Twitter This and Twitter That: Tips, Tricks, and Basics to Get You Off the Ground and Running

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Twitter. It’s reminds me of the Tardis. Only because it’s so little on the outside and so HUGE on the inside. And, depending on who’s managing the thing, there might be a mad doctor at the helm. Ah, Twitter. It’s like a little home away from home. 

People don’t like Twitter. “It’s too hard to say what I want under 140 characters!” They say. I say, “Oh, come on now! Are we not writers? Have we never mastered the art of using just a few words to express many?” I also say, “HAIKU, People! HAIKU!” but that’s beside the point. 

140 character limit messages or not, Twitter is a platform that, undeniably, can be more than massive effective if you use it right. Sure, it’s just another social media trap to get stuck in and not be able to pull yourself away from to finish your writing, but…wait. No. No, it isn’t, because no matter how much you want to say, you can only tweet 100 times an hour. And we all know how fast most of us can type and how much most of us, potentially, have to say. So, you can’t find yourself trapped on Twitter, even for an hour, before they shut you down and lock you up in their proverbial dungeons. So, you see, you can’t waste a whole day there. It’s part of the beauty of the site. You can tweet and still have time to write. Or even eat (possibly while you are writing). It’s a gorgeous thing.

There’s an art and finesse to Twitter that’s learned over time, through trial and error, success, and, as mentioned, being tossed into the dungeon. “Twitter Jail,” as it’s officially called, is a temporary account suspension imposed by the site for abusing your tweet privilege. But it’s also temporary and easily avoided and the benefits of the site are outstanding. So, let’s talk about Twitter, what it is, what it does, what it can do for you, how you can use it, and the best ways I know of to make it a powerful tool in your Social Media Marketing plan. 

Twitter, in itself, is nothing more than an online texting site. For real, that’s what you’re doing. You’re literally texting masses of people messages that you hope will motivate them to love you, love your books, and spread the word about you and your work so that other people will join in on your parade. All of you messages must be less than 140 characters, so it can be challenging, but it’s not nearly impossible once you get the hang of it. By default, all Twitter accounts are public, which is to say that anybody can see your feed and you can see anybody’s, too. What this means is that while somebody who read your book in Idaho is following you because they think you’re a rock star, you can follow, say, a real rock star, like Jon Bon Jovi. Him following you back is his option, so it’s not likely that he’ll do it, but there is that off chance that if you tweet him directly, he’ll see it himself and respond. So it’s really very cool for people who enjoy another’s work, but it’s also cool because it puts you, as a public figure, one on one with your readers and gives you the chance to speak to them directly. 

There is always the option of keeping an account private, which you can certainly do from your settings page, but think before you choose to do it. There’s always the off chance that you’ll get some lunatic who sends you an unpleasant message, but there are like 100 million Twitter users. That means that there are like 100 million chances for you to show people who you are and have them buy your books, so I would suggest that you don’t remain private. Twitter is an absolute goldmine for meeting new people, making connections, finding new products, discovering information you didn’t have access to before, and making sales that absolutely would not exist without its long reaching arms. 

Now, here are the functions you need to understand to really use the site:

1. ACCOUNT NAME VERSES HANDLE. When you sign up for Twitter, you’ll have to name your account and then choose a handle. Most people choose to name their account by the name they publish under. Some choose to name their account under the title of their book. Others choose to have a fictional Twitter account under the name of a character in their story. Other’s call themselves things like “SciFi Guy”. You’re, of course, allowed to do all of these things, but here’s the rub.

A) You call your account by the name of your book, right? But…Are you ever going to write another? And if you do, how are you going to promote your new book under the name of the old one? Or are you going to open a new account then and have to start all over gaining followers and building a platform, plus managing more than one Twitter account at that point? Or change the name of your existing account and really confuse your followers?

B) Your Twitter account is run by a fictional character. OK, pretty cool trick if your book is popular and people are in love with your character. Harry Potter would be an awesome tweeter. I’d follow him! Oh, my gosh, people would totally freak with happies if Bella Cullen had an account. There are a couple of others as well. I bet loads of people would follow LeStat. But how many are going to still be in love with Betty Sue Puckett three years after “Once Upon a Dinosaur” has been read? Especially if the story came full circle and there will be no more sequels?

