming content on their social media feed just to find the right witty riposte to some verified checkmark who probably will never even know you exist because they only use their personal Twitter to make witty tweets and engage with other verified checkmarks just like them.

I recently came across a Reddit thread that piqued my attention; it linked to this study: Pew: US adult Twitter users tend to be younger, more Democratic; 10% create 80% of tweets. The user asks why this “hasn’t been talked about enough. How does a site used by so few people drive so much of our national and cultural discussion?” According to the study, only 22 per cent of American adults use Twitter, and it’s presumably less in other countries that didn’t have a Twitter President for four years and have hashtags like #auspol that get used to air petty grievances.

In addition to the makeup of the adult population on Twitter, Pew also researched the activity on the platform and found that the median user only tweets twice per month.

That means the conversation on Twitter is dominated by extremely active (or, in their parlance, “extremely online”) users. That means a large majority of Twitter’s content is created by a smaller number—10 percent of users are responsible for 80 percent of all tweets from U.S. adults on Twitter.

Sobering news for creative types who believe we’ll definitely stand out from the masses, instead of just screaming into a tiny echo chamber of a void, where only a select few individuals will ever see our thoughts typed into 280 characters before they’re forgotten forever, until someone with a grudge and time on their hands (perhaps those people with 700,000 tweets) has the time to scroll through decades of tweets until they find something (and everyone has secrets, no matter how minuscule) that will change how you view Twitter. And by that time, it might be too late. It’s easy to say the cancel culture bandwagon is just that, that it’s easy to “just not say bad things”, but for everyone on social media, crafting a persona takes time. Something you tweet in 2013, an off-colour joke that was hilarious because you’re mimicking some now-disgraced comedian who was Twitter’s darling for three days specifically in July 2012. More likely than cancel culture is the reality, just…fading into obscurity. Of course the tweets may provide a fascinating snapshot into an author’s life back in the day, back when you were a struggling author living paycheck to paycheck and tweeting about some celeb’s obscenely overpriced Oscar’s gown and how it could have paid a whole years’ rent and then some, but it’s more likely to just be there, existing, and nothing more.

Meanwhile, the median users in the bottom 90 percent creates two tweets per month, favorites one post per month, follows 74 accounts and has 19 followers; 48 percent are women, and 39 percent tweet about politics. Only 13 percent say they tweeted about politics in the last 30 days, compared with 42 percent of the top 10 percent of users. They also are less likely to use automated methods of tweeting, as only 15 percent do.

Now, these findings are from 2019, but it’s hard to believe much has changed, with more of the discourse on Twitter focusing on the top users, the ones who guarantee the most clicks and the most revenue. It seems the old saying, “Go hard or go home” fits nicely. If you’re not willing to become a walking ad-generator for Twitter, carrying your mobile phone or laptop wherever you go in case inspiration strikes, willing to try every “top marketing strategy” possible or guru’s advice, then does Twitter really add value to you?

I came across the website TCK Publishing, which gives authors three reasons for not using social media

  1. Organic reach is failing
  2. Your time is better spent writing
  3. Avoid social media anxiety

and I think those three reasons basically sum up most of the problems with social media sites like Twitter in their current state. I first joined Twitter as a mere uni student and aspiring author back in July 2012, and almost nine years on, I think I’m over Twitter.

Are you ready to quit Twitter? What do you think? It’s so hard to come across tales of writers who’ve forgone the Twitter route, unless you’re the Jaron Lanier type who eschews all internet except YouTube TED Talks to cultivate a “mysterious” persona. What works best for you? I’d love to know.

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