So much has been written about the intersection between Twitter and theater from a big picture perspective (see Theater, Twitter, and Revolution at HowlRound for my own personal take), but I’ve yet to find a simple list of tips to help playwrights who are new to Twitter get accommodated to the medium. So I thought… why don’t I make one?
#1: DON’T USE TWITTER.COM
Here’s the first and perhaps most important bit of news I can share with you: Twitter.com is for suckers. The best way to tweet is by using one of two programs — either HootSuite or TweetDeck — that are designed to make Twitter much more robust. After you create your Twitter account, pick one of those two platforms (I use HootSuite myself) and create an account there, too, then do the following:
- On either HootSuite or TweetDeck, you can create multiple columns in which to view tweets. Your first column will simply show you all the tweets written by everyone you follow. That one’s easy: it’s built into the platform, so you won’t have to create it. (For what it’s worth, in time, you’ll pay the least attention to it. There’s really no way, after all, to keep up with what everybody’s saying all the time. But you can look at it now and then to see what people are interested in.)
- Next, create a second column to show you ONLY the tweets that include your Twitter handle — that way you can be sure to reply to people who tweet to you. This is the column you should check most regularly. Don’t let tweets go unanswered for long.
- Your third column should show you all of your Direct Messages; those are private tweets meant for your eyes only. You won’t want to miss those… but they won’t come very frequently. Then again, some of the most important chats on Twitter happen privately.
- Finally, you should create additional columns beyond those three to follow specific hashtags. All of the most vital ongoing conversations about theater happen on hashtags. Speaking of which…
#2: LEARN THE LAY OF THE LAND
There are two hashtags in particular you really need to know about. First, there’s #2amt: you should create a column in HootSuite or TweetDeck for that one immediately. It’s a 24-7 worldwide channel for conversation about theater, and you never know when a rollicking back-and-forth is just about to start… or, if you like, you can start one yourself by posing an interesting question. (Pro tip: listen for a while before diving in. But then… do dive in.) The second hashtag of interest: #newplay. Conversations on #newplay tend to be a bit more curated, often (but not always) inspired by the good folks at HowlRound. I have a column for that hashtag in HootSuite, too, but I only tend to slide it into view when there’s a scheduled chat. Finally, you should look for any region-specific hashtags having to do with theater. In DC, for example, we have #dctheatre on which to chat about local matters. Los Angeles has #lathtr. There may be others as well.
#3: TREAT TWITTER LIKE A PARTY
In some ways, Twitter is sort of like the very best theater gathering you’ve ever been to. The room is always filled with this completely intriguing mix of old friends, new friends, complete strangers with interesting histories, people you know from a distance that you’d really like to meet, oddball hangers-on, those one or two people you’ve got crushes on, and just enough boors and loudmouths to have something to talk about. So how would you handle yourself at a party like that? Anyone with half a brain knows: be on your best behavior; be interesting, but not obnoxious; be your real self; and be respectful about entering conversations with people you don’t know… but don’t hang back, either. (Twitter doesn’t reward wallflowers.) You do those things, you’ll get along just fine.
#4: DON’T SELL, CONNECT
Let me be perfectly clear about the worst mistake I see playwrights making on Twitter: tweeting links to blog posts and articles, over and over again, without ever engaging with people. (I should perhaps have written that last sentence in all caps to get your attention, but I’m showing some restraint.) If that’s all you do on Twitter, you are missing the whole point of the platform. Twitter is NOT a broadcast tool: a place for you to shout to the world. Twitter is a place to connect, discuss, debate, encourage, invite, incite, learn, listen, discover, make friends, and wrestle with big ideas in small sentences. If all you do is log on, shout “look at me” or “look at this,” then log off, you’ll fail to make the most of the medium… and in time, people will start to tune you out.
#5: THINK BEFORE YOU TWEET
Are you old enough to remember what it was like to hang out in certain chat rooms? Roiling expressions of pure human emotion, they were sometimes so full of rage and vitriol that there was no room for civil discourse at all. Twitter, in its worst moments, can sometimes become like that, I’m sorry to say. I’ve fallen into the anger trap myself; anyone who spends time on Twitter at all can say the same, too. In time, it becomes clear how important it is to consider your 140 characters very carefully, especially in the heat of any given hot moment. Having issued that warning, however… please do forgive yourself when you fail, because you (probably) will. Just ask forgiveness, learn from it, and move on.
#6: BE PATIENT
Can you remember the first time you learned to play, say, chess? Even after you learned the rules — which probably took a while all on its own — you still needed quite some time to master the strategies behind the game, to learn how to explore multiple permutations in your head, and make it all feel natural. Twitter is like that. (Chess is harder, but still…) You can’t expect to just create an account, log in, follow a bunch of people, and “get” it. So be patient with yourself. And don’t expect to learn followers overnight, either. Some of us tend to feel entitled, as writers, to an audience. We expect them to show up just because we’ve arrived. That just ain’t true on Twitter, where you earn followers by being engaging and insightful, over and over again, for a long period of time. Be patient with that, too.
#7: WHO TO FOLLOW
Make it easy on yourself: start with your friends. Look up the Twitter handles of people you know in real life. That way, you’ll feel less awkward tweeting to them. (Pretty soon, they’ll introduce you via Twitter to their new friends… who will become your new friends in no time.) After that, find a bunch of artists you admire or arts institutions you value and follow them, too. You might find their tweets interesting and worth replying to, but you also might not… and there’s NO shame in unfollowing someone if you find yourself bored. (It’s YOUR Twitter feed, and you should take responsibility for curating it so that it feeds your creative life. You should periodically groom the list of people you follow and remove the dead weight.) Finally, take a look at @IFollowPWs — it’s the largest-available list of playwrights who tweet. (Disclosure: I created it as a resource for playwrights.) If you follow it yourself, the account will (eventually) follow you back to add you to the list. And if you comb through the list of people followed by that account, you’ll see playwrights far and wide all across the country — famous and inspiring — to consider following yourself.
And that’s it — that’s my advice. You do those seven things, and you’ll be fine!