By Colorado Review Associate Editor Beth Stoneburner

On any given afternoon, when not in class or working on school-related things, you will typically find me at home with a cat or two and several social media tabs open on my laptop: Facebook, WordPress, and Twitter. It’s the last one, however, that’s been most beneficial to me as both a reader and a writer. But mostly as a writer.

When Twitter first became a thing, I convinced myself I’d never have anything to do with it unless I became a Really Big Deal and there was a captive audience who actually cared what I was doing every moment of my every day (highly unlikely and just a tad creepy). Tweeting seemed no different from the Facebook status, but with fewer characters allowed. When Twitter started gaining popularity, I was working on my first book and had no idea there were more strategic ways to use Twitter.

Today, #AmWriting, #WriteTip, and #AmReading are three of my favorite hashtags. Using them is not only the most effective way to spread the word about my own work, request feedback, and find related articles; it’s also how I’ve formed a network of other supportive writers.

You get what you give in the world of social media. Following the 20/80 percent rule—20 percent of my tweets (approximately) are my own content, but 80 percent are others’ content—has turned that small network of writers into a community of friends.

People are not only more likely to share your content when you share theirs, but the real gold mine is in the personal responses like when other Twitter users share that they relate to what I’m working on or that they too have been stuck in the same places with a manuscript. The wisdom of more experienced writers is invaluable: I’ve gotten feedback from agents I follow (hoping to query them one day) saying that I’m on the right track with building my platform. Twitter, it turns out, has been the most effective way to reach out to influential people and “meet” new writers on the rise of whom I might not have otherwise heard. It’s somewhat surreal to chat with someone on Twitter for several months, and then find their book on the New Fiction shelf at Barnes & Noble.

The easiest way to meet several writers and readers in my chosen genre has been through weekly tweet chats. I highly recommend finding and participating in these via the #WriteChat and #K8chat (my friend Kate’s weekly writers’ meet-up on Thursdays) hashtags. The best part is that—even if I arrive late—the hashtags serve as bookmarkers so I can always look them up and read the tweets on my own time.

While it certainly isn’t foolproof, using Twitter has worked best for me in this way:

•  Tweet about my work sparingly, but mostly share kitten pictures (The internet LOVES kitten pictures!)

• Twitter user sees pic, favorites it, or retweets it if it’s especially cute (I don’t blame them since my kittens are adorable)

• Twitter user likes content enough to click the “follow” button on my profile

• Twitter user notices my biography and sees that we not only share interests, but that I write books (If you have books available, link that up! Make them as easy to find as possible)

• After talking for a while, and mutually sharing each other’s content, Twitter user likes me enough to spend their money on something I wrote

• With any luck, Twitter user tweets an opinion or review about my book, and the cycle repeats with someone else

Time-consuming, yes, but luckily I enjoy this enough that I’d do it even if I were guaranteed to never sell anything. I don’t get out much, and I’m awkward around new people, so this form of socialization is very important for me as a writer.

This should be obvious in any kind of business, but relationships always matter more than the product. To quote author and marketing expert Rachel Thompson, “In publishing, we brand the author, not the book.” Twitter is a unique way to brand yourself as a writer and build your network of literary-minded people.