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If you follow this blog or have read my bio, you undoubtedly know that in my former life I was somewhat of a marketing maven. For over twenty years I made it my business, literally, to study information delivery systems and consumer behavior. What I have discovered, somewhat to my surprise, is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The technological big bang gave birth to what we now call Social Media – Facebook pages, blogs, Pinterest and dozens of other virtual groups and communities, and of course, Twitter. Never before have there been so many ways to interact. But as interchangeable as it all appears, it’s really not.

Not all Social Media Mechanisms Work the Same Way

While it is true that the modes of communication have evolved, the psychology behind communication has not. The reasons we interact are essentially unchanged – to feed our basic human desire for companionship, to expand our minds through the pursuit of knowledge, and to exchange our goods and services in order to meet our lifestyle needs. Social Media is said to be the Global Equalizer, opening a myriad of marketing pathways that all appear to lead to the same place – the consumer. This is true in a general sense, the same way that it is true that all people on Earth live under the same sky.

In order to use Social Media Marketing to its best benefit, it is important to understand who travels which paths, and why. Websites are like billboards or storefronts – static portals which recreate a sense of permanence in the Virtual World, and can act as sources of information and as retail hubs. Blogs have taken the place of topic driven channels and publications in that they disseminate specialized information and provide an opportunity for discourse (aka feedback). Online groups and communities (which include GoodReads, Pinterest, Facebook Friend Pages and more) create “places” for like-minded individuals to connect and engage in an exchange of ideas. Facebook Fan & Event Pages have essentially replaced what we old school marketers used to call “brochures” and “flyers”. These are all useful marketing tools when targeted toward your unique audience. The bottom line, dear author? Figure out which of these “places” are where people go to learn about BOOKS, specifically the kind of books YOU write, and focus your efforts there.

But What about Twitter?

I’m just going to straight up say what we all already suspect but don’t want to admit. Twitter isn’t really good for anything except creating a giant echo chamber for the sound of your own voice. Twitter is, at its essence, a soapbox. It is a platform that anybody can use but isn’t really effective unless you are a Very Important Person (like a politician or celebrity, or maybe a Best Selling Author) who ALREADY has gazillions of fans just dying to know what you had for lunch. Twitter MIGHT be a conversational hub, if you have the attention span of a gnat. What it definitely is NOT is a results-oriented marketing venue. At its best, Twitter is a real-time information stream that just may, if you are paying attention to the right person at the right moment, tell you something interesting or useful. Kinda like radio advertising.

Having lots of followers on Twitter does not mean lots of people are paying attention to you.

Really. I can’t stress this enough. In fact, odds are that most of your followers are only following you so that you will follow them. This is the very definition of a cluster f**k, dear author. Even more likely, most of your followers are probably other authors who write in the SAME GENRE AS YOU. Tell me, dear author, how many of these like-minded souls are likely to promote YOUR work to THEIR audience? I dare you – take a look at your list of followers and try to determine how many of them are actually purchasers and readers of your work, or people who can or will further your writing career or recommend your books. It’s good to know these things.

In the book world, there are two possible exceptions to the Twitter Doesn’t Sell Books rule. One would be authors of non-fiction writing business or writing craft books, and book marketing or publishing feeds by industry professionals and reviewers. Twitter just MIGHT be a meaningful way for these folks to announce news or posts on their blogs, which will in turn potentially lead to a sale of a recommended book. The second exception is when authors or industry professionals (including reviewers) consciously and intentionally connect to support each other using Twitter as a promotional vehicle. This can be very effective, but it requires mutual agreement and cooperation. This is strategic maneuvering that takes a bit more dialogue than the implied “I followed you, so now will you please follow me back?”.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate Twitter – I spend hours upon hours reading my feed. But I don’t do so in a stupor of self-delusion that I am actually spending my time successfully marketing my work. I follow other authors and publishing professionals I personally know or whose careers I strive to emulate, and those who offer me useful information or entertainment. I occasionally do a search on my own name to catch those few and far in-between tweets by people who are reading my book and updating their progress on GoodReads, or the rare book reviewer who has posted their opinion of my work. I like to thank those people publicly for taking the time to read my book, even if they didn’t like it. In this way, Twitter is a much better incoming resource than an outgoing one. When I do tweet my own stuff, I do so without the slightest expectation that anyone is paying attention to what I have to say. In order to make even a tiny ripple in the Twitterverse, I will first need to do a lot more work elsewhere building sales and visibility.

That said, I do find lots of interesting folks tweeting in the Twitterverse – many of them members of exception #1 noted above. One of my favorites is Guy Bergstrom (@speechwriterguy) who has a nifty blog called The Red Pen of Doom . He has lots of hip, helpful advice on book marketing and PR in general. I like his ideas a lot, and you should read what he has to say. He knows what he’s talking about.

Here is one of my favorite posts: Guy Bergstrom says “You need a TEAM and a PLAN“, and I couldn’t agree more :).