Ah, social media. So much fun. So much danger.
In April 2012, I wrote about the potential traps and other hazards which await you when you decide to wade into the social media pool. However, that piece focused on the more obvious pitfalls: privacy, how not to let time spent in these venues eat up your writing schedule, how to acquit yourself when in the midst of self-promotion, reacting to reviews from readers and/or critics, and so on. One thing I didn’t touch on the first time around but which I think deserves its own bit of attention is the tightrope we walk when advertising ourselves and our wares. It can be hard to find the right balance between “hanging out” on social media sites and using these venues as promotional tools.
Everybody’s always going on and on about how we as writers need to be “out there,” building a “platform” and all that. Websites, blogs, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube...all these are viewed as prime territory for attracting readers and attention to our work. X number of Twitter followers, Y number of Facebook “friends” or “likes,” Z number of subscribers to our blogs, all of these—supposedly—have weight when a publisher is considering an author’s book. Some of the “advice” I’ve read almost makes it seem as though we need to be beating our drum with every Tweet and Facebook status update, or else we’re just not working hard enough to promote ourselves.
Of course, the people who are the targets of these marketing efforts may just end up thinking we’re a bunch of annoying prats. So, my attitude with this stuff is to tread carefully.
I've spent...let’s see...an inordinate amount of time in the trenches of social media over the past several years, and I’ve seen what happens when that balance isn’t achieved. You know what? It ain’t pretty folks. In fact, I’ve unfollowed writers and other creative types who do nothing but promote themselves and their latest book, or who only post links to their books for sale or articles they’ve written for web sites or crowd-sourcing efforts they’re championing. The constant barrage devolves into an irritating drone after a while, which can really harsh my net-surfing mellow when all I really want is to see a picture of a cat who can’t spell, or a video of a guy skateboarding into a fence.
The point of social media is to socialize; to communicate with other denizens of these virtual realms, whether you’re chatting about shared interests or commenting on issues of the day or simply commiserating because Life chose an inopportune moment to kick you in the gut. When readers follow authors in these venues, they’re not interested in seeing the “sales pitch” 24/7; they want to interact with the people who write those books they love so much. They want to get to know the person, not the brand.
Now, me? I blog throughout the week, and I try to keep my choice of topics varied and (hopefully) entertaining. I tend to have more fun on Facebook and Twitter than normal people might consider healthy. Most of the followers I’ve attracted have found me after reading my books and checking out my website or blog. Others follow me because we have mutual friends, and we’ve found that we have common interests. I engage in the usual sorts of behavior you see everyday on Facebook and Twitter, such as sharing funny pictures or links to news articles, or commenting on other people’s links and updates.
Do I promote myself and my work to this audience? Of course, but as with all things, I believe moderation in this context is the key to success. Sure, I alert people that a new book is coming or has been published, but I also tell them when I take on a new gig. I give teases about the chapter I’m writing that day. Sometimes I solicit input, like what to name a character or if I need help researching some bit of trivia. Chatter usually results from these sorts of postings, and we have fun with it. Once, I even had a contest calling for readers to post photos of them holding one of my books while on their summer vacations. I got responses from Disney World, beaches, cruise ships, and other locales around the world. I turned it into a contest and readers voted for their favorite pictures and the winners received signed books. Sure, I’m promoting myself, but my goal is to seamlessly weave it in and around the rest of my online blatherings.
How do you approach social media? Do you love it or loathe it? Is it fun or frustrating? What tricks do you have for integrating promotion into the mix?