C) Calling yourself “Sci Fi Guy”. It is OK, I guess. It defines you and clearly states your brand. The problem is that, let’s say, Jane sees a tweet your sent about your book, but she doesn’t click on the link right then because she’s at work. Instead, she goes home that evening and wants to buy your book on Amazon. But all she can remember is that your account name was SciFi Guy and your story sounded really interesting. So she goes to Amazon and…guess what? Nobody, not even Jane, is going to be able to go to punch in, “SciFi Guy” and find a book titled, “Intergalactic Raccoons: Alien Rampage For Restaurant Bins”, written by Salvatore Johnson. She never saw Salvatore Johnson. All she saw was SciFi Guy and she can’t remember the name of the book. See where I’m going? You can’t sell books directly off of Twitter, but it’s a marketing platform all the same. You have to make yourself as easy to find on all fronts as you possibly can. It would be a lot better if Jane had been given your name.  

So, these points being made, as you begin your journey on Twitter, and you’re choosing your account name, keep in mind your branding, but leave room for your own personal growth and make sure you’re easy to find. That probably means using your name, or at least some variation of it. You’re planning to be around a long, long time. You want people to know your who you are, so make sure it’s part of your brand everywhere you go. Using a fictional character’s name may have limited appeal, and using the title of your current book will ultimately lead to you having to start over with the next book. You can do whatever you want, of course, but it’s your public who may be lost on your cause or confused in the end. 

Now, let’s discuss your Twitter handle, which is actually different from your Twitter name. The Twitter handle is the @name which people will use to address you. This can be absolutely anything you want it to be. Your account name is Salvatore Johnson, your handle can be @SciFiGuy. Sure, not a problem. I’ve seen people whose handles are literally things like @qyprssxffy. Why not? Who cares?

Well, AGAIN, this has to do with making yourself available to be easily found. I’ll use good ol’ Salvatore Johnson as an example again. Salvatore is a SciFi author who writes kick butt stories about alien raccoons invading other planets for their delicious restaurant left-overs. Bobby just read him and he loved every second! So, excitedly, he goes onto his Twitter and tries to find Salvatore to leave him a message of gratitude. But Salvatore Johnson is nowhere to be found because his account name is “SciFiGuy” and his handle is @qypssxffy. D’oh! Sal has rendered himself invisible! The SciFiGuy is cool enough, if Bobby knew it was his account name, but the handle just ruined him. Who would ever have thought to look for that? Bobby can’t find him and now he’s sitting in his room, sobbing, because he can’t tell Sal how much he loved his book. Way to ruin a kid’s day and your chance to connect with him, too, Salvatore. Very slick. 

So, as you open your Twitter account, keep your branding in mind. Always remember, writing, as well as marketing, is about making connections with people. Make it easy for it to go both ways. And you can change your account name and handle, too, if need be, at any time. All that is breakable is fixable on Twitter. Well, when it comes to those two things, anyway. 

Now, onto the rest.

2. PERSONAL BIO. Oh, don’t you love these? These are the blurbs we get to write at every turn about ourselves and our work so that readers can know a little bit about who we are as human beings. Some bios are long, some are short. Twitters are less than 140 characters, so you have to make them count. The best are the ones who tell us something major and relatable about who the account owner is. “A mother, wife, novelist” is effective. So is “History professor and author of realistic historical fiction.” Some are really funny, like one where the woman says, “Looking for the next 12 step program so I can ignore it.” But, some are a catastrophe, especially the ones that say nothing at all. There’s nothing like an egg for a photo and a blank page to say you’re completely uninteresting. I rarely ever follow those people. And then there are the ones who say stupid things like, “I live for vodka, motorcycles and loose women. My memoir about my Alzheimer stricken mother is now available on Amazon.” Although the author may well be a multi-faceted individual who can balance drinking binges with the deep emotional scars of caring for a a terminally ill parent, the bio doesn’t read well at all. Nor do the ones that try to be funny and just aren’t like, ” Writer of fiction, lover of chocolate and wine. Follow me back or I’ll slap you with a dead rat.” I suppose it has a ring of absurdity that may have comedic value, but, personally, I have pet rats that I adore and my children weep the whole day every time one dies. I don’t think being slapped with one is funny. At all. I may be oversensitive when it comes to rats, but, believe me, there are way more people oversensitive about way more things than I am. So be sensitive.

