Back in 2009, I decided that I should look into the whole social media "thing." To that point, though I'd been an active web user since its very early days and an active computer message board user back into the 1980s, I hadn't gotten involved with MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. So, with our usual summer lull around here (fewer activities to drive our children to, no classes for my wife to attend) I decided to put some time into seeing what social media was about. I signed up for Facebook, played around with Twitter some, and started a blog. Of the three, only Facebook "took" back then. I stopped both blogging and actively tweeting late that summer, though I did get back onto Twitter before too long, primarily to chat about hockey.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2011. I dive head-first back into the world of writing and, while doing so, I start this blog and also begin to use Twitter for having writing-related conversations. Both have been very important to me during the past half-year. The blog has been great for giving me an opportunity to think about writing topics in some detail and have discussions which go more in depth. Twitter, on the other hand, is much more casual and "social" and has been a great place for making connections with other writers for the purposes of general conversation and also mutual encouragement and support.
I know that some people use Twitter heavily as an advertising platform. I assume that it must work for them, at least to some extent, or they wouldn't keep doing it. However, I think that an awful lot of advertising tweets (the term used to describe an individual Twitter message) are simply annoyances to viewers. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with an occasional tweet about a publication that you have to help readers find it. The key word there is occasional. Keep the majority of your tweets conversational and I would expect that you'll be much more likely to engage other tweeters.
If you're new to Twitter, one thing that helps to understand is the concept of the hashtag. Hashtags have the pound (or "hash") sign (#) followed by some text. So, #amwriting would be an example of a hashtag. What these tags do is help organize conversations. Unlike a message board, there are no built in groups or discussion threads on Twitter. Everything flows in one big stream. But when people choose to use a hashtag to mark tweets on a specific topic it helps bring the discussions around that topic together since, when you search for that hashtag, you'll find the relevant tweets. Some of the big hashtags around writing are the aforementioned #amwriting as well as #writetip and #pubtip. (A Google search for "hashtags for writers" will help you find many other relevant hashtags.)
Something else worth understanding is how "@" messages work. If you start a tweet with the @ sign followed by someone's Twitter ID, then you're signalling that the tweet is for that person. Now, it's not private. (For a private message, you'd need a Direct Message and you can only send those to people who follow you. You can publicly "@" message anyone on Twitter.) These "@" tweets show up in searches and, if someone is following both you and the person who you "@" messaged, then the "@" message will show up in their Twitter timeline as well. This allows for a lot of great multi-way conversations to develop between clusters of people.
I've found some awesome beta readers through Twitter conversations and during November, having lots of other writers around to participate in writing sprints was great for motivation. I've also made friends on Twitter, people who I've never met in person, but who I enjoy the virtual company of all the same.
I know I've heard some people say they don't "get" Twitter. The 140-character format and the hashtags can be a bit confusing at first. But I believe that for writers, it's worth giving Twitter a real try to see if they can make beneficial connections with their peers.