Business Musings: Social Media: The Year in Review Part 7

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I’ve been dreading this post, but not for the reason that you think. Somewhere, probably back in November, I had gotten the bright idea that I would do this post and find a social media site to replace Twitter for my promotion and news needs.

(As a former journalist, I found Twitter very useful. I followed journalists in real time, as well as old journalist friends, who would post nuggets, and I knew how to parse those nuggets. The unfiltered nuggets (in tiny bursts) is what I miss about Twitter, not the promotion, not the “social” aspect, not the “community” which I never found very welcoming in the first place. Anyway.)

In other words, I had put a lot of pressure on this post. I was sure that with a week or so worth of research, I’d have a new social media home.

I didn’t expect two things. The first is that nothing has really shaken out as the Twitter replacement. (And Musk hasn’t quit nor has he finished eviscerating the site, even after he promised he’d step down if people told him to…and people told him to.) The second thing is…I’m not sure I want a Twitter replacement. Yes, I miss the news (see above), but I don’t miss the hordes of judgement that would come with any kind of infraction or perceived infraction.

No one ever checked to see if the infraction actually did happen, as was the case with me getting banned by a lot of sf people because they believed that I had never done anything to help women in the field. Never bought stories from women when I was editing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (an easy thing to disprove) and never wrote about women’s issues anywhere (also easy to disprove). And yeah, that was the first attack that really bothered me, mostly because I ended up blocking a whole bunch of people whose work I like and whose politics I generally agree with.

It bothered me for days, before I put on my sf convention armor and remembered that social media is like a large party, and I needed my game face on at all times.

I’m not fond of my game face. It goes against my rather blunt grain.

So I’m not going to use this post to find the next Twitter or the place where all the literary folk have gathered. I’m probably going to need to find a few places to land, but that’s separate research unrelated to this piece. In this piece, I’ll look at the changes in the social media landscape and what that means for the future.

In November, The Atlantic published an article by game designer Ian Bogost titled “The Age of Social Media Is Ending.” The subhead is “It Should Never Have Begun.”

Let’s leave off the subhead for a moment and contemplate the headline. The Age of Social Media Is Ending.

Yeah. The title is onto something. The article has a point of view, which I mostly disagree with, although I appreciate his history of the past thirty years as seen through the lens of social media sites.

I think his view of the future as a place where people accept that social media is as evil as cigarette smoking is wrong in the extreme. I think that he, like so many others, forget that social media is a tech development that has some benefits. (Where smoking, as far as I can see, has none.)

He grudgingly touches on that with this paragraph, toward the end:

Something may yet survive the fire that would burn it down: social networks, the services’ overlooked, molten core. It was never a terrible idea, at least, to use computers to connect to one another on occasion, for justified reasons, and in moderation (although the risk of instrumentalizing one another was present from the outset). The problem came from doing so all the time, as a lifestyle, an aspiration, an obsession. The offer was always too good to be true, but it’s taken us two decades to realize the Faustian nature of the bargain.

All of that is true. Twitter famous isn’t the same as TV famous which nowadays isn’t the same as it was 50 years ago. And there is a Faustian bargain here, one in which many people lost their souls to the machine, quite literally.

Think about January 6 Capitol Riot of 2021 here in the U.S. for a minute, and realize that as of this writing, 964 people have been charged with a crime related to that event and 465 have pleaded guilty.  None of this would have happened without an egregious misuse of social media by the former president and his minions. Now, realize, that all media, from the dawn of media has been misused by people with malicious intent. Hitler played well on film, which was a new medium at the time. The French Revolution was fueled, in part, by pamphleteers, using what was then a new form of communicating with the masses.

I am not forgiving or excusing social media, but what I am saying here is that it is part of a human evolutionary trend. We get enthusiastic about new things—often new ways of communicating with each other. We use them to distraction, and then we abuse them, and eventually we regulate them or lose interest.

For example, pamphlets still exist. I have one on my table downstairs, which is encouraging me to vote for The Glass Onion in all the upcoming awards ballots. Someone might call it a tiny little magazine or a book-like item, but it’s a pamphlet.

And we all know that news on film still exists, and a lot of wannabe despots make videos of themselves or their ideas or their terrifying public utterances too much of the time.

What caught me about the article was the phrase: The Age of Social Media. Where social media dominated.

