The following is a (long) transcript from an online discussion I had recently with the Southeast Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. They asked if I could help them understand social media to better use it for self-promotion and to grow audiences.
You probably know most of this stuff, so I don't blame you if you don't read all the way through. But I thought it was interesting what real people (non-geeks) actually think about social media.
We’ve all heard about this new thing called social media. From Twitter to Facebook to blogging – it’s a daunting new world of digital communications out there. And with all of the advice and feedback available, it’s hard to know where to get started, or what to do with the tools.
But how do various groups take advantage of this amazing new way to network to grow audiences, sell stuff, manage brand relations, discern information on a particular topic, etc.? The truth is, there’s no blanket answer. Every person and every business type has to discover how these new rules of engagement work for them.
Fortunately, social media is based on basic rules of communications that we’ve known all of our lives: Be nice. Be respectful. Share.
When you take away all of the media buzz, the core concept of social media is simply ‘advanced communications.’ That’s all it is. It’s the new telephone. The new email. The new pen pal. It just lives on the internet. As long as you keep this idea at the fore, it won’t overwhelm you. If you start to attach a dollar amount to the time you spend in this space, you’ll fail miserably.
I’m sure you all have lots of questions about social media and how specific tools work, so why don’t we just open it up to your questions? I’ll do my best to answer each one thoroughly.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask Jim how best to balance the need to “work” and the need to “promote” and his best practices for making sure social media time is either productive or not taking away from productive work.
ANSWER: This is tricky, and I think the answer is based on the individual. When I was enlightened to the massive potential of social media, I threw myself into it wholeheartedly. But I'm an entrepreneur, and invest my own time (into anything) at my own discretion. That said, the ability to connect with like-minded people from all over the world in real-time is pretty amazing, and addicting. Like with anything, discipline is key. Carve out an hour or two to devote to social media each day, and stick to that. The other thing to remember about social media is you can't have the mindset that you're coming in to promote anything. People will shut you out. Engage first (sincere dialogue) and promotion occurs as the result of the credibility you develop through dialogue.
QUESTION: I have recently started using Twitter, and I am not comfortable with it yet. What techniques should I use to build my followers?
ANSWER: Follow as many like-minded people you can find and then engage them directly. A really great way to find people to follow is through Twitter search (for keywords). Eventually you'll grow more comfortable using the service. It really is a pretty amazing communications tool.
QUESTION: I have accounts on both Facebook and Twitter, but I’m not sure how to manage them effectively. With so many people “friending” me and asking me to “follow” them on Twitter, I’m not sure how to keep up with the barrage of information.
ANSWER: It sounds like you need to configure all of your settings so that your'e not being informed every time someone follows you on Twitter or wants to be your friend on Facebook. Those are unnecessary distractions and should not get in the way of the 'real' barrage of information that these portals open you up to. Bottom line, don't be overwhelmed. Carve out as much time you can afford to spend learning about social media and learn how to make it work for you.
QUESTION: And how can I use them to promote my books without being too pushy about it?
ANSWER: Very carefully. People hate being spammed. When you think about it, if you followed people who only sent out links to self-promotion, you'd probably unfollow/unfriend these people. So when you develop loyal following, you must respect this audience at all costs. This doesn't mean being mousey – but rather being consistent in terms of how you self-promote. For every 10 tweets you send, 1 should be self-promotion (to a blog where they can learn more about something). The rest are engagement either directly as a reply or interjection into a conversation, or by sharing information and content (links).
QUESTION: Can you be a bit more specific about how to arrange settings on Twitter and Facebook so that you don't get inundated with messages?
ANSWER: Within each platform are personal settings to turn off various messages. In Twitter, go to Settings/Notices. In Facebook go to Account/Account Settings/Notifications. Many people use these notifications to alert them to activity. I live online and don't need the added distractions, but you may find them useful. It's a good idea to really get in there and explore all of the settings on all of your social media portals (including LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. if you intend to use these services). Once you get the hang of working through the interface and vernacular of one service, the others are easier to navigate.
QUESTION: You say that you should do only one promo tweet for every 10 you send, but what kinds of things do you tweet for the others? It seems to me there's an awful lot of silly chatter that goes on and I don't want to do that. What can I tweet that isn't just a laundry list of every thought that cross my mind or conversation that I had during the day?
