by Sarah Kosofsky

Twitter: some people have a solid grasp of the service and find it to be incredibly helpful in their business, while others find it to be a confusing burden broken into 140 character fragments.  Whichever view a person has of the social networking site, however, it cannot be denied that Twitter, when used a certain way, can be an excellent marketing tool. It allows companies to post messages to followers’ twitter feeds, giving them the ability to more directly share information about new products, events, and promotions.  In the case of scholarly publishers, Twitter can offer a simple way to gather immediate feedback and provide a communication link with an audience that may otherwise be difficult to reach -  such as current and potential authors, industry peers, institutional librarians, or individual subscribers.

Publishers’ Weekly recently published its list of influential Twitter accounts and listings for 2012.  Influence ranges from follower counts in the double digits to the several hundred thousand.  For the most part, the mainstream publishers, such as Random House (@RandomHouse) and Simon & Schuster (@simonschuster) have follower counts in the several hundred thousand, while more independent publishers have a smaller count in the thousands.  This could be expected; readers who pick up material from popular publishers might follow the publisher on Twitter so that they can hear about new books that might interest them.  Smaller publishers who have less money to spend on marketing might have fewer followers initially, but have the ability to increase their followership if they engage with their followers. 

Take, for example, Graywolf Press, an independent non-profit publisher from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  @graywolfpress has (as of writing) 145,136 followers.  Why is this?  Graywolf Press, or more specifically, whoever is maintaining the Graywolf Press twitter account, engages with followers.  Tweets don’t exclusively advertise the publisher’s new materials or tweet about what the publisher is doing, which might not appeal to a wide audience.  Instead, the platform is used to initiate conversations about either a book or an event in the publishing industry and followers are encouraged to send messages and respond to publisher questions.

Here’s an example of a great conversational tweet from Graywolf Press:

@Graywolfpress:  Live in the Twin Cities? We'd love your feedback on @LitPunch & the Literary Events scene. Pls take this survey: 

LitPunch is a series of literary events in the Twin Cities that is open to the public.  Graywolf displays a clear interest in learning more about not only their fans, but the greater literary community of Minneapolis and St. Paul as a whole.

Or take this tweet from Random House:

@randomhouse: Happy ‪#FridayReads - we are gobbling up The Twelve by@JustinCronin. What about you?

Tweets like these encourage followers to have a conversation and might allow the follower to feel more connected to the publisher.

Harvard Health (@HarvardHealth) has a high follower count perhaps because of the information it tweets. Although there is no dialogue with the Twitter account, interesting health news and health tips are frequently tweeted.  This kind of account is something one might follow if one wanted a daily dose of healthy living advice.  The same goes for Elsevier Neuro (@ELSneuroscience), which, in addition to sharing interesting information and news, responds to followers’ tweets.

For the most part, those publishers with lower follower numbers usually just tweet promotional information about new material, a tactic which can fall flat and limit the potential audience for the message.  It’s fair to say that, in general, the same rules apply to Twitter as with any social interaction: people like hanging around others who are not only interesting, but can carry a conversation.

Do you use twitter in a business context? Do you find it an effective tool, and what type of information do you normally post?