Are you making the most of Twitter lists?


Last year I wrote a post about Twitter lists, and from talking to people it’s evidently still a feature of Twitter that’s widely under-utilised.

Remember, a list can be public or private. A private list is great for researching, whether it’s background for your latest book or keeping tabs on groups of people you are interested in following (but don’t want to look like a stalker) such as agents, publishers, journalists or reviewers.

A public list is one that other people can see and subscribe to. People who create public lists are often seen as authoritative and knowledgeable in that field, a ‘curator’ of useful people to follow and great content. But before you start a public list check out those already in existence, rather than re-inventing the wheel (see my next point).

You can of course subscribe to other people’s (public) lists. This means, for example, if you are a poet and want to follow other poets on Twitter, you don’t need to start your own list if you don’t want to, because someone like Antony Wilson has already created one called ‘Poets’ (and there are over 700 members).

When you subscribe to a list, the list owner may or may not get an alert telling them the list has a new subscriber. When you add someone to a public list, that person will generally get an alert telling them.

When you add someone to a private list, they are not notified. This is why, if you don’t have a lot of followers, it’s a good idea to add people first to a private list rather than following loads of people.

Why? because it’s a good idea to keep your ratio of followers to followees either reasonably equal, or have more followers than followees. It is one of the informal criteria many people have for deciding whether to follow someone.

Here are a few ideas about how you could be using lists:

To capture the names of people involved in an event

How often do you meet interesting folks at a conference, or a book launch or other event, and exchanged names or contact details, perhaps hurriedly, then later struggled to remember the name or find their card? Why not create a Twitter list specifically for that event, and add their Twitter name to it there and then. If you’ve already created the list, and are using a tool such as Hootsuite on your phone, you can add names at least as quickly as adding someone to your phone book.

If you take part in a Twitter chat, you could also add participants to a list and give it the name of the chat. That way you can keep in touch with them without having to follow everyone, the list keeps growing as new people join the chat, and you’ll always remember the context in which you ‘met’.

To create a helpful resource

It’s not just your peers who may be grateful for a list of fellow crime writers on Twitter – your readers will also appreciate it. They’d probably also be really interested to know who are your favourite bloggers, or literary events, or living authors who are great Tweeters. List-makers are often seen as the curators, the do-ers, the people to be connected to on Twitter, so a bit of altruism in this department won’t do your reputation any harm.

To reward or show recognition

If there are people who regularly share your tweets, or respond, or are great conversationalists, or write consistently good blog posts, you could create a list for them and give it a ‘feelgood’ title that makes it clear why you’re grateful or why you rate them – ‘Awesome writer-bloggers’, ‘Generous Tweeters’ for example (or whatever works for you – but make it reasonably descriptive, so that anyone added to it feels rewarded and anyone coming across it will be impressed enough to follow or check out its members.

One thing that has changed since this time last year is how to search for Twitter lists on Google. The way to do it now is to type the following into the search box: inurl:lists <insert search term>

(with or without the angled brackets). For example: inurl:lists crime writers

brings up the following:

Google search for Twitter lists

You can also search via the Twitter search box, and via people you already know on Twitter.

Good luck and have fun with lists – there are loads of other uses, let me know in the comments if you have devised innovative ways of using lists.


#Whattheheck are #hashtags and how should you be using them?


Hashtags started life on Twitter, as a way for people to find tweets on a specific topic. A kind of search tool, if you like. The habit caught on and hashtags are now routinely used to organise conversations around a specific topic or event. This might be anything from a scheduled Twitter Chat, to a news story, sports event or a conference – you name it.

You’ve probably seen them on your TV screen when a show is on – #poldark for example. When you see a hashtagged word like that, it means ‘follow this hashtag on your social platform of choice to see and join in the conversations going on around it.’ And it’s not just Twitter these days – hashtags are used on most social platforms.

poldark hashtag

Event organisers routinely use them to facilitate attendees connecting with one another, before, during and after the event. I’ve experienced this often – if you go to an event where you don’t know anyone, you can identify other attendees by their tweets using the event hashtag. It’s a useful ice breaker.

conference tweets hashtags

Hashtags are great for following topics long-term. For example, I have a permanent stream set up on my Hootsuite to monitor the hashtag #poetry, and another for #writetip. You can join in by using established hashtags in your own updates – it brings you to the attention of others following that hashtag.

