Twitter: A Lesson in Social Media

Shortly after I self-published my novel, I realized that social media was going to have to be a big part of promoting it to the world, and I was determined to handle it on my own for financial reasons. My social media experience was limited to my personal Facebook account which I still keep restricted to people I personally know and my LinkedIn account which I created strictly to search for new employment; however, I felt computer-savvy enough to dive right in. I now have a Facebook page and a Google page for Legacy Discovered, as well as a more open personal Google account, a Pinterest account, a Tumblr blog, a Goodreads author account, an Instagram account, and – of course – the all-important Twitter account. Of all the means of social media on the web, Twitter is the most beguiling form of social interaction I have run across. In a message of less than 140 characters, it is a quick shout-out to the world among an ocean of shout-outs in the almost impossible attempt to get many to somehow see one among the millions, yet it appeals to that inner child that desperately seeks the attention of the world around it. It has also become a quick and simple way for businesses small and large to spread quick ads and promotions into the social sphere. I saw Twitter as a social game where I needed to walk in slowly, learning the rules and developing an understanding of the strategy for interacting among the many Twitter users. What follows is just a small portion of what I have learned.

One of the first things that my steady approach taught me is that it is okay not to truly follow the implied social etiquette for Twitter, because these rules are easily gamed. For instance, the implied social protocol is that if a Twitter user follows your account, then you should follow back; otherwise, the follower will quickly unfollow you for the snub. However, it didn’t take me long to see how this social rule is gamed. In one early extreme example, I got a new follower, a young woman just starting college in another state, who was following over 2000 users and had over 2000 followers of her own, even though she had yet to post one tweet. Without a tweet to judge her, I saw no reason why I should blindly return the follow, and after a few days, she unfollowed me, since I wasn’t following the rules.

For many, the true game is to get followers, as many as possible, to gain credibility in the Twitter-verse, which many believe will lead to more dedicated followers. As I gained a few more followers, I soon uncovered a more underhanded way to gain followers – click farms. About six months after creating my account, I got a sudden bump in followers, but was surprised to see that despite the different profile photo, header bio info and global location of each account, all the accounts miraculously were posting the same series of tweets. The tweets led to a site that promised to provide 10,000 followers for $10, plus other cheap deals for groups of 100,000 followers. A quick Google search of “false followers” led me to blog postings about these click farms and how they have been used to boost follower stats for many political and celebrity Twitter accounts. To me, quality means more than quantity and I refuse to follow or buy any false followers. As these click farms become more known, it will be harder to use Twitter follower stats to prove credibility.

One of the most important concepts about Twitter to understand is that every post is public to the entire Twitter-verse, not restricted to your followers. The difference is that followers receive your tweets in a feed, while other Twitter users must search for your tweets. It was Twitter that introduced a quick means to make a tweet more searchable, by use of the “hashtag” (#) which old typists know as the number sign and recorded telephone menus refer to as the pound sign. In essence, placing a hashtag before a key word or phrase with no spaces “tags” the word or phrase making it more searchable. However, when a hashtagged word or phrase is searched for, how many followers a tweet was sent to is one of the determinations of where the tweet will land in the search results list, so tweets that are retweeted become more discoverable in searches. This leads to another social protocol that retweeting others makes you a good follower. This protocol convinced many users to take advantage of a web app called RoundTeam that automatically retweeted specific hashtags requested by the user. However, I realized that once I uncovered a RoundTeam user and figured out the hashtag phrase they were retweeting, I just needed to incorporate that hashtag in a few of my tweets to get an easy retweet. I was able to game the gamer.

