Marketing on Twitter: What Works and What doesn't

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How Twitter works for you depends on the number of followers, and, more importantly, on the kind of followers you have. 

Marketing will make sense if you've pitched it at the RIGHT audience. If not, it's a waste of time, this much is obvious.

Problem number One: Know your audience.

Too much emphasis has been placed on the NUMBER of followers you've got. To have a lot is good, but who they are is what counts if you want your marketing to be successful.
If you're a businessman, you know your market, you know what your interests are, no problem there. The first article I've attached below gives you all you need to know.

For artists and especially writers, it's different. And it is very surprising how few writers really know what audience they are writing for. Most writers see themselves as fitting into a genre - romance, sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, whatever - and feel that if they've got a majority of people interested in that genre following them, they're ok. Trouble is: most of those followers are likely to be other writers belonging to that same genre. That's fine, they're readers too, but, remember, other writers are NOT an author's major market. 

The potential fan base for any writer is obviously much large than the writing/publishing community.

So how do you reach out of the writing/publishing community? Very difficult. My advice would be to seek out readers in readers' clubs, like Goodreads, Shelfari etc. and join groups reading in your genre. Make comments, make yourself known on the forums, and...get them on Twitter!

Now there may be other ways to do this. If you have any idea, please tell me!

Problem number two: How to market on Twitter

So now you're pretty sure you've got the right audience out there and you're ready to market your book on Twitter. There’s the direct pitch: "buy my book, it's available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc"! You can do it yourself or get your friends to do it – better the latter, at least it’s not you standing up there alone, hollering ‘buy my book’, which, let’s face it, makes you look pretty silly…

Not only that, but there's a real danger on Twitter: too many tweets on the same subject and soon enough you're considered a spammer! People will turn you off and unfollow you.
So you need to be considerably more savvy about this: use the indirect pitch!

How does an Indirect Pitch Work?

Allow me to explain. It all came out in the course of a recent discussion I was having with a friend of mine, who’s both a professional writer and a passionate reader. I was telling her how I have NEVER bought a book on the basis of a tweet, and she explained to me how Twitter works for her.
Her attention is caught by a clever tweet – either a line from the book or from a review of the book – and then since she has a Kindle, she goes straight to the Kindle Store and downloads the book – usually a 99 cents one. 

So here’s the winning equation:
Twitter on phone + Kindle = instant access to books = impulse buying of books that are cheap (99 cents - maximum $2.99).

Looks neat and easy, doesn't it? 

You're probably wondering how many people have both Twitter and Kindle. Quite a few, actually, so it is a very plausible strategy. But this strategy, the way my friend reported it, has another aspect that I'm sure you noticed: she bought a low-priced book. How determining is the 99 cents price? Pretty important for impulse buying. Actually, impulse buying probably also works well for $2.99 (the better price level for the author since that's where royalties kick in at the higher 70% level). 

We’ll never know whether it’s Twitter or the 99 cents price that works the magic!
Still, something useful can be concluded from all this:
  • The kind of tweet you send has to be attention-grabbing: for example, a “line from the book” will work if it hits you in 140 characters; this means you have to really work hard to perfect the pitch for your book: a short line is a lot harder than a long paragraph!
  • A line from someone’s review can be equally effective: this means you have to extract from your reviews just such a line and you better use the name of an authoritative reviewer, someone who has his/her own following!
What about Twitter contests? I have my doubts. A Twitter contest will work if you have a broad audience going well beyond other like-minded, like-genre writers. Otherwise, it will fall flat on its face. It will work if the Twitter re-tweeting feature works its magic, as people re-tweet news of your contest to their own followers.

But all this assumes that your followers actually read your tweets. Now, if you have a few and they are close friends, they surely will. If you have a lot, well...a lot of them probably won't. There's a sort of game  on Twitter where the point is to get the largest possible number of followers, playing on Twitter etiquette which requires you to follow back. But this is of course not an iron rule, and a lot of people have caught on and don't follow back. And all these people who are into this game of building up their numbers hardly take the time to read...

So, to what extent is Twitter marketing effective if most (a lot? some?) people don't read their tweet stream? And when you're beyond a certain number - say 200, or 500, or worse 1000 - how can you possibly read the Twitter stream coming out of so many people? Of course, you can't. So you go to Tweetdeck (or whatever) and set up a column of the people you actually want to read...probably no more than 50 or 60! 

Surely that defeats Twitter as a useful book promotion tool...

But maybe I'm overly pessimistic. What's your take?  
It's your turn to tell me what you think of Twitter as a marketing tool!

PS. An early and slightly different version of this post was published on where I contribute articles once a week.

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