Twitter as a Business-building Tool
by Linda Carlson
The basics are pretty well known by now. Twitter.com allows you to send messages no longer than 140 characters via mobile texting, instant messaging, or the Web. “Mini-email,” some call it. People who sign up to “follow” you can receive your “tweets” on their cell phones, IM, or Web sites.
The Twitter.com Web site, which is just two years old, explains its purpose this way: “People are eager to connect with other people and Twitter makes that simple. Twitter asks one question, ‘What are you doing?’” But Twitter can be far more than a narcissistic personal broadcasting system. Publishing companies are among the businesses using it as a promotional tool, to post news and prompt visits to blogs and, ultimately, to Web sites.
For instance, Margo Baldwin, president of Chelsea Green Publishing in White River Junction, VT, says, “With accounts on popular and free sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, we are now able to distribute the promotional content we’ve created to thousands of people several times a day.”
Baldwin goes on to explain that Chelsea Green, which publishes books on the politics and practice of sustainable living, “automatically sends a note (or ‘Tweet’) with a link back to our Web site to our 6,000 followers [at press time] every time we publish a new blog post, article, podcast, or video. Then, each of our followers has the option to forward our note and link out to the thousands of people who follow them. And so on. If the content we send out is interesting, it gets forwarded along. If not, it flops.”
For more information about how often Chelsea Green tweets, Baldwin turned me over to Jesse McDougall, the company Web editor, one of two employees devoted to online and viral marketing, who reports that Chelsea Green sends more than two dozen Twitter messages a day, adding that this may “sound daunting, but it’s actually quite easy.”
“We usually publish four stories daily to the main Chelsea Green blog,” McDougall says. “Through a tool called TwitterFeed (twitterfeed.com), the titles of these posts and links are posted to our Twitter account automatically. So is any video, podcast, and op-ed we publish to our site.” (For examples of Chelsea Green’s Twitter posts, see twitter.com/chelseagreen and twitter.com/greentweet.)
Posts from the blog community Chelsea Green created for its authors are also tied into TwitterFeed. “So we are able to generate quite a lot of interesting content on Twitter without any effort—we just go about our business,” McDougall explains. “We do promote the popular or important items on our site by manually submitting a message to Twitter several times a day. And, because we’ve set up ‘Tweet This’ links, sending a Twitter message involves only two quick clicks.”
Many green organizations, green bloggers, and green editors follow the Chelsea Green Twitter messages, he notes, adding, “Often I’ll send out calls for book reviews, contest entries, and blog item ideas. The response is fast and positive.”
“Retweeting” responses are “jaw-droppingly fast,” says McDougall. “If we send out something particularly interesting, our followers will forward it to their followers, potentially reaching millions of people.”
Has all this tweeting and retweeting helped sales?
“Hard to say,” reports Baldwin. “We grew our sales by 7 percent last year, significant given the overall decline in book sales. Our newly revised Web site went live in May 2008, and its traffic has increased by more than 50 percent since then.”
At Nomad, Deborah Robson has far fewer Twitter followers or Facebook friends, and she’s made a discovery about them. “They aren’t the same people—very little crossover,” she says, which underlines the need for marketing programs to include all appropriate electronic means and social networking sites and not rely on only one.
Setting up to send and receive tweets is truly simple. At twitter.com, it literally takes only a minute or two to create an account. Add an image that will display well as a half-inch square, and your tweets will be visually distinguished from others that your followers receive.
Sending your first message is easy too. The message box counts down from 140 as you type, alerting you if you need to edit your text as you write.
For small publishers, determining what is newsworthy enough for a tweet can be more time-consuming than manually entering the message. At Seattle’s Parenting Press, where I handle the marketing communications, I try to tweet four times weekly, once on each of the mornings that I work in that office. I use Twitter for the same kinds of announcements that appear on the company’s Web site: releases of new titles, awards, excerpts from reviews, author media appearances, and the publication of each edition of the company’s monthly newsletter.
Tools you can use include:
The free TwitterFeed, provided that you have a blog. Services such as this do not disseminate information from Web sites; they relay blog posts and posts to any other RSS or Atom feed to popular microblogging platforms. And you need to provide descriptive titles for your blog posts, because the content of these titles is what encourages your followers to click through to your blog (and ideally, continue on to your site).
Tweet This, which is a plug-in for the popular blog host and software WordPress (wordpress.org). Available at wordpress.org/extend/plugins/tweet-this, it adds a Twitter link to every post and page, so your readers can easily retweet your blog entries. Also, it automatically shortens URLs for use in the 140-character tweets.
