Charles Christian on Why Tweet? Why Not!

A writer friend recently commented that she knew she ought to do more on Twitter and Facebook to promote her books but just couldn't summon up the enthusiasm. I can sympathise with how she feels as that was my first experience with Twitter when I first signed up with it in 2008 then gave up after six months because I just couldn't see the point. Talking of 'see' – awful pun alert – I see the Holy See in the shape of Pope Benedict only joined Twitter this month!

But back to my experiences… by 2009 I'd begun to see the light (helped by the fact there were by then some decent apps for using Twitter on smartphones) and since then I've gone on from strength to strength and (at the time of writing) I've now posted nearly 13,000 updates on the service.

Why do it? The simple answer is why not?

It is a free service – let me repeat that FREE – as are all the other social media/social networking platforms, including Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn to name the rest of the Big Four platforms. And, in a world where all writers need to be in contact with their readers and potential audiences more than ever before (because publishers and agents are never again going to promote authors and market books the way they used to a decade ago) you should take advantage of every promotional channel that is available.

But, and there is an important caveat here… note the word social as in social media and social networking. This is not meant to be a one-way broadcasting medium. Your audience does not want a monologue, they wanted to be offered the possibility of dialogue. To go back to the social analogy again, if you were in a wine bar with an acquaintance and they just talked at you all the time, telling you how great they are and what a wonderful author they are and how talented they are and why their new book is fantastic, you would politely and very quietly tip-toe away and make a mental note never to be caught with them again. (Yes, I know a lot of writers – and creative writing tutors – have yet to realise this.)

Another point to note is that when Twitter (and similar but now defunct services) first emerged in 2005/2006, they were called micro-blogging sites – and you can't blog much more micro than 140 characters. True, this does lead to some boring "I had a cheese sandwich for lunch today LoL" tweets. But, thanks to the fact you can also add documents, photos and website URLs to your tweets, you can encapsulate a lot of information in that very small 140 character package.

Twitter is perfect for communicating news. It is perfect for communicating comment – particularly if you are somewhere where it is not possible to fire up your laptop, open WordPress or Blogger and post a conventional blog entry. It has an element of immediacy – if you are an event or a reading you can tweet from there. It is ideal for communicating quips, jokes and funny pictures – particularly as all smartphones also include cameras. It can also be used to push content in the direction of your audience, such as links to your full length blog posts, whereas otherwise they have to make the effort to visit your blog or website. (As distinct from pull media where you rely on the strength of the content to regularly pull in visitors.)

In otherwords, it is an ideal way to communicate the less formal, human side of you to your readers and potential audiences. If you want examples of how this is done well, follow Neil Gaiman at @neilhimself – yes he talks about his books, writing and personal appearances but he also tweets about everything else that interests him. Ditto Joe Hill at joe_hill – another genre author and incidentally the son of Stephen King.

It makes you think "they sound interesting, likeable guys… maybe I'll check out their books." And not "what an obnoxious prat, I'll never buy one of their books" which is how my encounters with a couple of other self-publicising bores on social media leave me feeling.

Yes, of course it can sometimes go horribly wrong, as Starbucks are finding to their cost with their current #SpreadtheCheer campaign on Twitter (and please employ a #hashtag if you use Twitter for several different purposes – my day-job tweets are always identified by a #legalit hashtag to distinguish them from other stuff) but that is no reason for not trying it.

There again, any form of publicity and marketing activity can flop for reasons outside your control or you never anticipated when you set them up. The good news is you have a reading at a nice venue in town, the bad news is the weather is terrible or there is an key football match/reality TV show final whatever on TV, so only your Mum and her poodle turn up on the night.

And, sometimes social media can deliver surprising results. I was chairing a conference in Stockholm in November and using the opportunity when I wasn't performing to tweet about the event, as were several other people in the audience. The tweets were picked up and then retweeted by some of our followers in the United States and then retweeted by their followers. For a few minutes the event went viral and the event becoming the top trending event on Twitter globally, beating both #Christmas and #Rihanna in the popularity stakes. Then, when I tweeted the fact our event was the more popular than Christmas or Rihanna, that became the top trending tweet globally.

OK, so in a few minutes it was all over and something else became the top trending tweet – and obviously you cannot build a career upon a few transient minutes of social media fame but it never-the-less raised the global profile of that regional European event to a far greater degree than would otherwise have been possible. And it was all done at no expense.

Final thoughts? A tweet is only 140 characters long. Just how busy are you that you can't produce a least one of these day! (Incidentally you can also simultaneously tweet directly from Twitter to Facebook and LinkedIn so getting three bangs for your bucks.) A tweet takes far less time to write and post than a traditional blog post. And, given that your audiences are also busy people, it takes them far less time to keep up with you than to read your blog posts.

So, to go out where I came in, the question is not why should I tweet, but why on Earth would I not want to tweet?

Charles Christian can be founding tweeting away at @ChristianUncut


Hywela Lyn said…
Great post, Christian. I have to admit to not being a great Twitter fan. I do tweet if I have anything to announce, but am only really active when I remember to switch on 'Tweet Deck' - will try to do better.

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