Twitter, Bloggers and Communities of Practice


March 23, 2015 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

This is my final post in what has become a series on how bloggers use hashtag days on Twitter.

What Writers Did Before Social Media - New York Times Newsroom, 1942

What Writers Did Before Twitter – New York Times Newsroom, 1942

The series arose out of a survey I ran from February 27 to March 8, 2015, to which 189 bloggers active on Twitter responded. I wrote a bit about the results of the survey here and here. (If you don’t know what a hashtag is, or you don’t know what a hashtag day specifically devoted to blogging is, start here.)

Last week’s post was on how I increased page views and grew my own blog audience using Twitter hashtags days. Increased page views, however, are not the only reason bloggers are on Twitter. Nor is audience growth the only reason for participating in hashtag days.

Hashtag days are a wonderful way to get out of your own little niche, meet other bloggers and build a creative community.

The Honour Roll” – Cour de Louvre Sculptures Mosaic (Flickr, Istvan)

Often people have these two goals – audience growth and building community – simultaneously. Nothing wrong with that. The problem comes from expecting the same social media strategies to foster both.

I have written before about Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford, who has done research that suggests that 150, more or less, is the largest group of people one person can have close, stable relationships with. There are other numbers Dunbar talks about that define different groups, but I suspect that when bloggers talk about the community they have found through Twitter, they mean a community of practice – fellow bloggers – who support and encourage them.

Writing can be a lonely business.

(And you can buy Jason’s book and redeem his solitude here.)

A lot of us are introverts, and we have a need to be alone a lot to analyze and reflect. As a writer of memoir, I can attest to this. Fiction writers also need time alone to develop characters with depth and complexity. They need to build convincing worlds – realistic or fantastic – for those characters to inhabit. Other types of writing also demand quiet and focus.

That doesn’t mean writers don’t need to socialize; it’s just not compatible with the work. Writing in a coffee shop surrounded by other people may seem to contradict this, but it really doesn’t. What a writer is looking for in such an atmosphere is not conversation but the energy and focus that comes from being around other people who are working.

Twitter is essentially a discovery tool, however, not a place to cultivate relationships. 

You can have interesting conversations on Twitter, even in 140 characters. There are communities that grow through the use of chats and hashtag days, and the phenomenon of double screening, in which people live tweet their reactions to television shows. But though it bills itself as a social network, Twitter is really more of an information stream. And that stream moves fast. As a blogger, I am always trying to direct the deeper conversation elsewhere.

retro gossip

Well, okay. It’s not ALWAYS deeper….

Here are three strategies I’ve started using to cultivate relationships within my community of practice:

1. I have a “Friends and Colleagues” list on Twitter.

It includes everyone who has commented on my blog whose Twitter handle I can identify. On days that are not hashtag days, I try to spend some time inside that list, having conversations, re-sharing posts, or reading posts I didn’t have time to read earlier. This is a great way to filter out noise and spend extra time with those people whose interactions you most value.

2. I set a goal to read and comment on five blog posts for each hashtag day I participate in.

That might not seem like a lot, but it’s what I’ve found I can manage. Depending on my workload and other commitments, I do not always make that goal, but it’s what I strive for. Generally three of those posts are people on my Friends and Colleagues list, and two are new discoveries. In the course of a month I try to rotate through my Friends and Colleagues list.

african proverb

3. I have different goals for audience growth and community building.

My goal for audience growth for the coming year, based on the growth I had in 2014, is an average of 2000 page views a month, and average daily page views of 100 a year by the end of 2015. When I’ve reached that target, or managed to get ahead of it, I know I can slow down and give myself more time for reflection, for research, and for craft – things that make blogging a meaningful creative act for me.

I want my community, however, to be “Dunbar-friendly.” So if my Friends and Colleagues list gets more than ten percent beyond my Dunbar number – 150 people – I’ll remove people who have not commented recently. If there’s renewed interaction later, I can always add them back. But the point is to have a lens through which to focus on closer and more meaningful interactions.

I can’t tell you how well my strategies are working yet.

They’re relatively new. Do you have your own? Are you satisfied with them?

