Monday, April 16, 2012

The Social Media Minefield: Watch Your Step.

Social media can be a wonderful thing. Obviously, it enables easy communication with people anywhere in the world, at any time of the day or night. It’s also great for finding long-lost friends. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter and even my blog, I’ve been able to reconnect with service buddies and other people I’d not seen in years or even decades.

As a writer looking to connect with an audience, such tools are a wonderful means of interacting with my readers. Who doesn’t like hearing that people loved your new book, or a story you wrote years ago and all but forgot? The immediacy brought by online interaction can be great for the old ego; there’s no denying that. It’s also a minefield, with every site and blog a Claymore or Bouncing Betty just lying in wait.

Watch your step, folks.

First, there are the general concerns that everyone should consider, such as privacy settings. Those, of course, are very important, and because of that I take steps to limit the sorts of personal information I share. For freelancers who also work full time jobs, there’s an additional element of separation one should employ in these environments. For example, I never discuss my day job, in any capacity. My manager knows about “my other life,” but trusts me to be discrete with respect to our business and clients. I certainly don’t want to violate that trust, even by accident, so my policy in this area is simple: Never talk about the day job.

Plus, getting fired over something I posted on Facebook would be an incredibly stupid way to go, right?

For writers and other creative types looking for that connection with an audience, there definitely are other things to keep in mind. Let’s get the easy snare out of the way first: Social media can be a huge time sink. It doesn’t take any effort at all to wile away hours reading and responding to friends’ updates, Tweets, or blog postings. There are evenings where I can have a blast just replying to people’s Facebook updates, or picking up spontaneous conversations on Twitter. It’s fun when I post a blog entry and it attracts a lot of responses and spins any number of discussions. Maybe I’ll jump into a “Tweet-a-thon” for a movie other Twitterers are watching at the same time, and we all goof on it, 140 characters at a time.

And don’t even get me started on the real games and other applications (sorry, “apps”) sites like Facebook offer. I don’t touch those at all, because I know that once I go down that road, I’ll never be heard from again.

Then, there are all the different sites. Which ones do you choose to frequent? Which ones are the best places to “see and be seen?” There seems to be as many different answers for this as there are people asking the question. For a while, a lot of writers, editors, agents and other people “in the biz” seemed to be pushing the idea that writers, in their never-ending quest to cultivate their online presence, should be setting up shop everywhere, and pimping themselves and their work all the time.

Website? Check.

Blog? Yep.

Blogs for you and maybe even your novel’s central character? Um, okay.

MySpace? What the heck is MySpace?

Facebook? Absolutely! Not just your own page, but a “fan page,” too!

Twitter? Sure. Does your book’s character Tweet? Be there or be square.

Foursquare? Google+? Pinterest? Tumblr?

Mommy, make it stop.

At some point, I finally dug in my heels and decided that enough, dagnabbit, was enough. Why was I running around from place to place, flapping my virtual arms and writing unique content for each platform in the hopes of attracting attention? How much self-promotion is too much? Come to think of it, how much of...well, too much? Yeah, about that much. I don’t know about you, but I tend not to follow, “friend,” or subscribe to anyone who does nothing on social media platforms beyond promoting themselves, Tweet after blog entry after Facebook update. It becomes a dull, annoying buzz after a while, and I tune it out.

Do I want to be having the same effect on my readers, or folks who might become my readers? Of course not, so I strike a balance between attracting attention to my work, and just being someone with whom people want to hang out. Besides, as a writer, a big chunk of my online audience is made up of readers, and I like to think that readers generally aren’t stupid people. So, I figure they should be able to find me by plugging my name into one of those Intrawebz search box thingees. And if the number one search result brings them to my doorstep, which has an easy-to-use interface with links to a few of those other places where I’ve established a presence, then everybody wins, right? I stick with a couple of the more popular venues: Twitter and Facebook. I love the immediacy of Twitter and the fun it can bring, and there’s no denying that Facebook is the Big Kahuna so far as social media sites.

Finally, the big social media booby trap, at least the way I see it, is just how fast and easy it is to stick your foot in your mouth, and to keep shoving it in past your kneecap.

Last year, before I became a regular Novelnaut, I wrote a guest piece here warning about how writers should avoid getting too involved with reviews and those who write them (“Reviews: You Can’t Win,” June 15, 2011). That’s a real minefield for writers and other creative types, and is just one aspect of social media about which you should be on guard.

But, that sort of thing requires concerted effort on your part, right? What if you’re just goofing off on one of these sites? When you’re spending significant amounts of time interacting with countless people via social media, and having all of that fun such virtual hanging out can bring, you have to maintain a “situational awareness.” After all, you’ve still got a name, reputation and maybe even a brand to protect. Now, I’m pretty irreverent a lot of the time, particularly in my own space such as my blog or Facebook page, but there are still lines I try not to cross. A single ill-considered remark or a comment made in anger can spiral out of control in minutes, and as the saying goes, “It’s on the internet, so it’s forever.” The damage can take months to repair, if indeed that’s even possible.