After a year of promoting through irregular tweeting, I began to realize that successful promoting required tweeting throughout the heart of the week at times that were not available to me. In a fellow indie author’s blog, I discovered a web app that solved my dilemma – Twuffer. Through Twuffer, I was able to write my week’s tweets over the weekend and schedule them to be sent throughout the week. Twuffer is not perfect. A scheduled tweet would tend to fail if it was over 130 characters and it forced me to learn and use in my Twuffer tweets the tiny URLs that Twitter created for my standard weblinks. Still, it became a very helpful tool to improve my Twitter presence. Recently, I came across another potentially useful web app at JustUnfollow, which analyzes my followers and following lists, allowing me to seek potential users to increase my following list and in return my followers list. However, I will be exploring another website that has been mentioned in skill requirements for social media jobs – HootSuite. This is an app site that allows users to handle multiple Twitter accounts, schedule future tweets, and creates its own tiny URL base. According to its homepage, it is free for users with less than five accounts. There is still a lot for me to learn in working with Twitter and social media.

A New Year

The holidays and bowl games are behind us, and 2014 is fully upon us. So, as I do a quick audit of the past year, I wonder how was my 2013? Well, in the debit column, after a couple hundred resumes uploaded and positions applied for, a few phone interviews and attendance at several networking events, I am still unemployed with my unemployment benefits about to expire. My medical insurance and covering of my deductible for one medical procedure that confirmed I was perfectly healthy took up one third of my basic expenditures last year. A discarded newspaper that swept up into my radiator grill as I was going through the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 Freeway was all it took to cook my car’s engine and leave me without personal transportation for two weeks while a rebuilt engine was installed. My base savings account has definitely taken a hit. However, in the credit column, my retirement accounts are solid and have grown, my home is secure with good equity and a healthy emergency investment account is still at my disposal. My somewhat regular bike and walk schedule through the year trimmed thirteen pounds from my weight. I kept busy donating my time to a worthy education non-profit organization, 826LA, by volunteering as an afterschool tutor for 1-5 grade school students twice a week during the school year and a month long summer camp. The rest of my time was focused on promoting my novel by the expansion of my social media presence and by re-releasing it through AuthorHouse to increase the distribution outlets through which it would be available

One part of my promotional campaign was to connect with fellow independent authors, many of whom were reaching out to me. I began to buy and read from the selection of self-published works being presented to me over Twitter and several author websites. After reading, I would write an honest review and post it on Amazon, Goodreads and Shelfari, then announce the review on Twitter so the author would be aware. I realized that in the current online environment of book retailing a growing number of broadly and honestly received reader reviews were important to elevate a book to the recommendation level on Amazon and other online booksellers, and hoped that some of my fellow indie authors would find time to read and honestly review my book to add to my count. I was able to read 22 indie books in 2013, ranging from several murder mysteries, some character relationship dramas, a few sci-fi and fantasy opuses and some historical romances. There were flaws and issues with some of the works, but in general, I was impressed with the creativity and passion within many of the books I read. It makes one realize that the art of storytelling and emotional revelation is not limited to a few master writers in history, but appears to be an integral part of our collective DNA.

So where does this leave me for 2014? Basically, I have the strong hope that I have built a good promotional foundation for my book as more readers discover it. The job market appears to be improving, but maybe I will have time to focus on my next book. I feel the assistance I have provided to the students in the 826LA program will give them the foundation to be major contributors within their generation. And I hope I am prepared for the new challenges that are always around the corner no matter what year we are in.

Lessons in Self Promotion – Part 2

The post-Olympic and Labor Day weekend free download promotions did not generate much in the way of new sales, although I was pleased to get a few more positive reviews on Amazon; however, some new connections would provide me with more avenues of promoting my novel. On Twitter, my paltry account got a new follower, Faydra Deon. One day, I checked out the links on her profile and discovered that she was the owner and developer of the Independent Author Index. Her site and the Independent Author Network are two sites where indie authors can join to promote their creative works and readers can go to search for uniquely new literary gems. Both networks maintained that every author needed an individual website and blog, which led me to invest the time and effort to learn how to create my site. As soon as I had a viable site ready, I joined the Independent Author Index.