Think about it – without any filtering, your Twitter stream is a hosepipe of updates on every subject possible. How do you get to see the updates you’re interested in? How do you join an existing conversation around a topic? How do you find other people interested in the same topics as you? One answer is to follow a hashtag.

How to follow a hashtag

When you attach a hashtag (#) to the front of a word (or phrase, but with no spaces) on Twitter or Facebook, it’s turned into a hyperlink, meaning it’s clickable. When you click on it, you’re presented with all the updates containing that hashtag. This includes upates from people you’re not following, and this is important: hashtags don’t just filter your home stream, they are a way of connecting with other people using the same hashtag – whose updates you wouldn’t otherwise see.

Facebook hashtag search

If you’re using Twitter on the web, click on a hashtag and you’ll see all the tweets using that hashtag – but you also have a number of choices on the left hand side of the page – the default is ‘Everything’, but you can search for just people, videos, news stories etc or even more specific criteria in an ‘advanced’ search.

hashtag search on

If you want to save a search, hit ‘save’ (top right of search results column) and you can return to it anytime but clicking inside the Twitter search box – a list of your saved searches will come up, just click on the one you want to retrieve.

Another neat thing you can do is to embed your search results in a Twitter widget on your blog’s sidebar. You might want to do this, for example, if you’ve created a hashtag for your new book release, or are attending or promoting an event, or involved in a news story, and you want your blog visitors to see the conversation.

Click on the three little dots top left of the search column and you’ll be prompted to ’embed this search’. This takes you to a screen where you can customise your widget.

Create twitter search widget

I’m often asked if hashtags are ‘governed’ in any way. Can anyone create a hashtag? What if it’s been ‘taken’?

The answer is it’s a free-for-all, in that anyone can create a hashtag, and if it’s already in use then that’s your lookout! It’s best to check first by doing a search on your chosen hashtag.

Something that can be an issue is multiple hashtags for the same thing, which results in a number of parallel conversations – not ideal. This is why TV companies, publishers and event organisers often make an effort to promote the ‘official’ hashtag, before too many unauthorised versions come into play.

If you do create a hashtag and want people to use it then you have to encourage take up – by using it frequently, attaching it to relevant retweets and so forth. It’s a good idea to keep your hashtags short if possible, allowing space for retweet, otherwise they may get cut. This is also a good reason not to use TOO many hashtags in one update. Using more than one is fine, but if they’re long they don’t leave much room for anything else. Hashtags stand out as links, and can add interest to a tweet in the same way that regular links do – research suggests that updates containing links (including hashtag links) get shared more than those without any links.

Another way you sometimes see hashtags used is as a sort of ironic comment, or as a way of getting a point across, or being funny – such as #whatwashethinking or #lazyediting. These kinds of hashtags tend not have much of a shelf life and are really just created as one-offs, for effect. Of course, sometimes they catch on – you just never know!

Social media Q & A with author & poet Claire Dyer


This is the first of a new series of blog posts in which I ask writers questions about how they use social media.

Claire Dyer novelist & poet - homepage

Claire Dyer is a novelist and poet, with two novels and a poetry collection to her name. Her website combines a blog with details of her published work, what she’s reading and where she’s appearing. She also displays her Twitter feed.

I first met Claire at a magazine launch at the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford – she is widely published in poetry magazines – and I was interested to hear how she approaches social media.

Tell us about your blog…

My blog is part of my main website and can be found here…

I blog when I have something to say about my writing, other people’s writing, the writing life or just to say how nice or difficult the whole business of writing is!

How often do you update it?

Roughly every 4 to 6 weeks, although I haven’t updated it for a while just recently (I blame Christmas!)

What do you do if you’re too busy to blog?

I pop stuff on Facebook (my personal and Author pages) and Twitter. I also use Pinterest but not very regularly.

Do you follow other blogs, and if so, how? (eg by email, in a reader etc)

Yes, I’ve signed up for a couple (by email) but normally just keep a watch out for interesting blogs by people I admire and will retweet or share them when I can. I have made a private list of ‘People who Tweet Interesting Things’ on Twitter which I monitor so often discover blogs there.

