Brand building through storytelling

Twitter reminds me of high school. And yet…

When I first ventured onto Twitter at the urging of more cyber-savvy friends, I thought I’d died and gone to that accursed nether region of hell that is politely known as high school.

Why had nobody warned me about Twitter’s preening in crowd, who considered it news that they had welcomed their five-thousandth follower? The tireless glad-handers claiming to be internet marketing gurus? The clued-out horde tweeting about their ham sandwich—or the weather, or the befuddling absence of anything at all to say—in a doomed and desperate bid to be cool?

I took it all in like the geeky freshman I had been back in 1964, casing the halls from behind the safe cover of a three-ring binder and a well thumbed copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Those first days on Twitter, I didn’t say much, just tailed a few pals who had acquired a certain reassuring virtual swagger.

Come to think of it, the worst excesses of Twitter made my high school look like a sanctuary for teenage aesthetes mooning over dead poets. At least Oyster River High had no shrieking spammers promising to whiten your teeth or get you a hundred followers a day (although a date for the prom might have had a few takers). As for melon-busted babes with handles like Tiffany21 and X-rated photos to share, at my school even cleavage could get you sent home.

I had to give four years of my life to high school. I could flee Twitter anytime I wanted. But I fell under the sway of the site’s cheerleaders. If I just hung in, the story went, I’d attract a loyal horde of new fans who would make me cool in cyberspace. Imagine the possibilities: my book flying off the shelves, this website the in place to be. All I had to do was show up and post a critical mass of tweets. A tweet here and there would never cut it. One tweet is a message in a bottle cast onto an ocean where zillions of other bottles vie for their chance to wash up into the right hands. So the more doggedly you tweet, the better your odds of attracting the tastemakers.

Of course, you’ve got to squeeze your dispatch into 140 characters—a mere 110 if you include a link, as the most savvy tweeters often do. A link gives your followers more to discover while proving that you’re not just mouthing off about whatever struck you in the shower. It can also expand the audience for a blog post or online essay that might otherwise go all but unnoticed. A link on Twitter shouts to dozens (maybe hundreds, if it gets retweeted), “Hey, everybody, you’ve got to read this!” But finding link-worthy tidbits and treasures is a project in itself. I soon found myself surfing in my bathrobe as the morning sped by and my husband rolled his eyes at this peculiar obsession of mine.

It’s been more than 18 months since my debut on Twitter, and the cheerleaders who pulled me onto the site have since found other uses for their time. Me, I’m still tweeting—albeit with a fraction of my former zeal. I can’t measure the rewards in traffic to this site or sales of my book, but to my knowledge no reader took more trouble to find it than the woman who noticed me on Twitter and spent six weeks pestering Chapters Indigo for a copy. (Thanks again, Jane Langille.)

On Twitter I’ve found the perfect Christmas book for my husband, an enchanting, artist-run restaurant in Beijing and keen recruits to help me out with a volunteer project. (Tip for new tweeters: pose a question; there’s no subject too obscure.) I’ve found readers (including some talented writers) who joined the conversation on this site or posted stories in the mother/daughter gallery. I’ve found people who intrigue me, encourage me and surprise me with the scope of their knowledge about everything from campus life in China (Lonnie Hodge) to literary lore (Maud Newton). In short, it all comes down to this: I’ve found what eluded me in high school—my own band of searchers, mavens, iconoclasts and wits.

Along the way, I’ve learned respect for the stylish tweet. Like a sketch on a napkin, dashed off with a ballpoint pen by an artist with no time for easel or oils, it can express an outlook on the world, hint at a lifetime’s accumulated wisdom.

I may never meet Marilyn Naron (@simmertilldone), a “recovering pastry chef” somewhere in the midwest, but I’ve seen her defining qualities, a generous heart and a fine sense of irony. The other day she tweeted, “Early morning walk: at our town pool, 85-yo men are swimming laps. This is why they won a war, and I’m eating a danish.” That’s not typing, that’s writing. Marilyn, you and I must take a walk one day. Any chance you’ll be coming to Toronto?

To read the mother/daughter stories from my Twitter community, click here forSuzanne Boles, here for Franke James, here for Lisa MacColl and here for Carla Lucchetta (hope I haven’t missed anyone). A round of applause for you all.

Posted by Rona

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