Social media isn’t actually about you. Shocking, I know.
Social media is a conversation, not a billboard.
What you put out online should be all about your audience. What you ate for dinner last night may be especially interesting to you, but unless you are trying to sell a cookbook or are a food critic reviewing a restaurant, your audience probably doesn’t care.
Social media gives writers a unique opportunity to engage with potential audiences online. Beloved characters can have their own Twitter accounts and continue to foster audience interest long after a show is over or a book is published (Side note: I love The West Wing. But I love Donna Moss and Josh Lyman’s Twitter accounts even more — those writers are brilliant and thus, even though it has been a few years since the show ended, I continue to be loyal to that brand, watch their reruns, and buy West Wing swag.)
A well-managed, insightful, entertaining and engaging social media strategy can help build brand loyalty. That loyalty can get a publisher’s attention.
GRAMMY Award-winning singer (and Wall Street Journal op-ed writer) Taylor Swift credits social media as impacting her success. In her first record-deal meetings in 2005, Swift was already communicating with her fans through Myspace.com. “In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans — not the other way around.” The same is true for authors, journalists, and other creatives — proving your worth via a substantial online following can open the door to opportunities with big-name publishing houses, record labels, studio executives, and others.
Social media is a force for new writers and artists, but it’s just as powerful for established names, too. “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling uses her voice and the characters in her books to support and oppose topics on Twitter like gender equality. Margaret Atwood, known for her books “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Cat’s Eye,” among others, has a spirited Twitter feed and embraces its ability to produce and encourage sharp-witted humor, continuing the conversation about her books even through seemingly unrelated topics like food and beer.
At 75, Atwood is an early adopter of new technologies who published early installments of her latest book as a serial on Byliner, a literary website. Those installments were released nearly three years before the book’s planned release in September 2015. She has also used social media to guide younger and aspiring writers. Her website offers a straightforward, honest explanation of how social media can be used to help promote your writing. Goodreads and Reddit “AMAs,” for instance, both encourage a dialogue between authors and readers. Authors can answer direct questions and debate topics. Wattpad exists in 25 languages, thereby expanding reach and connections even more.
It is important for writers to tell readers who they are and to seek to engage their community at the same time. Gary Shteyngart, author of “Super Sad True Love Story,” is known for posting self-deprecating, humorous links that also correspond with his writing style. For example, check out his Instagram post: “Posing for a volume entitled “I Actually Wore This: Clothes I Can’t Believe I Bought.”
Social media does come with a “writer beware” asterisk – bad social media can be worse for a brand than no social media. Don’t sacrifice brand integrity for easy clicks and empty engagement (we’re looking at you, publishing industry). Social media isn’t just another place to put out the same press release, it’s a powerful form of communication that requires interaction, creativity, and data analysis. Perhaps no one walks this line better than The Onion, which has made a joke of clickbait tactics by devoting an entire website ClickHole, to the irony between clickable headlines and real content. It spoofs common clickbaiting strategies like, “Watch This Video to Discover The True Meaning Of Life,” or “Health Insurance Companies HATE This New Trick.”
As any good writer knows, catchy titles work, both online and offline. I follow a 1:3 rule for my blog posts or for events. I tweet the same piece of content, introduced in a slightly different language, at least three times to capture different hashtags and different times of day to maximize audience engagement. I measure success by clicks and engagement rates (retweets, favorites, mentions, and impressions). For instance, within one three-month period, Hootsuite tweeted the exact same content 44 times because, “When you have a large audience, you need to make sure everyone can hear you. No doubt, our regular followers may see the same Tweet multiple times, but we feel that the risks don’t outweigh the rewards.”
Building a Social Media Brand is All About Community
While timing and frequency are key data points on social media, ultimately, building your #SoMe brand is all about community. Neil Gaiman is a prime example. The author of “American Gods” and “Coraline” has more than 1.8 million followers on Twitter. Through effective social media engagement, he led a six-month, collaborative crowdsourcing campaign that funded 12 short stories and also involved graphic artists, photographers, and videographers.
No one knows the power of social media better than the woman who created Harry Potter. That’s why it’s not enough that Rowling has 5.45 million Twitter followers. She keeps those followers engaged by answering fans’ questions and posting to her feed almost daily (and not always about her books — she gives glimpses into her personal life, which fosters intimacy and a connection with fans). Like Atwood and Shteyngart, Rowling knows that social media is a conversation, not a billboard, and effectiveness hinges on interaction.
Writers and publishers often cater to a creative audience. They attract people who think differently, who admire and embrace ingenuity, and who choose to use words to say what they think and feel. But social media has changed how we communicate — audiences are much more interactive and reachable. University lectures and book tours are still on itineraries, but so are online chats with people they will likely never meet. So are Twitter crowdfunding campaigns. So are goofy photos of men in bathrobes. So are writers talking about real-world, relevant issues that affect you and me. That’s why Gaiman ended up with 12 new short stories. That’s why Shteyngart became even more of a literary darling. That’s why Rowling still gets asked questions about gender equality.
Social media isn’t about you, it’s about everyone else. But it’s up to you to figure out how to use it well – with some help of course!