Tell us a bit more about how you use Twitter and other social media platforms …

Claire Dyer on Twitter

I regularly use Facebook and Twitter and try and steer the tricky line between being ‘Claire Dyer the person’ and ‘Claire Dyer the writer’. What I’ve found is that the private and public sides to being a writer are very different and it’s not always easy to manage this in the right way. Someone once told me that using social media is like being at a party so it’s not a good idea to arrive, shout out your own news and not listen to others’. Therefore my guiding principles are to be interested in other people, be supportive of their initiatives, be funny, not moan too much and let people know what I’m up to but not in a pushy way.

How do you manage the time you spend on social media – do you have any rules or tricks, and do you use a social media dashboard eg Hootsuite or Tweetdeck?

I mostly use my ‘People who Tweet Interesting Things’ list on Twitter. I belong to a number of Facebook Groups so that’s helpful in tracking what’s going on but usually I dip in and out so do risk missing things. A friend did mention TweetDeck to me but I haven’t managed to get my head round downloading it yet!

How do you balance social media activity with your actual writing – do you have any rules you abide by, or any tips/advice you would give to other writers?

Log out of Facebook and Twitter when writing otherwise you WILL get distracted!

Some people find social media stressful. What do you most like about it what do you most dislike?

I love social media when it’s positive and supportive and when it serves to disseminate news and information. I do, however, find it hard to deal with it when it is used for negative reasons or when an online discussion gets personal. My tenet is that if I don’t have something nice to say, keep quiet!

Claire’s latest novel is available in paperback and as an e-book, The Perfect Affair – it’s been described as ‘A beautifully told, absorbing romance,’ by the Sunday Mirror, and it’s currently a Sainsbury’s Winter Read.

You can find out more about Claire and her books on her website and blog, via her Amazon Author Page, on Facebook, on Twitter and on her Goodreads Author Page.

How to make a profile header image


Facebook was the first social network to introduce the big image banner on its profile pages, giving them a kind of blog-magazine look. Now it’s pretty standard – LinkedIn being the latest platform to roll it out. You can always stick with a standard old plain colour background or one of the free images that come with the platform. But why not create a custom image?

Your header image is a prime piece of online real estate – a strong header will increase your branding and visibility, showcase you or your work and help attract new connections. What I’m talking about here is the big image which spreads across the top and behind some elements of your profile page. (This is different from your profile photo/avatar/headshot.)

Here’s a quick run-through of what you need to know.

1) Find out the optimum size for your profile header image – this differs from one platform to another. (Remember that the image will display differently on tablets, mobile phones and computers with different size screen resolutions.)

Twitter - how to change your header image

You can change your Twitter header image in the settings as shown here, or just click ‘Edit Profile’ on your Profile page.

Recommended sizes are currently:

Twitter: (‘header image’) 1500 x 500 pixels, max 5mb

Facebook: (‘cover photo’) 851 x 315 pixels, minimum size 399 x 150 – but this will be stretched to fill.
There’s a great Facebook Page that explains in detail the current different areas of the cover picture, how it scales on mobile devices and more, so if you want to make a precise job of it then take a look and download the latest templates here.

LinkedIn: (header or ‘hero image’) 1400 x 425 pixels, max 4mb

YouTube Channel: (‘channel art’) 2560 X 1440 pixels. Refer to this helpful article to find out more, including how it will display on different devices.

Google Plus: (‘cover image’) Max size 2120 x 1192 pixels, minimum 480 x 270. However, to ensure maximum quality on all screens, tablets or smartphones, the recommended size is at least 920 x 250 px but not more than 1080 x 608 px, otherwise some of the information will get lost.

Here’s the Google+ step by step guide to uploading or changing your cover photo.

2) Check out what others are doing – find some striking examples of header images and get inspired.

3) Decide on what you want the image to convey. This is your showcase – what do you want to get across? Your personal ‘brand’? The genre or style of your writing? Something more specifically about your current book? Dates and times of forthcoming appearances? If your image is to contain specific information then make sure the important stuff is in the ‘safe’ areas of the image. Some of the resources referred to here will help you with that, or you can do it the old fashioned way – trial and error!

