The Truth about Twitter

Like Randy Ross, I’m a Twitter fan.  As an author and blogger I’ve used Twitter to drive traffic to my blog and Amazon page, generate clicks on that “buy now” button and make priceless connections that have led to unsolicited reviews.  As a publicist, I do the same for clients.  Twitter is also my water cooler and favorite distraction during long days of working from home.

That said, Twitter love requires awareness.  For it comes with a big caveat if you’re tweeting with book promotion in mind.  That is: Twitter may be easy to use, but as a marketing tool it’s far more complex than meets the eye.

Here’s why:

 1. Twitter’s targeting and network-building abilities are not all that sophisticated

If you’re in book promotion mode, you’ll need to reach readers who like your genre or themes.  Yet there is no single, simple way to search for readers by genre on Twitter, whether you’re using Tweetdeck, Hootsuite or even some of the pricey software out there.  Not to mention that Twitter’s suggestions of “who to follow” and users “similar to you” will almost always lead you directly to other writers and authors who are on Twitter for exactly the same reason you are, and are more interested in promoting themselves than in finding books to read.

2. Twitter’s “follow limits” complicate the process of building the right audience

Having a big base of appropriate followers is key to making Twitter work for you as a marketing tool.  But unless you’re already famous, to build that base you have to initiate relationships with the users you’re targeting by following them first --  kind of like asking them out on a date.

Given Twitter’s targeting challenges, the quickest and easiest way to accomplish this would be to play the probability game of following everybody who likes to read, or everybody who follows other authors publishing in your genre.  Which is gazillions. Twitter makes this game nearly impossible, though, by setting a threshold of 2000 followed users, above which following more becomes trickier.  In Twitter’s own words:

“Every user can follow 2,000 people total. Once you’ve followed 2000 users, there are limits to the number of additional users you can follow: this limit is different for every user and is based on your ratio of followers to following.  When you hit this limit, we’ll tell you by showing an error message in your browser. You’ll need to wait until you have more followers in order to follow more users—basically, you can't follow 10,000 people if only 100 people follow you.”

Of course, the point of these limits is to keep spammers away, which is a good thing for all.

3. Content matters on Twitter.  A lot.

With all the topics out there to tweet about, all the different possible ways to express the same idea (in 140 characters or less) and so many trillions of tweets flowing through the Twitterverse at once, your tweets need to purposeful and well-crafted to work for you as marketing tools.  This means thinking strategically about what you say, how you say it and to whom.

4. Twitter is a slow build.

It takes a long time to build a strong following of appropriate people and see the marketing results.

None of this means that you should shy away from Twitter.  Quite the opposite: it means that you’ll need to spend a good chunk of time there and seek clever workarounds to each of these caveats.

For example, to overcome Twitter’s lack of targeting sophistication you’ll need to become a sophisticated targeter yourself by:

  • Giving careful thought to who might be drawn to your book and your tweets.

  • Crafting your profile in a way that’ll help those users find you (hint: mentioning your love of chocolate or dogs won’t accomplish this unless your book has something to do with...chocolate or dogs).

  • Meticulously combing through lists of Twitter users before you follow them to weed out the ones who don’t seem like good matches for you (it’s that asking-them-out-on-a-date thing).

As for the follow limits, weeding out unlikely prospects helps.  So does following slowly, every few days at most, in small batches of 20 - 30 users, and unfollowing people who don’t follow you back after a couple of weeks.  JustUnfollow is a great online tool that will help.

When it comes to content, you can apply writerly wisdom:

  • Find the heart of each story (i.e., each tweet).

  • Be specific.

  • Use relevant detail (e.g., when you tweet a link to a book review, try quoting a nice line from the review instead of saying, “Check out this great review!”).

  • Every word counts.

The slow-build challenge has one simple workaround: start early.  Don’t wait until your agent nags you or your book is in production to become a tweep.  Ideally, you’ll start getting your mind around everything I’ve said here and building fluency in hashtags and “@ mentions” at the same time you’re banging out your very first draft.


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About the Author

Sharon Bially is a professional publicist and founder of the boutique PR firm BookSavvy PR. In addition to BookSavvy, she directs media relations campaigns for businesses as a consultant to MBS Value Partners.  Author of the independent novel Veronica's Nap Sharon is an active Grub Street member and a regular contributor to the popular blog Writer Unboxed.

See other articles by Sharon Bially
by Sharon Bially



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