Spam, irritation, and the twitterverse

Talking about social media—because we were, weren’t we? Twitter’s a funny thing too. A few minutes ago I saw that a gentleman wearing full Saudi sheik gear was following me. I went to his profile and saw just scrolls and scrolls of arabic script so I didn’t follow back. I mean, why would I? He could be ranting off about anything and I wouldn’t be any the wiser. A minute later he’d gone. He’d given me about two minutes to decide to follow back or he wasn’t playing.

It made me think that I really don’t understand what makes twitter users tick. At first I just watched in consternation as the jumble of ads, spams, and incoherent, meaningless messages scrolled past. Then I discovered twitter poetry prompts and settled into a little backwater of the twitter stream full of little gems of poetic imagery. It’s fun, useful, and entertaining. I slip in a plug for my own books every couple of weeks but since I don’t believe it makes one iota of difference, it’s not something I do with any conviction or perseverance.

I follow back many of the people who follow me as long as they’re not selling anything or promoting hate or some religion or other. Often these followers come through the poetry connection. Others though seem to be simply working their way through the entire twitterverse starting with the letter A. What good does it do me in any way whatsoever to be followed by a Saudi sheik or a computer programmer in Seattle, or a lady who knits lace doilies in Hong Kong? Often their twitter feed is just a constant dribble of : Thanks for the follow. What intellectual stimulation is there to be got out of the kind of messages that are composed half of hashtags and half of single letters or contractions and numbers instead of words? Why do people follow twitters who don’t even use the same alphabet? How the hell do you know what they’re tweeting about?

So many questions. Any answers?

I wrote that a few days ago. That was before I reached the tipping point with spam demands. I know this strikes a chord with a lot of people. You accept a friend request or return a twitter follow and your inbox or DM box starts pinging away like crazy with messages like: Thanks for the follow, now follow me on FB/ follow this Amazon link and buy my book/ go to my profile and RT my book ads. Who do they think I am? A social service for wannabee best sellers? Do I really have nothing better to do with my time than spend it puffing up complete unknowns who won’t even say thank you? I’d have to be suffering from terminal boredom to do half what these people expect.

I’m quite prepared to admit that there is a way of using social media to get readers for my books. I just haven’t found it yet. I have though found lots of ways in which social media would drive potential readers away. So far away they would never come back. I have a theory that the advocates of using social media for saturation spamming have an evil ulterior motive. By encouraging other authors to jump into the spammers’ black hole, they clear the way for themselves to gain readers using the more subtle methods they aren’t letting on about.

As we all know by now, selling books isn’t about the quality of the writing, it’s about the way you put it over. There are quite a few popular expressions to describe the process—none of them very complimentary. As Susan Toy points out in her excellent article I have just taken the liberty of reblogging, if what you are looking for is readers not sales, the tactics are completely different. Then, you just have to write a great book, offer it to people, and thank them heartily if and when they enjoyed it and tell you so. That’s maybe how we authors should count our success.

End of rant.

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Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

58 thoughts on “Spam, irritation, and the twitterverse”

  1. I confess that Twitter still baffles me. I can kind of see the point – but at the moment my feed is an incessant scrolling list of noise sweeping past at the same speed as those high velocity credits they stick on the end of crap gameshows these days. Once in a while there’s a photo of outer space or a link to somewhere that might be vaguely interesting but they’ve gone in a flash and if I don’t click fast enough I end up on a site for PPI mis-selling, fertility pills or Adult Friend Finder – again. My own work day consists of writing at the desk – making a cup of tea – writing at the desk so I don’t have a whole lot to tweet about. I guess I’m doing something wrong but can’t be bothered to find out what. Most of the DMs invite me to buy another 5000 followers!

    1. I don’t even look at my twitter feed any more. I so rarely see anything I recognise as a message to anyone, never mind to me in particular. I get a lot of fun out of the poetry tweets and that takes care of my twitter time every day. I would like to know though (honestly) why ordinary, non-polyglot anglophones follow twitters who only post in Henrew or Arabic or Cyrillic script. What do they get out of it? And, more mind boggling to me, how do they know they have anything in common with this person at all?

      1. I entirely agree, (on almost every point) but a recent friend whose book I reviewed (and he quotes from it) seems to have got the hang of things tweeting (and much retweeting) seems to bring forth support .I discovered this because I was offered his book by Amazon who read his traffic. Since I had richly reviewed it I was curious. But I cannot imagine what followers of 18K actually mean! Following what?