4) You can create a custom image even if you don’t have design tools like Photoshop. Check out Pixlr it’s a free online image manipulation software and easy to use.

5) Follow the instructions from your profile or settings page, and save your new header image. If it doesn’t quite fit or look right, you can tweak it and re-upload.

Facebook - update your cover image

In Facebook, hover over your cover photo and the ‘Update Cover Photo’ will appear – click on that

TIP: if you hit the ‘upload’ button but nothing happens, it could be that your image is too large (file size) or the wrong dimensions, or the wrong file type. You won’t always get a message telling you what the problem is. So if your image isn’t uploading double-check all the sizes and instructions about permitted file types (eg .jpg and .png may be permitted, but not .tif or .psd).

Improve your social web presence – for writers


This coming Saturday I’m in Brighton at New Writing South running a one-day workshop on ‘Improving your social web presence’.

I know that there are readers of this blog and of my email newsletter who have already been on one of the three-evening courses I’ve run for NWS in the past. I’ve already been asked ‘will I learn anything new if I come along to this one-day course?’

The short answer to this is ‘possibly not’ – but it depends on whether you’ve put into practice what we covered on the previous course.

But I know how it often goes – you finish a course full of good intentions, but real life/ deadlines/writing gets in the way and you never quite settle into any social media routines. The blog never really gets going, the Twitter account starts to languish and you’re thinking “I really ought to be doing that social media stuff.”

If this sounds familiar then yes, you might find a one-day sessions will kick you off and get you actually DOING rather than thinking about doing. Or you might just think “OK I know this already but I need to be doing it.” If you’re someone who benefits from external kick-up-bum nudges then it may be what you need. But if in your heart of hearts you know you’re still not ready/willing/able to embrace the social media thang, then the day may not work for you.

What I do hope to cover is:
Why we’re doing it – where to start – what social media is good for (and what it’s not) – what to spend your time and creative energy on (and what to avoid) – how to make valuable connections – how to present yourself in a way that works for you – how to play (and enjoy) the long term game – how to keep social media in persepctive. Plus brilliant bluffs, scrumptious shortcuts, terrific tools and incredible insights.

This will be a general, channel-neutral day (in other words, we won’t focus exclusively on any one social tool or network, but take a broader view). If you’re looking specifically for Twitter or blogging help, sign up for my future workshops – Master Twitter in a Day (November 15th) and Set up a Blog in a Day (February 7 2015).

These’s no magic to social media, and I’m certainly not promising that a great blog or Twitter account is the key to fame and fortune, or even book sales. But these are powerful tools and channels that were never available before, and they’re here to stay – in one form or another. They have changed many aspects of our lives as writers. Understanding and adapting to that is crucial for anyone looking to further their writing career.

There are still places available for all three day courses – sign up here, or please pass on the details to anyone you know who may be interested. New Writing South members get 10% off.

How to find content with ContentGems


In my last post I warned about looking too much like a content marketer and losing the personal connection.

However, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater! The rise of content marketing has produced a number of useful tools for finding and sharing relevant content – perfect for researching and keeping on top of current topics, identifying interesting people to connect with and suggesting related topics.

One such app is ContentGems. What ContentGems does is to search the social web for updates, articles and other shared material, based on your criteria, and deliver you the results in a daily email.

Like most apps, the basic version is free, but you can opt for paid upgrades if you choose. Here’s a quick run-through:

Content Gems 1

Once you’ve opened an account (very simple), you’re asked to Create a New Interest. An Interest is whatever topic you’re monitoring – with a free account you can have up to 2 Interests. Then enter some keywords or phrases – the words that are likely to appear in the content you’re looking for. You’re allowed up to 50 keywords per Interest, so don’t scrimp here. If your topic contains keywords that are likely to be misconstrued you can instruct the search engine to ignore certain words.

Interests and keywords can be tweaked, and it’s my experience that you’re unlikely to get your keywords right first time. Once you see what ContentGems comes up with you’ll have a better idea of how to refine your search terms.