I truly don’t think social media is going to go away, any more than the telephone went away. Yes, the landline is mostly toast. So is the party line, thank God. According to a study that Pew Research conducted in 2021, 97% of people in the U.S. have a cellphone, and 85% use a smartphone for their cell connection. So, yeah, Alexander Graham Bell wouldn’t recognize the instrument he created in these handheld computers, but he is the official father of this kind of communication.

I think the Atlantic writer is right: social media’s dominance in our society has been broken. It was already fracturing before Musk bought Twitter. From the beginning of social media sites, the audience split, often by generation.

Facebook was for “old” people, and for a while, Twitter was for the young’uns. Influencers dominated Instagram until the pandemic, and then the idea of going out and influencing was so 2019. Not to mention the fact that Instagram, like Facebook, kept changing its algorithms to favor ads and controversy instead of connection.

As I was researching this piece, I came across social media sites that are now being listed by people in the know (what know, I don’t know) as being passé. And I’m so old I never heard of them.

Among book people, though, two sites caused all of the controversy this year. Twitter and TikTok. Twitter because—you know—dumpster fire, and TikTok because of BookTok. The U.K. Publishers Association conducted a survey of 2000 people 16-25 (Gen Z) and discovered that 59% of them say that BookTok or book influencers have given them a passion for reading.

BookTok has dominated the conversation all year and has helped a lot of backlist titles to sell, particularly in young adult. There’ve been some amazing success stories in romance too, as well as sf and fantasy.

What’s even more interesting to me is the way that brick and mortar booksellers jumped on the BookTok bandwagon. If a title got a lot of love on BookTok, then booksellers would note that on their shelves, sometimes making entire displays for BookTok books. This summer, Barnes & Noble partnered with TikTok to create a reading challenge—encouraging people to post about the books they read and thereby get those books more readers.

With the demise of Literary Twitter, TikTok looked like the hottest social media platform around. And then…well, the regulation started. I’m not delving deep into the controversy because the deeper I go, the more confused I get, which leads me to believe there’s a lot of disinformation here.

Let’s simply note that an internal investigation by ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, discovered that four of its employees in China “scooped up data” from the accounts of two U.S. journalists, which is a big no-no, made worse by all the international implications.

The current upshot is that many states are banning the TikTok app on government issued cell phones. The U.S. government has done the same thing. Other countries are trying to regulate TikTok as well.

A lot of people have removed it from their phones. But does that mean TikTok and as a result, BookTok, will go away? Probably not. What’s being discussed now is TikTok’s American arm might get sold off, to protect the data, and to get the Chinese connection out of this country.

All of this is neither here nor there for most of us. I think we’ve come to expect a certain level of data-mining and bad behavior by all of these social media companies. We all draw the line at different places. For example, I won’t even consider Counter Social as a platform because its owner, who calls himself the Joker, identifies as a gray hat hacker who is out to fix social media. Associating with this guy is as far out of line for me as associating with Elon Musk.

And yet, I remain on Facebook, even though I think Mark Zuckerberg is even more horrid than those two. It’s just…I’ve been on Facebook for a long time. While I can’t justify it in logical terms, I’m not leaving just yet.

By this time next year, the social media landscape will probably have settled out. It’ll probably continue to divide depending on the community someone wants to attract. That’s how it was in the past, and that’s probably how it will be in the future.

But we’ve ended up with a big problem with the sudden unraveling of Twitter. Thousands of us (maybe more) deactivated accounts which we have had for more than ten years. We’ve let the work of accumulating thousands of followers go in the space of weeks.

I didn’t ever try to curate my followers. Sure, as I said above, I blocked some, but I didn’t go to all those lengths that some writers did to acquire followers. I let my followers grow organically. Still, I left behind a platform that I could use to inform people of something important to me—and a platform where I could do promotion that actually moved the needle on any project—without setting up a replacement.

Uncanny Magazine’s editor, Lynne Thomas, put it best in a piece in Locus Magazine. Thomas was discussing changes Amazon made to its Kindle platform, changes that will hurt Uncanny, and added this,

This could not have come at a worse time for SFF periodicals, since so many of us are also weathering the storms of reduced advertising revenue and the possible death of Twitter, which is vital for crowdfunding projects.

I dealt with reduced advertising revenue in last week’s post. The changing promotions landscape is a reality for all of us right now. We’ve lost several different areas of promotion, especially on the social media side.

Things are not working the way that they did just a year ago. The loss of thousands of followers before I could choose another site to go to made me realize something that a lot of others have said for a while.

It’s better to have your own organically controlled list than it is to use someone else’s platform to do it.

