I should start by owning up to the fact that I find Twitter to be, how to say delicately, a totally trivial and useless invention. Yes, I acknowledge that it can be used to expose and share information in times of crisis (as occurred during the Arab Spring). And yes, I understand that millions of people may enjoy reading what Beyonce’s publicist fire hoses out under her name every hour (although I don’t know why). And finally, I agree that it’s possible to use Twitter responsibly to share important information, and important information only (except that almost nobody seems to have that much self-restraint).
As you can see, I come to this topic with certain biases, so it may be possible that I would use Twitter more successfully if I was more open minded. Still, my personal experiences lead me to believe that even when Twitter is used as recommended by social media professionals, it can at best play a supporting role to more effective promotional efforts. Here are five reasons why:
1. Would you buy a book simply because it was recommended in a tweet by someone you don’t know personally?
2. If you’ve acquired a large following, I expect you probably automatically follow everyone that followed you. Something seems to happen magically when you get to about 300 followers that flips a switch. Now you’ll likely pick up a few more followers every time you send a tweet. But when you take a look those who are following you, you’ll see that half or more are obviously following you only you’ll follow them back (if you don’t, they drop you). In short, some significant percentage of many people on Twitter are simply meaningless, robotic connections. Keep tweeting and you, too, can become part of this perpetual motion tweeting machine.
3. If you’ve been retweeted by someone with 216,000 followers and didn’t sell one book in the next twenty-four hours, what does that tell you?
4. If you don’t see anything of value in the thousands of tweets you receive every day, why should you expect that your tweets will stick out in someone else’s feed if they get an equal number? In point of fact, I expect that most people with big followings on Twitter set up a group of people they actually want to follow and totally ignore the rest. How could they do otherwise and still have a life?
5. How many tweets do you get from people who probably didn’t bother to finish reading (or even read at all) what they just posted? This is particularly common among people pushing services to authors (not to mention some authors, too), who figure that if something has anything to do with self-publishing at all, it’s twitter fodder. That way they can keep their name in front of potential customers multiple times a day without constantly asking directly for your money.
So if it’s really that bad out there, is there a way that an author can use Twitter responsibly and successfully? The answer to the first half of that question is, “of course.” The answer to the second, I submit, will rely a lot on your success in achieving the first. For what it’s worth, here are five more observations based on my experience, and this time they’re intended to be helpful.
1. For a long time, I only accepted follows from people and businesses I thought I would actively follow. The result was that my own total rose slowly, because most of those that I did not follow were commercial, and they quickly deleted me from their lists, making their original intentions clear. As an experiment, I started reciprocating to every follow, and immediately my own number of followers began to rise, even though I only sent out a tweet very rarely. If you want to do the same thing, I suggest setting up a group of all the people you actually want to follow, so that you can give them appropriate attention.
2. Do well by doing good. Retweeting articles is excellent example of this, since you get someone else out in front of your followers as well as yourself, and you didn’t have to look farther than you’re own Twitter feed to find something worth sharing. Also be a pal and retweet when another author issues a new book or put one on sale (but not anything you wouldn’t send if related to your own work).
3. Rarely, if ever, send out a “buy my book” tweet. Exceptions would be when it’s your turn to issue a new book or put one on sale.
4. Above all else, unless you have access to really good material, tweet only occasionally and only when you have something truly valuable to share. Stated the other way around, never tweet anything that you wouldn’t be interested in reading yourself, and grateful to have someone bring to your attention. If it doesn’t pass that test, don’t send it. Better to be heard from sparingly and gratefully than frequently and ignored.
5. If you’re tweeting as an author to an audience rather than to your friends and family, remember that no one wants to know what you had for lunch/just saw on TV/heard someone say. Come to think of it, your friends and family probably don’t, either.
So what’s the bottom line, then? Is Twitter worth it, or not? Where I come out is that it’s not worth much at all standing alone. But when it’s used synergistically with all of your other promotional efforts, it can help create an overall, collective presence that is larger and more effective than if you didn’t engage with Twitter at all. If I’m right, that means that it needn’t take up that much of your time, either.
If you’ve success with Twitter, I’d love to hear how you go about it, especially if it’s in a different way than I’ve described. Meanwhile, don’t forget that there’s a Twitter button beneath this entry (wink).