You Googled My Tweetface
NAVIGATING THE SOCIAL MEDIA MAZE
I don’t claim mavenhood—but before becoming a novelist, I did manage marketing and social media for my band as well as another small business. So, from the perspective of a content-generator (someone who makes stuff to put up on the internet) I have some knowledge and some opinions I’d like to share about how to effectively use social media to add value to the lives of your audience members rather than drowning them in an avalanche of spam. (Avalanche of Spam, by the way, is the name of my new punk band.)
MAKE A PLAN
Whether you’re an author, a musician, or a craft brewer, the key to successful social media is having a plan. Marketers call this a “Social Media Strategy,” but to be honest, I get lost in all the damn buzzwords, so I just call it HAVING A PLAN.
Making your plan is pretty simple. Ask yourself these two questions:
What do I have to say?
Who am I trying to reach?
UNDERSTAND THE PLATFORMS
Once you’ve got those answers, you can take a look at the social media landscape and figure out where your time is best spent. For example, if you’re a writer of teen novels about depression, or a maker of animated cat gifs, Tumblr is probably a must, because your audience is already on that platform. If you’re a headshot photographer focusing on senior citizens, Twitter may not be the best place for you to connect with your potential customer base. As a fan of technology and marketing, I’ve spent time on most of the platforms out there. Here’s my take on a few of the biggest.
PROS: Over a billion users
CONS: Signal to noise ratio, marketing roadblocks, Facebook Disillusionment Syndrome
With over a billion users, Facebook is necessary for anyone serious about reaching an online audience. I have two distinct presences on Facebook: my personal profile and my author page. The audience for my personal profile is probably a lot like yours: a small circle of close friends, all the cousins I only see at Thanksgiving, some old friends who have moved away, and a gajillion people from high school who probably don’t actually remember me. And, since I toured with a band and have done some traveling, there are people I’ve met on the road whom I can’t keep in touch with any other way.
Then there’s my author page, which is all about my writing career. At this point, most of the people who follow my author page are also my friends on my personal FB profile—so my page is a bit redundant. However, once my book comes out and the promotional machine heats up, I’ll be glad I have it. Most of my potential audience is on Facebook—but personal profiles max out at 5,000 friends. So, in order to connect with a wider group, I need my author page. Plus, while I’m happy to share my publishing tidbits with my old friends from drama club, I may not want looking at phone pics from my XXth high school reunion.
There are a lot of cons with Facebook, the first being signal to noise ratio. If your feed is anything like mine, I have to filter through lots of religious rants and Stewie Griffin memes before I get to anything of value. So, when I broadcast a message, it often gets buried in a stream of nonsense.
The second big con is Facebook’s own marketing roadblocks. Prior to the IPO, if you posted an update on your page, it would appear in the feeds of everyone who liked your page. Now, in an effort to monetize the promotional power of the platform, the controllers of Facebook have reduced that visibility to about 10%. If you want your whole audience to see a post, you have to pay Facebook. This means that, if you want followers to see your message without paying, you have to make your Facebook page so entertaining that followers will actually go directly to your page instead of just scrolling through their own feed. And, if you’re going to put in that much effort, wouldn’t that follower just as easily visit your own custom website? Yes, they would. Which is why I put much far effort into this blog than I do into my FB page.
The final big con of FB is something I call “Facebook Disillusionment Syndrome.” It’s characterized by a general loathing of the platform by its more engaged users. We used to see Facebook as a revolution; now we see it as an institution. When Facebook tries to make changes to improve the experience, mostly people gripe and post hate. FB can’t do anything right. They’ve lost our trust—and yet, we’re still on it almost daily.
PROS: Direct contact with your audience, short message length, viral capability
CONS: Short shelf-life of posts, signal to noise ratio
If Facebook is about WHOM you’re talking to, Twitter is about WHAT you’re talking about. The literary community is crazy about Twitter: agents, editors, bloggers, and authors all posting snippets about the publishing world. Readers are there as well, in larger numbers, and connections can be viral: Let’s say you write horror novels. If a thousand readers who follow Stephen King also follow you, it’s possible you’ll start to show up in the “Who to follow” section of Mr. King’s twitter audience. That’s HUGE; it’s tantamount to an endorsement from the King himself.
I’ve had my tweets favorited and retweeted by some of my favorite authors, and it’s a thrill to be able to connect with someone who seems so unreachable. That is true glory of Twitter: It feels like just you and Neal Gaiman, hanging out on a Saturday night. In my experience, humor, brevity, and authenticity are the key elements of a successful tweet. Cleverness, snarkiness, and meanness abound in such quantities, they almost fade into the background. I started out the year with about 200 followers, and I’ve tripled that in just a few months, mostly by posting links promoting other people’s content in addition to my own. My twitter feed is 80% writing stuff, 20% geekery. The geekery seems to get most of the attention. So be it.