And then there are the bios where people just waste their 140 characters. I’ve seen ones where men are featured in the photograph with full beards and the bio says, “Male.” Uh, duh. Obviously. Wasted word, since you are either COMPLETELY male, on serious hormone therapy, or have your own tent at the circus. Keep your bio short, yes, but keep it passionate and keep it applicable. you want to attract a certain crowd, so use words that appeal to them. Oh, and make sure you get your links on there, too. Link to blog, link to website, and, especially, link to sales points are always good. If you can’t do more than one, at least do the one. Again, make yourself accessible on every level possible. After all, your ultimate goal with Social Media Marketing is marketing. 

3. MENTIONS. This is just a term for when you directly tweet somebody or somebody directly tweets or mentions you in a tweet. For example, “@SciFiGuy I loved your book! The raccoons are incredible!” or “I read a great book today about intergalactic, garbage invading racoons! @SciFiGuy blew me away!” These can also be called “Shout Outs” and you often see them on Follow Fridays (#FF). It’s always nice to answer them and keep up a friendly relationship with people, but mentions in themselves are really nothing more than tweets intended for individuals or groups of individuals to see.

4. Tweets. Obviously, these are the messages that you’re sending publicly on twitter. You can tweet people directly that you know. Example: “@halfpintLouie I just ate the most amazing hot dog at Willie’s. Wish you were there!” or you can tweet general things. Example: “I just took my daughter to her ballet lesson. Fell on the stairs. It hurt.” Or you can do marketing tweets. Example: “The terrifying Raccoon Empire invades Northeastern Nevada! #mustread [link]”. If you want to make sure Salvatore Johnson sees that, you add @SciFiGuy to it. You can really tweet whatever you want, but remember…people are watching you and you represent your own brand. Think about all the Twitter tragedies you’ve read about in the news from people who have freaked out and posted tweets in the heat of the moment. Remember what your marketing message is, remember your public image. Don’t get carried away with something that is setting you up for disaster. All it takes is one dumb, hateful tweet (even if it’s deserved) and you’ve damaged your brand and possibly ruined your career. 

On occasion, somebody will pop up on Twitter and insult you. Don’t engage them. Just block them. Most of the time, they’re trying to egg you on, either out of boredom or ignorance. Either way, they are not worth your time. Period. Block them, walk away, and continue doing what you do. When you are promoting your books on Social Media, you are at work. Keep that in mind and let them be the unprofessional ones while you focus on achieving your goals.

4. Retweets. These are the most important tools of your Twitter trade. Retweeting and being retweeted is the ultimate name of the game. This is how the retweet game works: First, let me restate that there are like 100 million Twitter users. Probably more. That means, 100 million chances for you to have somebody read your book, every single time you tweet. Twitter is a give and take community. In any given hour, you have 100 chances to tweet whatever you want. Sure, you could use all 100 to tweet about YOU, but, in the Twitter culture, that makes you a jerk. So, instead, you take 70 of those tweets and retweet what somebody else has tweeted. Use the other 30 to respond to and send your own mentions and shout outs. Always post YOUR own promotional tweets at the top, the stuff you want passed around about your work. This will make it easier for people to retweet what you really want to be seen.

Which, they will. Anybody who knows how Twitter operates knows that they need to return as many favors as possible, and this is done by retweeting. So, let’s say you DID retweet 70 other people. If they’re all playing the game correctly, all of them will retweet what you tweeted at the top of your feed. And then, some of their followers will also retweet your tweet (that they retweeted) in hopes of you retweeting them. and then some of their followers and then their followers and so on and so on…

Do you get the massive picture here? With every tweet, you potentially have hundreds, if not thousands, of potential retweets, which mean potential sales. And it really works, too. I, personally, get literally hundreds of retweets every single day, even if I don’t tweet at all that day, just because of the momentum I created by retweeting others over the last year. You eventually fall into a group of people, loyal retweeters, and you begin to know who you can count on, and they begin to know you. Voila, this is your platform, the one you can stand on and announce all your news and promotions off of. Once you get a group of people on your platform, that platform will grow, and grow, and you will become a successful Twitter marketer, all by the power of tweets and retweets..

5. HASH TAGS. Hash tags are the bane of many people’s existence. There are so many! Which to use? How to use them most effectively? They’re always changing, these pesky hash tags! What to do? How to use them at all?

