Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Power of Hashtags on Twitter

When I first started using Twitter, I was confused by all the hash marks in front of words. I'd see a Tweet like this:

#amwriting about the #civilwar and I need information about #rifles used by soldiers. 
Eventually, I learned what was going on. These are called "Hashtags." They make use of the power of the Twitter search engine to create ad hoc groups and to aid research on Twitter. Here's how it works. Let's say I am a fan of Haven on the SyFy channel, and I want to see what other people are saying about Haven and maybe even join the conversation, I can go to and type #haven into the search bar at the top of the page. It will pull up all Tweets that have been posted with that word preceded by the hash mark.

I just did that with #Haven and the first post was someone asking when the new season would start. I'm sure some person will have an answer and respond with the #haven hash tag.

Now, just as an aside, this points out to one aspect of Twitter which should make you think before you tweet. Since all tweets (unless you purposely elect to have yours hidden) are searchable and basically public, you need to be careful what you tweet. I don't mind. I don't tweet anything I don't care that the world reads. I'm less cautious on Facebook because I can control who reads my posts there more precisely.

Now, Back on point, hash tags make it possible for you to communicate with thousands of people who are not "following" you on Twitter. They can also respond to you. This is huge because some people follow certain hashtags all the time. For instance, there's a hashtag #amwriting. Writers post that they are starting to write. It provides a type of accountability. But they also often ask research questions, post links of interest to writers or just seek support and advice. I have a column open on Tweetdeck following that hashtag group all the time.

Writers can use hashtags in many ways.

  1. To target special interest groups. Let's say you just posted a blog about your new book on motorcycle maintenance. You could post a tweet like this:

    Fix your Ride. #Motorcycle #repair for everyone. Find out more at URL

    This will not only go out to your own followers, but also to everyone who searches for #motorcycle that day. That could be thousands. 
  2. To network with writers and others. Writing can be a lonely business. Sitting on the computer pounding out copy can get a bit tiring at times. Just knowing there are others out there doing the same thing can be an encouragement. Some good hashtag groups for writers are #amwriting, #amediting, #nanowrimo and #writingsprints. You can also follow specific genres such as #scifi, #sciencefiction, #mystery and #romance. 
  3. To create your own group. Maybe you are in touch with a number of people who share a given interest, you can come up with an agreed upon hashtag and use it to reach across twitter accounts to keep in touch. For instance, you might have a writers group in your town and create the hashtag #mytownwriters . Then just search for that hashtag to see what everyone is doing or set up an automatic search in an aggregator like TweetDeck or HootSuite. 
  4. To do research. With hundreds and even thousands of people following certain hashtags, you can post a request for information and almost be sure to get a response. Let's say you are doing' research on caregivers for Alzheimer's patients. You could post something like:

    #amwriting an article on #alzheimer's #caregivers. Looking for interviews DM or email at _____.
    It is best to use an email address that is specifically used for research and not your personal email because this is very public.  By hashtagging #amwriting, #alzheimer's and #caregivers you increase the chances of people responding because people searching any of those terms will see your request.

    You can also simply search for your subject. For instance, I just plugged in the hashtag #alzheimer's and got a link to an article from Everyday Health about what to do when dementia patients refuse help. Indeed, this is a twitter account devoted entirely to Alzheimer's. So, clicking on that link, I find all sorts of links to articles about Alzheimer's including many related to caregiving. In fact, I found myself happily clicking through several articles. My father had the disease and I'm always interested in information about it.
So, before you post that tweet, think about "hashtagging" it a bit. 

Learn more about Social Media and other Computer Mediated Communication in a special course offered just for writers. This 18-Week Course covers all the social media including the new Facebook features and Google Plus and Twitter. But goes beyond social media to also cover blogging, researching online, writing for the web (and the opportunities to write for online publications), creating websites on a budget, digital publishing, online collaboration and using email professionally. This course is based on one I teach at my college, but geared toward the need of writers. The instructor guided course begins February 1 and costs $19.95. An abridged autopilot version will also be offered for free. For information about all the new courses go to

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Courses for Spring and Big Bargains

I know I haven't been posting much. November was really busy setting up the Novel Writing Course. I hope to be back on a regular schedule of blogging in a few days.