Courtesy Flickr

Courtesy Flickr

51 thoughts on “Twitter, Bloggers and Communities of Practice

  1. Norah says:

    Thanks for sharing these further thoughts about Twitter and blogging, Paula. I love the pics you have used to add interest – all very apt!
    I was interested in the numbers you quote and your numbers goal for this year. I wish you success with achieving them.
    I have started recording comments on blog posts, ones that I make on others’ and comments I receive on mine. I do intend sharing that in a coming post – maybe at the end of this week, if I don’t get distracted by something more interesting! I will let you know when I do!


    • Annecdotist says:

      Looks as if we came knocking on Paula’s door at more or less the same time, Norah. Nice place she’s got, I’m sure you’d agree, especially as you’ve already commented on the lovely artwork about the place.
      Look forward to your post on how you’ve used the blogging comments

      Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        Thanks, Anne. It’s nice to meet up around the neighbourhood, isn’t it? And thanks for the encouragement. I’ll see how I go. :)


    • Selecting pictures has been one of the unexpected joys of blogging for me; though I sometimes get frustrated with my own obsessive search for the right one. ;-) And I was so tired last night I didn’t realize I didn’t have my complement of six until now. Hope you enjoy the last I added.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        Well I had to pop back and see what you added, didn’t I? Very good. Why six? Is there a reason for that number? I enjoy looking for pictures too, but I’m not sure that I end up with as much interest in the ones I choose as the in the ones you choose. Perhaps I’ll have to look further afield. I was looking up copyright information today and discovered that I am not attributing the images that I am using correctly. I’ll have to remedy that with my next post. I think what I’ve been doing is “okay”, but not the preferred method. I thought I knew how to do it, just happened upon the information again and am glad I did.


      • Six is the number I found is best for my Twitter promotion, as I can then write six different tweets focusing on different angles of the post and use a different picture for each one. I use each one twice a day in a 24 hour period. It wasn’t that way when I began blogging in earnest again in 2014. So Twitter has actually changed how I write and design my posts. How’s that for the medium influencing the message… I used to think that blogging was a vehicle for the writing I already did, but in some respects it is really a genre unto itself.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        That is very interesting, Paula. Thank you for sharing that practice. It certainly gives me something to think about. It sounds like a very effective and efficient way to approach the task; able to meet a variety of criteria. I think you are right about blogging being a genre unto itself. While I have heard some suggest compiling posts into a book, not all posts are suited to that purpose. I guess it depends what sort of blog you write. :)


      • This is true. I’m investigating How to Blog a Book.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        That sounds interesting. Is it a serial book, or a book about blogging? I look forward to hearing more about it. :)


  2. Annecdotist says:

    I think I’m 100 percent in agreement with this, Paula (I say I think just in case some nagging thought comes to me later after posting this comment). I do most of these things, but in a much more haphazard way, but you’ve inspired me to turn it into a strategy. On #days I sometimes feel as if I’ve spent too much time on twitter and can come away dissatisfied, despite having enjoyed the posts I’ve read. But it does seem important to do. I think if I make my own strategy (and it’s now top of my to-do list for next week). Most importantly, I’ve neglected to build a Twitter list of good connectors.
    Just one thing I’d add to your strategy, which you probably do anyway, is that I always tweak the blog posts for which I’ve left a comment – off to do that for yours now.


    • Yes, is a good idea, and think I do do it most of the time, but not systematically. I have noticed you and others doing it. I struggled with whether or not to talk about spending too much time on Twitter in proportion to my own creative time, which is also an issue. Fortunately the goal of a short post has a way of truncating my reflections and given me material for later. Though I expect the next few posts, as I visit my parents over Easter, will be more personal in nature.


  3. Sue Vincent says:

    That cartoon is brilliant :)


  4. A good, thoughtful post with wonderful illustrations!

    I’m new enough to Twitter not to have a strategy yet, so for the while I will adopt yours. It would be very interesting if you would revisit these questions after you have reached your goals. One issue is the initial strategy, and another is how to adjust it based on the results you’re getting.

    Keep up the great blogs!


  5. I think these are great practices, Paula. These hashtag days (and writing/blogging hashtags) help make Twitter seem smaller and more personal. I use lists too and have one specifically for bloggers & writers. I greatly appreciate those communities on Twitter. I learn from others, share with others and derive encouragement from them.


  6. jan says:

    After two years in social media I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m just starting to think about strategies. But you’re right – it is impossible to engage with everyone so eventually you have to focus on those people who write in a similar vein and of course, who seem interested in you!