      2. I have no idea. If all the people who use twitter regularly divide their followers into lists and only actually read the tweets of the inner circle, why bother with all the rest? The promotion gurus tell you to get thousands of followers so that when you tweet your book spam X thousand tweeters will see it. Well, of course, they don’t. And if I’m one of your followers i’ll never see it no matter how often to tweet it because I don’t trawl through the insane mess that constitutes a twitter feed. the thing just grows all by itself and is of no interest whatsoever. Some twitters seem interesting but they are ships that pass in the night. I never see them again. Baffles me completely.

  2. I think you’ll agree that with Twitter it’s all about the number of followers users can amass and not so much about the content the rest of us hope to share or find interesting. I receive tweets regularly from people I don’t know who offer to increase my number of followers by 10s of thousands, if I just sign up with them – and pay a minimal fee. These are the people who have figured out a way to make money from Twitter. Also likely why you’re being followed by a Saudi sheik, Jane. He probably paid for your handle as well as thousands of others. Instant friends for him! Many more spammers for the rest of us. One trick I learned is that, if someone I consider to be suspicious begins following me, I block them so they no longer see my tweets. Twitter assesses anyone who has been blocked and, if deemed to be spamming, the account is closed. That may be one way of getting the message through to these people. I also send private messages to some of the authors who I feel may have potential and suggest they not spam about themselves, because it turns off readers more than it helps to promote their books.

    1. I hadn’t thought of that. When you buy followers I don’t suppose they screen for things like comprehension. If it’s just a numbers game, what do people hope to acheive once they reach tens of thousands of followers? If most of them are like me, they never even look at their twitter feed!

      1. Bragging rights. It’s all about the extreme numbers they achieve and nothing at all about ever reading what those followers post, let alone ever carrying on a meaningful conversation.

  3. As nobody else has, I’ll put my head above the parapet and defend twitter (but not spammers). I’ve met a lot of readers and writers on twitter. The way to do it is straightforward. you follow people. You listen to what they say. You engage with them in the hope they engage back. I tweet about writing, life, funny things I’ve seen. I occasionally tweet about my book – if I’m running a promotion or if I’ve had a particularly good review – but not very often.
    The way most twitter users avoid the stream of noise is to create lists. I have a list of friends, a list of those who I engage with regularly (and engage back) and a list of interesting people (in my case famous writers, thinkers, journalists etc.).
    I have no idea if spamming works as a means of selling books. Given the amount of effort some people put in I’m sure there must be some value but I don’t plan going there myself.

    1. Thanks for bringing up the subject of lists, Dylan. I’ve heard them mentioned before. I’ve been included on a few lists myself and have never known either how to do it or what you do with it once you’ve done it. Shpws my lack of curiosity probably that I’ve never bothered to find out.
      I don’t doubt there is a lot to be got out of twitter if you can work out how to avoid all the flotsam and jetsam. I’ll take up your suggestion and try and work out the list thingy. I’ll even follow you on twitter if I can find you 🙂

  4. Hi Jane. I just wanted to see what you were ranting about. I’m in there with you, for what it’s worth. Lately, social media has been nothing but a distraction. I like to keep up with my friends and relatives, and Facebook is a great way to say hey to relatives in the far reaches of Canada, but as far as being a handy tool to sell my book. Ha! The only ‘tool’ is me for thinking it will help me sell a million.

    1. Hey Lockie! When you use social media for being sociable it’s a great invention. The proof, I’ve met dozens and dozens more people like your good self than real life would ever have brought me into contact with. But the hardline salespeople who just use it to flog their own books take all the pleasure out of the virtual experience.

  5. I don’t tweet as much as I used to. In the beginning when I followed and was followed by only a few users I met some great people who are still my social media friends today, but I’m not out to simply accumulate thousands and thousands of followers. I have only a little over 800 followers and follow a little over 900, and frankly I don’t pay any attention to what any of them post. I’m one of those who are out for readers rather than sales, and attracting quality readers is a slow, gradual process, taking a lot of patience.

