Do annoying tweets sell your books?

I joined a brief Twitter interchange the other weekend over the way different writers use the service. Brief for me – the Twitter API went down 28 seconds later.

I picked up that people get annoyed with spammers and bots, and with tweeters who repeat the same pointer to their blog, or book for days. Not surprising. Sometimes I get the impression that Twitter is a sea of people shouting “Me! Me! Me!”, usually via bots that dump dozens of the same tweets into the system.

Bad karma, that. And really, really annoying. There’s plenty of advice about about how to behave properly – the best I’ve seen is Kristen Lamb’s excellent series, check out her posts on the protocols. She’s also highlighted the point, which I’ve thought for a very long time, that traditional marketing methods usually don’t sell books.

That lesson was rammed home to me back in the 1990s when I discovered that – certainly in New Zealand – it could cost publishers’ reps more to do their bookstore rounds than they could make from commissions on sales. Partly a function of a tiny market. But indicative of something fundamentally flawed in the distribution system – and the marketing model. That was failing at every step from misfiring media promotions (not hitting the right audience) to failing to fire the enthusiasms of the reps to push titles to store buyers (books not available for the target audience or opportunity buyers). There’s a lot more than that, which I won’t detail here – suffice to say, I could see my books out there (and sometimes not out there), I could see a target audience. How could I get them together?

I think authors need several strategies – of which social networking is one, if it’s worked right. There seems a general agreement that spamming (‘buy my books, RT this, buy that’) is working it wrong. Yet Susan Kiernan-Lewis tells us of a tweet-spammer who found the technique successful for selling his books. He was wracked with unease, it grated with his personal preferences – but it worked commercially. Interesting.

I’m not sure it’s a long term strategy. If I annoy people by spamming – well, maybe it might shift a couple of titles like that guy Susan remarked about. More? Maybe. Personally I don’t intend testing it.

For me the strength of social networking is its ubiquity, its novelty – and the fact that it’s very likely to be an important way for connecting in the future. We’re at the beginning of a sharp curve. But it’s also an abstraction of the way we interact in person – more focussed, intensified, and heavily limited.

Limited? Sure. Don’t be fooled by reach and its instantaneous nature. The computer frames and controls our communication in specific and quite prescriptive ways. We have to shape what we do around the limits. And it is going to intensify interactions, because social networking is usually words. It doesn’t have the subtleties picked up in face-to-face contact. It is easy to misfire – for an ironic comment to appear sarcastic or plain rude, for instance. Twitter’s even more intense because it has only about a dozen words, if you’re lucky.

Networking also encourages game-playing in some people. Sometimes some quite offensive game-playing, like trolling. (Next week, ‘Feeding the Troll with Virtual Sodium Monofluoroacetate’).

The other difference from ‘real life’ is volume. If you’re in a crowded room, you can block out conversations and focus on what you’re interested in. Speech also tends to be fragmented and un-linear. But social networking is a linear thread, right in your face. There’s no variation of intensity – especially if you’ve got half a dozen Tweetdeck columns up.

What this adds up to is ground rules that look like – but aren’t – the rules we follow in everyday interaction. And people who‘game’ the system via Marketing 101 techniques only succeed in making themselves very unpopular.

In my world, if you want to send a message to somebody, personalise it – which means doing it manually. Yet – yet, another feature of Facebook feeds or Twitter messages – even with TweetDeck or HootSuite – is that they are transient. Their lifespan is measured in minutes or hours. Twitter reaches a world audience, and half the people you’re trying to give the heads-up to are going to be asleep. Or miss it in the flood of incoming, even if they’ve got TweetDeck. So it seems reasonable to offer a heads-up a few times, manually and with new wording, over a day. Without falling into the spam trap.

Does anybody have any thoughts about this? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

9 thoughts on “Do annoying tweets sell your books?

  1. I agree. If someone keeps filling my twitter feed with self promoting tweets, I stop following them very quickly. I recently unfollowed an educator who had great ideas to offer, but after 30 tweets in a day, I’d had enough.

    I think 3 tweets a day to promote a new blog post or something similar is the absolute maximum, and they need to be spaced out – say maybe one every 4 hours to reach people in different parts of the world.

    But even at 3 per day, I start to find it a little spammy – 2 I can tolerate easily.


  2. I always tweet a link to a new blog post. I might even do it a couple of times over a couple of days, but I wouldn’t want to send it every 4 minutes for 2 hours, which some people seem to do. I find that annoying and I just ignore their tweets so they’ve lost the power of the tweet. They might get more people to see it but they’re going to alienate their followers.

    I send everyone who follows me (who I didn’t follow first) a personal direct message on twitter thanking them and politely asking them if they have a chance maybe visit my blog. I get a decent percentage doing so but it’s me asking not a bot.


  3. I’ve not quite been able to face the world of Twitter yet, but I do understand the transience of whatever is posted either here or in other forums, particularly when we miss the chance of reaching people in America. So maybe I should get on there after all.
    Good thoughts – thank you!


  4. Thank you for your thoughts – I must admit, I only got on to Twitter because my publishers, Random House, needled me to do it. It’s been a good experience. I’ve been able to make contact with some really interesting people, and been pointed to some really interesting stuff that I might not otherwise have seen. But there is, unfortunately, that down side of the hard-sellers.


  5. Yes there’s definitely a fine line. From personal experience, I don’t mind seeing the same message again and again. If it’s only once every few hours. But if the message obscures my timeline in any way (and having two people tweeting the same thing at the same time counts), I will first warn the people. Then I unfollow.

    Also, if something draws my attention to a specific account, I’ll go look at it’s recent tweets. If nothing personal pops out to me, I unfollow.

    If I wanted to read 140 character ads over and over, I’ll buy classifieds.


  6. Sounds sensible. One of the annoyances about RT’s is the way the same tweet ends up on the timeline – I try to edit the hashtags where I can to avoid that in part, if I’m re-tweeting. And that gets the story out further to interested people. Doesn’t always work because of the 140 character limit.


Comments are closed.