At the same time, while going through my author’s page on Amazon, I noted a section recommending that I update the extras section of my book on Shelfari, Amazon’s social media site for book lovers. As an author on Amazon, I discovered a logon and account had already been created for me. I was guided to join the Book Promotion & Marketing group and discovered some postings about e-zine blog sites that freely promote daily free e-book promotions to their readers. Of course, the number of books these sites could promote daily was limited. I had just been given a new allotment of five promo days from Kindle Publishing to schedule, so I went over my options. The obvious choice would have been the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, but I heeded the lesson from my first five promo days and scheduled one free day for this past Saturday, one week before Thanksgiving, and labeled it the “try before you gift” promotion. Besides the Facebook postings and tweets, I now alerted the Index and registered the promo day with four e-reader sites. With less competition, two of the sites – The Digital Ink Spot and the Ereader News Today – added Legacy Discovered as one of the featured free e-books for Saturday. The results were amazing. This one day promotion netted nearly fifteen times more downloads than the two day post-Olympics promotion. Now as I await the judgment of these new readers, I consider the newest lesson of self-promotion – with limited resources, seek out and do not miss the opportunities to join the networks and groups of fellow independent authors for there is strength in numbers and cross-promotion is key.

There will be more lessons to be learned as I continue to introduce my debut novel to readers around the world and contemplate the next story to be told. I will also start to look at my fellow authors current works and give my honest opinion on their endeavors, which is all I would ever ask of anyone willing to read my work.

Lessons in Self Promotion – Part 1

It has been a little over a year since I decided to write and self-publish a novel. At the time, I decided on writing my story idea as a novel instead of a screenplay, because I knew that self-publishing had leveled the playing field for aspiring authors, while getting a screenplay read or pitched was still a daunting option. Writing the story well was my main goal. I was not focused on how I would promote this work, but my years of working in publicity for a major entertainment company did teach me one thing – good promotion can get a creative work an initial audience, but it is up to the work itself to keep and expand that audience.

After subjecting my first and subsequent drafts to an “edit focus group” of several friends, I went to CreateSpace to self-publish the novel. CreateSpace, an Amazon company, had a very reasonably-priced package that included a professional once-over by an editor and exterior/interior design packages for the book. However, the two major pluses I saw was the immediate access the book would have on the Amazon.com book and Kindle distribution system and the wide release of a professionally written press release announcing the book’s publication. I wasn’t expecting the journalistic world to come pounding on my door, but I did feel that I would get a few requests which would probably get me a few good reviews to tout on the Facebook page I had set up for Legacy Discovered. Some Facebook word of mouth, some Twitter posts and some impulse buying on Amazon would produce enough royalty payments to earn a year’s pay at the least. What I learned is that the ease of self-publishing had caused an onslaught of new publications on the market, about a thousand new books a month. Not only did major publications and local newspapers not have room or time to even consider the self-published wave, but a few outlets, some respectable, were able to charge sponsorships for their reviews. This meant the playing field was not as level as I imagined as an aspiring writer cannot match the resources the major publishers have to promote their releases.

Realizing the limits of my resources, I knew I had to be creative and patient with what I had. What I had was social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Some of my friends had supported my efforts by actually buying the book from Amazon. I asked a couple of them to honestly review the book on Amazon. This helped show purchase activity on the page. I posted and tweeted the links to the Amazon book pages. I received a lot of congrats on writing and publishing, but no sales beyond the few. One of the promotional tools that Amazon’s Kindle Publishing provided was the ability to schedule up to five free promo days within a 90 day period. With the Olympics drawing the attention of television audiences in August, I decided to schedule my first two promo days on the final weekend as a post-Olympic blues free Kindle e-book download weekend. I posted the promotion to my Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections. I tweeted the promotion and got @kindle_promo to retweet my posting. I had a fairly successful number of downloads, fifty times more than my current sales total. I instantly thought that if I could get this many downloads on a mid-August weekend, imagine what I could get by scheduling the other three days for the Labor Day weekend. The total of downloads over the three day weekend was one fifth the total of the post-Olympic blues weekend. One could say I had reached all I could reach that first weekend, but I have another theory – the post-Olympic promo was not only more creative, but had less competition than the promo heavy Labor Day weekend.