    • Writing that Dunbar-Bacon post was a revelatory experience for me. Plus my own growing sense that Twitter is draining my focus and energy for an uncertain end, even though it seems to be responsible for those page views I like, and even as it serves as a discovery tool in many ways that appeal to me.


  7. marydpierce says:

    I’m pretty much in the same boat as Jan above. Just now venturing out, thinking about strategies, so I’m happy that I stumbled on your blog a couple of weeks ago. For me, the first few years of blogging was more about be able to open myself up publicly. I wasn’t concerned with finding an audience, though, I have met other bloggers who have since become “friends.”

    It can often feel overwhelming, so I really appreciate the advice of setting limits and goals for yourself.


    • Thanks, Mary. I apologize for not getting back to my comments before now; a major grant proposal at work, then a rush to get ready for a cross country visit with my elderly parents. It can be overwhelming. As I stand down from my audience-building social media strategy for a time during this visit, I have to admit there’s a sense of relief. It is good to have time to slow down.


  8. Debbie says:

    Thanks for sharing your insights Paula. I’m trying to get my head around all the various ways people keep track of their social media accounts. It seems a need to be almost compulsive and organised is the order of the day. Not sure I have what it takes but I’ll keep trying.


    • Debbie – Sorry it has taken me the week to get back to this comment. I found it interesting the first time I read it, but was in the midst of other work. I will say two things. One, compulsive is never a good thing, and though I often have a “need” to be compulsive, I’m not particularly happy with that driven aspect of of my own behavior. My reflective side keeps interrupting with nagging questions – “But what’s it MEAN?” and “WHY are you doing this?” and “Is it really WORTH it?” I enjoy creating systems and finding out they do indeed work – but I hate that I become trapped in them, and am trying to learn how to balance consistency with spontaneity and flexibility. And two. You have what it takes. It’s a matter of choosing where you want to put your energies. Whatever you do with deliberation and intention is the right thing to do for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Debbie says:

        Thanks for getting back to me Paula, I didn’t really expect you to! I appreciate your insight and your confidence, not to mention your thoughtful response.


  9. elainemansfield says:

    I’m learning so much from you, Paula. Thank you. Great photos, too. I try to abide by something you suggested in a different social media blog. Retweet a follower who retweets or tweets you. This keeps me in solid contact with others who are interested in my work and willing to share. I keep careful lists, too, so I can find the hospice community, bereavement writers, people interested in ecology, education, memoir, and on. I also visit new blogs every week as well as the regulars. Always exploring and making new connections. Sometimes they’re inspiring. My post about leaving love letters after we due was shared by a stranger. I read his profile and thanked him, mentioning he had just been diagnosed with lymphoma. After reading my blog, he knew he had some letters to write to those he loves, even though he hopes and expects to live. And I knew I’d helped someone with information he needed.


    • That must be a good feeling, Elaine. I’m glad my posts have been helpful to you, even though the topic is, by comparison, a rather frivolous one.


      • elainemansfield says:

        I don’t see wise use of social media as frivolous. I see it as learning to communicate with others, no matter what our message. Thanks again. No need to reply.


  10. Charli Mills says:

    Coming from the co-ops of Minnesota, I discovered that communities can build audience just as well as individuals. Since I’m a social writer living in the remote Rockies now, I decided that I wanted to build a writing platform of community and share or grow audience for the collective. I resonate with the African proverb you’ve listed and appreciate your distinctions between goals of audience and goals of community building.


  11. Anita Stout says:

    So much great information gleaned from your survey. Thank you for compiling it and freely sharing.
    I’m finding I like Twitter better than FB. I meet new people with varied interests. It’s been a window into a bigger world.
    Good luck on your growth goals for 2015.


    • Terry Tyler says:

      Facebook is a small village, Twitter is the world! I find that people who only use FB or like it best are the ones who are mostly into sharing posts/lphotos/info about their own lives, rather than looking outside it. If I post a picture of my niece it gets loads of comments and likes. If I post a fascinating article, it might get just a few ‘likes’ – and always from other writers only.