Content Gems 2

Once you’ve created your Interest and put in some keywords, you can view the results straight away. In this example, I’ve created the Interests ‘Social Media for Writers’ and ‘Poetry’. At first glance I can see I need to refine my keywords!

Content Gems screenshot

If you see an article that looks interesting, you can click to go to the original source, or you can simply expand the listing to see how many words it is and more detail. You can also see who shared this piece by clicking on ‘Show me more tweets’…

Content Gems screenshot

This is useful for finding like-minded Twitter accounts who share your interests. Knowing who has shared an article can also add (or detract) from its authority.

ContentGems scours over 20,000 blogs, newsfeeds and other sources, but you can also add your own sources. That means you can upload any list of feeds you already subscribe to, and ContentGems will search them for you.

Content Gems screenshot

You can also add your Twitter account and ContentGems will index the linked content shared by the people you follow.

Each day you’ll get an alert showing you new material matching your Interests. ContentGems is a neat tool –  set it up to suit what you’re looking for and tweak as necessary. If you’re using it already, or plan to give it a go, let me know how you get on. I’m always interested to hear of your experiences.



How not to be a content marketer


How do you decide what to share with your social networks?

Building a social web presence starts with generosity – share what you know, what you learn, what you’ve read. The more you help others by directing them to some ‘gem’ that they might find interesting, useful or entertaining, the more likely you are to get on their radar. The more willing you are to share other people’s updates, questions, news or blog posts, the more chance there is of them reciprocating.

There’s a big caveat here though – only share what you personally enjoy or rate, and don’t expect people to share your own content (ugh – I don’t like the word, same reason as I don’t like the word ‘user’ in relation to things internet, but it’s what it gets called) unless they personally rate it.

The production and sharing of content is ubiquitous and can have the whiff of ‘cynical marketing tactic’ about it. It even has a name – content marketing. Content marketing can be outsourced, automated, strategised, formulaic. But if you keep the element of personal recommendation, you are less likely to be viewed as a content marketer and more as a person people want to connect with and be connected to.

How to come across as someone who shares what they’ve enjoyed or learned from, rather than a content marketer:

Review first before sharing.

It can be tempting to retweet, like or share something that sounds really good, without actually clicking on the link and reading or viewing the actual article. The reasons might be that you don’t have time to read the whole thing now, or you don’t want to miss the moment, or you’re on your phone and the can’t download the full article. And sharing is so quick and easy. It will fill up your timeline and show you’re present. You trust and know the source. What’s the risk?

Whatever it is you’ve shared might not be what you think it is. I often find I’ve been fooled (by a cleverly crafted subject line or tweet) to follow a link to something not very useful or well written. Even if you know and trust the source you might think it’s a safe bet. Not every guest post at Mashable or Huffington Post is great/original/valuable. And even if you’re sharing a link that’s been shared by a friend, they themselves may have shared the link without reviewing first.

If you don’t have time to read something but it looks interesting, favourite the tweet so you don’t lose it, and share it later.

Share calls for help.

Not every ‘share’ necessarily implies endorsement – forwarding news or calls for submissions or requests for help, for example. If you see a call for help, especially if it’s from a newbie or someone with a small following, do them a favour and forward something of theirs, they will be grateful. These are the small acts of kindness that content marketers are unlikely to bother with.

Attach a personal comment.

When you do share something you think your friends and followers should give their hard-earned attention to, adding your own comment or reason for sharing does make a difference. I’ve always found that plain retweets (without editing or commenting) receive fewer shares, comments or favourites than those with a comment from me attached. Easy to do when there’s no character limit, but on Twitter you may need to edit the original tweet to make space for a comment. If you do that, the etiquette is to start with MT @name : (modified tweet) rather than RT @name :

Use automation wisely.

Being able to schedule updates in advance is a real boon. Tools such as Buffer and Hootsuite make it very easy to have your updated appear at any time of day or night and can bring you to the attention of different people. You might just want to vary the wording and not repeat yourself too often – tweeting the same thing every hour (yes! we know the deadline is tonight at midnight, we don’t need a countdown!) is a turn-off. Facebook and social media expert Mari Smith is firm on this:

I would absolutely not post the same thing in a day. I’d watch how your audience is responding and you can reshare it at a later date  (the following week or 10 days later).

