Part 28: use social media platforms to effectively gather and retain fans, followers and friends who are interested in your writing.
In terms of results versus distraction, social media is a two edged sword for writers, and how well it works for you will largely depend on the skill with which you use it. Well managed, it will allow you to connect with existing readers and attract new ones to your ebooks. Poorly managed, it will soak up valuable writing time and may actually drive readers away.
Why some writers don’t use social media
People who dislike social media most likely fall into one (or more) of four categories. They:
1. think it’s a great waste of time
2. aren’t sure how it works – not only in terms of features, but also an idea of how the platform organises, sorts and displays user-generated content
3. don’t realise how to tailor their actions appropriately to the requirements of the platform they are using and the users it attracts
4. get sucked in by media hype, which their own experience fails to replicate
If, as you’re writing, you suddenly realise you’ve checked Facebook more times than you’ve hit the Enter key that day, you’d probably be inclined to agree with them. In fact, here’s a tip I think most writers should follow religiously – during the time that you are writing, disconnect your computer from the internet. Turn your Facebook machine back into a word processor.
Establish a social media routine
Social media can very easily be a black hole for time. Streamline the way you manage it to both reduce the time that you’re engaged and make it less of a chore. That is, make a working list of the different platforms you are using and how often you plan to visit/ update them.
For example, each day I check for (1) comments posted to my website and answer these, (2) notifications on my Facebook author page and (3) updates to Goodreads threads I am following or have contributed to. I compose and post one high quality tweet or Facebook update. I then try to find one new article related to writing/books/publishing, and possibly comment on it, if I can think of something that adds to the level of discussion on the page.
As an emerging author, I check my Amazon dashboard each week. Don’t look at it every day until things are really ticking over … it’s like jumping on a set of scales too often when you’re trying to lose weight.
With practice, you will find that you can fly through this in 10-30 minutes, depending on whether you are composing replies or not. I find it to be something I actually look forward to, which may make me rather weird in your estimation. As a morning writer, it’s something I reward myself with after I’ve done a solid block of writing.
If you write a guest post or article on another site (see below), it’s a good idea to check and answer comments daily for the first fortnight, and then once or twice a week after that. Keep a list of the article URLs and how often they should be checked.
Become proficient with the platforms you use
There is no point signing up for dozens of services, only to use them sporadically or, worse, to spam people you convince to join your networks. Use a couple of platforms you are already familiar with and already have established networks on, and then convince your friends and followers to come across to your book/author pages while you gradually connect with readers online.
If you have no experience with social media, then pick a platform – okay, I’ll pick one for you, and that is Facebook, because it’s the most popular/pervasive and you’re likely to already have a larger circle of ready contacts than you think. Even a Buddhist hermit taking a lifelong vow of silence in a cave probably knows a couple of dozen people who have Facebook profiles. You can create a public Facebook Page for your writing, publishing and books which holds minimal personal information: basically your name and links to your other websites and book pages, without having to share aspects of your life you’d rather keep private.
Spend a couple of hours reading up on the best way to use your chosen social media platform. There are literally thousands of posts on managing profiles and building your friends/fans/followers list on the most popular platforms.
Nurture your social profile
You may find that you can build a positive profile in certain communities with a little time, care and clever posting, and I think this is a much better method than trying to spread yourself too thin with the mistaken belief that it is better to be ‘everywhere’ (when, in fact, you are probably getting nowhere).
Remember that forums, like all groups of humans, are cliquey. You will start out as a nobody, but if you are a regular, high quality poster, people will be drawn to you, and this will translate to clickthroughs to the links to your website/Amazon/Goodreads pages you have strategically embedded in your profile.
You have to give before you can receive
There is a hell of a lot of stuff to do for free online, and you have to give people ‘something’ before they will trust you enough to wander into your sticky web of things you want them to buy. Two of the easiest ways to give people something (at no cost) is to be funny and informative.
You may argue that I’m being neither here, but if you can make people laugh or teach them how to do something, you’ll win them over most of the time. Oh, and never get embroiled in an argument online; rather, agree to disagree and walk away. Online drama really is pointless, so remember: ignore, block and report, depending on the level of harassment. Ignoring should take care of 99% of online drama.
Filter social media hype
People love reading about sudden success stories, and therefore the media loves writing about them. (Possibly because it allows people to place themselves in the shoes of the protagonists of these stories, without having to consider the Gladwellian scope of the thousands of hours of work which enabled that success. J.K. Rowling, E.L. James – it seems that all it takes to be a bestseller is to boil you first and middle names down to initials and sip some Bollie while the royalty cheques fall through the front door.)
The trope of the overnight success extends to social media, as well, with any number of guides promising to instantly explode your follower numbers and therefore the books you sell.
By all means, try their advice, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t apply to certain genres as readily as it does to people writing books about marketing and SEO, where everyone has multiple social media platforms and feverishly follow each other in an attempt at being at the forefront of rapidly changing industry trends.
You’re probably going to get sick of hearing my ‘long game’ analogy, but I very much believe it applies to social media. Be prepared to build your supporter base slowly but steadily, in tandem with your creative output. You’ll pick up one and two here, a dozen there … it’ll all add up.
Finally, don’t expect constant and rapturous responses in reply to your social media updates. In my experience (and from the scenarios which can be extrapolated from this study), only the most incredibly engaging of posts on Facebook will earn unique responses (that is, a ‘like’ or comment, but not counting both from the same user or multiple comments) from 15% or more of your followers. Most will receive far less attention. However, if you build you lists, respond to comments and offer a consistent high quality of posts, your numbers will rise.
In the next part of this article, I’ll continue to explore the various social media platforms you might use to promote your ebooks.
Proceed to Part 29: ‘Managing social media, part 2’, or return to the article index.
While I’ve endeavoured to provide you with accurate information, what is considered ‘accurate’ will change over time. If I’m wrong, or you’d like to ask a question or share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your take on things.