With so much hype and excitement around Twitter, I decided to look for concrete examples of social media success in book publishing. I interviewed two different publishers to get their thoughts on how participating on Twitter has benefited them.
Twitter requires an investment of time and resources, so the first and most obvious question is, does it work? Do you sell books? I asked Michael Taeckens, director of publicity for Algonquin Books, and he emphatically replied, “Yes, absolutely.” I agree, too. At FSB, we’re running tests to judge the impact of Twitter conversations on sales, and the picture is undeniable: Twitter is driving sales (more on that next month).
Algonquin Books (@algonquinbooks) was featured in the recent Huffington Post article on the Top 12 Editors on Twitter. Another publisher on the list was Alfred A. Knopf, and I asked Mary Buckley and Pamela Cortland if they feel their efforts to manage Twitter feeds are selling books. They also said yes. The dynamic duo have been tweeting for Knopf (@aaknopf) for just over a year. Although they weren’t hired for this role, they seem to be naturals at it. They first took over the Facebook page and then the Twitter feed. “In April 2009, we decided to create a more active presence. Mary and I split tweeting responsibilities because we were both interested in the potential of Twitter to engage with readers,” Cortland said.
The growth in the number of followers of both Algonquin and Knopf has been substantial. In 2009 Knopf had 1,581 followers and today it exceeds 32,000. I asked them what the secret to their success is and if the growth was consistent: “Our growth is going in spurts, where some days we increase by fifty followers and the next by two hundred. On average, we gain about a hundred followers a day. We see a large increase when our large-followed authors (e.g., Anne Rice, Nicholas Kristof) retweet posts they’re interested in. In addition, we see that our tweets about general literary news, such as book festivals across the country or discussions of the world of today’s book has attracted a wide audience. Algonquin also has a huge following of over 26,000.
The trick to its success may lie in building the community that is so crucial to Twitter. Taeckens explains his three-point plan for engagement: “First, be proactive when interacting with other people; you should engage in conversations, not just post like you’re reporting to a captive audience. Second, show your sense of personality Use wit, humor, creativity, and have fun. Third, post and comment on topics you know and are interested in, not just literature and publications, but all topics of cultural dialogue.”
Building communities and loyal followers is a time-consuming task, especially since none of Twitter’s feeds are run by dedicated community managers. Taeckens has the demanding job of being the Director of Advertising and this fall he will assume his new role of Director of Online and Paperback Marketing, while Mary Buckley is the Assistant Manager of Advertising and Promotions and Pamela Cortland is the Assistant Manager of Marketing. How do they manage to run such successful Twitter feeds? “From the beginning, we created a system of alternating “tweet days,” so we didn’t burn ourselves out trying to find interesting things to say. Hootsuite allows us to queue up our daily load of tweets in a small hour block of the We always hear interesting news about books (on blogs, on industry sites, in the newspaper, on Twitter itself), so it’s never been too difficult to collect material to tweet. Plus, now that our “My colleagues are more Aware of Twitter’s potential to reach a wide audience of readers, booksellers and media contacts, they have been wonderful in providing us with great reviews and author events,” said Buckley.
For Taeckens, Twitter seems like a natural extension of his job: “It depends on how good you are at multitasking. I’m used to, and enjoy, multitasking. I think it’s a skill people will have.” “. to perfect, because Twitter and other forms of social networks are becoming more and more important. If you’re not particularly adept at multitasking, you can always set aside certain periods of time throughout the day to check in and engage on Twitter.”
To a simple question, both companies gave inspiring answers. What do you think is the biggest benefit of Twitter for authors and publishers? “Interacting directly with readers, authors and booksellers is very exciting for our company. Twitter allows publishers like us to be listeners as well as content providers. Being in a virtual room with millions of readers makes us more aware of what people want.” us, our authors and literature,” explained Cortand and Buckley. Taeckens eloquently added: “The opportunity to convey your unique and personal sense of identity in real time.”
In both cases, Twitter managers found a place to express their passion for their books, authors, and industry. They didn’t set out to build a large following. They set out, almost as an experiment, to engage with a community and found it extremely rewarding and successful.