However, I've been having enormous fun with my Novel writing class. I just hope they are having as much fun as I do. I got a little behind at one point because of technical problems, but we got caught up and on a much more stable platform. These courses are all offered at

While this course is ongoing, I nonetheless will be offering four new courses for Spring 2012.(Note: All courses begin February 1, 2012)

Write Your Novel YOUR Way in 100 Days. This course takes a different approach to teaching novel writing. Instead of giving you a single route to writing your novel and prescribing a specific system, you learn about what goes into the final product and then I give you a buffet of techniques to use to write your novel. Can't stand plot outlines? No problem. Need a highly structured plot outline? No problem. Need something in between? No problem. Many roads lead to Rome but you may find one more accommodating than another. The course includes a critique of up to 50,000 words of your novel, feedback on individual assignments, interaction with both students and instructor. ($19.95 for 18 weeks of Instruction)

Writing and Selling Magazine Articles. Writing magazine articles provides the easiest road to publication for the beginning writer. For the established writer, it can give you an additional revenue stream. Writing magazine articles is easy and profitable. I have taught this course many times and always have students sell articles or get assignments during the course. Includes critiques of two magazine articles, feedback on individual assignments and interaction with both students and instructor via email and a discussion board. ($19.95 for 18 weeks of instruction)

Computer Mediated Communication for Writers. The idea of the solitary writer working alone is becoming an anachronism. Writers today are connected to the world from their computers, tablets, smartphones and even ereaders. This connection has changed the environment in which we communicate. From Social Media Marketing and Networking to Online Collaoration to Writing Effective Emails to Epublishing and Writing for Digital Media, this course introduces you to the world of Computer Mediated Communication and how to use it to advance your writing career. This is a specially dedicated version of a course I've taught for three years at the college. However, unlike the college course, this one focuses entirely on the needs of writers. This course is built around a discovery model with the Student working individually and in a group of other students takes part in a number of exercises. By the end of the course, the student will have created  Facebook Friend and Like (formerly Fan) pages, a Twitter account dedicated to writing endeavors, a blog and a website. Student will also develop a social media marketing plan. Instructor will provide feedback on all of these assignments. ($19.95 for 18 weeks of Instruction)

Time Management for Writers. This one month course expands on the popular week long seminar I've taught at the Muse Conference. During that one week, we could only really talk about the techniques of time management. In this course, we will apply those techniques. By the end of the course, you will have completed a time inventory, set up a daily planner customized to your lifestyle, apply at least three time management techniques for an entire month and report on the results. You will interact with other students, sharing triumphs and challenges, and the instructor. ($3.95 for four weeks of instruction)

Give the Gift of Learning

If you have a writer friend (published or unpublished), you can make a gift of learning by purchasing one or more of these courses. Email me at webservant2003@... for information.

Two-fer Specials

I know, the Holidays are sometimes tight financially. So, I've got a Holiday special for you. If you register (or purchase a gift registration) from one class at full price, you can register in a second class of equal or lesser price (now or anytime within 12 months) for half price. Or if you want to register with another person, one of you will get your registration for half off. It's great to take classes with another. You can buy one and give the other to a friend. So, You could get two novel professional writing courses for $29.90. Or take the Magazine Writing and Computer Mediated Communication class together for the same price. Since these same courses will be offered Summer and Fall 2012, you don't even have to take the courses at the same time. Email webservant2003@... for details.

The Super Bundle

I've held off on my best deal for last. You can have the whole writing bundle for $40. That's all four courses, plus you'll receive two free ebooks - a $10 value.

BTW, I'll give half off on any one course to anyone who will promote these classes in some way on their blog or website.