Unsurprisingly for a university press, we did not jump into the world of Twitter without doing research, or putting it simply, checking out what other publishers were up to. At the beginning of 2009 very few scholarly presses or trade publishers outside the US were active in the Twitter-sphere. But the publishers that were on Twitter, were doing interesting things.
With no entry barriers, short of enthusiasm and basic computer knowledge, and costs chiefly limited to time, the benefits of using Twitter and other social media looked enticing, especially for a small press like SUP. So without further ado, we decided to go social. I experimentally joined Twitter in March 2009 (@agatamontoya) and in June we opened an SUP account (@sydneyunipress).
Being on Twitter has opened a whole new world of interesting connections and a myriad of surprising serendipities. The ability to keep up-to-date with industry news, opinions and new ideas in Australia and elsewhere has probably been the most rewarding. Twitter has exposed me to ideas that I would not have thought of pursuing. It also allows me to engage in conversations and develop contacts with like-minded individuals all over the world.
One of the main objectives of a university press is to communicate new research beyond the walls of academia and Twitter has proved to be an easy and quick way to convey what our scholars write about. Apart from using Twitter to publicise new titles and book events, I have also shared interesting content, answered enquiries, done research, referred readers to the blog and the website, and generally connected with people interested in books, editing, publishing and Sydney University Press.
The implications of social media go beyond the marketing and promotion of books, though creating awareness for new titles remains a significant problem for publishers in the era of ubiquitous content and scarce attention. Social media is blurring and redefining the roles within the industry, allowing publishers to directly engage with communities around their publishing lists.
The multitude of opportunities created by Twitter and other social networking tools do not come without pitfalls. The biggest of all is the difficulty for businesses to measure the impact and return on investment. The social media landscape is changing rapidly. There are no established policies or best practices. We are all experimenting and trying to balance social media engagement with regular ‘work’. If not approached with caution Twitter can become an addiction, but so can books and chocolate …
With more than 500 million active users on Facebook and over 175 million accounts on Twitter, it is clear that if publishers want to stay relevant, be part of the conversations around books and contribute to literary and intellectual culture in the 21st century, they need to, as Jeff Bullas wrote, ‘weave the social media DNA into the fabric of the corporation’.