Using Twitter: are you a writer, a brand, or a salesman?

Something else to think about …

I recently wrote a few blog posts to help some of the people that I had met on forums to get to grips with Twitter. I said from the start that I am no expert, but over the last ten weeks or so since I launched Only the Innocent I have learned a lot more about Twitter which I’ve tried to share with other indie publishers.  I got some great feedback to the earlier posts, and some very interesting comments –  which have cast a slightly different light on things.

I have concluded (and am happy to be disagreed with) that as authors, we have to wear three hats.

  1. The writer
  2. The ‘brand’
  3. The salesman

In terms of Twitter, these are almost mutually exclusive.

The Writer

The writer in all of us wants to do just that – to write. If we spend all our time tweeting, blogging, discussing in forums – when are we going to write? I read one interesting response to my earlier posts from an author who said he had no interest at all in promoting his work. His books aren’t  selling, but that was okay – because he was writing. It is his firm belief that the best way of promoting yourself is to have more than one book, and the more books you have the more successful you are likely to be. He is going to do no promoting – but will join in the odd forum to chat to other authors.

He has an interesting point – when, exactly, does the self-promoting author get back to doing the writing?

The ‘Brand’

If you are a published author then yes – that’s right – you are a brand. You need to understand what you want that brand to represent, and how you want to present yourself. And then you have to market yourself.

I have a nephew who is something of an expert at this. He manages word of mouth marketing accounts for some very big brands for the whole of North America. He looked at my Twitter stream and was horrified. His view was that when you are promoting a high quality brand, you should do no more than about 4 or 5 tweets per day. You should be going for the quality of the people that follow you, rather than the quantity. It’s more important to get the influencers to follow you, and then they go on to influence other people.  He influences bloggers for the brands that he looks after. And then the bloggers post information, and the word is spread by others to the point where the most important person is informed – ie the customer.

This sounds just terrific. Imagine a scenario in which you have all the main journalists following you, because they know that what you are going to say could be useful and could help them to write their next article. I wish …

But, according to my nephew, these same high profile bloggers would be completely turned off by loads and loads of similar tweets, and there should be absolutely no retweets at all – unless its something incredibly meaningful. With a brand, you are trying to connect with people on a deeper level – people who will support you when your next book is launched because they have grown to believe in you, and to know you. They are engaged. It’s a marketing activity – and that’s a slower burn, but ultimately very rewarding.

The Salesman

The salesman is dealing with the end customer – not the influencer. And you need as many potential customers to see your tweets as possible. Given that most people dip in and out of Twitter (and unless they only follow a few people, they certainly don’t see every tweet) – it’s important at this point to maximise your coverage. This will undoubtedly hack off a few people who do read every tweet, but it’s the minority.  And when it comes to RTs, in order to expose ourselves (metaphorically speaking) to as many people as possible, we rely on those RTs, particularly when those retweeting us have a bigger network. Think about the conversations relating to the retail market at Christmas. It’s all about footfall, because they know that the higher the footfall, the higher the likely sales will be. And of course we can’t expect people to RT us if we don’t RT them.

So where does this leave us then? Do we want to write, to influence or to sell – and in which order?

I have concluded that everybody is right in this discussion – but that it’s a timing issue, and that timing may be different for each author.

When I first started tweeting, we lost our internet signal. I mentioned this in an earlier post. My sales plummeted by 70%. I was just into my second month of selling. When I took heed of the advice from my nephew ten days ago and cut back, my US sales dropped significantly, but my UK ones didn’t. Maybe a little, but not enough to know whether it was anything to do with tweeting or not. There is a very good reason for this. Only the Innocent is now doing very well in the UK and is highly visible. The sales rise on a daily basis, and if I don’t tweet, blog or do anything else, the sales may possibly be affected by half a dozen a day but I can’t actually tell, because they’re still going up. In the US I am still trying to get traction – although it’s getting better – but every individual customer has a significant affect on the daily numbers, because I still don’t have the level of visibility for the book to sell itself.

Does this mean that when my sales are looking after themselves I can stopped tweeting? Well I don’t actually want to. I have some good chats with people and I enjoy it. But maybe the selling can be toned down a bit.

Does it mean that I can develop my Twitter account to be more brand led – a marketing approach rather than a sales approach? Possibly. But what happens when book two comes out and I go back into selling mode?

Do I want 20000 people following who couldn’t care less what I say, might never read my tweets and will never engage with me, or a smaller number of people who care about what I have to say, will respond and RT where appropriate, and who will build my brand with great positive word of mouth?

The truth is, I want both. I want the 20000 who maybe just catch one tweet and click on the link. They might not buy the book – but they’ve SEEN it. So on another occasion when they go back to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and think “where have I seen that before?” or they’re on a forum and see somebody discussing it, that might just be the trigger they need to buy. After all, you don’t see security guards standing outside big supermarkets saying “go away – we’re not interested in the quantity of visitors – it’s all about the quality” do you? So sales mode is about exposure to the maximum number of people.

AND I want the influencers who will spread the word. The results of marketing are usually slower than direct selling, but in the long term it’s the brand that wins over the quick sales.  The truth is, I want it all!

My husband asked if it was possible to send tweets that go to some ‘classes’ of follower, but not others. As far as I’m aware, that isn’t possible (new app?) – but it would be brilliant. You could have the brand tweets that go to one group and are few and far between, and you could have all tweets (including the brand ones) that go to the rest. But it may be an argument for having two completely separate Twitter accounts, and building your following wisely.

And what about the writer in you?

I think the whole thing is a case of timing. For me the answer is this :

  1. I’m going to tweet my socks off in sales person mode, and when people RT me – which they kindly do – I will RT them back (providing, of course, that their tweet is interesting and not about putting the washing out – it has to be on topic!). I will do this until my books are very visible in the markets that I am aiming for. Then I will reduce the number of tweets, but make them very pertinent to my followers – on the whole, other authors or people who love to read.
  2. I am toying with the idea of creating another Twitter account – the Brand Rachel Abbott account that genuinely tries to engage with people who are influencers in the market. I will either do this, or I will make my sales account fit that bill. I’m not sure what I’ll do when book two comes out, though! Decision pending, I think!
  3. By significantly reducing time spent tweeting (and chatting in discussion groups, etc) I will then be able to spend time on my writing, knowing that my books sales are taking care of themselves. If they drop – I’ll move back into phase 1 for a while. I am approaching the time when I can be mostly in phase 3, with a bit of 2 thrown in for good measure, but not quite yet.

I believe that each person has to make a decision about where they want to slot into this range of roles, and how they prioritise. If you are reading this and you haven’t yet published your book, you would do well to jump into phase 2 and try to get some serious influencers on board. If, like me, you published and then though ”oops – I need to sell some now” – then it has be to phase 1 – unless you are that brave man who I spoke to who only cares about being at phase 3 and nowhere else.

As always, comments would be gratefully received. These are my opinions only, and I love to have ideas talked about so that I can shape the possible solutions further.

Whatever happens, I won’t stop blogging about my experiences, because this bit is really fun for me.