Building a Network
“Twitter followers” and “friends” on Facebook and other social networking sites are not exactly the same. When you receive an announcement from Twitter that someone is following you, you may be invited to follow that person—but it’s not obligatory. Similarly, when you follow someone, you need not give that person permission to receive your tweets and access your blog. By contrast, “friending” someone on Facebook and many other sites creates a reciprocal relationship: anyone you friend can read all about you on your profile page.
Like Twitter setup, attracting followers is simple. Add “Follow us” icons to your Web site and blog (see twitter.com/badges) and invite everyone in your database to follow you. Add your Twitter address to your business cards, press releases, and other printed communications, and use bouncebacks—that is, package inserts with orders going to retail customers—to encourage people to follow you.
When time permits, check the profiles of the people who are following you. You can see how many followers each of them has and decide if you want to send more information about a publication that ties in with each follower’s blog focus.
Whenever possible, I send a short email to each new Parenting Press follower, explaining what the company’s publications and its Web site offer. Because a huge portion of the company’s sales are wholesale, I have no idea how many followers have purchased its books, but it appears that many followers are people we could not have reached initially through the company database.
Once you create a Twitter account, you can take advantage of a variety of applications for business use. These include:
Twellow (twellow.com). Twellow claims to log every Twitter account in its directory; if you do a search for your user name there and it’s not listed, see the directions at twellow.com/about.php.
Twellow also claims to be “sifting through the overwhelming volume of content and services in order to connect you with people you want to find.” But the search feature needs some refinement to make it valuable for business promotion. Under “Publishing,” Twellow has three categories, “Authors, Writers,” with almost 60,000 profiles at press time; “Photographers,” with almost 30,000 profiles; and “Books,” with almost 16,000. Subcategories include audio and electronic, book clubs, book reviews, and then such genres as kids’ books, romances, and YA novels. Many of the profiles that appear do so only because their Twitter bios refer to “loving books.”
When I narrowed my “Publishing” search using “Pacific,” I found one publisher, Timber Press—and a couple of dozen profiles that mentioned living in the Pacific Rim or Northwest.
Searching by topic, such as “Cooking,” was no more effective: the profiles that came up included hundreds of people, some of whom had said they liked cooking and others who had said they liked Paula Deen.
Twibs (twibs.com). A smaller directory of businesses with Twitter accounts, Twibs listed more than 12,000 organizations at press time, which is a fraction of the 2.1 million Twitter accounts then existing.
The Twibs participants range from craft marketplace Etsy.com, with about 70,000 followers, to float plane and charter yacht services, card makers, and Goth apparel vendors with as few as 100 followers. Twibs provided two results when I searched for “book publishers”—Penguin USA and a London-based publicist for publishers. Nothing came up when I searched for “quilts,” and when I tried “recipes,” not one cookbook publisher showed up.
Tweet Later (tweetlater.com). This is one of several applications that claim they can deliver your tweets on the schedule you create, perhaps for a specific campaign or for times when it will be inconvenient for you to log on to Twitter. TweetLater’s “Plan, set and forget!” free service worked for me: I set up a 10-day schedule of tweets, and when I checked on Twitter.com, each had been sent on schedule. As a nontechie, I found it very easy to use.
Twittertise (twittertise.com). A similar service with an additional benefit, Twittertise says that by using it you can both schedule and track your tweets. “You know how many clicks you got and from what sources,” the Web site claims.
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes for the Independent from Seattle, where she is a fledgling Twitterer for both Parenting Press and her high school reunion committee.
More Help with Electronic Marketing
You’re wondering about wikis and Webinars? Confused about RSS, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and viral marketing in general? Then check the articles in this ongoing electronic marketing series.
Each one identifies resources for improving your media and customer relations and increasing the visibility of your books and authors. Everything these articles cover is readily available, and many of the tools require only your time.
Check your own issues of the Independent, or click on “Independent Articles” on the home page at ibpa-online.org, to access:
“AdWords and Other Marketing Opportunities That Search Engines Offer” (October 2008)
“Show Up on Major Sites” (January 2009)
“Tools for Reaching Media, Booksellers, and More” (February 2009)
“Social Networking Sites: Options and Outcomes” (March 2009)
“Blogs and Blog Tours” (June 2009).
If you have experiences to share or other Web 2.0 applications to suggest, please email me at email@example.com. Future articles in the series will discuss book trailers, YouTube, pings, loops, podcasts, and e-clubs.