[Insert Annoying Self-Promoting Message Here]

oldpost

I’ve decided to change the way I blog.

From now on, day in and day out, all I’m going to post are blogs that consist of an image of my book’s cover, a link to where it’s for sale online and an excerpt from “another 5* review!” (the word another and the exclamation mark being the most important elements of that phrase).

Will you stick around?

I’m guessing not, and I wouldn’t expect you to. Were you to change your blog to consist exclusively of such blatant, repetitive, smug and utterly pointless – more on the pointless bit in a minute – content, I’m sure you wouldn’t expect anyone to hang around either.

And yet this is exactly how an alarming number of writers are treating Twitter every minute of every day.

I thought we all understood. I thought we had this thing down. I thought we’d all realized that people follow us on Twitter, read our blogs and “like” our Facebook pages not to be sold something but to find things that either:

  1. Entertain them
  2. Inform them
  3. Make them feel like they connect with someone else, i.e. like they can relate to you because you have a shared problem/experience

or a combination of the above. I thought incessantly tweeting updates about how many five star reviews your book has now, or asking us to vote for you in some internet-votes-decided competition, or posting nothing but advertisements for your book that promise us “fans of Dan Brown will think this is even better!” had all gone the way of thinking Cover Creator can create professional-looking covers or that editing is optional.

But it’s getting worse. Actually, I think it got much better and then got worse than ever before. I’ve noticed it myself lately and then today my Twitter friend Mariam tweeted this (see below), and I realized the increase in this activity wasn’t in my imagination, and I decided to blog about it.

So, here goes:

stopsignIT.

What is “it”?

It’s silly to say that any kind of activity should be subject to a blanket ban. We’re all trying to sell books, engage with new readers and increase our Twitter following, so of course there will always be an element of self-promotion to our online presence. Please feel free to tell us about five star reviews, and encourage us to vote for you in some competition or other, or let us know when your book is free or you have a little launch party going on (as I did recently).

But FOR THE LOVE OF FUDGE people: stop doing it all the damn time.

Permission marketing is a term coined by Seth Godin that essentially means promoting only to people who have opted-in to be promoted to. (Like when you buy something on Gap.com in September, check the box marked “Subscribe to newsletter” and then get at least two e-mails about layers every day for three months.) But I like to use the term and the idea to convey a simple instruction about your promotional activity: you must earn the right to sell me something.

If 99% of the time – or even, say, 75% of the time – you tweet hilarious observations, share links to fascinating blog posts and stroke my ego by retweeting my hilarious observations and links to fascinating blog posts, how am I going to feel when you tweet “ANOTHER 5* review for The Best Novel Ever!”?

Not that bothered. I might even go check it out. But if every other tweet before it has said the same thing, and all your tweets yesterday said the same thing, and all the tweets the day before said the same thing and so on, how am I going to feel?

It’d be more like this:

trex

Or on a good day:

wince

We’re not talking about occasional self-promotion here. We’re talking about a tweet stream infested with it. I think if it’s taking up more than 3 out of every 10 tweets – and that’s not including stuff you retweet; I mean your original tweets – then you’re in trouble, and all your followers are already pissed off.

Perfectly Pointless

The thing that really gets my goat about this kind of promotion is that it is COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY POINTLESS. It doesn’t work. It never has. It can’t work, because you can’t sell to people who are annoyed with you. So it’s not going to win you any sales and it’s going to cost you (virtual) friends. Why do it then?

I think people do it for two reasons:

  1. They don’t know any better OR
  2. They think they’re getting away with it.

What I mean by “they don’t know any better” is this: maybe Twitter doesn’t look to them the way it looks to you and me. Remember that Twitter is what you make of it. It’s an entirely different kettle of fish to each and every user. For example to me, it’s a fantastically interesting and friendly place packed full of people with a deep love of books, with some Irish and celebrity news thrown in. (Don’t judge me…) But for the person who just signed up yesterday, it may just be a place to keep up with traffic alerts and giveaways by their favorite brands. Twitter may look to them like a billboard, just because of who they’ve chosen to follow. Therefore, they may not know that it’s wrong – or pointless – to treat it as such. There’s not much we can do about them.

However if you’re in the second group, brace yourself: you’re not getting away with it. You may have a healthy follower count, but what’s your engagement level like? When you tweet “ANOTHER 5* review!” do you instantly get a string of retweets and a stream of congratulatory messages? I very much doubt it. And just because your follower count doesn’t go down doesn’t mean you’re not losing followers. You know we can “mute” you now, right? Unfollow you, for all intents and purposes, except you won’t know it. We’ll never see you in our stream and yet if you check, we’ll still be in your follower list. Except we won’t be really, because you’ve annoyed us so much we’ve put you on mute.

Check Your Content’s Value

I outlined above the three reasons people are spending their time online. I’ve blogged about it before and I cover it at length in Self-Printed, but here’s a quick recap again:

When you put something promotional online, be it a blog post, tweet or Facebook update, your goal should be to improve the internet above all else. Make it a better place – or a more interesting place, or a funnier place, or a more helpful place – than it was five minutes ago. Don’t just add to the white noise, because your content will disappear like a fleck of white in a screen full of static. (So it will be, say it with me: POINTLESS!)

Make sure your promotional content is doing one or more of the following things: entertaining (e.g. a funny book trailer), informing (e.g. sharing details of a writing competition on Facebook) or connecting (e.g. writing a blog post about how you’re feeling about NaNoWriMo this year or your struggle to get an agent).

Then, here’s the kicker: does it still do one or more of those three things when you take the advertising bit out of it?

Take these examples:

They are advertising:

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (a novel)
  • Self-Printed 3.0 (my book)
  • Transworld titles (i.e. corporate account)

But pretending for a second that none of the things in that list really exist, that none of those products are really available to buy, would the items above still have a value? Yes, they would: the video is entertaining, my blog post is helpful and when we see the picture Transworld shared, I’m sure most of us think, I love that – that’s so me!

Looking at your promotional content, if your book didn’t exist, could the content still stand alone? Does it have a value of its own?

What if we took away the advertising from a tweet that read:

tweet

What would we be left with? Could it stand by itself if the book didn’t exist? If the answer is no, then forget it.

The Real Life Test

Here’s another, even easier test you can do: would you say this to me in real life? Is your tweet (or blog post or Facebook update) a reflection of how you behave in the real, 3-D world?

Last week I launched the third edition of Self-Printed, and I had a fantastic prize from eBookPartnership to give away. I confined the whole thing to two days and have not mentioned it since, as you may have noticed. And this is what I did in real life too – I e-mailed my writer friends, just the once, to say the new edition was out now and that I had a fab prize going on my blog if they knew any self-publishers who might be interested. But when I meet them for coffee, do we all sit at the table saying “I just got ANOTHER 5* star review for my book!”? I can assure you we don’t, because we wouldn’t be invited back again. But because I almost never promote my stuff to my friends, they weren’t annoyed when I did it the once – in fact, they were all congratulatory  and were happy to pass the message on. I’d earned it.

So try the Real Life test before you tweet your next “Fabulous stuff ANOTHER person said about my book!” tweet.

Twitter isn’t a billboard. Stop treating it like one . It doesn’t work and we’re all going to end up muting you.