Tooting Your Own Horn on Twitter

Is Twitter good for anything except promoting yourself? (And, by the way, Who Killed Mom?) Vancouver writer William Gibson once said, “Facebook and MySpace feel like malls to me. Twitter actually feels like the street.”?

The tricky balance of Twitter: being personable and entertaining while still touting your services. 

Is Twitter good for anything except promoting yourself? (And, by the way, Who Killed Mom?)

Vancouver writer William Gibson once said, “Facebook and MySpace feel like malls to me. Twitter actually feels like the street.”

Maybe. But since I joined Twitter it’s been a street full of billboards. Certainly there is some exchange of the pithy updates, witty banter, and commentary on world events for which the medium is supposedly so well suited. But to a depressing degree, Twitter seems devoted to promotional activity. If Facebook is a variety show, Twitter often looks more like an infomercial.

I can’t really even bitch. When I finally signed up for Twitter last fall I too had mercenary motives – it was suggested I needed to make friends with the 140-character crowd in advance of the spring launch of my first book, Who Killed Mom? It seemed so crass, so

opportunistic. But I was told all the top writers use Twitter to promote books, such as my book, Who Killed Mom? ($22.95), available everywhere. Promotion never stops, said the marketing people at Greystone Books, publishers of Who Killed Mom? (described by Shelagh Rogers as “incandescent”). Twitter is said to be much more effective than other book promotion methods, like back-page magazine columns or constant harassing phone calls to acquaintances urging them to purchase Who Killed Mom? at all hours of the night. 

Nonetheless, I have tried to be a good tweeter: no mention of books or promotion for months after joining and no descriptions of breakfast or lunch. After all, who will be around to see your tweets if you do nothing but pitch? That’s the tricky Twitter balance for those companies and organizations that want to exploit the medium’s possibilities – trying to be personable and entertaining while still touting corporate services. 

Dangers certainly exist. Consider the fate of Courtney Love, who paid $430,000 in damages after tweeting a barrage of insults at a fashion designer. 

Even looking at models of Twitter success could make businesses leery. Presumably anyone would be pleased to gain a million followers in 24 hours. The guy who accomplished that feat also single-handedly managed to make “winning” synonymous with “loopy.” If your corporation is run by Charlie Sheen, it would probably be best to keep that quiet, tiger blood notwithstanding. 

But there must be a middle ground – and there is. An example is remarkably close at hand. As a freelance writer (check for more details), I can state objectively that BCBusiness provides a role model for successful tweeting. This magazine’s Twitter feed has over 12,000 followers (as of May 2011). Handled by digital editor John Bucher, @bcbusiness provides online promotion for the content of each issue, plus business links and updates, wise-ass remarks (“Powerpoint does not mean you have a vision”), and even the odd haiku: “Icy morning, no / Cacophony of birdsong / The air like Windex [Good Tuesday morning].” 

The ideal of Twitter as a means of give-and-take, a global conversation, has been boosted by the spreading turmoil in the Middle East as Twitter has seemed to fan the flames of dissent. But even these developments really underline Twitter’s real identity as a broadcast medium. A study by the Harvard Business Review last year revealed that the median number of tweets per subscriber is one. Most Twitteratti are receivers, not transmitters; they are waiting to be informed and entertained. That’s why Twitter is tailor-made for Kanye West, a rapper whom outrageous stream-of-consciousness rambling neatly doubles as self-promotion. Twitter works best for those who sell entertainment. 

As for selling books, I’ll let you know. But I will say this much: a loving son’s tribute to his beloved mom would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift. And Who Killed Mom? is in stores now.