‘The Twitterverse’ for Marketing and Research

Recently I had the experience device owner fears – I managed to knock my iPhone4 into a sink full of water. My first instinct wasn’t to ‘Phone a friend’, or even my network provider, or the Apple shop. I didn’t jump onto Google to find out what to do.

Without even thinking about it I immediately tweeted and asked my fellow ‘tweeps’ for advice. Instantly I received a number of suggestions and retweets and ideas of where to look up the information or (in one case) a gloomy prognosis on the future life of my iPhone.

Based on the first suggestion I received I THEN jumped onto Google to find the relevant link, read forums and even looked at various videos on YouTube to research the best approach. However the first suggestion I received via Twitter was the one that I followed, and happily it worked out all really well for me, and my beloved iPhone. (If you want to know what that suggestion was and what I did, see at the bottom of this post for the answer!)

Once I reflected on the fact that Twitter was my first port of call in this iPhone crisis it made me consider how my information-gathering had changed in recent times.

By the way, if you’ve stumbled across this article and you are just starting out on Twitter then reading a few articles first is important. At the bottom of this blog post I link to a few that you might find handy.

Once upon a time most information I gleaned on the publishing industry would have been via networking, training or print publications. When I started consulting, access to those print publications came at a price that was prohibitive to a sole trader.

Along the way I’d found a number of relevant sites and blogs that posted regular updates so I started using Google Reader as a way to keep myself up to date on commentary and news. Although this works as a method of updates, I found I often fell behind in my reading, indicating that it wasn’t the best way for me to keep across what was happening.

By this stage LinkedIn was emerging as a great way to be in contact with like-minded industry professionals and a number of relevant groups were set up. I joined many of the groups aimed at people interested in Book Publishing, Ebooks, Audio Books, Mobile Content and the range of Digital Publishing. By joining those groups I received regular emails filling me in on what was being discussed in those groups, along with links to breaking news. I found this worked really well as a way to bring the news to me.

Around 2 ½ years ago I joined Twitter so that I could start working out what this thing was! I found some of the people I admired on LinkedIn and followed their twitter feeds. Thanks to those helpful ‘Who to Follow’ or ‘Similar to’ recommendations and seeing who my favourite ‘digital gurus’ followed I’ve built up a strong but focussed list of people who give me ALL news I want. I get the news directly on my Twitter stream, often earlier than any other news source. Let’s face it, anyone on Twitter heard about the death of Osama Bin Laden way before any of the traditional news outlets had anything online. It was exactly the same with the recent natural disasters throughout Australia or New Zealand or Japan. While these clearly aren’t anything to do with digital publishing, they are still news updates I want to hear, and it’s exactly the same with developments or announcements that ARE to do with digital.

How Authors and Publishers use Twitter

At the recent Sydney Writers Festival I attended Marketing in the Age of Twitter, with author Tristan Bancks and Editorial Director Alvina Ling from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

They both had some really interesting and relevant advice and feedback on how they use Twitter and how they engage with like-minded people on this platform and other social media.

Alvina started blogging about 5 years ago on Friendster and was very aware of social networking as an editor. She made this part of her job and finds one of the benefits is that instead of doing mass emails she can do a Twitter update to send people to relevant updated information on her blog. She felt this was a great way of supporting the authors she was working with by sharing information about what they were doing. She said that blogs are a useful medium for authors to use to communicate back-stories or behind the scenes information on what they are working on.

Alvina mentioned the VERY relevant fact that when an writer is being considered by a publishing company it is likely they will be Googled to assess their web presence. Do they have a website? Do they have a Blog? What can you tell about their personality from how they communicate online as a way of assessing if she would like to work with them?

Writers often say “We just want to write! I don’t want anything to take me away from writing, why am I am now hearing I need to blog and twitter, why is all of this important?” The sad cold reality of the fact is I’ve sat in many an acquisitions meeting where the marketability of an author was discussed. How comfortable are they doing interviews? Do they have a large following already that may translate into book purchasers? Do they have a good media presence that will help them get reviews or mentions when a book goes on sale? All these things DO matter, although none of them will matter if the title isn’t worthy of publication in the first place.

“But my job is to write, isn’t all this the role of the Publisher?” Well, yes and no. Yes, your role IS to produce the book, but who knows if you’ll always stay with the same publisher so aren’t you better off controlling your OWN online presence? An aspiring author may dream that being published means a lovely big book launch with champagne flowing and loads of press and marketing support. The reality is that the book launch is more and more unlikely while everyone is trimming budgets (unless you’re Peter Carey of course). As for marketing – a large publisher will be releasing a high volume of titles every month and the focus will be put into a few key leading titles so the more publicity an author can do to support sales the better!

A publisher can support and direct you in your publicity initiatives and hopefully your publisher will focus on the marketing to retailers.  Tristan sees the relationship between the publisher and writer as a partnership – if they see you are actively doing things then they may support you by also doing things to sell your book and giving you feedback on your ideas.

Book publishers are embracing Twitter as part of their integrated Social Media Marketing and engaging in conversations with readers and booksellers and authors. When Twitter is done well it’s not a hard-sell on products (books in this case) but also part of the larger conversations around the interests that their readers share.

Social Media – the great time gobbler

There is a real and definite concern amongst everyone venturing into social media about how much time can be absorbed updating and maintaining various forms. It’s true that this is something to be considered and does need a certain discipline. Generally I have Twitter open and the stream jumping up on my screen, I do need to turn it off when I need to focus on a particular task. If I didn’t I’d be distracted and find myself jumping in and out all the time.

