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Confessions of an ex-Spam Tweeter

As a yet-to-publish author, I knew that one of my tasks ahead of publishing my first book was to build an “author platform”. The logic is impeccable: if I built enough followers then, when I came to publish, there would be hundreds and thousands of people for me to market the fruits of my labour to. I researched what it meant to have an author platform and so I dutifully built my Cyber-Scriber blog on WordPress, reworked my Twitter account (which had 26 followers at the time – all real people I knew personally) and created a Facebook author page. I wrote a few articles on my blog and tweeted about them to direct interest towards my blog.  I was smart and wrote articles on themes that my novel addresses (in my case, the subject of computer hacking) rather than writing about the writing process, which, by-the-way, seems to be the plague of many indie-publisher author platforms.

Twitter SpamSlowly, people actually came to my blog to read what I’d written.  They interacted with me on Twitter and occasionally on my blog. Sometimes people would favourite one of my tweets or even re-tweet to their followers. It was fantastic. I was an overnight social media expert.

I soon figured out that, for each of my blog posts, if I created four or five tweets each with a different angle and approach, then I could spread those tweets over the course of a few days to drive more and more traffic to my new blog post. And it worked. But soon, that wasn’t enough for me. Because it seemed that if I tweeted the same tweets the next day (as if I hadn’t tweeted them at all the day before, and the day before that), then it drove even more traffic and more followers. And so I found myself creating a spreadsheet to track my most popular tweets across all of my blog posts and making a point of tweeting them each day.

The result? Great traffic and an exponential growth in followers. I could do no wrong!

That’s when I really got carried away. I trialled HootSuite for a month, and subscribed to it afterwards. My spreadsheet was soon the master file from which I uploaded all my tweets into Hootsuite and auto-scheduled them each day. And I was extra clever! I even used the spreadsheet to randomise the tweets across the course of each day so that from one day to the next Hootsuite tweeted them all at different times. I was unstoppable.

Occasionally, I’d look at the reports on WordPress and Hootsuite to work out which themes weren’t working and then I’d either archive the tweets so that they were no longer scheduled or I’d play with the wording and ‘refresh’ them a little, a bit like giving your living room a new coat of paint.

And my follower count flew through the roof. Within weeks, I had over 1,400 followers on Twitter. People favourited and retweeted me all the time. Some clicked through to my blog. A few even publicly argued on Twitter about the content of some of my blog posts (these were my favourites!!).

I HAD MADE IT!

I HAD AN EFFECTIVE AUTHOR PLATFORM.

Didn’t I?

Most of my real-world friends in my original list of 26 followers, including both my daughters, unfollowed me. Well, who could blame them! My interactions on Twitter had become my auto-scheduled tweets and an occasional reply to someone who replied to one of those auto-scheduled tweets. Nearly every tweet I put out had a link back to my blog or some other web page that had relevance to computer hacking. I could no longer read my own twitter stream, something I used to enjoy (I did play with lists and TweetDeck for a while, but they’re cumbersome and you need to remember to go look at them).

Despite my apparent success, I began to question my results. Were these 1,400 followers the kind of people who would buy my book when I finally launch it next year? Some, maybe. But most, probably not!

And then, on 15th July, 2013 I received the following tweet in response to one of my many regularly auto-scheduled tweets, one that I’d probably tweeted every day since May 2nd when I’d first written the blog post it linked to. Here’s the reply:

Justin Kennedy, whoever you are, you’ve made me stop and think. (Well, after two days when Hootsuite ran out of pre-loaded tweets!).

And from Justin’s one blunt tweet I realised I had become something terrible. I had become a spammer. I had inadvertently turned into one of those awful people who fill up your email inbox, twitter feed, and facebook timeline with marketing garbage. Moi? I could not believe what I had become.

I did some research and discovered loads of articles about Twitter etiquette. They all said, No spam. I found how-to-guides on the twitter aspects of creating an author platform. Lots of advice. Don’t spam. Don’t just tweet with links to your blog. And don’t tweet the same thing over and over.

I had broken nearly every rule. I had forgotten the number one thing about social media: the word ‘social’. I wasn’t interacting with people socially. I wasn’t posing questions and creating discussions. I wasn’t joining in other people’s conversations. I wasn’t mixing my tweets up between personal, promotional, and informational. And I wasn’t retweeting other people’s tweets anywhere near enough.

In short, I wasn’t building a real following. At best, I was just building a large follower count.

Since Justin’s tweet just over a month ago my tweet volume has dropped through the floor. When I have tweeted, it’s been about something that has caught my interest. There are virtually no tweets with links back to my blog. In fact, I’ve probably gone too far the other way, like a snail retreating into its shell.

So, I’ve written this blog post to begin the process of absolving myself of my spamming sins. I’m acknowledging publicly what I became and I promise not to go there again! Now that I’ve written and posted this article, I will resume tweeting and blogging with a little more gusto, but I promise to mix it up a lot more. I will occasionally tweet with promotional links to my blog posts, but only a few times just after they’re written or in response to someone else’s tweet on a related subject. I will RT a lot more. I will begin discussions and engage in other people’s conversations. I will make it more personal.

And if I’m successful, maybe – just maybe – my original 26 followers, including both my daughters, will choose to follow me again!

And to you Justin Kennedy, my first tweet about this very blog post will be the long overdue reply to your tweet above. I hope you follow the link in my reply and read this post! Thank you, sir.

What about you? Have you ever gone near the dark side of spamming on Twitter?

Do you hate it when your Twitter feed is full of spam? Or is the spam ok?

Should authors stop being so overtly promotional and acutally engage with their followers?

Is there a better way altogether to build an author platform?

Comment below.

4 Responses to Confessions of an ex-Spam Tweeter

  1. pattyjansen says:

    Haha, Ian, I love it!

    I don’t think there is a writer out there who hasn’t at least nibbled at the spam machine. The question is: did it sell more books?

    *crickets*

    I think it’s much more beneficial (albeit a lot slower in building followers) to be genuine.

  2. Thanks for this great, well-written post. I always try to ‘mix it up’ and be personal in my tweets. In general, they tend to be whatever I am up to at the time. By doing it that way, I find they are sometimes about my writing, but not always, and they are always personal.

    However, off late I have been busily uploading my first novel to Wattpad, and now when I look back over the past ream of tweets (now there’s an interesting collective noun for tweets) prompted by your post to do so, I see that’s all my recent tweets are about. Spam alert! So, a timely reminder to keep mixing it up. Ta muchly for that.

    • You’re very welcome! The more personal and the less spammy, the better quality of engagement you’ll get. That certainly what I’ve found in the two months since I wrote this blog post and changed my approach to tweeting. Good luck!

  3. Pingback: What We Can Learn From Markus Schulz’s Twitter Posting

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