Boy, there are a lot of misconceptions among writers about social media and a few of those misconceptions cropped up in last week’s post. If you haven’t read last week’s post, please do so now, because I’m not going to recap in this post. I’m just going to continue forward.
First, the misconceptions (or at least those as of the weekend before this post goes up, because I’m going to be too busy to update after that). I’ll start with the points commenters raised, and then move to an overall misconception.
The thing that cropped up—of course—is the fact that Facebook has “limited” your friends. Facebook says that only a subset of the people who friend you will see your comments. This means exactly nothing. Same with the boosting of the posts (the Facebook wants you to pay for). So what if only a fraction of your Facebook friends see your post? That’s how Facebook has always worked.
If you’re good at Facebook, then one of your posts will go viral. (Yes, the posts that go viral are usually about cats, and not about your latest book. Deal with it.)
People will respond in large numbers (over 50) to your viral post and those people move into your feed subset, for a while anyway. The fact that Facebook has limited who can see your posts, based on “interest,” is an algorithm, nothing more. In the past, the people who saw your posts were the people who either went to your page and looked at them, people with a small group of friends who saw everything, and the people who were online the moment you wrote the post.
Now, after the change and the “boost,” who sees your post? The people who go to your page, the people with a small group of friends who see everything, and a subset of the people who were online the moment you write the post.
Really, not a lot of variation there. So stop worrying about it. If you’re worrying about it, I would venture to say that you’re using Facebook incorrectly.
Second, no one service is better than another. Just because you prefer one over another doesn’t make it better, either. This was the whole point of last week’s post.
If you’re going to do targeted social media postings, then don’t be prejudiced about which services you use. Make a logical decision based on the points later in this piece. Yes, Facebook reaches everyone of all ages, and not in a very direct way. Yes, Google+ has a better interface and has better communities. Yes, Twitter has more young people (at the moment).
Realize those things, and then use the services. Don’t let your own biases get in the way of using the best service for you.
Now, the overall misconception:
Just because you have 3,000 Facebook “friends” or 10,000 people coming to your fan page, just because you have 25,000 Twitter followers or the biggest community on Google+, does not mean that all of those people see or even care about everything you do.
On Twitter, you only see the posts of people you follow and even then, you rarely see ones from a few hours ago. It’s the same with the other social media sites.
That worry about Facebook’s limitation of the posts? It comes from the misconception that you’ll reach all of the people all of the time.
Not going to happen—no matter where you go.
Here’s how I think of social media.
It’s a party or a convention, depending on size. Treat it like a public gathering of some sort.
Going to the largest social media “convention,” Facebook, and complaining that it limits who sees your posts is like going to San Diego Comic-Con and fretting that the room you’re speaking in only holds 1,000 people. That means 129,000 people won’t see you! Oh, no!!!!
It doesn’t matter how big the convention you attend is in real life. I learned this long ago. Half the time, the fans who attend the World Science Fiction convention have no idea who the Guests of Honor are. Those are the people who theoretically the fans have come to see.
The theory isn’t true of course. The fans have come to the convention for a variety of reasons. Some fans arrive to play games, others to socialize with their friends in fandom, still others to go to the masquerade. A subset will come just to see the writer Guest of Honor, but only a subset.
Even the large media conventions like DragonCon won’t get 100% of the attendees seeing the big media guests. 90% of the attendees probably don’t even know who the guests are.
People go to social media for the same reason they attend conventions in real life. Some go to meet like-minded people. Some visit to see their friends. Others come for an education. A goodly portion come to promote something.
Even if you give away something at the convention—a t-shirt, a coupon, a free book—not everyone will see it. Of those who do see it, not everyone will take the free item. If you do flyers or a book mark or a catalog, half the attendees (or more) will toss them away without even looking at them. And that’s if the flyer/bookmark/catalog was in the goodie bag. If it was just on a table for giveaways, even fewer people will see what you’ve done.
So stop fretting about who sees what and how many people you reach. If you’re only on social media to promote, then stop now. Go back to your cave and write. Because you absolutely have to enjoy your social media platform to use it properly.