    1. I’ve managed to acquire over 2000 followers mainly from following back. The majority of them are writers so I’m not likely to meet many readers through twitter. If you know of a way of growing a readership, do pass on the info. i’d love to know. Don’t care how long it takes (within reason, I’m not Peter Pan) just so long as I don’t have to spam 🙂

  6. Hi Jane, I didn’t read all the comments above but scanned your last reply. I’m still new to the marketing and promotion of my book, so I can’t guarantee large success, but I’d like to say that I too had the same theory about my twitter following. The mass of my 1300 followers are other authors all trying to promote their book, just like I am. Like you, I don’t bombard my feed with buy, buy, buy, but I do toss in a link every now in then. Fortunately, I have made friends with some very fine people by interacting with them), whom have also helped market my book by sharing things for me. What I also learned, is all those other writers, they read! Some of them have bought my book. Maybe it hasn’t helped in the masses, but I’ll take what little sales I can get. As for the Sheik … yeah, I don’t get that either. Baffles me and I agree, I’m not following someone who I can’t understand what they are saying.

    1. About writers being readers too—they are, thank goodness! I think most of my books have been bought by writers. That might be because most of my virtual friends are writers, might be because they are the type of people who genuinely want to help out another struggling indie author and so buy her books. But they are friends, not the spammy type of friends who send you junk mail as soon as you press the follow button. I hope this isn’t a winning tactic. If it is, I’m going to be forever at the back of the pack. There has to be a better way of reaching the reading public.

  7. Agree about a better way to reach readers but I look at the whole picture and do not think it hurts. Twitter keeps you in the news loop, which my book is loosely based upon … current events. I’m not sure how I followed so many people I didn’t know and advertisements.
    I cut back 500 one time and still have 1500 now w/ only 700 follow backs. One can’t possibly read all those tweets; I need to make a list of top 50-100 so I can check quickly. On a positive note I’m going to update my gardenlilie blog as soon as I finish my book, say 3 weeks or less.
    I appreciate all the tips and advice and capability to check on others like yourself.

    1. Twitter like FB is a great way to keep in contact with people, but as you say it’s impossible to really keep up with the thousands of followers/friends we accumulate. I’m going to have to find a way of sorting tweets out since the sheer numbers mean I don’t read the feed at all.

      1. Yes, I think lists are the way to go. I feel twitter, worpress and tumblr have brought out my creative streak. So I don’t want to end it, just make it very small what I read.

  8. I feel like I understand Twitter, it’s just all these other people who use it wrong. My story, sticking to it.
    I too have been annoyed by those follow-me-folks, and the ones who then beg for extended follows. What I want out of it is networking, I want to be able to hold brief conversations, or exchange ideas, or be given glimpses into random thoughts and experiences of others. I like the occasional suggestion for a book to read, or a blog-post to check out, but when it turns into annoying spam it turns me away. Guerrilla-Marketing tactics have never been something I’ve been fond of, taking it digital doesn’t improve things.

    1. I bet if you were to ask some of the worst offenders what they think of spam they’d probably say it’s an inoffensive sales tactic and in a difficult market you have to do what you can. It is inoffensive in the sense that most of the spammers wouldn’t come back and insult you if you ignore them, but I think it approaches the offensive when someone you have admitted into your circle of ‘friends’ stealth sells to you and then dumps you from their own ‘friends’ list. That is premeditation and it is unpleasant.

  9. I read this article about making Twitter work for authors. It was fairly deplorable. The author would find businesses near him, or a bookstore, a church, whatever, that had maybe something in common with the book, and go through each and every one of their followers and send a tweet about his book. Holy freakin crap. If that’s what it takes to find readers, I’m just not doing it. That would be the surest way to tick me off, so how can I think someone else would be gratefull to me for hunting them down in a creepy way and sending unwanted solicitations? I’m not so pleased with Facebook as a platform, either.

    1. Agree totally. There has to be a way of getting exposure that doesn’t involve stalker tactics. First you have to write something good, but it also has to be what enough people want to read—not the same thing. Then you have to introduce it to prospective readers. That’s the bit where even good writers can come unstuck. If the only way you can get anybody to buy your book is by creeping up on them and intimidating them, there’s probably something wrong with your book. There’s cetainly something wrong with you as a human being.

  10. Reblogged this on Chimera Poetry and commented:
    I have never liked the “S4S” share for share scheme. If I like a page, or a tweet or a post – then I like it. If I follow you its because I like something about you. In here Jane Dougherty puts all this much more elegantly than my grumpy chimera-ness…..

