If you’re familiar with Twitter’s #WritingCommunity, then you have probably seen hashtags like #FF or #Writerslift floating around. You may have also come across threads known as Follow Trains.
You may have even been tagged in the replies and have had your notifications flooded as a result.
Friday is perhaps the most popular day for these with Follow Friday being a thing.
In short, I’ve stopped participating in these for the most part.
There are a few exceptions, but I typically avoid these posts even when I am tagged in the comments by other users.
These exceptions are pretty much limited to people I interact with more regularly rather than jumping into any #FF thread I can find, and those that ask more genuine questions (which I’ll be elaborating on in a little bit).
In the aforementioned post, I highlighted these tweets as an example of why I may not follow someone back, but I wanted to provide a better explanation of my feelings towards the posts of this nature.
What The Heck Am I Talking About?
There are a few variations of this trend. My explanation of them may not be exact and are based on my own observations, and I’m sure I’m missing a couple.
Some tags are reserved for specific days of the week, like #FF or Follow Fridays. Others might be for particular groups like #Writerslift, which is geared mainly towards writers.
Then there are those which are more broad, like Follow Trains.
These posts tend to be accompanied with some instruction.
The following are paraphrased examples of posts I saw whilst scrolling through my feed for about three minutes on a Friday afternoon.
Hey #WritingCommunity! Happy #Friday! Who’s up for a #writerslift?
Say hello, leave a #gif, like, RT, comment, share link(s), follow your fellow #writers (including me)!
No #Writer in our lovely #WritingCommunity should have less than 5000 #followers! If you have less than 5000 followers, comment! If you have more than 5000 followers, retweet and follow everyone in the comments!
I’m 37 followers away from reaching my monthly follower goal! Can you help me out? #amwriting #writerlift #writers #ff #f2f
It’s #FF & what a great day to support our very own #WritingCommunity
Share your social media links below & visit other’s to grow & support our community. Don’t forget to RT to invite more writers, follow, & comment to join in! #F2F #writers
I just reached 3400 followers! Time to celebrate with a #writerlift! Comment below and tag four #writers! #FF #F2F
It’s #Friday. Time for a #writer #ff #writerslift Check out these great people.
@Username @Username @Username @Username @Username
It’s #FF! Let’s get a head start on #ShamelessSelfpromoSaturday! Link your #book, #Blog, #podcast, whatever you’ve got! RT, follow, like etc! I’ll gladly followback and RT your pinned tweet if you follow me! #WritingCommunity #Writers #blogger #blogging #author #readers #writerslift
#WritingCommunity I almost have 1500 followers! Time for a #writerslift #writerlift!! Drop a link to your #blog or #book or paste a #poem you wrote in the comments. I’ll like it, RT and follow you! Don’t forget to follow back everyone! #FF #F2F
In the bluntest of comparisons, these all feel like something of a publicity stunt. Like when a YouTuber uploads a video that has something like “Not clickbait!” in the title or thumbnail but once you get past the sponsorships, promoting their own merch, follow me on Twitter and Insta, check out my Patreon, don’t forget to subscribe to my channel and hit that notification bell spiel, the video is already a third of the way over.
What I’m saying is that these posts feel empty to me. Impersonal. Like they exist solely to get attention and followers.
This is especially true when the replies to these posts are taken into account.
Depending on the kind of Follow Train in question, these can feel more genuine or create a more shallow appearance.
If there is a question posed alongside a question relating to a writer’s project, something like “Name five things in your #WIP and tag five #writers” or “Two truths and one lie, #WIP edition,” that makes me feel more inclined to possibly play along than “Hey it’s Friday don’t forget to follow everyone who comments on this tweet including me!”
I’m less likely to participate in a thread that is filled with self-promotion and little else.
Disclaimer: there are times where self-promotion is appropriate and makes sense beyond your own posts announcing an upcoming release or sharing reviews from your Amazon author page.
I’ve come across instances where the post may be something like, “My 11yo daughter just finished reading the Percy Jackson series and I’m looking for some MG reading recs for her. She likes fantasy and has a budding interest in Greek mythology. I would especially love it if there were a strong female lead.”
When comments start flooding in, users might mention another popular series or a lesser-known one they enjoyed. Writers may be inclined to highlight their own work if it’s a MG fantasy and maybe share a link to where the book can be purchased.