Well, the answer is…use any way you want! A hash tag is nothing more than a word preceded by # that communicates a specific message. For instance, here’s a made up tweet: “Got to the post office ten seconds after they closed. Nephew’s gift will never get there in time for birthday. #pissed.” Or, “Raccoon’s Revenge: Return of the Dumpster Destroyers now available on #Amazon #kindle #Nook #mustread #alien #racoon #scifi”. 

The purpose of the hash tag is simple. It’s for sorting. Say, you really wanted to read a book about raccoons, but you want it on kindle. You can go to the top of your Twitter page to the search bar, type in #raccoon and #kindle and…pow. You’ll see every single tweet on Twitter that have either of the subjects. It works with anything. Try it. Go to Twitter and type anything into the search bar. If anybody’s talking about it, it’ll pop up. You can also be very opportunistic using these hash tags if you pay attention to what’s trending. On the left side of the page, you’ll see a list of 10 subjects. Those are all the most popular hash tags for the hour. So, if #Fridayreads is trending, for instance, very quickly put up one of your tweets and hash tag it #Fridayreads. People do check those trends and somebody might just see you r tweet and click your link. Also, to keep track of any chatter about your work, try typing the name of your book into the search bar, then click “ALL”. If anybody’s chatting about it on Twitter, it’ll appear for you to review. Kind of cool, really.

The possibilities of hash tags are endless. #novellines and #novelquotes are good ones. #Goodreads, #Amazon, #mustread, #romance #scifi…the sky is truly the limit. Use them, take advantage of their power, and don’t let them stress you out. But, keep in mind, too many of them in a tweet can be distracting. It’s better most of the time to only have them at the beginning or the end.

**NOTE!! Beware! While nobody can legally own a hash tag, certain ones do belong to certain groups. For instance #ASMSG, Authors Social Media Support Group, is one, as is IAN1, Independent Author Network is another. if you’re not a member of the groups, it’s not always taken kindly that you use their hash tag. So you make sure you know what hash tag you’re using, even if you see it used a lot. Aside from that, a hash tag might be something you DO NOT want to be associated with, as well, even if it’s being used a lot. Don’t glom onto one because you see it all the time and find out it’s a Nazi group or something. People do use them negatively as well. Do your research. It only takes a second to avoid a catastrophe and forever to repair damage you accidentally did to your brand. 

6. FOLLOWERS AND FOLLOWING. Now, Twitter is absolutely useless without these two components. Many an expert will tell you that it is absolutely essential that you without thought or question follow back anybody who follows you. I am going to 100% disagree with this and I’ll tell you why. I have more than one reason. For instance, let’s say that you’re a Christian children’s author. You have a squeaky clean image. You can’t be caught with a lot of Erotica authors following you, or following a lot of Erotica authors, or be retweeting Erotica. They simply don’t fit your brand. It may be that you even enjoy erotica privately, but you STILL can’t be lumped in with the circle in your career. So, in short, if that’s your situation, don’t follow Erotica authors on that platform. If you want to support your Erotica writers, start a new account under a different name and retweet from there to your heart’s desire (those authors deserve support, too), but, remember, your image and brand MUST be protected at all costs. That even goes for Erotica authors as well. If following Children’s authors and retweeting them somehow gives a twisted impression of what you’re about, don’t do it. Again, PROTECT THE BRAND! Some genres allow for anything to be retweeted. If yours isn’t one of them, don’t sweat it. It’s all business in the end, isn’t it? Don’t damage yourself to help a friend. A friend wouldn’t ask you to jeopardize yourself anyway. 

You also don’t want to follow everybody who comes along because you have to keep a ratio on Twitter of people you follow compared to people who follow you. I’m not sure of the exact math involved, but I believe the people you follow must be 10-20% less than the people following you. Once you hit the threshold, Twitter suspends your ability to follow anybody until you’ve got enough followers to make up the difference. You wind up stuck. You won’t be able to grow your platform at all.  