The cons are similar. Your tweet has a shelf life of less than a day. Most users follow hundreds of feeds each posting dozens of tweets per day; your signal can get lost in all that noise. On the other hand, when you have something timely or relevant, it can explode (think of what happened in Egypt in 2011.)
PROS: passionate, loyal audience; viral potential of reblogging
CONS: A bit hard to fathom at first
Tumblr is hard to explain—you just have to start an account and spend some time on it. Most users are not content-generators—they’re more like curators of their own private digital museum collection. You might find one user obsessed with Doctor Who and anime who endlessly reblogs pictures of the TARDIS and gifs of improbably wide-eyed cartoon girls toting katana and crying. But behind all the crazy cat memes are people with clearly expressed interests, and by tagging your original posts, you can attract followers who will like and promote your original content. Tumblr is a group of subcommunties with distinct identities. They can smell self-promotion and inauthenticity a mile away—so it’s ineffective to push your stuff on them. You just have share, and like what they share in return.
PROS: Gobs of passionate readers
CONS: Prevalent book-bashing
I’m just getting into Goodreads, and I must say it is surprisingly powerful. Some see it as a mean girls club where people trash books they haven’t even read; others view it as the essential platform for interacting with readers. My book isn’t even through the editorial process, and as of today, 92 people have added it to their “want to read” lists. I don’t even know how it got on Goodreads, or how people found it; but the power of the platform is undeniable, and I humbly look forward to learning how to participate in a meaningful way.
PROS: Ease of posting, ability to choose audience
CONS: Relatively small user base, Google backend nonsense
This is by far my favorite emerging social media platform. (Although ello shows promise as well.) Perhaps it’s because I am a longtime Gmail user, but I find it easier and more intuitive to post to G+ than its most comparable competitor, Facebook. The post format is beautiful and automatically grabs supporting images and secondary text to entice readers to click. In addition, the Communities are almost like little Tumblr cliques inside of Google. But the best part is that I can share one post with just my high school friends and another with just my family, all without accessing any complicated settings or sub menus. And, when someone adds me to their circles or follows me, there’s no pressure for me to add them back. So I don’t have to worry about butt hurt friends being annoyed I didn’t accept their friend request.
Like FB, you can have a branded “page” in addition to your own personal profile. But, unlike FB, your personal profile has no “friend limit.” I created my G+ page a year ago and have attracted very few followers. On the other hand, total strangers have followed my personal profile or added to their circles. This is a testament to the power of organic search relevance, but it also makes my brand page basically irrelevant.
For a single person promoting their art, I have found the G+ Page feature to be worthless. It’s just another redundant page I have to feed with content; so, I’m shutting mine down and opting instead to put my effort into my personal G+ profile.
The reason I find G+ so promising is that I can compartmentalize my posts so easily. It’s like having a Facebook profile with no limit on the number of friends—so if I want to post something publicly, my fans can get a sense of my personal tastes. But if I want to share something with friends only, I can do so in the same account without making it visible to the public. I can post a vacation photo for just my friends, or share a link to a geeky D&D article and let my fans see it too. They’re not being fed a marketing message; they’re getting a peek into my real life social media interaction. It’s the best of Twitter and Facebook, and the administration and posting are much easier than both.
There are some cons to G+. Google essentially controls your identity online; so it took me a long time to get the search engine to recognize my G+ page as my main presence. A year later, that work has proved worthless, because somehow, fans and friends alike are finding my personal page instead. In addition, there’s a concept called “Google authorship” which I don’t quite understand—but it generates search relevance for your website based on your G+ interactions. In my case, this reinforces the relevance of my personal profile and deemphasizes my “professional” page. So I have given up and am shutting down my G+ page in favor of my personal profile. This is a risky strategy, thought, because Google could decide at a later date to limit the number of followers a personal profile can accumulate—in which case I’ll be stuck rebuilding my audience on a new author page instead. In addition, your G+ page or profile is inextricably linked to your YouTube channel in an infuriating way that makes it difficult to change strategies after a year. But so be it, I am riding the monster.
YOUR OWN WEBSITE OR BLOG
PROS: ownership, control
CONS: time commitment
In my arrogant opinion, this is the most important of all: a destination page designed, curated, and administered by YOU. Social media are essentially places to promote your content—but you want to host that content on your personal site. You want to collect email addresses and generate a personal relationship with your fans outside of the ever-changing world of social media. WordPress and Joomla are powerful web-building platforms; or, if you’re more of a DIY, plug-and-play kind of person, Wix and Squarespace are great solutions (as is the fully-hosted version of WordPress.) Jeffgarvinbooks.com is built on WordPress’s self-hosted solution, while The Sweet Sixteens site is on the full-hosted version. My friends Corey Manske (drummer) and Dan Zarzana (book blogger) have had success with Wix and Squarespace, respectively.
THE BOTTOM LINE
You don’t have to do it all—but you should explore your options and pick the platforms that match your interests and, more importantly, meets the needs of your audience.