Social Media Marketing for Writers

Social Media Marketing is a broad umbrella term that includes blogs, social networking sites, podcasts, video, forums and wiki sites.  As writers are expected to be heavily involved in marketing, a writer with an internet presence will always more attractive to a publisher than a writer without.  However, rather than using this as a checklist and trying to be everywhere, use it instead as a guide and pick what’s best for you.

Blogs

Positive aspects of a blog

  • Excellent place to post articles that demonstrate your ability to write engagingly;
  • Opportunity to build up a regular readership;
  • Opportunity to build up a community by encouraging readers to post comments and engage with your blog;
  • A web presence without having a static website.

Negative aspects of a blog

  • Writing non fiction isn’t the same as fiction and not all writers can write non fiction alongside fiction or poetry;
  • You need to post regularly (or reasonably regularly).  You needn’t post daily but you do need to commit to posting reasonably frequently and keep in mind that a blog is not a sprint but a marathon and needs commitment;
  • Impacts on time available for writing, especially if writing gets squashed into what’s left after family and day job commitments.

How to Blog

  • Experiment with blog hosting software and find a platform that suits you;
  • Decide on a loose theme – define too narrow a theme and you’ll run out of ideas for articles fairly quickly, but make your theme too broad and you’ll lose focus;
  • Blogs are not a series of self-promotional articles, if you want readers to return you’ll have to engage them and give them informative articles;
  • Have an ‘about’ page where you give contact information and a brief biography so blog visitors know who you are;
  • Write search engine optimised articles so people searching for blog articles on a specific topic that you’ve written about will find your articles.  Search engine optimisation is not spam or snake oil but simply optimising your articles for search engines to find.  Keep titles descriptive and straightforward, don’t continually repeat your topic, keep your writing concise and to the point and provide information or opinion that can’t be found elsewhere.  If a search engine finds two articles that look the same, it will generally give preference to either the original article or the one from a more trusted source so avoid duplicate content problems by keeping your content unique.  For more on search engine optimisation, see Search Engine Optimisation for Writers;
  • Don’t get caught up on how long your articles are or keyword density.  Keywords are the words people are likely to type into search engines when looking for articles on your topic.  But if your article is clear, the title matches the content and your content is unique, keyword density is a distraction.  Too much keyword density and search engines will suspect your article is spam, too little and search engines won’t ‘understand’ what your article is about.  Keyword density is not a precise science: search engines are forever changing their algorithms to combat spam and provide good user experience.  Your articles, like stories and poems, will find their own length.
  • Include links if referencing other material or link to an original news story alongside your comments and observations, but don’t overdo it;
  • Moderate comments so you can weed out spam and/or abuse, but don’t turn comments off;
  • Don’t leave comments like ‘nice blog’ on other writers’ blogs with a link back to yours in the hope of promoting your blog.  You’ll get a reputation from bloggers as a spammer and search engines don’t rate links from blogs highly.

If you want to try blogging without actually starting up a blog, try writing guest articles for other blogs or team up with other writers and start blogging.

Social Networking Sites

For example, Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace, Twitter, etc.  Before signing up, do a little research and find the right social network(s) for you.  There are some specialised social networking sites based around a particular demographic, eg a hobby or parents.  Myspace tends to have a younger demographic than Facebook and LinkedIn is a business networking site.  Twitter is a microblogging site aimed at making connections and sharing: it’s good for sharing links to interesting webpages, asking and answering questions.  Each site also has its own etiquette so lurk for a while to get a feel for a site before joining up and joining in.

Basic Social Networking Etiquette

  • Don’t just self-promote: by all means link to your latest brilliant blog article or book but include links to other interesting things as well;
  • Check the rules first – specialist networks often don’t allow marketing;
  • Don’t automate social networking.  Linking status updates across networks is fine if your status updates are suitable for all networks, but don’t automate responses or follow-up messages to people who link to you.  A personal response is always more appreciated because the person receiving it knows it took a bit of effort to do;
  • Don’t automatically accept link/friend/follow requests.  Stick to linking to people you know or are aware of, eg favourite authors or writers whose work you have read and people you also know off-line.
  • Your network is as strong as its weakest link and you can be tainted by association, particularly if your weakest link turns out to be a spammer.

Use your social networking profile to provide a good writer’s biography and links to publications.  Some networks allow you to create pages or groups which provide opportunities to create communities and build up a readership, not to endlessly self-promote.

Podcasts

Essentially a sound file, generally in MP3 format, that people browsing on-line can play or download and play later.  Podcasts can be created by using a microphone that plugs into a USB drive and open source software, eg Audacity.  Podcasts naturally lend themselves to interviews or readings of poems or extracts from stories.

Podcasts make a useful alternative to yet another blog article and are great if you are a natural performer and reader of your work. 

After recording your podcast, think carefully before naming it and posting on-line.  Search engines don’t ‘listen’ to podcasts and the title is really the only description they have unless you also provide a transcript.  “Podcast 1” doesn’t say a lot and will be overlooked.  Include the title of the piece, the name of the writer/interviewee and what it is (performance, interview, poem, story, etc).