When sharing your own writing, make it good.

Your reputation and authority as a writer is on the line, so you might get judged on the odd typo. Don’t obsess over that, but if it bothers you, spellcheck and proof read very carefully before sharing! But the most important thing is this: you want people to read what you’ve written and not think “that’s 5/10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”

We all put out the odd less-than-stunning blog post in a hurry from time to time, but best not to make a habit of it, especially if it’s just to fulfil some rigid blogging schedule. When you’ve earned someone’s attention, the aim is to make them feel it was worth it, and wanting more.

Quality not quantity.

Content marketers look at numbers. Number of pieces of content produced, shared, favourited, liked, clicked on, acted on, and so forth. A change is made, the numbers go up, that means something has worked, so marketers do more of the same. If you’re a content marketer, that’s what you do – plan, implement, test, tweak, implement again.

But if you’re a writer with the goal of establishing a strong author platform, you’re looking to make connections one person at a time. That’s less to do with numbers and more to do with quality of interactions and depth of trust. It’s about listening and conversing, and seeing ‘people’ rather than ‘followers’. Isn’t it better to share one high quality piece of ‘content’ a day, that you know will interest at least some of your contacts, than ten links to run-of-the-mill pieces that others have already shared and may not even be very good?


Seven things to do on Twitter this week


There’s so much more to Twitter than just posting links to your blog posts or tweeting the odd ‘what I’m up to’ update.

I’ve found Twitter to be a fantastic tool for connecting with all sorts of people I wouldn’t otherwise have met. OK, so it was easier in the early days, when there were fewer of us using it and before the marketers and scammers had moved in!

If you’re wondering how on earth to unlock the real power of Twitter then let me tell you there are no quick fix ways of doing it, but take it one day at a time and in six months you’ll wish you’d started a year ago.

It’s about small things … and they all add up. To give you an idea what I mean, here are seven tasks to set yourself, one for each of the next seven days. Come on, how hard can that be? Just remember a general point – when you refer to another person or entity in a tweet, reference them by their Twitter (@) name, because that way they will see your tweet. If you don’t know their Twitter name, use the Twitter search box to find it.

So here goes…

1) Do something nice for someone

This might be, for example, answering a question, or retweeting a question you can’t answer yourself, but one of your followers might. You might tweet how much you enjoyed someone’s latest book, or review, or poem in such-and-such magazine. Or how about starting a conversation with someone who’s new to Twitter or not very active, to encourage them along?

2) Retweet something useful and say why

If you’ve just learned something useful, or come across a resource you know your followers will find useful, or a news story people will want to know about, tweet a link to it. Add your own comment or endorsement.

3) Find THREE book bloggers/reviewers to follow

You can use the Twitter search box to search for names or keywords, or do a general search on Google – look for people who actively review work in your genre. You might find one, and then from their lists of followers or followees you might find more. Don’t follow more than three at a time, for now … if you stumble of a rich seam of people to follow, go to point 4 –

4) Start a new list

Remember you can add someone to a list without actively following them as an individual. You can then follow that list. If you’re using Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, create a new column for that list and voila. (See this post about Lists if you’re not sure).

5) Find a writing-related hashtag and use it

There are so many great writing hashtags, many of them are ‘slow chats’ – in other words, it’s an ongoing conversation around a theme. Well-used ones are #amwriting, #selfpublishing and #kidlitchat. But there are many, many more –  here’s a mammoth list of Twitter hashtags for writers!

6) Take a long hard look at your profile page

When did you last refresh it? Could it do with a makeover? The new profile pages allow for a wonderfully big header image – make the most of this space. Look at how other people are using it, get some inspiration. What about your profile picture? Looking a tad tired? And your bio – are you making the best use of your 160 characters, with key words for people to find you by?

7) Thank someone

Ah yes – we so often forget to this. Who doesn’t love to be thanked? Just think for a moment – is there someone you follow on Twitter (who perhaps you’ve never met) who often tweets useful things, or answers questions, or retweets other people’s posts? A ‘thank you’ out of the blue from a relative stranger is a wonderful thing.