    • Thanks, Anita! There’s an old saw that I refer to on my social practice page – Facebook is for the people you know, Twitter for the people you want to know. For me Facebook has become what personal email used to be – a way of keeping in touch with family and friends. I do publish my blog posts there, but I’d really rather not make a nuisance of myself there. Otherwise my kids will un-friend me. That would be sad.


  12. adamjasonp says:

    The image for The Writer is so true…at least for me. Or was.


  13. Sabina says:

    I really need to work on organizing my Twitter into lists. Right now it’s so much noise that I can’t focus on anyone. That’s going to be my first project once finals are over so that I can spend the summer deepening those connections.


  14. Terry Tyler says:

    Interesting post as always, Paula – your blog is one of those whose posts I usually read. I think the danger with the blogging community can be that it can get to be only about blogging/writing, and doesn’t reach with wider world. 50% of the posts I see on the hashtag days are about how to improve your blog traffic, how to promote your book, posts that will only be of interest to a small circle who reckon their aim is for a wider reach. (I know that you write other sorts of posts, btw!). To try to expand outside this, on hashtag days I post several articles – those that promote my own books, my reviews of other people’s books (hopefully, of interest to readers in general), articles about writing/self-publishing, and at least one that is nothing to do with any of this – the other posts I write might be about TV programmes I like, about relationships, and funny observational ones. That’s my strategy, anyway! The three most viewed ever posts on my personal blog are these: 1. The one about my latest book. 2. A guest post by my proofreading sister, and 3. One entitled ‘Love Truths’ – a long list of short, sharp observations about relationships. That’s what I base my hashtag posts around!


  15. Everything's Coming Up Rosie says:

    Informative post! I started using Twitter as a means to grow my local network. At the time, I was living on a small island where everyone knew everyone, but I was a transplant. :) Since then, my account has evolved and keeps growing, especially now that I am actively blogging. I am a huge fan of using Twitter lists, as I blog about different topics. I believe that we can have true friendships w/ people on Twitter but like any other relationship it takes time. I may not have a lot of followers, but my community is quite engaged and loyal.


    • Hey, Rosie: Sorry it’s taken me so long to get to your comment; I had a crazy week at work, and then had to get packing to go visit my parents. Focusing on ways you can keep relationships engaged, loyal and thriving is key. Topic based lists sound like a great way to develop connections for your type of blog. Personally I think lists are more important than followers in that regard. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Everything's Coming Up Rosie says:

        No troubles at all Paula. I agree, transparency, authenticity and truly developing relationships is much better than just to have a presence online. Cheers!


  16. […] Sisterhood of the World bloggers award and draw on Paula Reed Nancarrow’s wonderful survey about Twitter #hashtag days and blogging. But they will have to wait. We all have others things to […]


  17. Ellen Hawley says:

    I’m grateful that what you’re saying is “I’m trying this” instead of “I have the ultimate secret about how to use Twitter.” I’m still feeling my way into Twitter (mostly it feels like the cold, wet spaghetti kids made other kids stick their hands into in the homemade haunted houses at Halloween). It’s nice to hear not everyone has it all figured out. (I suspect no one does.)


    • Nobody does, no. And having worked at Public Radio International for three years, where they have an entire department dedicated to “Interactive” and have been trying to measure the effects of social media engagement for funders for years, I can tell you that the current state of dress (or undress) of the emperor remains a matter of considerable debate. The Dunbar versus Bacon post I wrote is still the deepest insight I’ve had on this score. Thanks for stopping by, Ellen. I’ll say hi to the rest of Diego’s Writer’s Group for you. ;-)


  18. […] No matter what you do, you need to be willing to promote yourself. You need a webpage, a blog (on your webpage or separate), and you should be on twitter and facebook. I have a friends’ facebook page separate from my author’s facebook page. And there are theories about the best way to use all of them. I’ve found #MondayBlogs useful on twitter, but there are more writer twitter hashtags. Paula Reed Nancarrow (whose blog I love for many different reasons) did a survey on twitter and blogging and wrote a few posts on the results. Here’s one of them: […]


  19. […] So In February and March of 2015, I did a survey of bloggers on Twitter to see how they used Twitter hashtags to increase traffic to their blog. By the time I was done with the survey, I had 35 pages of feedback from 189 bloggers on Twitter hashtag usage. My analysis of that data, and the survey results, are still available, as are the blog posts I wrote on using Twitter hashtags to grow audience and build community. […]


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