by Annette Lyon
Social media is here. And for better or worse, it's here to stay. Writers who hope to reach potential readers need to learn how to use it effectively.
What "effectively" means will be different for every writer. With more and more social media outlets popping up all the time, it's easy to feel daunted. (I have yet to learn much about Pinterest, because right now it's just one more thing.)
While social media is important to your platform, it carries a danger: You can easily spend so much time networking that you don't get around to writing.
So learn what you can about different social media sites. Decide what works best for you. Focus on those and leave the others behind. For example, if blogging is more than you think you can handle, then don't blog.
I personally blog (here and at my own blog), and I rely on Facebook and Twitter for much of my networking. When I do them right, they don't suck up much time from my day. I don't play games of Facebook, for example. I use it to keep in touch with friends and family as well as to keep in contact with readers.
I use Twitter for several things, among them, to keep up on the news. I follow several news streams, and I often find out about breaking news before it hits TV. I follow industry professionals like editors and agents. I follow other writers, great writing resources, topics that interest me, and so forth. I even follow some people simply because they're entertaining and make me laugh.
That's what I do when I hang out on Twitter and Facebook.
But what do I actually post on there?
I am no expert on social media, but I have learned several things along the way:
Content Is King.
If you have lame tweets ("I'm petting my cat"), no one will want to follow you. Watch other people's streams. see what interests you and figure out what parts of your life others might find interesting.
Share links to articles or other online content that you find interesting. This includes forwarding links or tweets from those you follow. Doing so creates good will with the person whose work you're sharing, and it gives your followers good content. Win-win.
Followers can (and will) smell fake a mile away and unfollow/unfriend in a heartbeat.
In other words, be part of the conversation. Reply to people, especially if they initiate contact. Add your personal commentary on topics you find interesting and relevant. Don't be an island.
Some applications let you pre-schedule your tweets. As many people attach their Facebook status updates to their Twitter feeds, both get updated at the same time with no work from you.
That may be great for a few things, say reminding people you'll be on TV in ten minutes (you can't tweet that from the set or while driving), but in general, try to really be there behind the keyboard. Interact. This goes back to being REAL.
Do not post about religion and politics.
Really. Ever. Just don't go there.
Forget yourself and your work. Mostly.
Sure, you'd like the whole social media thing to result in sales. It could. But if you get sales from social media, it'll almost certainly be a secondary effect because first you created a relationship.
Keep this in mind: the relationship comes first. (See below.) Your work and sales come a very distant second.
In practical terms, this means that the vast majority of your updates should not be about your latest release. Constant tweets and status updates about "Get my first three chapters free!" or, "Buy my book! It's got lots of 5-star reviews!" become nothing but annoying noise. You'll quickly sound like a used-car salesman, and the unfollows will be huge.
Sure, go ahead and mention revisions or release dates. If they're the exception, not the rule, people will actually notice and care.
ABOVE ALL: Create relationships.
This doesn't mean you have to be everyone's best friend, but try to be kind and aware of who is out there, who is following, who is re-tweeting your stuff, and so forth. Be gracious.
A story as an example of what not to do:
Once I followed a writer on Twitter who immediately sent me a thank you in a direct message. Odd, I thought, but okay. Neat for her to thank all new followers. I guess.
But then her stream turned into lots of self-promotion, constant requests for re-tweets (but she didn't retweet anything unrelated to her), links to her latest posts, and little else. I unfollowed.
I don't remember exactly why, but later I followed her again, maybe trying to give her another shot. Right off, I got an almost identical direct message to the first, which was phrased as if we were meeting for the first time. She obviously didn't remember that I'd followed her before (or left comments on her blog or had any other contact).
To make matters worse, every few weeks, I got a notification that she was following me. Remember: you get notifications only for new followers. Meaning she'd followed and unfollowed me a number of times. I dug around and discovered that she had a bag of tricks for increasing her follower count. Among them was regularly using an app that let you drop followers who weren't valuable (however it determined that). She'd apparently dropped me and added me about six times, all while I followed and never dropped her.
This all left a pretty sour taste in my mouth. I've since unfollowed her and will not follow again.
And you can be darn sure I won't be buying her books or recommending her to anyone else.
I've had similar experiences on Facebook, with people making comments on my status or my wall with little more than, "Hey, check out my book!" In some cases, it's been phrased a bit more cleverly, like, "Who's your favorite wizard? You might find a new favorite in TITLE!" (Which is, of course, their book.)
If Twitter and Facebook are too much, don't stress it. But if you want to use them, learn how to use them effectively and then be real. Above all, don't be a used car salesman. Everyone hates those people, and we all run the other direction.
To learn more about Twitter, how it works, and how to use it as a writer, see this interview with Christina Katz on the topic. She's also someone to follow: @TheWriterMama
A great resource for learning about social media, specifically for writers, is Kristen Lamb's We Are Not Alone: A Writer's Guide to Social Media. Follow her on Twitter: @KristenLambTX
Oh, and on Twitter I'm @AnnetteLyon.