Have a great week on Twitter – who knows, you might set yourself another #7things for the week after, and the week after …

Managing notifications for a quieter life


Have you ever felt overwhelmed by email notifications and wished you could just turn them all off?

It’s something that people often complain about, and it seems to be a big ‘turn off’ factor. You know the kind of thing:  “LaserHub and three other people followed @Starbucks” “Congratulate Jim on his new job!” “It’s Kathy’s birthday, send her a message” “@NiceCommenter has liked your post” … etc. Too many of these clog up your inbox and tend to just be annoying.

Social networks and blog providers want to keep you engaged and encourage you to login every day, and many of these alerts are simply designed to nudge you into action. The thinking is that once you’re happy using the tool and into a pattern of regular usage, you’ll stick around, become a valuable member of the community (in more ways than one – obviously there’s no such thing as a free social network, and your continued participation adds to the mass of data that’s used to sell advertising and other services. I know this is a controversial issue and not everyone is happy with it. But my attitude is that things have to be paid for, and as long as you understand the trade off AND protect your privacy in all the ways open to you, you can still enjoy the services provided.)

Notifications are often turned ON by default, but if you’re still finding your way around you may not know how to certain notifications off, or even that you can.

It’s important to take control and find out what you can turn off and how, before you reach the point that you just give up and stop using a service that otherwise could be perfect for you. Here’s a quick primer for WordPress, Twitter and Facebook.

Firstly, understand the difference between what you need to know about and what you don’t. Not all notifications are equal! A good general guideline is if a notification requires no action from you, it’s non-essential. Some notifications (such as being told when people ‘like’ something you’ve posted) can actually contribute to social media stress, which is another good reason to turn them off.


WordPress notifcations settings

For notifications about likes, comments and pingbacks (when people have referred to your blog on their blog) go to ‘Settings’ – ‘Discussion’ and you’ll see the options for email notifications. If you are moderating comments it’s important to know when a comment is being held pending your review. You may wish to be told when you have a new follower (so you can check out their blog) or when someone posts a comment ( so you can respond).

Wordpress Reader notifications

For notifications of new blog posts from blogs you follow, go to your Reader (make sure you’re logged into WordPress. Hover over the WordPress logo top left and you’ll see the link). Your Reader shows the latest posts from blogs you follow. Click on ‘Edit’ top right, and from there you can see the blogs you follow as a list.

Wordpress Reader settings

Click on the small ‘Edit’ button next to a blog name and you can opt into email alerts for both new posts and comments, either instant, or as a digest. I tend to opt for weekly digests, that way if a blogger is prolific I’m not getting interrupted by their blog posts all the time, but I can catch up once a week all in one go. Of  course you can turn off all email notifications if you wish, especially if you use a tool like Feedly for reading and subscribing to blogs. Feedly presents all new posts from blogs you follow in a neat magazine-style webpage.

If you comment on another blog and want to keep track of the conversation you can subscribe to the comments on that post. It’s a good idea to turn off comment notifications once the conversation has ended, or if there are a LOT of subsequent comments. You can turn off ‘following comments’ from a link in the email alert you are sent.


Go to Settings (cog icon top right) and select ‘Email notifications’. From here you have a range of options allowing you to control how much email you get.

Twitter email notifications

The first section  ‘Activity related to you and your tweets’ is worth working through carefully. The choice ‘Tailored for you’ means Twitter will make an informed guess about when you want a particular notification.

From there onwards, the level of priority gets lower. There are probably quite a few things you can leave unchecked. Remember, you’re trying to cut down on unnecessary emails.

Twitter has a page explaining about email preferences here.


From your profile page, hover over the down-arrow top right and click on ‘Settings’. From the General Settings page click on ‘Notifications’ in the left hand menu.

Facebook Settings

The first section is ‘How you get notifications’ which allows you to choose the medium – on the web only, on your phone and/or by email. Look at the options available to you. Under ‘email’ for example, you can opt for ‘all notifications’, ‘important notifications about activity’ or ‘only notifications about your account, security and privacy’. I would recommend either option 2 or 3.

FB notifications settings

The next section is ‘what you get notified about’. Again, don’t skip over this lightly.  If you’re getting too many notifications about activity in Groups you belong to, or people you are Friends with, you can limit it here.

