I've been on Twitter since the summer of 2010, soon after my first novel was published. Three books, three years and a few thousand followers later, I think I may be getting the hang of it. So for what it's worth, here are my own five ways to get the best out of Twitter, and make sure it gets the best out of me.
1. Bin the begging
There's nothing that makes me cringe more than all those "five* Amazon reviews for [insert title in CAPITAL LETTERS]" tweets. Twitter is riddled with them, and yet I don't know anyone who's ever responded favourably to a single one of 'em. No-one likes a hard sell, and I rarely follow anyone for long who tweets like that, however interesting they might be in-between times. And cramming as many #books #author #reading #review hashtags as 140 characters will hold is pretty unsubtle too. Far better to pique the potential reader's interest by talking about something that inspired you - an event, a building, another book, a chance-discovered fact.
And don't embarrass yourself and everyone else by going begging for RTs/downloads/reviews either, whether to the world at large, or - most especially - to people you don't follow or have never even spoken to. (And needless to say, auto-DMs are out too).
2. Less is more
This point is related to the last one. Twitter is such a here-this-nanosecond-gone-the-next medium, you do have to maintain a presence. Heaven forbid you should find yourself designated 'inactive' by all those Twitter management applications. But on the other hand, you don't want to be a blabbermouth either. Exercise some restraint in how many times you tweet every day - not least because Twitter will eat whatever time you give to it, and it'll be your writing that will pay the price.
3. It's not a broadcast, it's a conversation
Never forget that Twitter is a social medium. That means it works both ways - literally. Don't go on Twitter if all you intend to do with it is pump out a never-ending 'me-feed'. No-one will thank you for it. And only marginally less irritating are those 'celebrity' tweeters who start off discussions and then ignore the responses of anyone other than their own clique, or those they deem equally famous. That's what email's for, people.
4. Be personal, but protect your privacy
One of the many problems with endless self-promotion is that it might as well be the output of an automated ad-bot (indeed, perhaps some are). People may well follow you because they've read your books or are interested in the life of a writer, so it's fine to talk about that, and you can get away with RTing the odd really nice review, but always remember to be a human being first, and a bookseller second.
So have a photo for your avatar, rather than an image of your latest book, and never ever, an anonymous egg. And find something other than your novels to talk about that will engage people - the world, the weather, or whatever else interests you, whether it's crochet, cricket, cats, or (rather improbably) cauliflower. Seriously - one of the biggest responses I ever got was to a rant about caulis. I kid you not...
And you can still be personal without necessarily revealing too much of your private life. There are some people - and writers - on Twitter who talk in great detail about their families and private affairs, but I confess I'm not one of them. I've made some very good friends on Twitter, but I'm still very careful about what I reveal online, especially about other people. Their privacy matters too.
Last but not least,
5. Don't be dull
One of the direst social media sins, in my book, is being boring. I tend to take the line that if "just putting the wash on" is all I can think of to say, it's probably better not to say anything at all. So be lively, be entertaining, be thought-provoking, and be informative.
One way to do the latter is through RTs. I've learned a lot on Twitter and some of the people I follow are wonderful snapper-uppers of interesting snippets. I sometimes wonder where they find such fascinating things, and I've even had ideas for my own novels stimulated by what other people unearth on the web. You can overdo the RTs, of course, but like the internet in general, when Twitter's at its best, it's just made for sharing.