The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

South by Southwest a la Twitter

I’ve written about Twitter, a lot, because I’m personally interested in social networking, but without concrete examples, it’s difficult to show how useful anything is.  Enter this weekend’s New Think for Old Publishers panel at South By Southwest, in which an offline panel discussion was accompanied by an online discussion on Twitter.  In the wake of that panel, a number of people have asked me about Twitter, since that experience highlighted how important it is to know what Twitter is and how it works, even if you choose not to use it.  Here are the basics.

What is Twitter?

Twitter, known as a “micro-blogging” site, allows you to post 140-character updates about what you’re doing (or thinking).  It’s basically the Facebook “Status” function — “face” without the “book.”

How does Twitter work?

You select people to follow in order to see their updates.  Others do the same with you.  For those of you familiar with RSS feeds, it’s much the same principle, only instead of selecting blogs to add to your feed, you’re choosing people.  (In fact, many people — including myself — find that Twitter in many ways replaces an RSS reader.)

You can change your settings so that you can approve your followers (prior to their being able to view your updates) and you can also block followers.  Most people don’t do either, but it can be done.

Why use Twitter — why would I even want to see other peoples’ updates?

I thought Twitter was a pretty inane concept when I first heard about it in a marketing meeting several years ago.  But I don’t follow people who only ever talk about what they had for lunch or what party they’re going to.  Virtually all of the 150 or so people I follow are bloggers, writers, literary agents, social marketing experts and people in the publishing and public relations industries, which allows me to keep up on issues affecting my job in book publicity.  Do people sometimes talk about what they had for lunch?  Sure.  Most people mix it up a bit between personal and professional updates.

How do I get started?

First, sign up for a Twitter account.  You will then need to update your profile (which takes about a minute to do).  Then, you select people to follow.  You can look up people individually or you can have Twitter search through your address books (in Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, etc.) to see which of your contacts are already on Twitter.  You will notice that some of the people who you follow will follow you back.  Another way to find people to follow is to search through someone else’s Follow / Follower lists.  Also, Highspot’s Jennifer Tribe maintains a comprehensive list of publishing folk on Twitter.

How do I interact with people?

You can either reply to a tweet or you can Direct Message someone if you don’t want your message appearing the Twitter stream for everyone to see.

If you come upon an interesting tweet, you can retweet (RT) it — giving the original tweeter credit, of course, by including their Twitter handle — and in doing so, broadcasting the information further.

Can you include photos and links in tweets?

Yes, although I’ve never posted a photo in Twitter.  (And Twitter itself doesn’t allow photos to be viewed, although you can do so in many of the Twitter applications.)

People often include links in tweets.  Since you have a limited amount of characters to work with, you will likely need to shorten the link at a site like TinyUrl or Snurl.

 What do you mean by “other” Twitter applications?

Twitter is a really basic application as far as web apps go these days.  So some smart people decided to juice it up a bit by making it look and work better.  Tweet Deck was the desktop app of choice at South by Southwest (yes — I sneaked peaks at other peoples’ laptops) although many people also use applications like Twhirl.

More people actually tweet from phones than from computers (or so I’ve read), which is where applications like Tweetie, Twitterberry, Twitterific and others come in handy.  (You can also text a tweet, although few people do that because there’s no way to view others’ tweets, which is where all the fun is.)

What is this “hash tag” I’ve been hearing about?

One problem with Twitter in the past was that there wasn’t a way to search for or archive tweets about a certain topic.  On blogs, for example, you can tag and categorize (and therefore look up) posts; not so on Twitter.  The hash tag allows you to do this.

You create a tag (a series of letters) preceded by the “#” sign (which the Brits call a “hash” but we call the “number” or “pound” sign.)  So the tag for the SXSW panel, for example, was #sxswbp.  Other popular publishing hash tags are #plnws (Publishers Lunch news), #digiarc (digital galleys) and #queryfail (what authors should not do when querying literary agents).

Can I see what’s going on on Twitter even if I’m not a member?

Yes.  You can search hash tags without logging in.

Why should I bother learning about Twitter now?  It’s been around for a while for already — won’t something new replace it in about a minute?

Twitter has been around for several years, but it’s also become increasingly popular even over the past year.  Will it be replaced soon?  Quite possibly.  For now, though, it’s how people communicate and it’s likely that whatever comes next will build on its existing features and concepts.


Tweeple: any basic tips that I’ve forgotten?  Comment at will.

March 18, 2009 - Posted by | Social Networking | , , ,


  1. Wow — one of the best, most concise, and most convincing explanations I’ve ever read of not only how Twitter works, but of what value it is. Thanks, Yen!

    Comment by Bill Thompson | March 20, 2009 | Reply

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