Twitter is one of those social media services that people either love to deathor just plain don’t get. Who wants to read a 140 character update saying things like “I just realized I accidentally had some books on “Judaism” marked as “Jedism” instead. Kabbalah does not give you a light saber”? At least 787 people read that yesterday on my Twitter feed.
Twitter is probably best described as microblogging. It’s the bastard child of blogging, social networking, news feeds, and online forums. Stick web 2.0 in a food processor and chop it into 140 character bite sized pieces and there you go. That’s Twitter.
The premise is pretty simple. 140 character updates on “what are you doing?”. This can be anything from deep thoughts to mundane tasks to actual plugs for your business. And you read the same thing from people you follow. Lots of Tweets are simply passed along links indicating what people are reading. There is where the power lies. Twitter is in some ways like a turbo charged mailing list. You’ll get a fast turnaround on anything you post, generally within minutes. Got a customer that’s given you a vague description of a book but you aren’t sure what it is? Post a query to Twitter and if your pool of followers is big enough, you often will get a response. It lets you pick other people’s brains.
For most booksellers you’re probably more interested in Twitter’s ability to deliver sales than anything else. Indeed, it can be a cheap may to announce sales, events, or showcase new things you’ve just acquired. Many libraries use Twitter to remind people about events happening that day since it can send a text reminder to phones. You can too.
The trick with Twitter is you need to hit a happy medium between being a broadcaster and a receiver. Broadcasting means you post things you want OTHERS to read. Receiving means you’re reading other people’s messages and responding to them. Do some of both. Often a helpful response to another person’s query can be worth more than a broadcast. If someone says “I’m looking for info on Byzantine architecture” and you respond with “I have this book on Byzantine architecture. Is this what you were looking for?” and a link, you may make an instant sale. Even if you don’t sell that to the person you originally responded to, replies are visible to other people, so it lets you casually slip a plug for your goods into a natural sounding conversation.
Now that you get the basic gist of what Twitter does and why you’d want to use it, lets get specific on HOW to use it. When you sign up, make sure to add an avatar and a very brief description in your profile. That very brief profile will help people find you. Don’t bother with complete sentences. Just list your interests. Make sure your avatar is easily recognizable. Your store logo is often a good choice IF it’s square. If it’s not square, you may be able to use part of your logo. If not, consider a portrait of yourself. It gives people more of a feeling of a conversation if they can see your face. I personally use a ‘headshot’ from one of my sculptures. It combines that feeling of talking face to face and also conveys message I’m an artist. To do the same thing, take a photo of you reading your favorite book. Then they get your face AND get the idea you have something to do with books.
Start by posting some tweets. Even though you’re not talking to anyone yet, if gives people an impression of who you are. If you have NO messages posted, people often won’t follow you. Get at least a dozen tweets in before you start looking for friends.
Now that you have that done, you need to get people to follow you and find some people to follow. Following people means they’ll often follow you back for a “test ride” and see if they like you. If they don’t, they’ll unfollow. Don’t feel bad about unfollowing someone or being unfollowed. Consider that initial period of following a bit like going to a cocktail party. You’re chatting with people to see if you want to have a longer, more serious discussion outside the party. Not everyone will be a keeper. (and not everyone will keep you. Don’t worry about it)
The first “person” you should follow is Hashtags
Hashtags are basically Twitter’s version of website tags. Just put a # in front of any word or acronym and you have a hashtag! Following the user hashtags means they’ll start indexing your hashtags into the Hashtag.org database so people can search them. This lets people find people talking about what they want to know. Hashtags can be useful because you can use them to clarify the context of a post.
Hashtags are also used for specific events. This includes things like the Superbowl but can also include weekly networking events like #wedquote. #wedquote is an event on Wednesday’s (duh) where you post your favorite quote. The hash tags means quote lovers can find them all. Events like that can draw in new followers that would otherwise never discover you.
Now back to followers, check your local library and see if they have a Twitter feed. If so, follow them. (if none of the locals have one, use the Library of Congress ) When on their Twitter profile click “followers” and you’ll see who is following the library. Follow them! If they’re reading about library events, they’re probably interested in books! Following them will alert them to your existence and they may follow you back. You want people that like books to know about you!
Also check the other section “following”. This is who the librarian is reading. Often this will show you OTHER nearby libraries, publishers, etc. Follow those too.
Remember, following is not forever and not everyone will follow you back. Numbers will fluctuate from day to day.
After that initial frenzy of actively adding followers, sit back and read. Respond to what other people are saying by clicking on the arrow that appears when you hover over the text. See who you want to keep, who you don’t want to keep. Adjust. If you find someone you really LOVE the info they post or their replies, do the same look through who they’re following and who’s following them and add people. They probably have similar tastes!
There is a search feature on Twitter itself to find things but its often down. There’s many third party sites that will suggest people to you as well. Just run a google search. Make sure you’re logged into Twitter to use those services. Don’t use ANY service that asks you to input your Twitter password! If it can’t pick up the data simply from your username, its probably just a phishing site trying to get your password.
Don’t feel compelled to read EVERYTHING everyone posts. You will quickly end up with hundreds (or thousands) of people you’re following. If you’ve been away from the computer, you do not need to catch up days worth of tweets. Go back about a half hour to an hour and that will show you what’s currently going on. Also check any direct messages and @ replies. Direct messages are private mail. @ replies are public responses, about equivalent to someone casually calling to you from across a crowded room. These will have more specific info targetted at YOU.
A note on direct messages: this is like e-mail. Do not spam people with ads via direct messages. Unless they requested you send them specific info, don’t send them an ad. Many people will do this as soon as they see they have a new follower. They’ll send a DM with a link to what they’re saying. It’s RUDE. Don’t do it. It will get you dropped by most Twitter users.
Retweeting is a another common practice you should know about. You can also request followers retweet your message. Basically retweeting means “take this message, pass it on.” The proper way to pass on such messages is as “RT @source name “message here””. That tells people someone else said the message, not you. You don’t have to retweet EVERYTHING you see marked RT, just things you think deserve repeating. To request people pass on your message simply say “please RT”. Don’t mark everything you post as “please RT”. Save it for important or urgent items. Consider it like marking items “VERY IMPORTANT” or “HELP!”. Don’t do it with everything, just what really does deserve that kind of attention.
One last etiquette thing. If you post a link to something that is not appropriate for all ages or not safe for work, call is NSFW. (sometimes also labeled as NWS) This alerts people to the fact that they may not want open the link at work or with their kids sitting on their lap. Always err on the side of caution. Sometimes there’s no way around posting a link to something not work safe. If someone asked you for help finding info a particular book of Mapplethorpe photos, you’re guaranteed to be linking to something that should be labeled NSFW.
There are many different applications that can make Twitter easier to use if you have lots of followers or lots of people you’re following. Start with the basic web interface. When you feel you want to upgrade, ask your own followers what they recommend. This will give you quick, live feedback on what applications people think really work well. Since these are people reading you, they may also be able to give you a more specific reason why they think you’d like THAT app.