Tristan said the way it works for him is he writes in the mornings for about four hours, and then has the afternoons to update his blog or twitter or emails.  Alvina mentioned an author who has Twitter open all the time and in fact said “when I’m on Twitter it shows that I’m working”. For her, she writes, she checks Twitter and then she writes some more. Everyone has a different way that they works for them and there’s no one way that works for all.

Alvina said that some authors are quite shy and scared about putting things about themselves out there, but really you can share what you want. Tristan said he mostly likes Twitter for what is shared from a useful sense about books and the industry and doesn’t really put any personal information on Twitter.

Alvina encourages authors to build up their brands as themselves, not their first book. More and more these days publicity is important for an author to stand out, and social networking is a substitute for a one on one conversation that really helps sell a book.

Is Social Networking making us too isolated?

People may say they feel that social networking is isolating but I disagree. On Twitter I’ve connected with like-minded people although I wouldn’t recognise them if I walked past them on the street. Mind you, I did get recognised at the Sydney Writers Festival by one of my followers and that was quite an odd experience initially but also really nice once I worked out who she was. We’ve since emailed and are lining up a time to talk digital publishing. I’d like to make more ‘real-life’ connections but I’m sure that will happen in time.

Facebook and Twitter were also a great way for me to feel connected with the world and my friends when I was thrown suddenly into the world of parenting a few years ago. I’m quite a social person so long periods at home without any other adult company was a bit of a shock and without social media I think I would have gone a bit crazy. (And my parenting experience really WAS suddenly! While most people get the whole pregnancy to prepare, when you become foster parents to a newborn baby on a few days notice you fast-track life changes!).

Comparing Social Media

Greg Savage on a recent blog post described Facebook like a pub (an informal place, where people get together with old friends); Twitter like a cocktail party (high energy, lots going on, mostly quite cordial); LinkedIn like a tradeshow (there for business and connections) and YouTube like the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (Pretty much anything goes).  I loved his analogies, and think they’re pretty apt!

For Alvina Facebook is for friends and people they have met and actually know. I completely agree and don’t accept Facebook friend requests unless I know you in real life. On Facebook I talk about my whole life; the kids, the animals, holidays, anything I’m thrilled about or finding difficult. Although I DO post an occasional link to relevant industry articles or my latest blog post, a lot of my friends frankly aren’t in the same field and most of them don’t read my blog posts anyway! Twitter I only tend to talk about digital, technology and the book field and not at all about my personal life.

For those people who are afraid of Twitter, Alvina shared what she loves: YOU choose who to follow; YOU choose what you put out there, and YOU choose how often you’re on there. She sees it as a very useful tool and a great way to network.

To Follow or Not to Follow

Anyone on Twitter will receive a notification of followers and I do always get around to checking who the new followers are.

Who I WILL follow on Twitter:

  • People or organisations that form my core interests (for Twitter). That is Digital Publishing, Writers, Publishers, Booksellers, Tech news, Design, Typography, Trends, Social Media (especially when related to books), some Foodies, some Travel writers and anyone who I find interesting.
  • Friends and people I know in real life.

Who I won’t follow on Twitter:

  • Anyone who is telling me they can help me make money from home/increase my traffic/sends me spam.
  • Anyone called ‘Trixie’ who ‘likes to try new things!!!!’ No offence intended to anyone called Trixie, this is just a random name!
  • Those who do too much hard sell of their products or services. I probably know about you anyway and although you’re on Twitter to highlight these don’t let that be all that you tweet about or else it gets a bit tired.

Note: People or organisations who just trying to build followers will often follow you and then unfollow later anyway so if they are out of your interests don’t feel compelled out of politeness to follow them.

  • People who follow me and haven’t yet tweeted. Really, sit back and watch for a while, then post some tweets so I know who you are and what you tweet about. Although some people automatically follow, I don’t because I don’t want my feed clogged up unless it’s relevant. In my time-poor life the chances of me going back and checking you later are slim. The exception to this is if you’re a friend because I already know you’re funny/clever/interesting and I like what you say.
  • People who tweet conversations instead of using Direct Messages so I’m getting too much back-and-forth in my steam. The exceptions to this are people who ARE interesting and I enjoy watching the banter.

Recently I read some information relating to Dunbar’s number and that indicates that the maximum number of connections you can keep across is between 100-200! Therefore, if you follow me and I don’t follow you back, don’t be offended!

Some useful Twitter how-to links           

Twitter has a range of articles on the basics  here.

I also came across this article from Sometimespace showing you examples and is designed with the new Twitter user in mind.

And if you are really new to Twitter and don’t understand the what RT or MT or DM means in ‘Twitter-speak’ then a quick glance through this article should help you out!

Back to that wet iPhone 4!

If you have read all the way to the end of this post to find out what I did with my slightly soggy iPhone4 I should at least give you the answer!

One of my Twitter-followers directed me to this article on Cnet. I immediately turned the iPhone off, wrapped it in kitchen paper, put it in a ziplock bag with rice and placed it near (but not too near) our gas heater overnight. Although the advise was not to turn it on for a few days I had to go to the Sydney Writers Festival so I risked it. I had some function, but limited function. When the battery ran out I put it back in the ziplock bag for another 24 hours.  After that it worked well enough, but I got annoying messages about compatibility of accessories and the volume control didn’t work so eventually took it to the Mac shop. Naturally enough they have a way to detect moisture issues so you may be lucky but can reasonably expect to pay for a new handset!

PS: I’m giving a nod to my Twitter-pal Nicola Santilli for the ‘Twitterverse’ part of this blog title. Nicola mentioned how she always uses ‘Twitterverse’ versus ‘Twittersphere’ after I tweeted about the later being added to the Oxford Dictionary recently. I agree with her and it is now firmly embedded into my ‘Twitter-talk’!

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