  11. Even when you abide by the etiquette and follow the ‘rules’ nothing happens. Follow back, write something interesting, don’t spam, interact, promote others, etc. I use Twitter tools to mute spammers and retweeted spam and my timeline is virtually empty now.

    I’ll be shutting up shop on social media at the end of October (possibly before). Had enough of all the bullshit.

    1. I admire you for pulling out. I know you’ve stood up to the Amazon hegemony too. I just don’t have the nerve. I blog because I enjoy it, tweet poetry because I enjoy that too. FB is no use whatsoever, can’t even keep in touch with family through it because they don’t use it either. You’re right though, that just playing fair has no effect on sales at all, but none of the bullshitty stuff does either unless you’ve written something easy to sell to unfussy readers. Good luck with finding the north west passage—if it’s even there.

      1. Trying to find the answer is too much of a hassle. I could have written two more novels in the time I’ve spent trying to sell the first two. I like writing so no more distractions. Good luck with your own work and I’ll send you a postcard from the north west passage, which, once found, will probably be heavily commercialised already.

  12. Reblogged this on three chairs and commented:
    Goodness! Can I ever relate to this. I had my reasons for quitting Facebook and they were mostly… well, personal, but Twitter — this is exactly why I stopped “tweeting.” Just who are all these so-called followers who tweet in unreadable script and say little of importance in a language you can understand. Thanks for the follow? Uh, no thanks. I couldn’t do Twitter either. If I were a hashtagger, I’d tag: socialmediafailure

    1. Thanks for reblogging 🙂 I’ve heard this mentioned before, that you divide your twitter followers into lists. In other words you have a list of people you can usefully have a conversation with, and you relegate the rest into the outer darkness. I’m wondering what’s the point of having them at all. I certainly never look at my twitter feed. There might be people among my followers who are fountains of wisdom; it passes me by. And I’m not dead yet.

      1. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Jane! Fortunately, the fount of wisdom is deep and wide, expanding far beyond the twatterverse. 😉 I read something this morning on Ray Bradbury’s website. Of course, he is no longer maintaining it (may he RIP, since 06.05.2012) but someone there posted this:

        “Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, Live forever! Bradbury later said, I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped.”

        Isn’t that great? Live forever! May it be so.

      2. Nice to meet you too! When my kids complain that their favorite whatever still hasn’t been washed, or there isn’t their favorite whatever to eat because I haven’t found time to go to the shops, I ask them: “Would you rather have a mother who is remembered for having the cleanest toilets on the street, or for writing the greatest books?” I might not be Ray Bradbury but I don’t intend to sink without trace 🙂

  13. I agree wholeheartedly about how we authors should count our success. Although I must admit that making a little money from my passion would be quite nice indeed. I’ve met some very wonderful people on Twitter. But like you, I don’t follow those who tweet in a language I don’t speak; I want to know what is being said by those I follow. I also don’t follow those who spew radical beliefs to which I don’t espouse. Aside from being an author, I’m also an activist, and some folks might consider my beliefs radical; but I come from my heart and have great compassion for the suffering. I’ve heard that studies show Twitter to be the best social media for marketing and promotion, so I’m not giving up on it yet. Thanks for this post, Jane ~ greatly appreciated 🙂

    1. Twitter is a great means of spreading the word and I’m all for it. That’s a sort of honourable use of it, in my opinion. DMing people who have had the courtesy to follow back is not. I find that an invasion of privacy and rather insulting—as if I can’t make my own mind up about which books to buy or who to follow on FB. Keep spreading the word! Twitter does get things changed 🙂

  14. I’ve had my Twitter account 3 years but have only been using it for about six months now. At first I couldn’t understand it but since limiting myself to the micropoetry circle I think it’s great. Awesome even. I’ve had the sheiks and lots of guys promising to publish my poetry but seem to have avoid the spamming you talk about Jane – maybe they’re chasing female names? Our little corner of the Twitterverse (see – I’m a native already) wouldn’t be the most lucrative for a scammer with a brain anyway (I know, a rarity anyway). I never follow back unless it’s a fellow poet and am more interested in finding kindred spirits than driving numbers. That said, I’m still not sure if I’m using the thing efficiently and may be tempted into a copy of ‘Twitter for Dummies’ or other demystifier. What I do know is that once I’m on it I can’t get off – it’s addictive! I have to limit my visits accordingly. It’s a powerful tool for social change tho’ and once I expedited a refund on a shonky product by plastering the firm’s Twitter timeline with some of my finest and most creative insults ever. تويتر الصخور

    1. Twitter poetry is wonderful and that’s all I use twitter for. The occasional book plug once or twice a week because you have to. I admit I follow back anyone who has a literary bent but can’t abide those people who think it’s reasonable to fill up the twitterverse with their (not so) profound thoughts. Who cares? The spammers would get a much better reception from me if they started off by saying; I just checked out your books and they look fantastic. Just bought the lot. Would you like to take a look at mine?
      But, of course, they don’t. Shame.

