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Andrea Grossman

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The Tweet That Forgot to Shake the World

Posted: 09/11/2012 4:26 pm

Twitter and other social media should be a driving and powerful force for arts and culture events in L.A, shouldn't it? If it can start a revolution a half a world away, it can bring people to an author event here in southern California. Okay, I'll admit it. The Arab Spring, Occupy and an L.A. literary event are entirely different forces. The Arab Spring magnetized an entire region of the earth's surface, and Occupy disrupted traffic and confounded local government in major cities across our country. Writers Bloc literary events aren't quite as kinetic as millions upon millions of citizens taking to the streets. But let's look at the commonality of the organizations: the Arab revolutionaries, the 99 percent and Writers Bloc -- we all use Twitter and Facebook. How much does Twitter move the needle for us, you might ask. Not much. Shocked?

As we watched the Arab Spring unfold in its hypnotic frenzy, contagious to anyone with a smartphone in just about all neighboring countries, journalists credited the movement's success to Twitter and to Facebook. The 99 percent here were clearly paying attention to their tweets, and pulled out their sleeping bags in droves. You're probably thinking, "Perhaps literary fans aren't as passionate about their causes." Never, I say! You're probably saying, "Perhaps a political movement electrifies more people than a novelist or comedian or social critic." Unthinkable, I respond! You're probably screaming by now, "Perhaps a revolution has more gravity than a literary event." Preposterous, I sniff!

We here at Writers Bloc tweet and post stuff on Facebook. Not often enough. One excuse is that we have other things to do besides getting sucked in to our friends' status updates. But if Twitter could propel a revolution throughout the Middle East, (a) couldn't it, (b) shouldn't it, and (c), wouldn't it, drive L.A.'s readers to our programs? If you answered yes to all three, as I did, then you and I think alike. We live and breathe optimism. But I've learned that Twitter really doesn't have much impact on moving people to programs like ours. It's not that our tweets that matter - -it's our featured guests' tweets, major cultural figures with sometimes hundreds of thousands of followers. When we host celebrities who tweet about the programs, the floodgates don't burst open for our events, thanks to a mention or two. We've studied this -- it's not their tweets that move the seats. And oh yeah: doesn't the term "follower" suggest that followers would want to come and see or hear the tweeter whom they follow?

So what's the deal here? Are tweets in different parts of the world taken more seriously than they are here? Do we get so many that we can barely pay attention to them as they fly in? What do we do with the information that we receive from tweets? Do we think about it for a second, and then forget it a second later as the next 10 or 12 land at our fingertips? Malcolm Gladwell, in a piece in the New Yorker from 2010, suggests that social networking might be most useful in informing, rather than persuading, when it comes to something like a public arts program. But when the stakes are higher, Twitter and Facebook can clearly move that needle. Wait -- does Gladwell have the audacity to suggest that an author event is less earthshaking than a revolution? So how can one convince friends and followers that listening to ideas can be a high stakes game?

Don't get me wrong: I understand that there is a difference between a revolution and a cultural event, to be sure: cultural events don't necessarily change the world. But of course they can change the way people think. So if you follow us (@writersblocla), make sure you RT and RT again, until millions of people show up for some terrific literary novelist or social critic. In the meantime, while we still work to capture audience attention with tweets and posts generated from our guests and from us, we will still rely on building our audience the way we did in our pre-tweet lives. We do promise to change the world, one page at a time.

 
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