Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dealing with Twits—A Social Media Rant

This is what I look like when I use Twitter
For some time now, I've been experimenting with Twitter on the advice of an author platform expert who shall remain nameless because she insisted that it's an essential social media platform for authors. I confess that after having used Twitter for several months, I have absolutely no idea why she'd think or say this. Does she even have a Twitter account, I wonder. Has she seen what's going on in there? 

For the uninitiated, here's a brief summary: Twitter is a "social broadcasting" platform. Users "tweet" short messages that presumably announce something important. A quick run-down of my Twitter feed suggests just the opposite, however; it's teeming with celebrity gossip, perennial outrage, public shaming, links to suggestive and virus-laden web sites, and pictures of Kim Kardashian's naked ass (which has become boring because we've seen so much of itquite an accomplishment on her part, considering the predilections of our modern society).

That last item yields a relevant observation, though: Unless you're a celebrity of some stripe, Twitter is a sea of words in which an average person's voice drowns the instant it launches, lost forever in a surfeit of nonsense. Hash-tagging helps somewhat, but even then not so much unless the topic is trending. For us proletarians, tweeting is like whispering in a middle school cafeteria during lunch period. It's unlikely anyone will notice. Average Twitter users might as well shout down a well; more people would "hear" that than find his/her one tweet in the never-ending stream of insipid ones clogging the feed.

I digress, however. The thing I hate most isn't the usual mind-numbing, lowest-common-denominator tweets. What I hate most is the unending stream of private messages that I've been receiving in my inbox, all of which contain advertisements for products and services. Lately it has become chronic, and it's annoying as hellso much so that I recently added "DON'T PM ADS!" to my user profile. Of course, that's done little to fix the problem.

How do these messages come? Here's a brief walk-through. A user logs into her account to find ten people have "followed" her since yesterday's log-in. As a courtesy, she "returns the follow"and maybe greets new followers in a tweet (although I've stopped this practice after reading that this is a no-no on this blog). The user then logs out, happy that her list of followers is slowly-but-steadily growing. Twenty-four hours later, she logs back in to find eight private messages from yesterday's ten new followers, six of whom have already "unfollowed" her because their sole reason for following was to send her a private message containing an advertisement for products/services. Additionally, eight brand new followers are now waiting to be followed so that they may do the same thing tomorrow.

For the record, Twitter's Terms of Service forbid sending advertisements to users via private message. A friend pointed this out when I shared that I was replying to spammers with my own business ad. Apparently, two spams don't make a right, so I had to stop. Shortly thereafter, I discovered a handy "report" option on the drop-down box for each private message. Lately, I've been using that option frequently. It doesn't matter if the ad offers something for free. Spam is spam, and I treat all such ads equally.

Twitter's 140-character limit makes it a poor forum to effectively hook readers, so its value to authors is questionable at best. Even so, the lion's share of spam comes to me from "book promoters" whose marketing strategy seems no more sophisticated than just incessantly tweeting/private messaging about their clientele's books. (In fact, one established more than twenty different accountsone for each book genre, it seemsand then followed me from each "companion account" so that spam could be readily sent.) Ironically, the goal of all this spamming is to hook me as a client so that they can send out even more spam ads. What a catastrophic marketing strategy for authors, allowing amateurs to annoy potential customers/readers with their book/brand! I wouldn't dream of paying for it, yet the evidence suggests that many authors do.

The worst advertisement I've received thus far, however, came three weeks ago and had nothing to do with book promotion. I was copied on the message alongside a dozen other women. It said something along the lines of: "Hey! I just had to share some exciting news with you about a great new product from <a woman's name doubling as a company's>. It's a newly designed and innovative TAMPON that will change your life forever! Women will not believe how amazing and convenient this product is..."

Before I continue, some observations: First, tampons are not now nor will they ever be innovative, nor is news about them ever exciting. Also doubtful is that the product is newly designed, as its specifications must conform to a female anatomy that has remained unchanged since the dawn of mankind. There's nothing new under the sun there. Finally, forgive my rampant skepticism that a little cotton-fiber plug is going to change your life forever. Most women are not as clueless as those people who worry about touching a "germy" hand soap pump right before they wash their hands. It's a period, not chaos theory. As a rule, we ladies have it covered. So, I replied "Seriously?" accompanied by the "meh" emoji, reported the message as spam, and deleted it.

Let's go back to Twitter, though. If that forum is about anything other than pop culture nonsense and maladroit business people hustling for clients, I have yet to see any evidence. Perhaps I'm doing this Twitter thing wrong, though. I'm asking you to tell me. How does a non-celebrity squeeze any value out of this platform? Or do you, like me, find Twitter to be a waste of time?  Please let your thoughts be known in the comments below.