Over the last few days, Twitterers — mostly writerly types, I’m guessing — were treated to the inner workings of the New Yorker thanks to Dan Baum, a one-time staff writer for the magazine who was canned in 2007.
For reasons unexplained, Baum told his story through a series of tweets, starting last Friday and concluding today (the whole thing can be read in the proper order at Baum’s Web site). Perhaps the 140-character limit is a symbol for Baum’s short career at the magazine, but I think what we’ve got here is a bona fide Twitter viral marketing campaign — intentional or not — for his latest book.
The story begins inconspicuously enough. Baum explains that he’ll be tweeting about getting fired, and immediately cuts to the juicy details. We now know how much he got paid ($90,000 per year), what benefits he received (none) and how secure the gig was (up for review annually). Later, we hear about the “creepy” atmosphere of the New Yorker office and how he butted heads with editor David Remnick.
The narrative is also sprinkled with self promotion. At every mention of an article or pitch, accepted or rejected, Baum includes a link, so it’s easy to investigate his writing beyond the boundaries of Twitter.
Baum delivers the subtle pitch towards the story’s conclusion. He talks about how the end of his New Yorker job led to his book, Nine Lives, a collection of stories about New Orleans. He mentions how his final columns allowed him to stay in New Orleans and research the book, and how the pressure of finding daily stories turned up valuable information that few locals even knew. Even though he doesn’t explicitly try to sell the book, he succeeded in getting the word out.
Viral marketing can take different forms, and Twitter marketers can be obnoxious. Baum is not. He drew in fellow Twitterers with a fascinating story, and only mentioned the book when he had everybody’s attention. In a way, it reminds me of the ilovebees campaign for Halo 2, which drummed up interest despite a merely tangential relation to the game.
At the very least, Baum’s story was better than the hostile takeover by Skittles.