      1. Twitter (and FB, YouTube etc.) marketing actually works for corporate types when they engage a social media consultant (for big bucks) to mount and operate a campaign. Apart from occasional luck, I can’t see lesser promotions successfully selling much.

      2. Me neither. We all know advertising works for soap powder, chocolate biscuits, cars, perfumes etc. Books are no different. But Chanel and Renault have a somewhat different budget to me.

      3. John Grisham used to fill the boot of his dilapidated car with his first novel and peddle them one at a time to convenience stores. There’s more than one way to skin that cat not that an animal lover like you….

  15. I don’t think we need to skin any animal to sell books. I haven’t a clue what Twitter does in regards to promoting your work. This past week or two, for some reason, information about my books is being Tweeted and re-Tweeted all over the place. I thought that would help to promote, but I don’t see any change in hits to my websites or sales. So, I don’t think Twitter works to engage readers unless you already know and have reader followers. Great post Jane!

    1. Occasionally I have a tweet blitz and most of them get retweeted a few times. But it makes no earthly difference. Frankly, when I read some of the spam that obviously works (because the author sells loads of books) I think i’m in the wrong business. Drivel sells.

  16. Not twitter, not even ‘featured Author Interview on The Author Show raises visitors to the book site (or the Amazon page) I am at a loss now. I use twitter to post poetic quotes from both my books and get occasional retweets. One was a runner-upBook of the Year, the other shortlisted for a prize this week ( not that I heard that from the organiser- just from a friend on Facebook so do I believe it? I have decided to!.) I think following on twitter ( as an author) is simply in hope they will look at your profile and become aware there is a book. That’s about it.

    I think there must be room for a site in which excerpts from books can be posted for free ( and continue) and be ‘findable under ‘genre with brief synopsis. (and discussion option) The hell with selling. You can write or you can sell ( if what you write tells other people how to you can probably do both) Despair prevails.

    1. I use twitter in the same way. I tweet poetry and sometimes I make it relevant to my books and stick an amazon link to it. Doesn’t do anything I can see. None of the FB or twitter spamming has the slightest effect when I do it, but it seems to work for books that sound absolutely dire. Maybe I’m just being a literary snob, but it seems to me that if you’ve written something good and you don’t have a serious publisher, nobody is going to pick your book up on spec. If you don’t have a serious publisher you are in the same pool as the slush pile rejects and competing for the same readers. Write slush and you have a better chance.
      A place where you could stick an extract for free would be great. Except that’s what amazon already does. The problem is there’s just too much for readers to plough through. It’s the quantity that makes it useless for most of us. We are just invisible. I don’t know what the answer is, but spamming isn’t it unless you’ve written the kind of book spam readers would like.

      1. Good to have a fellow traveller Jane. I am at a loss. Told I was ‘invisible’ last week despite two years of little else but connect, comments, blog etc. Why write if the WIP will not do better than those already written? The celebration of the ‘indie author’ is somewhat a poisoned chalice now, too many of us! But meeting others with similar despair at least comforts. So thank you.

      2. I did all the stuff the publisher said had to be done, the FB page, blog, Goodreads, Twitter, Amazon page and all the rest of it. In my case it made no difference to book sales at all. I’m visible to the few thousand people who nominally follow me on he social media but the vast majority of them are associated with writing in one way or another. No doubt theh key is to cultivate followers who have nothing to do with writing as they might be potential readers. It still boils down to spamming your ‘friends’ though, and I know no better way to piss off friends than to bombard them with egocentric messages to buy my book. Nor does it make any difference having lots of books on offer. If you’re invisible you’re invisible. The only possible way out is either 1) write a steamy romance with cowboy vampires/werewolves 2) get a publisher.

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