ANSWER: First, please understand that my recommendation of 10% self-promo is not based on any science. Everyone uses all of these free services differently, so I can't tell you how you should best use a service. There are no boilerplates in social media. But there are certain unwritten rules. For example, if you walked into a crowded ballroom filled with people talking, laughing and drinking, would you step onto a chair and start yelling BUY MY WIDGETS, THEY'RE HALF OFF RIGHT NOW. HURRY! ? No, you'd mingle right along with everyone else and see if you can make any contacts that may or may not benefit your commercial goals. Or perhaps you'd offer to help others in some way. Or maybe you'd just contribute to a conversation between two, or twenty people. While it's easy to sit on the outside and call things 'silly' – to the person stating them, it's probably not so silly. Or maybe it is. You never know until you ask.
The core appeal of social media is engagement. That's it. It's not brain surgery. If you're not the kind of person who enjoys direct dialogue in real time with people who could be on the other side of the planet, social media's probably not for you. But let me tell you this, before social media, I wasn't very social at all. I'm a copywriter, I do my best work in a quiet space with no humans around but for the target audience I create in my mind. Once I realized that I could not
only find, but engage some of the thought leaders in various industries on Twitter (by using a tactful, respectful approach to reciprocal dialogue) my whole idea of being social changed. You might surprise yourself at how amazing it is to find and engage people who you share common interests with. People who simply wouldn't exist to you, but for the advent of digital networking.
In Twitter, start with search. Search a term. A keyword. Another author's name or work. Click on the names of people who are talking about these topics, and either engage them directly or start following them (trust me, they won't mind – unless their accounts are locked down, in which case you have to 'ask' for permission to follow them – much like in Facebook). People you follow don't have to follow you back, but most non-celebrities do follow people who engage them directly.
QUESTION: What is the difference between a Fan page on Facebook and a regular one and do you recommend one or the other?
ANSWER: Only businesses can use Fan pages. That's the biggest difference. But to learn more, check out this article: http://bit.ly/dxNAGF Or do a quick google search for Facebook Fan pages vs. Profiles.
QUESTION I'm on Facebook, and I notice some authors I've friended can be political in their posts. A couple of times the comments have turned me off so much that I not only unfriend but also vow never to buy that author's books again. As a fellow author, I don't want to inadvertently go down that route. Are there rules/guidelines regarding that? Should we avoid political hot-button issues? Or is there a way to talk about the issues that won't offend? Beyond the political, are there topics that we need to be careful around?
ANSWER: Great question. Unfortunately, there's no right answer. Hot button issues are often great ways to attract followers. Especially if you're articulate in your arguments, and of course if you truly believe in your position. Look, people are people – we all have things we're extremely passionate about. And because social media is about people engaging other people, we gravitate to real human beings who are passionate about a range of issues. Do NOT be afraid to speak your mind about whatever interests you. If you're not sharing things you believe in, your'e just shouting in a room like a loud TV commercial. Go with your gut – those who follow you will follow you. Those who don't probably aren't your audience anyway. Just be careful not to employ sensationalistic tactics to be 'Mr. Controversial' all the time because most people will pick up on this, and if your arguments don't offer any value to people, no one will pay attention anyway and you're wasting your time.
Seems most people are so consumed with mastering Facebook and Twitter, that they overlook the most important vehicle in the social media garage – blogging. Simply stated, a blog is the foundation for entry into every other social media outlet. As writers, you should all have a one. A blog lives on the internet, can have a custom domain name and while it might look like a normal website, it’s not. It’s better. Think of a blog as a personal online journal that provides you with an opportunity to engage (and grow) your audience directly through comments. It’s a great way for authors to share work, processes, industry insight or random musings. You can even get started for free on sites like blogger.com and wordpress.com. Yes, there’s a learning curve, but it’s not that steep. And the best part is that most blog programs can populate content across social media – which means you can configure the settings so that the blog automatically sends notices out to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. – as status updates with links back to your blog.
QUESTION: I'm mulling the idea of doing a blog, but I wonder if maybe the bubble has burst in blog-land? I know several writers who have decided to stop blogging, saying it took too much time from writing, especially since they felt compelled to read blogs of other writers. Is there a way to do it that is efficient in terms of time and energy, yet so that it still has an impact with readership for marketing purposes?
