Some people are easier to ignore than others. At an animated 6’6”, freelance writer Erik Vance is hard to miss in a crowd, and impossible to ignore when he’s poking your shoulder at the AAAS meeting, asking why you haven’t tweeted his latest story. My friend, you see, was finally ready to “get into this whole twitter thing.”
The truth was, even though the Last Word on Nothing is a blog I love, and he’s a writer I tend to follow, I hadn’t read it. In fact, I didn’t know the post existed.
It’s impossible to read everything I’d like to each day. I wish I could keep up. In reality, my online reading habits are a blend of deliberate search (what’s happening on the FASTR act? What’s the latest on ocean acidification?) and serendipity. The serendipity comes through friends and colleagues sharing their reading suggestions via email, conversation, but mostly through social media like Facebook and Twitter. I trust that the people I follow in these networks know the landscapes I am interested in, or I think they have great taste, or maybe (let’s admit), I know that they have a sense of humor I can’t resist. Of course I still can’t read it all, but if I see those in my network tweeting about a particular story – especially when multiple people flag something as a must-see – I am much more likely to look into it.
So back to Erik… once he stopped poking me he asked, “OK, so how do I do this? How do I get my story out there?” I explained that step one is to tweet about it, and added that one option was to call me out by name. If you include someone’s handle (@username) in your tweet, they get a little alert that you’ve mentioned them. It gets their attention.
So he tweeted:
Not exactly a tantalizing invitation into the story, is it? The delicious irony of this is that you’ve seen Erik here before, opining about how to better promote your science via press releases. I cannot help but delight in turning the tables a bit (sorry, Erik).
Nevertheless, I went, I read, and I enjoyed his piece. It’s a cool little story – so I did what I always do on social media and shared it. Then the people who follow me repeated the process – they read it, enjoyed it, and shared it. All told, my tweet had 16 ‘retweets’ (RTs) and a handful of ‘favorites.’ That’s good. Then there were people who tweeted about it in their own voices for their own audiences, but gave me a hat tip (h/t or HT in twitter parlance) for pointing them to it… even better.
It can feel uncomfortable to promote your own work. But it’s essential in a busy, noisy world. It’s better to think of this promotion as standing up for your ideas. Are they worth it? Then go to work for them.
And, what does this process yield? The activity generated by the tweet I sent out about Erik’s blog created 52,529 primary impressions on Twitter. Impressions = total possible number of times a tweet might seen. (For a deeper dive into these numbers, check out this quick guide and extra insight into my methods).
More than 50,000 theoretical eyeballs? Not bad for one little tweet! Of course, no matter how good it feels subjectively, the hard question is… Does it matter? Did that buzz make a difference? I think the case is pretty clear.
I asked the Last Word on Nothing to share their Google Analytics for that post, reporting unique page views per day for the week after it went live. Look at that big second spike in traffic! All in all, more than 2/3 of the traffic to the story at the time of running the report came in thanks to Twitter. And, further, that’s more than 30 times the typical amount of unique viewers coming into their posts via Twitter.
It’s not always this easy, but a few hundred readers – or even a few dozen – can make a surprising difference. Every reader matters when you’re trying to get an idea out there, and it’s more than just a numbers game. You want the right readers, and you can reach them within these networks of people who are actively engaged online and who share similar interests.
I am writing a chapter on this in an upcoming book on science blogging, so I’ll be discussing how to promote your work online in more detail over the coming months. Look for a short ‘how to’ follow-up post from me on Wednesday. For now, here’s the takeaway: Social media is all about relationships, and relationships are built on mutual rewards. This is not especially complicated. No one wants to be used, but we’re happy to do favors sometimes, and always interested in finding and sharing great content.
So trust me, if Erik can do it, so can you
UPDATE: My brief thoughts and more resources on the ‘how-to’ of all this are now posted