I don’t consider that to be a form of self-promotion because the original poster is asking for recommendations. Self-promotion in relation to Follow Trains and the like in my mind is more about dropping a link to buy your book without being invited to do so.
What I do take issue with are the instances of a post asking for specific recommendations like the one above being met with something like, “I don’t write fantasy but I do have two published romance novels and have another one coming out next month! Links below!”
That’s more along the lines of gratuitous self-promotion in my opinion and gives me the impression that this individual is more concerned with boosting their follower-count than getting to know who those followers are. Rather than offering up a suggestion of a fantasy book they enjoyed reading or tagging another user like an actual MG fantasy author or reader more familiar with the genre and asking them to share their recommendations, they are throwing the original question out the window entirely in favor of pulling the focus to themselves in a way that can be perceived as self-aggrandizing.
Self-promotion is important for writers. Twitter is among the largest platforms for marketing our books, but there is a time and a place for doing so.
I know I’m saying this as someone who has a hard time being the one to text someone first or ask for favors (and apologize all the while, even if the favor is a tiny thing like asking someone to grab something off a shelf I can’t reach). On the rare occasion I mention my blog when commenting on someone’s post, I’ll usually wait until they ask for the link before attaching it. I also don’t tag others in the few #Writerlifts I participate in because I don’t want to bother folks with an endless torrent of notifications (which is typically the result of people not unchecking the “Others in this conversation” box under “Replying to”).
When a Follow Train starts pulling out of the station on a Friday morning and it’s flooded with hundreds of self-promotion tweets, I’m not getting on board. I just turn off notifications about that particular thread and carry on with my day.
Why I Stay Away
The above examples give off the feeling of being based more on boosting follower counts and being seen rather than focusing on engagement and interacting with those followers.
When I am tagged in FFs and #Writerlifts, whatever new followers I gain from them quickly unfollow because I don’t auto-follow back. That, or these users follow and unfollow me until I follow them back. I’m especially apt to mute these accounts.
My follower count fluctuates, so I’ve stopped paying much attention to it. I may start the weekend with 1734, get tagged in a #FF thread that boosts that number to 1768, but by Tuesday morning I’m back down around 1729; follow trains are not the only reason I may not follow back, as indicated by the post I mentioned at the top of this article, but they can be a factor.
Back when I set up my Twitter profile, I did participate in more of these Follow Trains and even posted a few of my own, keeping with the trends of #FF or hosting a #writerslift when I hit a certain amount of followers like 250 or 500.
The research I had done ahead of launching my blog suggested that the number of followers a blogger or writer had was equal to how much success they will find. The more followers you have, the more people who see your posts, the larger your audience will be.
While there is some merit to these ideas, I started to realize this may not be the best approach for me and wasn’t the direction I wanted to take with my blog. So after a few months I started to cut back on how often I took joined in on these, keeping it to only those I had been tagged in because those felt like I was being invited to participate rather than bursting through the door and announcing my presence.
It wasn’t long before I started to notice a pattern. Especially early on, those tagging me were people I hadn’t interacted with much but had followed the day before, and the Follow Trains I had been tagged in felt hollow to me.
Often, these would be accompanied by a prompt like
Tell us what genre you write and tag three writers.
Or it would be something like
My MC’s Name Is
With these, it started to feel like I was being tagged because I happened to come up when the commenter hit @A. There is always the chance that they purposely selected me, but it’s kind of hard to tell with these examples, especially the earliest instances.
With my posts, I would typically add in a question to generate conversation like “Share a GIF of what happened in the last chapter you wrote” or “What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?” or maybe just a simple “Introduce yourself and share a bit about your current WIP.” I didn’t include anything about following everyone in the thread or posting links to participants’ work because I wanted it to be more about engaging discussions rather than gaining attention.
However, the direction of these posts would often stray from my intentions. While some would answer the question and maybe tag others, there would also be a significant portion of replies that were more about making sales than making connections.
Let’s say my post was something like “What would your protagonist dress up as for a Halloween costume party?”
Some may answer the question with a genuine reply like, “Josh would definitely want to do a couple’s costume with Ann. He’d be pushing for something like Mario and Peach but she wouldn’t go for it. He’d go in full costume and she’d probably just show up in a T-shirt with the word ‘Peach’ written in Sharpie.”
