When Washington, D.C., librarian and book reviewer Phil Shapiro began to follow Southern California elementary school superintendent John Puglisi on the social media site Twitter, he never dreamed Puglisi would fly him across the country to teach at a professional development conference.
“I tweet about my musical interests, and he saw that we’re both educators, both progressive, and both musicians,” Shapiro explains. “I saw that he’s an amazing person. He brings his guitar to work and asks students to compose songs with him on matters that are important to their lives. I wouldn’t have met him if it weren’t for Twitter.”
Shapiro uses the site to find people who strike him as both wise and humble, and then he follows them. “They illuminate the path for me,” he says. “I want to do what they do.” One of the people he follows is Tim O’Reilly, co-author of The Twitter Book, which explores the ways media organizations and individuals can use the site to reach consumers. “He’s a great humanitarian,” Shapiro says. “He became a believer in Twitter, and I said, ‘I’m going to do what he does.’”
Several times a day, Shapiro shares his book reviews and literary witticisms. He connects writers with one another and occasionally offers videos of himself playing guitar and singing library-themed parodies of classic songs. “My main goal is to create emotional connections with people whom I’ll enjoy traveling with on my life journey,” he explains.
The site, founded in 2006, initially allowed users to post a mere 140 characters in a message, or “tweet.” These days, users get double that character count to convey information ranging from what they’ve eaten for breakfast to how best to stay safe during a pandemic.
Writers across the world use Twitter in a variety of ways. Like Shapiro, they might alert followers to new books and articles, share video cover-reveals, offer supplemental materials such as readers’ guides, and retweet their favorite authors’ posts. Or, they may share pictures of their cat.
The site can strike new users as bewildering – so many, many messages 24 hours a day. But professional writers have long used it to find community and an audience, and they offer a wealth of tips for how to navigate challenges from committing an online faux pas to demystifying all those trending hashtags.