A) So, who do you NOT follow? Well, as your platform grows, you’ll be followed on a regular basis by a ton of “Get 10,000 followers on Twitter, just visit this site!” They’re bots. Ignore them. You’ll get sites like Match,com following you. Unless you’re cruising for a date, don’t follow them back. You’ll get lots of foreign speaking people, too. You might want to translate what they’re tweeting, in case they’re bots, or worse. Most are really nice and can help you grow your platform internationally. Some…yeah, they’re involved in things you don’t agree with and don’t want to be a part of. And, of course, on Twitter, you’ll get lots of people in every language who just want to spout their political and/or religious junk. If you don’t agree with them, don’t follow them. You can build your Twitter platform without being upset by people. Don’t ever feel like you are being rude by not following somebody. You’re not. You’re doing smart business by connecting with people you can actually relate to and help, who can, and will, help you in return. 

The other big thing to consider when choosing whether or not to follow somebody back, is whether or not they retweet anybody. The name of the game and your mission on Twitter is to get the word spread on your books. I don’t care of somebody has 10 million followers, if they don’t retweet, they are not worth your time. Not from a marketing perspective, anyway. And if they don’t follow you back, they never see what you tweet at all, so they’re not helping you. At all. It’s OK to be a fan and follow somebody famous, it’s even fun. But this is your dream, writing and selling your books, and Twitter is, in a very real way, the big. glass window in the front of your personal bookshop. If somebody’s not going to look inside, don’t hold a spot for them just in case someday they might take a peek. They’re probably going to just keep on walking and someone who would be truly interested isn’t going to have a chance to glance inside. 

Also watch out for people who DO retweet, but only retweet tweets having to do with themselves. That’s not helping you, either. That’s making you into an unpaid representative of their greatness. Ego much? Next!

B) OK. Great. You got all that. So who DO you follow? The answer: Everybody else! But let’s be specific as to how to find them. Firstly, you want to follow anybody who retweets you, so as you begin retweeting people, follow the ones who tweet you back. You want to make retweeters your best friends. ALWAYS RETWEET A RETWEETER!! Twitter is a total give and take place.  

Beyond the retweeters, you want to follow people in your line of work. For the most part, especially as you begin, stick to other authors. It helps if they’re in your genre, but you can find many more than willing authors from various genres who will retweet you. You really can make your selections as narrow or as wide as you are willing, but the trick to getting followers is to FOLLOW FIRST. You can follow up to 1,000 people a day, which is actually a little difficult to do, as it means you have to spend an incredible amount of time searching for likely candidates. I don’t think that’s something you’d need to do every day anyway, or even to the extent of 1,000 in a single day, so it’s not something that you really need to even worry about very much. Follow your retweeters and follow several each day that you find interesting and who retweet a lot. 

But don’t just stick to authors, either. I’ve found photographers, artists, and people who sell crafts to be invaluable assets to my Twitter platform. Sellers with e-bay shops and Etsy stores are just as motivated and just as passionate as us writers. Give them a chance, show them your support. They typically support you wholeheartedly in return.

I’d like to take just a moment to tell you how I built my own Twitter Platform. As of this blog, I have 22,742 followers on Twitter. I started my account in June or July of 2012 with no idea of what I was doing. In March of 2013, I had around 5,000 followers, but I became ambitious and set a goal that I wanted 15,000. What I did next was I started looking at my list of people I followed and going to their lists of followers and, basically, shoplifting their peeps. I followed anybody who looked interesting. Most followed me back. Within a couple of months, I hit my 15,000 goal, so I upped it to 20,000. I wanted 20,000 by Christmas, which I achieved with excess.  I did this because I widened my approach to finding people and began looking for other people’s Twitter Lists (You can find them by going to anybody’s Twitter profile. Click on “Tweets” and then look in the upper left hand corner. You’ll see “Lists”. Click that and, if they have any, the lists will appear. That way, they’ve already narrowed your targets for you). I followed like mad off of those lists and I got many follow backs. But this is the kicker. What I didn’t know then is that when somebody follows you back, you may appear in that little box on the left hand side of your feed that says, “Who to Follow”. Except, you’ll appear to the friends of the person who just followed you back. TADA! I was getting dozens of new followers every day with no idea of where they came from. Now, I get over 100 new followers every single day, by doing nothing, really. This does not include the fact that I still use other people’s lists to find and follow new people. 

