We have a lot of experience running social media campaigns for authors, but one area where we are weak is Twitter. So we were thrilled when Joshua Pittman (founder of the Twitter scheduling tool Chirr App) reached out to us asking if he could share his hard-earned wisdom about how to use Twitter to build an audience for your book. I hope you find it as useful as we have. Enjoy!
by Joshua Pittman
I’ve spent the last two years building a Twitter thread scheduling tool called Chirr App. In that time, I’ve seen people build their audiences exclusively on Twitter. I always thought social media platforms were a place to catch people’s attention and then move them onto a more traditional platform like an email list. But things are changing, and in this post, I’m going to look at some of the benefits and tradeoffs of building an author platform exclusively on a social media site like Twitter.
Why pick Twitter over other platforms?
Conventional advice has been to be on as many social media sites as possible in order to increase your reach. However, this approach assumes that there aren’t enough people on any one platform to build a substantial audience. This hasn’t been true for a long time.
If you are busy, as most authors are, it might make sense to consolidate your limited time on a single audience. Rather than spreading yourself too thin across multiple platforms, you can make a meaningful impact on one social media platform.
The platform you choose should be based on who you’re trying to reach. Twitter is not for everyone. Its most defining feature is that it is not a visual platform. It’s a platform for people who can’t take pretty pictures of their work. Writers, software developers, venture capitalists, founders, activists, and politicians: these are all people who trade in ideas and tend to spend time on Twitter.
A good way to evaluate a platform’s potential is to set up an account and create an ad campaign. Without connecting a credit card, you can explore the platform’s demographics by using something called ‘Interest targeting’. This feature shows how many people on the platform are interested in certain topics. You can take this approach with any social media platform, and the information gives you a clear sense of how many ideal readers spend time on the platform and whether it is worth investing your time in.
Twitter can be particularly interesting for non-fiction authors. One of its main appeals is that it is where people come to learn and discover new ideas. If you are writing the type of non-fiction that helps a reader receive a tangible outcome (such as achieving a goal, improving a skill, or inspiring a change) then Twitter might be the ideal platform to connect with potential readers. While other platforms tend to skew towards entertainment, people on Twitter love useful information that helps them solve problems in their life.
How to approach Twitter as a non-fiction author
To use Twitter effectively, the idea is to build up a library of content that can be reposted every few months. This could be a collection of your key ideas around a topic and useful resources that help people deal with the specific problem that you are writing about.
At the time of writing this, Josh Spector has over 27 thousand followers. He specializes in helping creative entrepreneurs build successful businesses online. A lot of the people he works with sell informational products, and therefore much of what he has to say translates to non-fiction authors looking to establish a presence on Twitter.
One of his key ideas is that your tweets are not about you. Your content might draw from your experiences, but what you talk about should always revolve around helping your ideal readers get to where they want to go. If your book is shaped around a clear promise or outcome, then all of your content reinforces them making that transition in their lives. On Twitter, if you want to stand out, it’s less about what you say and more about what you help others do.
Building up a library of 100 of your key ideas and useful resources will allow you to cycle through the library every 2-3 months. The half-life of any given tweet is very short so building an evergreen content library is a sustainable way to stay active on the platform. Your content library isn’t something that needs to come together in one go, you can build it up over several months. What’s important is that you hold onto the content that resonates with people and use a Twitter scheduling tool so that one or two pieces go out every day. For a more thorough walkthrough of how to schedule content on Twitter specifically, I wrote a more comprehensive post on how to market a self-published book on Twitter.
Try not to get hung up on how many tweets you should post per day or at what time is best to post. Instead, focus on the quality of your tweets. It’s more important to post something useful and interesting than to post frequently. That being said, aim to post at least once a day. The key is to curate a library of high-quality content and schedule it out, so you don’t have to worry about constantly thinking of new tweets.
The trade-offs of relying on social media
The tradeoff with building an audience on a social media platform like Twitter, instead of a more traditional email list, is that you are subject to platforms changing the rules any time they want. There is always the risk that the entire social media channel could shut down your account or limit the reach of your content, leaving you with little control over the situation. This is important to keep this in mind as you work to establish your presence on a social media platform.
Building a platform on email has its perks, like the fact that it’s your own platform that no one can take it away. If you have the time and resources to build an email list and develop a presence on social media, then you should definitely do both. However, if you’re just starting out and have limited time, starting with a social media presence is a great first step.
There are more and more newsletters today than ever before, and they all crowd the limited amount of attention people give their inboxes. If you have to pick between maintaining a newsletter or building a social presence, the best argument for choosing social is that you still need to promote a newsletter, and this almost always means building a social presence.
Social media content traps to avoid
When building your social media presence, there are a few mistakes to look out for. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is over-automation. It’s tempting to spend a weekend scheduling out a bunch of posts and then forget about it. But people don’t want to follow fully automated accounts, they want to follow people.
A little bit of automation goes a long way, but it’s important to keep things in balance. Make sure to check in at least a few times a week, and provide real-time updates on what’s happening with your book and the progress that you’ve made that week. This way, people know that there’s a human behind the account and you’re actively engaging in conversations
When you first start a Twitter account, you will have zero followers. No one will see your posts, no matter how good they are. The way around this is to engage with active conversations and ideas in your space. There’s a tool called TweetDeck that can help you do just that.
With TweetDeck, you can set up multiple feeds around relevant topics. You can set up feeds to follow a certain hashtag or keyword, you can also create lists of people you want to follow on a specific topic, and then set up a feed for that list. To make the most of this tool, aim to have no more than ten feeds that you check in on once a day and contribute to conversations where you feel you can add something interesting or valuable. If you spend 2-3 minutes per post and aim for ten posts a day, it will take you less than half an hour each day to start to know your space and start contributing to conversations. Remember, it’s important to not just be a loudspeaker, but to actively engage and contribute to the conversations you want to be a part of.
A social media presence is an incredibly important part of the self-promotion puzzle. It’s gotten to the point where it is beginning to matter more than a more conventional email list. This is not to take away from how important mailing lists are. If you have to pick between the two, then this post makes the case for why social media is a better place to start. Remember, building an effective social presence requires a balance of automation and human engagement. It’s important to have a consistent content strategy and schedule your content in advance, but also to check in regularly and provide real-time updates to let your followers know there is a human behind the acc