Social media, regardless of whatever form it might take, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon, and it’s a proven method of finding and nurturing an audience. It can also be a heck of a lot of fun, if used correctly. Are you someone who embraces social media in all its forms? Or, re you just dipping your toes into these particular waters, trying to figure out what works for you? Any big victories, cool moments, or horror stories you’d like to share?


Unknown said...

As a woman just entering the writing field, I really identify with this problem. What do I do how do I begin? How much is too much? But I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one trying to decide what to do, and I'm glad you gave those good tid-bits if information. thank you!

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

I've almost reached saturation point with social media promotion of my book. It's so true what you've written - you produce unique pieces for various platforms - and it's a lot of work! I agree there's a lot of fun to be had, and that a lot of snappy, social writing can help you learn how to package your thoughts about your own book, instead of being a wooden writer reluctant to talk. But I think you're right, social media networking is here to stay and is altering the way we perceive and purchase books - and even the author 'brand'. So I am going with the flow!
Great post, Catherine

William Doonan said...

This one hit home! I'm supposed to be writing, not blabbing all over the internet. But then who exactly is selling the books? Social media is all the rage. A year ago it was book trailers, but then book trailers started to look like a dead end, so now it's all about yammering all over creation. I get frustrated trying to be everywhere when I really just want to write the next book.

Twitter, Facebook, webpage, blog - you can scarcely function as a writer today without these four horsemen of the sociapocalypse. Beyond that, you might be wasting your time.

William Doonan

Dayton Ward said...

"Twitter, Facebook, webpage, blog - you can scarcely function as a writer today without these four horsemen of the sociapocalypse. Beyond that, you might be wasting your time."

Yep. I've staked my claim in these arenas, but I'm done running to catch up with everyone else for the next "Big Thing." I'll look at those when they come along, and decide on a case-by-case basis if they're worth the effort. When I was on LiveJournal, everybody starting harping about Dreamwidth. Where did that go? I'm not sold on Google+ yet, either. For the time being and for better or worse, Facebook is the king of the hill. Sooner or later, something else will come along and unseat it for real, just as FB did to MySpace, and if that's the case, I'll do what I did then: Drop the one, and migrate to the other.

Liane Spicer said...

I regard social media as an evil that everyone is trying hard to convince me is necessary. I tend to pick and choose my places and resist new ones until it doesn't make sense to any longer. I'm protective of my privacy. I'm diplomatic.

The big problem for me is the time-sucking aspect. Since I started blogging, FBing and tweeting my productivity has plummeted. My reading has suffered as well. Like William said, all I really want is to write some books.

And what the heck is Pinterest anyway? Forget it - don't wanna know.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Excellent post and all your points are valid. Very helpful, thanks!

G. B. Miller said...

Sadly, I'm still recovering from my experiences with the chat rooms after leaving them almost two years ago, and I'm even nursing some aches and pains from Facebook, even though I'd left them back in October '11.

Social media can indeed be a major pit fall if you're not careful because it can come back to bit you.

Still, I wouldn't trade my experiences with the various social media (chat rooms, Facebook and blogging) because one thing led into another which led into another.

I'm still blogging some four years later and been building a steady readership througout that time span, and have even used the blogs to help me get published (two short stories and a novel by the end of the year).

KeVin K. said...

I shut down my LiveJournal when the line between personal and professional either blurred or came into existence, I'm not sure which. But do folks interested in my game fiction really need to know about my spiritual life? Do people interested in writing care about my politics? As for internet fame... I once foolishly accepted an invitation to join a community dedicated to resolving issues of racism in modern media. Thought I was entering a forum for reasoned discussion. Nope. Won't name the group, but they proceed from the assumption that men only write women characters because we want to dominate and exploit them and white men only write characters of color because we want to own and exploit them. This community was dedicated forcing us white writers to admit our hatred for the world. Every attempt to rebut their assumptions/perceptions was not only met with derision, selected partial quotes were taken out of context and quoted in several blogs as proof of my recalcitrant racism. (Though of course the most damning evidence against me is my marriage to Valerie; thirty+ years of wallowing in my sick, obsessive need to own a black person.) This group went after several writers, using the same 'invitation' method to lure them in. One writer/editor - much more widely read and respected than I - answered every one of their charges and false generalizations with facts. Their hate attacks eventually drove him to shut down all his web accounts.

I have established a Blogspot page in my name and a Wordpress page in the name of Kvaad Press. So far I haven't posted a thing on either of them.

I do have a twitter account, and twit every week or so. These are the only things that appear on my Facebook page. I do communicate with other gaming and writing folk on LinkedIn - but this is more of a business contact thing than public promotion.

Other than that, you guys here are it.