Bret Easton Ellis, Skippy Dies and the reach of a tweet

I didn’t get to any of the multitude of talks at the Dublin Book Festival recently (compliments of an actual, real-life, non-books-related job) but one of the events that did catch my eye was the one which saw established writers Siobhan Parkinson, Dermot Bolger and John Boyne and recent debutants Donal Ryan, Colm Keegan and Deirdre Sullivan talk about the importance (or, presumably, otherwise) of blurb endorsements.

That came to mind again this morning when I noticed another gushing tweet from Bret Easton Ellis, the controversial controversialist, in praise of Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies.

Easton Ellis has been reading the Dubliner’s story about the life (and, in the obvious case of the title character, death) of Dublin secondary school students Skippy and Ruprecht. And he’s been very impressed.

I wondered what the impact of something like this might be, and how to go about quantifying it.

Easton Ellis has 360,000 Twitter followers. Finding out how many people might have seen his uniformly positive words about Skippy Dies is far from scientific (Twitter, as yet, does not provide anything like the same level of analytical data as Facebook’s Insights) but there are a couple of tools out there that can provide an estimate.

Some people with a greater supply of time and imagination than me have put in some work and as a ball-park figure it can be estimated that around one-third of an average Twitter account’s followers are active on Twitter themselves (“active” in this case being defined as having tweeted within the past 24 hours).

Not all of that key one-third figure are certain to have seen a specific tweet, however.

Instead, with many Twitter users following an excessive number of accounts (I follow a little over 800 on my own personal account, and I would guess that I see less than half of those tweets on any given day) it means that one specific tweet will often get caught up in the general Twitter noise, irrespective of how active people might be.

So, estimating that perhaps half of your active followers in turn follow a manageable number of accounts, then that equates to about one-sixth of your followers being likely to see each of your tweets.

Still with me? I’m very grateful. All of that brings me to Skippy Dies and Bret Easton Ellis.

Easton Ellis’s tweets, which were retweeted by another heavy-hitting books Twitter account in @tw_top_books (285,000 followers) had a nominal “reach” of around 660,000 according to the website TweetReach, which calculates the total number of followers of all the accounts which tweeted/retweeted a certain tweet.

Applying the one-sixth logic, it means we can estimate that around 110,000 Twitter users saw Easton Ellis’s high praise (and an explicit call to action – “Buy this book this weekend”, he said) for Murray’s Skippy Dies over the past 24 hours or so.

It might not compare to primetime TV advertising, but it isn’t half-bad, and it should at least ensure a spike in sales for this particular Irish novel over the next few days.

And if that old staple word of mouth takes hold after that, then this could be well on its way to being a sleeper hit on a global scale.

As the guys behind Funky Christmas Jumpers would agree – Fabio Molle gave a presentation at Mediacontact.ie’s Social Newsmaker conference on Thursday, in which he admitted the company trawls Twitter for celebrities seeking Christmas jumpers – never, ever underestimate the power of celebrity endorsement.

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