How do you use it properly? First, you stop thinking about all those tricks marketers tell you will boost your followers. Stop following stupid marketing rules. The tricks might help for a day or two, but mostly, they’re annoying—and the users of social media can always tell when there’s a new trend or someone is following an old marketing idea. I had three people just last week try to sell me something in the comments on my posts. Um, no. Stop now.
Here are Kris’s rules of social media:
1. Have fun.
If you hate parties, do you go to them? Back in the day when your publisher forced you to go to conventions, did you spend most of the time hiding in your room? Do you hate the way that Facebook works and get annoyed every time you go?
Then don’t go.
It’s as simple as that. Participating in social media is truly not required. Remember Scott William Carter’s WIBBOW test. Would you rather be writing? Then write.
I really can’t stress this enough.
In 2010, I interviewed a group of people who were using social media very well at that moment in time. I did it for the Online Networking section of The Freelancer’s Survival Guide. While some of the information shows its four-year-old roots, other things stand out.
Everyone I interviewed stressed that they enjoyed what they were doing. Neil Gaiman said it best:
I’m not sure if any [of what I do online] is networking. I mean, if it is, I never did it to Network. I did it because it was fun, and because writing can be a very lonely profession. It’s fun to have people to talk to, fun to have people who talk to you, and great to have people who will answer your questions (even if they’re wrong). I also feel that it levels the playing field, which I like.
It’s pretty clear, if you follow Neil on Twitter, that he enjoys this stuff. In fact, when he does do a marketing post or something about himself, he gets a little cute for my tastes. He always puts WARNING:Contains me on the post. I would hope he posts about himself. That’s one reason I follow him.
The other reason? His tweets are always interesting—and clearly were four years ago as well.
I go on Twitter several times per day—not because I feel the need to or because I’m trying to hit a quota, but because I now use it as a news source and a way of seeing friends. Often, I don’t Tweet at all. Twitter is my favorite social media site.
Last week, others mentioned Google+ and Pinterest as favorites. I personally like Google+ and am afraid of Pinterest as a time-sink, so I avoid it. Those are my preferences. Those are the parties I want to go to, with the people I want to see.
I have fun there, so I visit out of enjoyment.
2. Remember that you’re in public.
Every week, some idiot celebrity hits the news for a stupid comment they made on their Twitter or Instagram account. Every week. Then they have their accounts taken down, or handlers take over the account (and it gets boring).
Before you type or pin or post anything, think this:
Would I say this at a convention? Would I show this picture on a panel?
If the answer is no, take your fingers off the key, delete the photo, and go elsewhere until the urge to overshare disappears.
This sort of thing can happen in the comment section on someone else’s blog or in a listserve that has internet access. Since the dawn of the public internet (and I’ve been doing this that long—remember CompuServe?), someone has typed something stupid online in a place that they think is private, a place anyone can access, and that stupidity causes a shitstorm. It’s happening as I type this in one community I’m in—no, wait. Two communities I’m in. No. Make that three. Ooops, I think it might be four.
Since I don’t follow shitstorms or get upset by them, I can’t keep track. Mostly, I shake my head and move on. I never get involved—because—I remember that whole-party/in-public atmosphere. If I take a side in public, that side might haunt me forever.
Which brings us to the next point:
3. No politics or religion in your public, professional posts.
I am very politically active. I write a lot about politics and history. If you want to know what my politics are, then read my novels. It’s pretty clear.
But I don’t blog about current events, I don’t comment on current events, I don’t retweet most of what’s in the news.
Why am I telling you not to mention your most deeply held beliefs? Because you’re a fiction writer. (See Assumption #2 below.) People of all political and religious stripes will find your work and will love it for different reasons. Let them. Don’t be in their face about the things you disagree about.
Let me give you two examples. First, when I was young, I found a bunch of books by a writer who shall remain nameless. They were wonderful adventure stories. I loved those things.
Then my father introduced me to this writer’s nonfiction. It was strident and on a different side of the fence than I was comfortable with. From that moment on, I stopped telling my friends I read this guy’s fiction. My friends hated him, and I didn’t want them to think I agreed with the guy. Yes, I kept reading him—but look at the subtitle of this post. Discoverability. In no way was I going to tell anyone about his books, much as I loved them.
