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Twitter Is The Newest Tool For Self-Published Stories [Updated]

The newest episode of SpongeBob SquarePants won’t be found on your TV, it’ll be found in your Twitter feed. Same for the latest novel in the Jason Bourne series.

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This week kids’ favorite SpongeBob SquarePants will be the center of a new story on a wholly new medium: Twitter. The Ice Race Cometh–A Twitter Tale is an original story, from the official SpongeBob writing team, and will consist of multiple tweets and images broadcast throughout each day from July 12th to July 15th. Fun? Sure. Novel? You bet. Silly? Quite a bit.

Though the SpongeBob tweeting is something of a PR stunt, coming as a prequel to a brand-new episode due to air in prime time on July 15th, the team seems to be taking the Twittersodes seriously. The content will set up background for the characters as they prepare for the “Bikini Bottom Great Sleigh Race” in the TV episode. And if you remember, back in January, the Nickelodeon team also tried to leverage Facebook to promote its new Trenchbillies label, ahead of the TV release–so they’re not afraid to experiment with social media. The serial Twitter story is an appropriate use of social tech, and the show’s producers are also savvy to the fact that a third of SpongeBob’s audience is adults, and they tend to hang around in places other than Facebook.

If SpongeBob’s not exactly your cup of tea, then check this out–the man behind the recent Jason Bourne novels has just started tweeting out a new story. Author Eric van Lustbader last week began to tweet out, one line at a time, his newest Jason Bourne novel. Tweeting simply with the hashtag #Bourne2, van Lustbader’s first tweet was about as direct as you can get: “NEW BOURNE STARTS: ‘You’re not going to die, Rebekah.’ ‘From your mouth to God’s ear.’ Bourne lands the copter in Darh El Ahmar.” Among his usual Twitter conversations, retweets and links to other content he’s found interesting online, van Lustbader’s kept it up–tweeting new lines from the next Bourne novel roughly every day.

We noted last year that van Lustbader embraced novel ways to promote his stories, and using Twitter to share snippets of what could be a hotly anticipated story that may lead to yet another blockbuster Matt Damon movie is certainly a smart use for Twitter. It also serves as a way to drip-feed information to the many Bourne fans out there ahead of publication, to keep the audience interested and amused. The experiment may be slightly curtailed by the fact Lustbader only has about 200 followers…but that figure could easily skyrocket if the idea catches on.

Twitter is the perfect medium for this type of storytelling. It’s genuinely “one to many” broadcasting, as opposed to Facebook’s more shuttered social groups, and it’s easy to follow a Twitter-fed storyline either as it unfurls among your more usual tweet feed items, or do a quick search for the relevant hashtag. It also doesn’t require visiting an outside website to keep up with an episodic story–reading the updates can be as simple as asking you to click on a hashtag or your favorites list in a desktop Twitter app. And the “episodes” are presented cleanly from their original source, without comments to distract you from the developing plot (unless you choose to start a discussion, or follow an existing one via hashtagged tweets). From a publishing point of view, you can easily automate the episodic tweeting so it doesn’t take much effort.

A campaign like this certainly drives positive PR. And while it’s too simple to promise being the future of storytelling–and other writers are using different digital means to explore this idea–we may end up seeing Twitter as an original source of new fiction, just as we’re trusting it to provide us with up-to-date news.

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UPDATE: A spokesman for Eric van Lustbader has got in touch with us to note something rather interesting–the content being tweeted by Eric is actually a whole new text, in the canon of this upcoming Bourne novel, created specially for the Twitter promo campaign. This is actually powerful, because this “microstory” can be fitted better around Twitter’s 140 character limit, and represents a wholly new publication that’ll only appear in this format.

[Image: Flickr user ackook]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

Read More: How Viral PDFs Of A Naughty Bedtime Book Exploded The Old Publishing Model

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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