Many of the trade are still burying their heads in the sand when it comes to Twitter.
Some publishers and bookstores are great at it. Some, however, continue to ignore it, insisting it’s—possibly like all social media—a puerile teenage pursuit. They’re wrong. What people increasingly agree is that it's a useful, legitimate business tool: a great way to communicate with customers, share information, get advice and make contacts.
It’s particularly valuable for those in the book world because so many people in this industry use it, so the opportunities to interact are huge—and I've picked my recommendations to follow below.
I wouldn’t say I’m addicted—you have to tweet while you’re sitting on the toilet to be called that—but if I’ve ever got five minutes to fill, I’ll do it on my iPhone. I also certainly wouldn't claim to be an expert, but I’ve asked around and here are my top 10 tips for anyone in the book world new to the little blue bird:
1. Don't be intimidated. You won't be able to sit down and 'learn' it in one session. Dip in and out. The potential for cock-ups is small.
2. Don't be daunted by the terminology. You ‘follow’ people, which simply means their tweets (ie what they write) will appear in your feed. And people who have chosen to ‘follow’ you can see what you write. Each tweet (message) has to be 140 characters or less. That’s pretty much enough to get you started.
3. Think carefully about your username. Is your actual name your brand? Or is it your company name? Your store? Your own business speciality? It should tell people at a glance who you are. Then there’s your ‘profile’—this is where people read a little more about you. Think carefully about what you put here. It’s your elevator pitch. Make it sweat.
4. If someone in your company wants to have a go, let them be themselves. Sure, you don’t want them slagging off the firm and spreading scurrilous rumours, but it’s individual's personalities—not corporate cultures—that stand out and win followers
5. Don’t force your staff to do it. Not everyone will do it naturally or well. The people who enjoy the informal, off-the-cuff nature of this type of communication will be best at it. They should be encouraged.
6. Don’t be disheartened if you find people are talking about things that don't interest you initially. It’s like walking into a pub. If you join one table and they’re talking about subjects that aren’t relevant, you merely move to another table. The people you choose to follow are like the people you choose to sit with in a pub.
7. The more time you put into it, the more you get from it. You need to be following (and follow) a critical mass of people before it gets really interesting. For me, this was about 250 of each. It doesn't take long to find them. One simple way is using the search facility to discover like-minded people.
8. Use it regularly. It’s like a blog. If days or weeks pass without you having tweeted anything, people forget you then ignore you. That said, its addictive nature means it’s easy to spend too much time on it. Don’t neglect the other things you should be doing.
9. Merely tweeting press releases is viewed by many as nothing more than spam. It’s like solely emailing out press releases. In fact, it’s worse because very few people will probably be following you if that's all you do. Similarly, authors shouldn't just tweet links to reviews of their work. No one likes a show-off.
10. Remember, it is public. If you're happy swearing at work, swear on Twitter. But if you diss one of your authors, they may well get to hear about it. And if you slag off your boss, you might find yourself looking in the Bookseller jobs section before too long...
Here are my recommendations for some of the top industry tweeters:
@_TomMcLaughlin Tom McLaughlin, writer and illustrator
@sarahduncan1 Sarah Duncan, novelist and creative writing tutor
@Danoosha Danuta Kean, book industry commentator
@francescamain Francesca Main, editorial director at Picador
@meandmybigmouth Scott Pack, writer and publisher at HarperCollins
@Joethepublicist Joe Pickering, publicist at Penguin Books
@crimeficreader Rhian Davies, provides author and book news
@alice_murphy Digital marketeer for Simon & Schuster
Tim Relf tweets as @timrelf