His political beliefs shut off a small faucet of discoverability—the mouthy young Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Later, as I got older, I realized this writer’s beliefs were in the novels and I glossed over them because I attributed the beliefs to the character, not to the writer.
The second example is much more recent, and truly can be applied to more than one person in my life. When I joined Twitter four years ago, I followed as many of the fiction writers whose work I loved as I could find.
One fiction writer turned out to be bombastically political. Offensively so, calling anyone who disagreed with him an idiot or arguing them into tiny puddles of mush. I unfollowed him within two days. I had a new book of his on my shelf, and four years later, I have yet to read it.
Not because he was an asshole. I follow a lot of assholes on Twitter. (Okay, that sentence is just wrong, but you know what I mean.) I stopped following him because his politics were in my face the way that TV cable news is in your face. I don’t watch that stuff. If I were at a party and this guy was yelling and sticking his finger in someone’s chest over in the corner, I’d never venture into that corner.
The same with hot-button issues. You have an opinion. I have an opinion. We might agree. We might disagree. But let’s keep our entertainment a hot-button-free zone. I don’t need you to harangue me and I don’t want to harangue you.
Even the friends I agree with can get vehemently nasty on social media. I unfriended a real friend on Facebook because of his continual in-your-face political opinions which, ironically enough, I agree with.
So…you write political thrillers. Can’t you talk politics on social media? No. Let your fiction do the talking. Please.
The same for those of you who believe strongly in your religion (or who are atheists). Leave it out of your social media platform. Even if you’re a religious fiction writer. Make sure your posts follow the tenets of your religion without proselytizing.
Even within the large religions, there are huge variations. You might write Christian fiction, but you might be a Roman Catholic. Half your readership might be Southern Baptist. And I have enough friends of both persuasions to know that often each can anger the other with a glance.
So politics and religion. Off-limits.
Please. Remember. Party. Convention. No one likes to go near the argumentative loudmouth or the person who wants to convert you to their opinion all the time. Don’t be the person people run away from.
Which brings us back to:
4. Entertainment and fun
Who the most popular guest is always depends on the party. A witty raconteur might hold court at a large party and might be the best person in the room at a convention, but in a small gathering of five or ten that person often dominates the conversation in a truly unpleasant way.
If the get-together is about research or learning, then the most knowledgeable or experienced person in the room—even if that person is soft-spoken and self-effacing—will be the one everyone listens to. If fans have come to see the person who wrote their favorite novel, then they really don’t want to hear from someone who wrote something “just like” that book.
I know I’m talking in metaphor here, but you understand me.
People don’t follow you on Twitter because you’re famous. There are well-known Tweeps who are simply fun to read, and who have never published anything.
Remember, people are on these sites because they enjoy the sites. So if you’re doing something to get in the way of their enjoyment, you’re doing it wrong.
5. Actual Promotion
Last June, Dean and I missed the last episode of The Voice due to a power outage. When the power came back on, we decided to watch The Voice online.
Every five minutes—and I’m not kidding—a commercial came on. You couldn’t click away from it. And if you tried, you’d have to watch it all over again. Any time you skipped to another section, you had to watch two minutes of commercials for five minutes of content.
As interested as we were (we had, after all, invested an entire season into the competition), we stopped watching. It wasn’t entertaining. It was annoying.
We expected some ads—it was a commercial site, after all—but not so many that it interfered with our enjoyment.
When you go to see your favorite musician in concert, that musician will tell you what album a song is from before or after singing it. That musician might also tell you that t-shirts are available in the lobby. I went to a concert in Vegas in January where a scroll ran on a TV screen while we were waiting for the event to start. The scroll advertised everything that the artist was currently doing.
I didn’t mind. I was a fan who had come to see that artist, and I learned about things that I had missed along the way.
I’ve been to talks where the presenter spends a small portion of the talk plugging her work. Fine. I don’t mind. I’m there to see that person, and I’m happy to learn about those things.
However, we’ve all been to convention panels where the least famous person on the podium litters the table with upright book cover stands and dominates the conversation about his latest novel. The fans had come to see the Truly Famous Person (say, George R.R. Martin), who will often mention what’s coming next, but doesn’t do heavy promotion. The fans will not be happy with that less famous person at all, and will mention it to anyone who listens. At a party, at a convention, you don’t want to be the person people are avoiding. Remember that.