If you have Followers (who aren’t necessarily Friends – very handy if you’re an author and want to distinguish between the two audiences) go to the Followers link on the left hand menu and create your desired settings for your communication with them.

NB If you are using Facebook and haven’t yet been through ALL your settings, including Privacy, Blocking and Timeline and Tagging, I recommend you do so. Think carefully about who you’re connecting with and how much access you want to give Friends, Friends of Friends, Followers and the general Public.

Twitter Lists – a great (under-utilised) resource for writers


What are Twitter Lists?

Anyone can create a Twitter List, and Lists can be public or private. They are a way of grouping Twitter users, in any way you wish, for example, ‘Poets’, or ‘Literary Agents’ or ‘Workshop Friends’. Think of a list as a segment the people you follow on Twitter.

A Public List can be seen and subscribed to by anyone, but Private Lists are not visible or searchable by others. You might create Private Lists for research purposes, or if the subject matter of your list is sensitive (for example, competitor activity).

Where to find Twitter Lists

Where to find Twitter Lists from a Profile page

Why you should think ‘List’ first, ‘Follow’ second

When you add someone to a List, they won’t get a notification, so adding someone to a Private List is a way of following someone without their knowing. This is one reason I recommend new Twitter users to get into the habit of adding people to lists.

Let’s say you want to follow Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of The Times. The point at which you click ‘Follow’ may be your one and only chance to get his attention. If he decides to check you out and finds you haven’t tweeted yet and your profile isn’t complete, he probably won’t follow back.

So instead of openly following him, you could add him to a private list of ‘Literary Journalists’ and follow the list. At a later date when your Twitter profile looks more active and you’ve done some interesting tweets, then you can hit the ‘Follow’ button and who knows, you might get a follow back if you’re lucky.

Why follow Lists?

As the number of people you follow grows, it gets harder to see everyone’s tweets, especially those outside your time zone. But a List is a much smaller group, which makes it easier to monitor those people’s tweets.

Lists in Tweetdeck

If you use a social media dashboard like Tweetdeck, you can add your Lists as columns which make them easy to follow, separate from the main Twitter stream

Don’t forget you can also follow other people’s lists, which is much quicker than creating your own from scratch, although you’re not in control of who’s on the list and therefore whose tweets you’re exposed to.

How to find lists

I recommend a multi-pronged approach, the same way that you would search for new (good) people to follow:

1.  Twitter search box – search by key words, names of publications or individuals. Although you can’t actually search for Lists, if you go to a profile page of a relevant individual, then check out the lists they are on, you can strike gold. For example, I searched for ‘literary editors’ and randomly chose Olivia Cole (@OliviaCole1), Literary editor of GQ & Editor of Spectator Life. Turns out she’s on hundreds of lists, from ‘Editors Worth Following’ , a List curated by Vincent Dignan,  to ‘Poets, Writers’ by David-Glen Smith.

2.  People you know – always check out the Lists of people you follow as it may throw up all kinds of great Lists already in existence. And if not, you’ll at least find more of the same kinds of people you want to follow and you can start your own List.

Guardian journalist Nicholas Wroe is on a useful list of Arts/Culture Journalists

By looking at what Lists Guardian journalist Nicholas Wroe is on, I found a useful list of Arts/Culture Journalists

3.  Google Search – in the search box, do a site-wide search of Twitter by typing the following:*/keyword

– replace ‘keyword’ with your search term and Google will find you Twitter Lists with that word in the title.

Search for Twitter lists on Google

A Google search for Twitter Lists which have the word ‘Publishers’ in the title

Some examples of how to use Lists

*       Follow a list of literary magazines and never miss a submissions window or important launch.

*      Seek out conversations around your writing genre/niche and add key participants (readers, reviewers, writers, enthusiasts) to a List. By following their conversations you’ll get to know their likes, tastes, buying habits, events they go to, etc. You might want to make this a Private List and call it ‘prospects’, for example.

*      Make a list of journalists, reviewers, books bloggers and other ‘influencers’ to find out what they are working on and see any relevant calls for contributors, expert quotes or interviews. Again, this could be either Public or Private, it’s up to you.