That bit of advice might just be the reason I can’t bring myself to join Mastodon, which is where, it seems, the book world is settling. I can’t do a lot of the research to find another platform. I have this website (which needs an upgrade), my Patreon account (which needs tending), my newsletter (which is still growing), and my Facebook profiles, which I mostly use to discuss my runs, my cats, and some promotions.

With the loss of Twitter, though, I realized something else. I realized that I had gotten into a habit of hitting the Twitter icon on something I wanted to promote, saying a brief something or other about it, and then moving on.

In the post about advertising, I had mentioned that one of the problems with advertising in 2022 was that it had grown stale. Then I realized that my own advertising for my own works had grown stale.

In some ways, as Lynne Thomas said, this change couldn’t come at a worse time. But, of course, there’s no good time.

What I plan to do is slowly figure out what platforms suit me, and then let people know about them. It will require a lot of personal work for me. I’ll be piggybacking off other work done by friends, but mostly, I need to dive in and see what’s next.

As I worked on this piece, I kept discovering new sites. Some look really cool to me, and some look like massive time sinks, and none of them will replace what I like about Twitter. However, moving to any of them would get me out of my rut.

Or maybe the changes this fall have already done that. I got to re-examine what I’m doing on social media. I know I’m not the only one.

Ultimately, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. There will always be the flavor of the month social media platform. Maybe those of us who got swept up in the Twitter drama will be a bit more cautious about joining that platform, researching it completely and then figuring out whether it’s right for us.

The problem here is time. We only have so much in each day. If we keep remembering that we’re writers, then we need most of that time to actually write something, not to promote other things.

Promotion can’t be by rote, but it can’t be horribly time-consuming either. It needs to be something we can do after we’re done writing.

Also, as writers, we love drama, be it fictional or not. Some platforms encourage drama. Others do not. The ones that do make it hard to look away or to log off. Back to the addiction that Bogost discussed. Some of that addiction is an addiction to stories, akin to binge watching.

That’s actually a good cycle to break out of.

I was a bit discombobulated in November when I left Twitter. But over the weeks, I started seeing the upside. Yep, it’ll take work to create new followings in other places. And it will take time to do so as well.

It also means I have to stop being lazy on this platform. I need to share more about what I’m doing, even in this blog.

For example, Dean and I have a Kickstarter that went live this week. It’s for five fantasy collections, which we’re doing as part of Kickstarter’s Make 100. We’re excited about that. As of this writing, we’ve already moved into the stretch goals, so readers will get a lot of extras if they back the Kickstarter. Check it out.

WMG has a new Shopify store (which I will discuss in depth in a later year-in-review post) which we’re just getting up and running. We also put together an easily searchable website for our workshops. Not to mention all the writing that I’m doing.

So we need—I need—to change my behavior, and the ways I promote things.

It’ll be a steep learning curve for all of us as we learn our new social media platforms and figure out how we fit. It’ll also be a learning curve to change our behavior, because, as one article I read tonight mentioned, we’ve all been doing the same thing with social media since about 2010.

Time for a change.

We just had to be forced into it.

And I suspect, it was long past time to do so.

***********

Last week, I mentioned that in these little end notes, I would point you to a workshop or something else related to the current post. Well, since the changes in social media are so new, there’s nothing related.

So I’ll tell you about two weekly classes that we’ve started in 2023. The one I’m happiest about is Bite-Sized Copyright. We’ve been trying to do a copyright class for years that writers would actually take, and we finally hit on the way to do it. Short little lessons every week for a year.

It’s the best and most painless way to figure out all the details of licensing a copyright.

The other class is the Decade Ahead. Yeah, we started that in 2020, and then got derailed by the pandemic. But we’re back, with a lot of ideas about where we’re going in the future. So take a look at that one as well.

Or take a peek at the Advanced Craft classes. Or all the other things we offer.

I’m sure there’s more I could share with you, but that’s more than enough for now. Except the weekly reminder: This blog is reader supported.

If you feel like supporting the blog on an on-going basis, then please head to my Patreon page.

If you liked this post, and want to show your one-time appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you go that route, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.

Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!

Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.

“Business Musings: Social Media The Year in Review Part 7,” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / curvabezier.

8 thoughts on “Business Musings: Social Media: The Year in Review Part 7

  1. I’m on Facebook. I really like the slower pace, and it’s more about branding (and having fun) than sales. I think/hope it helped some of us stay connected through Covid and give people something positive to focus on during all the scary.
    Right now, I’m working on my Shopify store, which should be open by the end of the month. It will be part shop, part hang out (much like Facebook has been) but I hope it will be a fun place for readers to stop by, drink some tea, read a few free short stories, and maybe buy a few books.
    Hope you and Dean have a fabulous 2023!