Social media—that party/convention—is the same way. About once per day when he’s online, I’ll see Neil Gaiman mention something he’s doing with a link that you can purchase from. And that’s about it.
We expect to be informed of books, movies, video games. We don’t expect to be bludgeoned by the news.
So keep your ratio of promotion to entertainment low. You want just a little promotion with a lot of conversation/entertainment/facts.
Be interesting, not annoying, no matter what site you’re on.
6. Kindness and Snark
This is my personal preference showing here, okay? But I’ve noticed that the people who have the most followers—and have had them for some time—are often kind. Yes, the snarky people will get followers, but those followers tend to pick fights. They also will leave the moment they get offended.
Respect the people you find your various social media sites. If you don’t like them or they’re nasty to you, don’t engage. Unfriend/unfollow/block if necessary.
Also, it only takes a moment to thank someone for doing something kind for you. All those kindergarten skills come in handy in social media: Please. Thank you. Excuse me. I’m sorry.
Use them. And be nice to people. Maybe they were rude to you because their best friend just died. Or maybe they’re rude to everyone, in which case you should block them.
There are trolls in the world. If one gloms onto you, block that person. Report them if it becomes offensive. And move on. Life’s too short to spend any time on them.
And snark will only make your point in the moment. Individuals will remember your kindness more.
Be known for what you do, not how funny and mean your words can be.
7. Test Drives
The day I started blogging about social media, Facebook bought WhatsApp. Most people over a certain age (and in the U.S.) have no idea what WhatsApp is. The news coverage was confused—why would Facebook pay so much for something so unknown?
You can research all of that yourself. The point I’m going to make here is that the day I started blogging about social media, a goodly chunk of the adult U.S. population heard about a new social media site. (You can group chat on WhatsApp, which makes it social media, imho.)
And next week, there will probably be another new social media site and then another and another.
If you discover a new site and it sounds intriguing to you, then take it for a test drive. Figure out if you like it, if it’s fun, or if it seems like work to you. Apply the WIBBOW test.
If you end up enjoying the site, see if it is better for you and your career and your party/convention time than the other sites you’re on. Move, and go have fun.
And here’s the place for my one caveat:
I personally believe that everyone should have a Facebook page that they check once per week. Even if you don’t post. I’ve gotten so much paying work through Facebook that if someone asked me to leave now, I’d be truly reluctant.
Most of that work has come from overseas or from video companies or from film companies. Almost all of it has been subrights sales that agents will tell you only they can do. Um, no. I do it myself, get more money, and often get the initial contact via Facebook. (My blog is inaccessible in some countries—so is yours, probably. Facebook often isn’t.)
The expectation is that everyone is on Facebook, so if you’re not on Facebook, then you’re some kind of Luddite. That’s more true than not. This advice might change next year—there might be a site that everyone has moved to. But I doubt it. Facebook has become ubiquitous, like the telephone. You might not like it, you might not use it much, but you probably should have one in case someone needs to reach you.
8. Target Your Marketing to What You Enjoy
Once you’ve taken a bunch of sites for a test drive, use those sites properly. Find out what the main audience is for your favorite site and then do some targeted posts to that audience.
Some of this you will know intuitively because you like the site as well. If you do, then do what you’ve found effective on that site. Don’t treat Instagram like Facebook or Twitter like Pinterest.
Make sure you’re marketing—what little you do—is site-appropriate. Look at last week’s post to see what I mean.
9. Watch your time
You will often hear that social media is a time sink. You hear this from two very diverse groups of people—the people who are told they have to do marketing on social media (and hate it) and the people who love, love, love social media.
We’ve already dealt with the first part—don’t do this if you don’t like it—so let’s deal with the second.
You like it. You really, really like it.
You’re going to have to limit your access. There are apps like Self Control that will block the distractions on your writing computer. I’m embarrassed to say that I have only one blacklisted site on my writing computer, and that’s Twitter. I will read something cool as I’m online to quickly research something, it a “share on Twitter” button, and suddenly I’m down the rabbit hole of links and cat videos and funny interactions with friends.
