Friday, 27 April 2012

Don't be an egghead. Some advice for Twitter virgins.

Ok. I'm going to give it to you straight. I am not an internet guru or marketing genius or even an SEO consultant. I'm not writing this to sell you some software or my tweeting service or some advice on how to market your online business in tough times or any of that. I'm not even selling cupcakes. But I am a heavy twitter user with quite a few followers and I'd like to pass on what I have learnt over the last few years of using it. And the reason why is that I think some of you (tsk) could use some well meaning advice on how to make more of it. In doing that I think we'd all get more out of it. So, think of this as a friendly word in your shell like. Of course, if you know all about the twitter you'll probably disagree with everything I say, which is fine. The views in this blog are my own. So there.

Firstly, don't be an egg head. I want to see who you are, what you do or what you are interested in. It makes you a person and therefore worth following or listening to. It's pretty easy to upload an avatar and it can make a big difference. Here's how. People, amazingly, will be more inclined to follow you back.

Don't be a stranger. Take your time and tell me a little about yourself by filling in your profile, for goodness' sake! Here's how. If you can't be bothered to fill in your profile them I can't be bothered to find out who you are or what you like or do. You have to give something of yourself if you want to make more of twitter. It will help people to align with you, share stories of interest to you and make friends with you. Even if it's 'Hello. I like camping.' it's better than saying nothing at all.

Say stuff that's in your own head. We all love a jolly good quote but most of the best things I've seen on Twitter are the bits and pieces of fun and nonsense that spill out of people's heads. Quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Babe Ruth and H from Steps leave me cold and don't tell me anything about you other than you are good at google. What's the point? If you feel sad, happy or cross (but not too cross), tell us in your own words, not with the lyrics of Jessie J, Bob Marley or Bewitched.

Don't do all your tweets at the same time. I sometimes do this I know, but it is annoying as it means that all your replies go out one after the other and clog up the timeline. So apologies for that. It bugs the hell out of me and probably bugs the hell out of you too. If you can, dip in and out during the day, but not so much that you get the sack. If you want to time your tweets by robot power to go out during the day, make them go out at different times.

Make an effort with each of your social media profiles. Twitter and facebook are different. So the way you update them should be different. Tweets that link to facebook are annoying.

Go easy on the selling. I will be the first to admit that I use twitter to sell my books and let people know what's going on with book signings, radio interviews and stuff. It is a very good marketing tool and I am selling myself. But if you use it for selling your business, products or services, try and use it for other types of conversations too. Sell, sell, sell is boring, boring, boring. A little while ago I unfollowed a well know author because every single one of his tweets was about how good he was, how well his books were selling and how people loved his work. His retweets were even worse. He wasn't interested in anything other than selling books to his followers. Surely they follow him for more than that? Don't people want to know what he's up to other than flogging downloads of his novel? Doesn't he want to have a conversation with the people who read his books? I know I do.

Get stuck in. Don't be shy about getting involved. Twitter is a brilliant way to chat to other people, share a few gags or post photos of cute cats with melons on their heads (although less of the cute cats please). So get involved. No one can see you or have a go at you for it (and if they do you can report them, block and unfollow them) and most people, on the whole, are pretty funny people.

It's a conversation. So listen and speak. Offer yourself and you will get lots back. One of the best tweeters I know is a lady who lives not far from me. She's mad about twitter and is on it all the time. She has nothing to sell but she tweets brilliantly about herself and her love of life and Cath Kidson. Every day there are sparks of brilliance from her feed that make so many of her followers rofl and pmrofl or whatever those laughing out loud acronyms are. You get out what you put in.

Don't expect a retweet. I get quite a few requests for retweets for all kinds of causes. I understand why, but I don't think it should be a given from anyone. If it's worth a retweet, it'll be retweeted, that is all.

Lastly, let's talk about content. There are some very clever bits and pieces of software that will pull content from all kinds of places and put them out on twitter in your name. Am I alone in despising them? I want to hear what you have to say, not what the computer thinks you'd like to say if you had the time or energy or could even be bothered. It's not you talking is it? Daily roundups of subjects loosely related to you and your likes and business tell me nothing. It's just a load of the noise bunched together in your name. Stop it, please!

Thanks for listening.

Friday, 20 April 2012

How much do we really need?

We've started putting things in boxes. It's all a part of the process of preparing for a trip. We need to sort out what goes in the van, what goes in the loft, what goes to the car boot and what gets recycled. Much loved old shoes, of course are destined for the loft. Their value is greater to us than the average carbooter.
Some of the lucky ones will make it to the van, although not many. I mean, how much do we really need?
In the early nineties I went backpacking for three months and took nothing more than a couple of pairs of shorts, a surfboard, a pair of sturdy walking boots, some flip flops, a few tees and some bits and pieces of camera gear. I also carried, for some reason known only to my stupid self, five volumes of Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy'. They took up so much space and could have easily have been replaced but I "didn't want to be parted from them". What an idiot. It's a lesson I've learnt the hard way: take only that which you need - really need.
We're going through this painful yet liberating process (it's called the 'scourge' in our house) because we're heading off on the trip we've been promising ourselves since the kids were little and one of them was in hospital with leukaemia. It's been a long time coming but, after two books, a TV series and five and a half years of running my writing business (at the same time), we're tripping off on an extended summer holiday to catch up with friends, cook some dinners under the stars and come up with some new ideas. I can't wait to cast off the clutter and get back to simpler times.
Hence the scourge. We're lucky that we live in a place where we can rent out our house as a holiday home - and it'll provide us with a little income whilst we are away - so we need to depersonalise and reorganise. It seems like a lot of work for eight weeks in the van but it's what makes it possible. Besides, it's good to have a rethink every so often. Scourges focus the mind.
So, back to what we really need. The simple answer is that it's an awful lot more than it was before we had children. There's a lot of stuff to pack in. They have stuff they can't live without, like toys, games, notebooks and various electronica as well as clothes. And the Zebra. And Little Doggy. And Big Doggy.
Then there's the stuff we actually need to live. That's cooking pots, plates and cutlery. Then there's the stuff to keep us warm and comfortable. That's clothes, pac-a-macs, shoes, sleeping bags, pillows, camping chairs and levelling chocks. Then there's the solar shower, the porta-potti and the toothbrushes and the stuff we need to stop us from getting lost: books and maps.
Next it's time to think about the other bits and pieces. This is the fun stuff. The toys. There are wetsuits, snorkels, flippers, bikes, surfboards, belly boards and bike helmets. Lastly we have the stuff that's nice to have too. Nets, rods, smoker, barbecue. All in all it's an awful lot of stuff. There will barely be any room for us. Sometimes I ask myself if I have learnt anything along the way. But I can't go on a trip without a board, or maps or a sleeping bag, can I? And the kids can't sleep without a cuddly toy!
I am sure that we could have a perfectly good time without most of it, and as long as we are well fed, warm and dry, I don't think it matters. But we'll pack it in anyway. I will play the martyr and pack as little as I can. Of course, if previous trips are anything to go by, my wife and children will appear for tea every night dressed in something different that I never saw before on the trip, whilst I, like a fool, will be wearing the same old tee shirt and with nothing to sit on other than a big old pile of Vikram Seth's finest work.