At the first of the month, through the 15th of every month, I actively follow new people. I stop on the 15th and I wait until the last week of the month to see who follows me back. I make it a general rule to not follow people who don’t follow me, because, from a business standpoint, if somebody’s not following me, they can’t see my tweets. And if they can’t see my tweets, they certainly are not retweeting me. I’m not on Twitter just for fun (even though it is), so we must part ways at that point where it’s not a give and take. Anyway, there are tons of sites than can help you manage your non-followers and unfollowers, but my favorite is justunfollow.com. I go on it once a day and unfollow anybody who’s unfollowed me, plus once a month I look to see who has been inactive for more than 3 months and I unfollow them, too. The last week of the month, after adding so many people, I unfollow those who didn’t follow me back. This not only cuts down on my clutter, but it makes me more effective on Twitter, and it keeps that follower to follow ratio I talked about earlier in check, so I never get frozen by Twitter in my quest to grow my platform.

There are exceptions to my unfollowing, like the writer I know who became inactive because she was getting her Phd and a couple of folks I just really like. For those exceptions, there is a whitelist function on justunfollow that allows you to put those people on a list where you can’t accidentally unfollow them. But, for the most part, if somebody’s not helping me achieve my goals, I simply let them go. I really do wish them all the best, but this is business and I intend to succeed. I don’t have a lot of time to waste on folks who aren’t willing to help me get there. And neither should YOU. 

OK, this is blog getting very long, so to wrap this up, here are a couple of things I’ve picked up and learned from the time I’ve spent on Twitter:

MARKETING TIPS FOR TWITTER.    

A) Look and Listen. There is a ton of things going on all the time on Twitter. Take a minute before you plunge right in. Look at who’s on there, watch what they’re doing. How are they setting up their tweets? What is their voice? How are they engaging their existing customers, as well as their potential ones? Think back to your brand and remember what your goals are. How can you emulate the successful marketing techniques of others to reach your own goals? Think about it. Take your time, form a plan, and then execute it. But remember, borrow, don’t steal. You can’t rip somebody else off and be successful. Figure out a way to take what they do that works for them and make something of your own. 

B) Remember you are real time. On Twitter, you are your own news broadcaster. The information you provide is up to the second and your audience is always waiting. You can use that to the best advantage. Just finished your book? Feel like launching a sneak peek at Chapter One on your blog? Do it. Tweet it. Create an immediate buzz, make a stir. Get people talking before the book comes out, keep them talking with tantalizing tweets, and, then, when the book does release, you can tell them the minute it goes live on Amazon. Twitter offers something that no other site really does…real time, one on one, exchange and excitement. Take advantage of it every chance you get. 

C) On the spot Promotions. Book sales down? Drop your price for the weekend and tweet all about it. Run a time special deal. People love that and they respond to it very well most of the time. Contact a couple of your loyal, retweeting peers and ask them if they’ll help you by tweeting your promo for a day or two. You may find you have just breathed new breath into sleepy sales. As well, a book signing pops up someplace, but you’ve had no chance to promote it otherwise? Twitter, my friends, is your best bet to reach as many people as possible, as quickly as you can, and get them there.

D) Immediate Customer Service. Embarrassing little story here. When I first launched my book, my upload didn’t go very well. Lots of stupid errors and weird little punctuation marks where they didn’t belong. I also had formatting issues. It looked OK in the “Look Inside” thingy on Amazon, but, in reality, it was a mess. People told me on Twitter. I fixed it. If they hadn’t said anything on Twitter, I wouldn’t have known, as not a single one had bothered to e-mail me. The problem was fixed, I let everybody know via Twitter, and if my readers were interested, there was an updated version available for them to download. We were all still friends and we, as well as my book, lived happily ever after. 

In closing, there are many other topics, tips and tricks I didn’t even touch upon in this blog, such as promoted accounts and promoted tweets, but I promised when I began writing these blogs to keep the topics discussed on the free side. If I’ve done anything right with this particular blog, you’ve learned a few things about the potential power of a large, solid Twitter platform, and if you don’t have one, you’ll have at least a basis for knowing how to create one. Remember, I am only one woman. Never be afraid to ask others or to try something different on your own. Color outside the lines. The opportunities for Social Media Marketing are as endless as the imaginations of the people using it. Make what you can of everything, and make the most out of Twitter. It’s there, like every other opportunity, waiting to be seized. So go get it and get your dreams while you’re at it, too. With hard work, perseverance, and imagination, you can do it. We all can. 

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