I love Twitter, like I love discovering things, so I’m always thinking of adding, sharing, looking. And, like you, I need to write.
So I can only access Twitter on my internet computer (three flights and a whole house away from here) and on my iPad (which mostly lives in the kitchen).
The time sink comes when you love something too much. When you’d rather talk with your best friend than write the difficult scene in your novel. When you’d rather clean the refrigerator than write the difficult scene in your novel.
When you discover a social media site you love, you’ve discovered a time sink. You’ll need to figure out how to control it—for you. No Pinterest until you’ve finished your writing for the day, or something like that.
If social media is like a party or a convention, why do it? How does it aid discoverability?
Because consumers like to support businesses and brands that they have a connection to, people they “know” for instance. They’ll test your work because your social media presence is fun. Or they’ll follow you to find out what you’re doing next, then be the first to tell their friends about it.
My biggest measurable source of discoverability for individual projects comes from social media. In other words, if I mention on my three main sites that something is new, then the people online at that moment will check things out.
If something discoverable lasts for a long time—a month, say—I’ll mention it a few times, never more than once per week. If the promotion is only a day long, I’ll only mention it once.
If it’s a new release—once. Why? Because I’m not going to harangue anyone. They’ll find the books on their own.
Trust your readers. Be kind to your fans. Have a social media presence only if you like interacting that way.
Because life’s too short otherwise.
And off I go to something I enjoy—spending time with a group of professional writers, talking about craft and writing and the business of writing. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from this week’s workshop and I’ll eventually share it here.
I will be taking comments, just slower than usual because my online time is down, and I probably won’t be on social media this week. But I’ll be baaaack soon.
So, if you’ve learned something or you enjoy the blog, please leave a tip on the way out. Thanks!
“The Business Rusch: Social Media Part Two” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Please Read These Assumptions Before Commenting:
I’m going to make some assumptions in the next group of blog posts, and I’ll repeat those assumptions each week until I’m done.
Assumption #1: I’m going to assume you’ve read the previous posts, which you can find here.
Assumption #2: With only a few exceptions, we will be talking about fiction here. There are promotion techniques that work for nonfiction—even on the first book—that do not work for fiction. I don’t want to muddy the waters here. We’re discussing fiction in these posts.
Assumption #3: You have learned your craft well enough to intrigue readers. You know how to tell a good story, you have grammar, spelling, and punctuation under control, you create interesting characters, and you write what you love.
Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, then your work has a good blurb, a great cover, and a well-designed interior. Your work is available in ebook and trade paper formats. (I also hope you have audio books, but for our purposes here, I’m not going to assume it.)
Assumption #5: If you have indie published your work, your ebooks are available in every ebook venue you can find. Your paper novels are in extended distribution on CreateSpace or Lightning Source. In other words, if a bookseller whom you don’t know and never will know wants to order your paper book, that bookseller can call up a catalogue from a major distributor (Baker & Taylor, Ingrams) and order your book at a bookseller’s discount.
Assumption #6: If you are traditionally published, your books are with a company that makes the books available in e-book and paper formats, and your books are still in print. (If they aren’t, ask for those rights back and then publish the books yourself.)
Assumption #7: You have at least a minimal web presence. You have a website that readers can easily find. You have a list of your published books somewhere, also findable. You have some passive marketing in place. (A mailing list, a social media presence, or a contact button on your website. Something.)
Assumption #8: You have published more than one book. Most of what I tell you won’t work on one novel. You’ll need several—or at least a novel and some short stories. If you’re haven’t published much, make sure you’ve done 2-7, and write the next book.
Assumption #9: You will finish this discoverability series before you decide which of the things I mention is for you. Because one of the last posts I’m going to write is how to measure success. That should have been one of the first posts I wrote, but of course, I write out of order, and so it’ll go at the end. [VBG]
Those are the assumptions.
Now, I have one big WARNING:
Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.
I know, I know. Lots of warnings and assumptions. But I had to be clear, because these points are extremely important. I won’t get to everything this week or even the next week. So…you need to be on the page that I’m on to understand what I’m talking about.