  2. No one pays attention to the warnings that Doctor Who gives about social media and smartphones. And King was not wrong when he wrote Cell.

    – Things like Twitter are a dangerous drug that no one should use.

    In the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh, they try to limit direct communication between the various lords. Time and distance is best to keep the lords from making rash decisions.

    In my stuff, when I have smartphones in the Story I always add the warning about smartphone use, the way they label smoking in movies.

    Warning – may contain scenes of smoking

    People will be triggered by smartphones, in the future.

    Warning – may contain scenes with smartphones

    I only have a “landline” as kids call it today. I cannot tell you how many times people will call me, not leave a message on my answering machine, then get mad at me for not calling them back.

    When I ask them, how was I supposed to know that they called if they didn’t leave a number, they say that I should have seen their number in my “missed call” list and called them back.

    – My telephone does not have that option.

    It’s like when I was trying to get service help over the telephone, the person wanted me to take a picture and send it to them, and I asked how do I do that. I have a telephone.

    Before you waste time on finding the next “new” thing that will be abandoned for the next in just a few years, take the time to write instead.

  3. I’m curious about the experience with WMG’s new Shopify site. I’m in the process of building one out myself, about half done.

    On the social media angle, I’ll most miss that up to the minute information. I don’t miss doomscrolling. If anything, I consider that piece a blessing to my mental health.

  4. Honestly? I find Counter.Social to be quite user friendly and not at all what the negative publicity about it from certain people to be what the reality is. No, it’s not a site where you can promote aggressively. You have to (and some folks will shudder at this) engage with other people. I also find it very interesting that when all the negative publicity was out that CoSo was undergoing a LOT of denial of service attacks. Not so much now.

    That said, Jester (not Joker, as you name him) is quick to respond to troll reports. It’s not a place where bullying is accepted. Additionally, Jim Wright (of Stonekettle) and JJ MacNab (right wing research) post on CoSo (I will not use “toot”). There’s the beginnings of a writing community and…if you post engaging posts (not promote promote promote), interact with people, and interact with other writers, you…get sales. Or followers.

    I have not found Mastodon to be a positive experience, and just this morning someone I work with on a SFWA committee was banned from one instance because of promotion. I’ve been skittish about the evangelical promotion of Mastodon by too many people, and I’m starting to see that my awareness was correct. If I wanted the moderated version of Usenet 2022/2023…and nope, I’ve been there. Not going back to that world.

    That said, I’m focusing on developing more blog posts and dispersing them via Substack, Discord, and Dreamwidth as well as my own site (I bailed out of Medium because it was starting to become toxic). I’m concentrating on organic development of followers rather than promote, promote, promote. I’m not into spending $7k to earn $8k. Because my brain works in certain ways, I’m looking at how I schedule my writing and editing and promotion time.

    We’re in one of those shifts akin to the death of LiveJournal, and…it will be interesting to see where things settle. If they settle, which is another significant probability. What too many people overlook is the use of social media as a means to inform ordinary people in rural areas and underserved urban areas. It’s a lot easier to spread information about wildfires, floods, travel conditions, and earthquakes on local Facebook groups, for one. I’ve yet to see any social media besides Facebook (NextDoor is extremely toxic and limited in scope) address that particular situation. With climate change roaring down on us, that use of social media is going to become more important–and it’s something that is not currently being addressed in all these discussions of social media.

    1. Your last point, Joyce, is one of the things I miss greatly about Twitter. When fires threatened my old hometown of Lincoln City in 2020, I was able to keep up on developments on Twitter almost by the minute. That’s part of what I meant by news. Right now, except for in-the-know places on Facebook, there’s no real way to do that. And sorry, can’t handle going to someone who was involved with Wikileaks. Just can’t. Not on Mastodon either. It sounds like something I’m not suited for by any stretch of the imagination. I think your solution is the better one. Never heard of Dreamwidth. Will have to look that up.

  5. Controlling your own platform is absolutely, 100% vital. Should anyone reading this decide they have to join Mastodon: you can get your own server, which you fully control, for about $15/month.

    Don’t start there. Get an account on one of the writing-oriented servers, and see how it works. Once you are oriented and have decided that it will work for you, pay the money and get your own server. You can transparently migrate your account from the joint server to your personal one.

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