ANSWER: To say that the blog bubble has burst is to say that the book bubble has burst. All a blog is is entry into the other platforms. And unless you're expecting to shell out money to advertise your writing, or you're depending solely on the publisher to market effectively, what better way to build a loyal following than with your own thoughts and ideas as posts on a blog? And it doesn't necessarily have to be content from one of your books (but it very well could be – a great teaser technique), but rather routine discourse about something interesting that happened in your life. Or maybe it's something routine that you have an interesting perspective on. The bottom line is that if you write, you MUST make time to reach out to your current and prospective audience otherwise you're relying completely on a publisher to promote your work as best they can. They're not necessarily geniuses, you know. Especially in this day of social media (from what I can discern, publishers are not exactly polished in social media).
WOM is the best advertising money can buy. They teach you that in marketing 101. When you develop an audience via social media (blog, twitter and facebook) you're already one step ahead of anything the publishing company can push at their market asking them to consider you. The beauty of social is that if you're out there engaging your audience, you develop credibility based on authenticity and this leads to loyalty. If a friend tells another friend they think they should buy your book, that friend is more likely to do it than normal. Enter digital – if this person says this to 1,000 of their friends in a tweet with a link back to your blog, and if only 10% of those people do the same, the ripple effect is staggering.
One of the reasons I chose to get involved with the SMMW is because I'm a writer. I've sold a ton of product/service in my career by getting people to think certain ways about things. Now I'm getting paid as a communications consultant (social media, brand development, advertising and marketing). But I'm also writing two books (neither are business related). I absolutely expect to use the tools available in social media to their maximum potential to help A) get published and B) sell books. I'm convinced that social media was made for writers.
QUESTION: This concerns me also. When I blogged nearly every day the weeks of 3 May and 10 May, I got hundreds of hits on each entry, return customers, people referring others to my blog, etc. When I didn't follow suit the week of 17 May, due to health issues, traffic plummeted.
The people I know who have lots of blog traffic consistently blog every day. I simply cannot do that because of the time involved. It's more than just writing. It's developing an idea that people will want to read about, an idea that will make a difference in the lives of some of your readers. That's what keeps readers coming back to a blog – and that means not writing about silly things like brushing your teeth. There's research, text and image formatting, and keyword selection that go into creating successful blogs. E
ach entry can take me up to five hours. Obviously, this takes a big bite out of the time that I need to write novels.
So I'd like to know some hints about the balance of time and energy for this important cornerstone in social media and promotion. If "daily" isn't an option, what can be done to make the best out of "weekly," for example?
ANSWER: I've been blogging for a little over a year. Yes, I make the time to keep the blog fresh and have invested my time to learn how to become efficient at it. There's no other way to do it to keep traffic fairly consistent. If you don't post routine updates, traffic will suffer. The more often you post, the better you solve one of the most important search engine algorithms. Routine updates are one of the factors necessary for traffic outside of your blasts into the social media stream to keep traffic coming in more routinely, since that will give you a higher SEO score – positively affecting your rankings (for search terms in Google, for example.) There are other factors involved with SEO too, obviously, but that's a whole different topic.
Either you do this or you don't. It's that simple. When you commit to it, you've got to give it a sincere effort. If it's just brutally painful to do, and you're not getting more efficient, you can always hire someone to do that stuff for you. Or maybe it's a sign that this isn't for you. Not everyone's going to flourish in social media, or have the patience and resources necessary to do it often enough to become efficient. You have to make the time. And there's no boilerplate answer to 'how many' posts you should write. I write when I can, sometimes that means once a week, sometimes a couple, and when I can't write, I ask others if they want to *guest post* on my blog (another great idea to grow your audience and help other writers do the same).
Thanks for all of your questions – it’s been enlightening for me to really consider this new media again from your perspective. Good luck.
Jim Mitchem is a father, husband, writer and entrepreneur. You can find him on Twitter @smashadv.
2 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
May 25, 2010
Dang, you weren’t kidd’n about long. Great info, although, a bit of fire hose action going on. I say break it up into 2 or 3 chunks brother.
May 28, 2010
Great idea, Matt. Thanks.