Others would answer the question I had posed with a reply like, “In my novel, [title], Sarah lives in a highly religious community in Utah so she wouldn’t be celebrating Halloween. Lol. Check out my book here! [link]”
That doesn’t bother me as much because user is still playing along with the question.
But there would also be those posting “Thanks for the #writerslift I’m #following everyone now! #F2F #FF xoxo” and drop a link to purchase their book and nothing else.
Out of curiosity, I’d hop over to this user’s profile and check out other replies they had left on Follow Trains, and they would be identical to that which had been left on mine, which had me feeling like they were just strolling through the hashtag and plopping their content wherever they could without worrying about which post it was so long as the applicable hashtag was part of the original tweet. This wasn’t frequent, but it happened on more than a few occasions.
For the most part, the #Writerslift posts of mine that got the most interaction were those that gave users the opportunity to promote their work, not the ones meant to start a genuine conversation.
As a result, I decided to stop using these hashtags but kept posting these questions and others. My Tweets may not have gotten as much traction after that, but the interactions were more like what I have been hoping to find all along. I’ve always been more interested in engaging with other writers on Twitter, especially because my own real-life circle is so small.
Connection is key!
As was the case with my post breaking down my general following practices, it seems only fair that I accompany the things that make me stay out of tagging games and the like with things that make me more eager to join in.
The truth is, there are plenty of people I follow that I found through these sorts of tweets, especially in the first few months I was on Twitter, and I’m not completely against following people who participate in them. But I am a bit on the choosier side when I follow. Apart from the reply itself (whether they just tag a bunch of people and move on or if there is more substance to it), I also check out their profile, their tweets, etc. to get a sense of their Twitter presence.
If I see that they play along beyond the surface of hitting the @ button however many times or just dropping a link to their Amazon author page in the comments of #FF threads, that’s one of the determining factors that makes me more likely to follow.
Having a #Writerlift be tied to a specific question is one of the things that make me want to play along.
Describe my WIP in three emojis? Well, there’s no anvil emoji so this fire, hammer, and sword will have to do for Forged in the Salle.
Want a GIF of the actor I would want to play my protagonist if I got a movie deal for my book? I’ll do you one better and post the link to Toby Regbo reading a Jeopardy! clue since my dream-casting him in the role of James in Guises to Keep is very much because he has the perfect voice for the character, not to mention that he resembles the way I imagined the character’s appearance even before the Reign pilot aired so closely that I spit out my drink when he walked on screen.
Name a song that reminds me of my WIP? “Check Yes, Juliet” by We The Kings fits a couple of my ongoing projects so give it a listen. And while we’re at it, why do I love writing about elopement so much?
On a similar note, there are plenty of weekly and monthly chats that occur on the platform. Depending on the poster, it might take place over an hour with 1-5 questions posted within that period or be one question per day over the course of a week. These may also have their own specific hashtags that make the number of participants so much smaller than the typical #Writerslift, resulting in more conversation than self-promotion.
Typically, the first question will be an introductory one inviting participants to introduce themselves and what genre they write, and then share a fun fact about their current project or what book they’re currently reading. And from there the questions typically become more discussion-based and relaxed.
If your protagonist was on social media, what platform could we find them on? What would they post?
If your book was going to be made into a movie, would you want to make a cameo as an extra? What scene would you want to be part of?
What food from your story would you most want to eat? Have you attempted to make it?
These questions feel more genuine, and they spark a more engaging conversation.
You’re more likely to find me hanging out in the comments of these posts because of the community feeling. There is far more interaction to be found here, which is a great appeal to me.
Another thing that might make me more inclined to join in a #writerlift is when the tagger gives a reason for others to follow those they mentioned.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be tagged in a thread like this, in which the user made an individual post for each person tagged and shared a little bit about them, including what they write and a compliment about their nature on the site.
This was honestly a sweet gesture and I like to think that most of the followers that found me through it stuck around.
Don’t tell me to follow someone. Tell me why I should.
I realize I tend to be fairly cautious when it comes to Twitter and likely appear standoffish or aloof at a first glance, but I’m learning to be more open about what I’m working on writing-wise—especially since I’m aiming to start the querying process with Bound to the Heart towards the end of this year.
That’s another reason I’ve been writing posts like this one. There is usually a reason for a person’s habits, and I’m hoping this piece clears up a little bit about mine.