Great Biographers on Twitter

An assignment for MGMT E-6655, Social Media Management at Harvard Extension School

Biographers are one of the most under-represented types of trade writers on Twitter.  It makes sense: biography remains one of the more serious trade genres. Biographers are supposed to be more remote from their audiences than novelists, memorists, or reporters. But with writing and reading being such solitary acts, writers and readers of biography can gain a lot of knowledge about each other on Twitter.

Stacy Schiff is one of the most compelling biographers on Twitter. Her books are serious and thorough (she won the Pulitzer, after all, for her work on Vladimir Nabokov’s wife, Véra) but gripping and widely read. Her flair for being smart and accessible shines through in her tweets. Ms. Schiff has a new biography coming out just in time for Halloween about the witches of Salem. She has made a hit showing her followers the behind-the-scenes production process for her book. She’s also quite well-read and attends phenomenal events, which enable her to share lots of resonant quotes that get favorite and re-tweeted frequently.

Another biographer who has found his groove on Twitter is Blake Bailey. Mr. Bailey creates content and re-tweets items from a broad range of interests. He shares opinions on everything from tennis to Kim Davis, and shares movie recommendations and Donald Trump articles. Mr. Bailey definitely puts forth a personal brand on Twitter. Mentions of his own work are only scattered throughout.

Perhaps the most powerful biographer on Twitter, though, is Doris Kearns Goodwin. Known for her presidential works, Ms. Goodwin is a tour-de-force. She worked for President Lyndon Johnson in 1969. She has tangoed with Craig Ferguson. In between,  she has amassed 37,500 followers by sharing insider expertise on the White House and its occupants, guesting (repeatedly) for Jon Stewart and important network news shows, and sharing some fun Red Sox fan posts.

While biographers may not be the most sought-after influencers, it’s clear from these three examples that intelligent, charismatic writers give a big boost to media brands. Ms. Schiff’s and Mr. Bailey’s publishers reap the benefits of their respective social media efforts through increased book sales. Ms. Goodwin leverages her status as a public intellectual and augments it by interacting with outlets like NBC and the Daily Show.  Last but not least, fans get to learn the personalities of the biographers, who spend so much of their time shut away in archives and at their writing tables. And it’s fans that have turned these writers into brands.