Below is another reflection on the life of a publicist from Michelle Rafferty. Rafferty has been a Publicity Assistant at Oxford University Press since September 2008. Prior to Oxford she interned at Norton Publishing and taught 9th & 10th grade Literature. Every Friday she is chronicling her adventures in publishing and New York City, so be sure to visit again next week. Follow Michelle on twitter here. Follow the OUPblog here.
This week the founders of Twitter defended the decreed “viral craze du jour” with responses ranging from tweeting yourself out of natural disasters (see Maureen Dowd’s grilling session) to mending relations between the United States and Iraq (see Jack Dorsey on CNN). It’s a good thing I finally decided to take this social networking craze seriously. I signed up for Twitter about two months ago, but I could never really make myself commit. I came up with a few forced posts, but the whole time I was thinking “I really don’t have the time for this” and “there isn’t enough room” and “what the heck is RT?” I had trouble making myself stay on the thing for more than five minutes. Then I found Perez Hilton.
It began Tuesday morning. I was haphazardly scrolling through my tweets when I noticed that The Today Show tweeted Matt Lauer’s interview with Miss California Carrie Prejean and Perez Hilton. I wanted to know what Hilton thought of all of this, so I went to his Twitter profile and began scrolling through his posts, which essentially gave me a play-by play of his reactions as the Miss America debate swept America. Throughout the day I continued to return to his profile while I pestered Oxford’s fearless blog leader Becca for tweeting tips (how do you retweet? How do you cram a URL into 140 characters? And what does the “@” mean?) By the end of the day I was reading Heidi Montag and Miley Cyrus’s opinions on Perez and Jesus (in case you are wondering, they support both).
After work I came down from my Twitter high and had the same sense of regret I felt in college after spending two hours on Facebook instead of working on a paper that was due the next day. Shel Silverstein’s poem “Jimmy Jet and His TV Set” came to mind: He watched till is eyes were frozen wide,/And his bottom grew into his chair./And his chin turned into a tuning dial,/And antennae grew out of his hair. Silverstein is no doubt rolling in his grave.
I also had a strong sense of déjà vu—hadn’t I seen this on the cover of US Weekly before? I realized that Twitter was doing what blogs had started years before: transform the static, speculative, and photo shopped tabloid duals into real time virtual wars. Although I would argue that this event is a whole lot more complex and substantive than the never ending Jen and Angelina showdown, it is similarly PR driven: in her Today Show interview Prejean admits she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to sit next to Lauer if this all hadn’t happened; Perez comments on how good he looks on Larry King; and is it really a coincidence that notorious celebrity feuder Donald Trump is involved? There are serious issues at hand, but all of these players also have images to uphold, promote, and protect.
I know I shouldn’t be admitting that the Miss USA pageant debate is what finally got me into Twitter, but when I analogize it to the Young Adult novel argument, it don’t think it seems so bad: people who support YA Literature think of it as a stepping stone, a hook for young leaders, Stephanie Meyer will lead them Bram Stoker. In the same way I have moved from “Celebrity Twitter” to “Muck Rack”—an amalgamation of tweets from the most influential members of the news media. This week I’ve learned that I can use Twitter to find out what editors, journalists and bloggers are writing and thinking about (the aforementioned “Muck Rack” makes this especially easy). And while Twitter seems to be the latest and greatest way to get the news, it also shows promise for being the book publicist’s best new tool. I can use tweets to figure out who might want to cover a particular book or interview a certain author. This type of information is especially useful for newbies like myself who are still trying to learn names and personalities in the media industry. Twitter can also be another element of the publicity campaign—I can tweet our Oxford author reviews, interviews, and events—and in a best case scenario get some retweets (that is, after I get some followers). If I make an effort to limit my time on Twitter (no “Twitter head”!), I think it could be something that actually makes me more productive at work.
There does seem to be some cognitive dissonance going on among Twitter users. We laugh at the satirical YouTube shorts and the absurdity of the word “Twitter” and all its variations; I had to mock shame when passing up on a lunch with co-workers after my Twitter rampage ate up all of my morning work time. So, until Twitter starts getting us out of earthquake rubble and initiating world peace, it looks I will need some sort of justification for my tweeting. Luckily it has become my newest job requirement.