Video

YouTube isn’t the only video sharing site, but is the most popular.  A reasonable quality video can be done on a small digital video camera such as a Flip – remember most people viewing will be doing so on a computer screen or mobile device so quality has to be reasonable but not necessarily brilliant. 

For writers, videos can record performances, interviews or be used for a book trailer.  Again, name your videos carefully before posting. 

Forums

These can be as broad as eg Yahoo Answers or smaller, membership only sites where members can post on topics, ask questions or make comments on relevant topics.  All forums have rules and these need to be checked before you consider joining.  Basic etiquette is very similar to social networking etiquette: share, don’t self-promote.

Forums can be useful if you have something to contribute and give useful, relevant answers to other forum users.  Most forums have strict rules about self-promotion or marketing.  However most forums have an ‘introduce yourself’ thread or an opportunity to create a user profile where you can mention your writing.

Wiki Sites

A wiki is simply a body of work with multiple contributors.  Wikipedia is probably the best known and has very strict rules on links between contributors and subjects.  Writers cannot create their own page on Wikipedia or a page about any of their books.  There is an opportunity to edit pages about you or your books if there is a glaring technical error, but no opportunity to remove something that’s inconvenient or less than glowing.

There are other smaller wiki sites on specialised niches and it may be worth researching these if your experience and contributions will be useful to the wiki community.  As with social networks and forums, follow the rules and etiquette.

Email Marketing

Cheaper than posting out a newsletter via snail mail, but consider:-

  • Users should sign up to a mailing list by opting in, eg filling out a form on your blog’s contact page or responding to a promotion.  If a reader contacts you but doesn’t explicitly agree to be marketed, don’t market them;
  • Emails about the imminent publication of a book that’s ready to pre-order will be welcomed, a weekly email about a book that’s been available for a year won’t;
  • Check the legals: in the UK marketing emails must include a physical postal address and an option to unsubscribe.  If someone opts to unsubscribe, they must unsubscribed.

Social Media Marketing for Writers

Where to start in deciding where you should start? 

Follow your readers.  If they are on a social networking site, join.  If you’ve written a book set in a historical period or on a niche subject, search for wikis or forums on that era and contribute based on the research you did for your book. If you’re bursting at the seams with ideas for writing, start a blog.

Think quality rather than quantity.  Far better to post an informative, engaging article once a fortnight than a hastily, scrabbled together one daily.  Better to tweet to a useful resource once a week than ten news items daily.  Don’t let social networking get in the way of writing.

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Basic Search Engine Optimisation for Writers

Search Engine Optimisation is making your site or blog easier for search engines to find and hence easier for web users to find so more readers for your site.

Be wary of anyone calling themselves an SEO Consultant because anyone can call themselves an SEO Consultant. There are no qualifications you can check out and no regulatory body authorising SEO consultants. Take the same approach you would in selecting a mortgage or a car: get at least three quotes, do your research (after all if someone offering search engine optimisation services can’t rank well in Google, they’re not going to get your site ranking well either) and avoid anyone who boasts they can get to you #1 ranking in Google. Only Google can decide who gets top ranking and as they change how they rank sites to keep ahead of spammers, what works today may not work so well tomorrow and may not work at all in six months’ time.

But good basics will always stand the test of time and will always help you rank well. Here’s an introductory list of good search engine optimisation practices for writers:-

1. Clean Design
Logical site structure and clean, non bloated code make it easy for search engines to ‘read’ your site and get what it’s about. If you’re hiring web designer, check they comply with World Wide Web Consortium guidelines – this is good practice so generally web designers will. Most off-the-web packages such as WordPress, Joomal, Drupal, Typepad, Blogger generally do.

Most writers’ sites using a home page which introduces the site and them, and pages for books, biography, news, events or similar. Each page is broken down into further subsections eg Books will have a page for each book. It’s a good, logical structure
template to follow.

2. One Page or Post per Topic

Good writers do this by default: don’t ramble, focus. Your book page should be about your book, your news page, your news. Your blog articles should be crisp, clean, succinct and focused. You do this anyway: you’re a writer.

In search engine optimisation terms, a page is built around keywords or the words that browsers are likely to type into a search engine to find the page or article you’re writing. Search engine optimisation consultants will then research those keywords to find variants that people also use in searches, eg someone looking for “writing tips” might also look for “advice on writing”, “getting published”, “sending to an agent”, “submitting manuscripts”. The search engine optimisation consultant would then suggest including pages on the variant terms to boost the writing advice site’s chances of being found by search engines.

3. Titles
On a blog a good descriptive post title wins over vague, ironic, clever titles every time. On a website, a good title tag on every page will focus on what the page is about and be branded, eg “Poet Emma Lee” is better than “Writer Emma Lee” or “Emma Lee Writer and Poet”. Good writing practice is so useful.

4. Alt tags for Pictures
Search engines can’t ‘see’ pictures and rely on the alt tag to describe what the picture is so “book cover for poetry collection Yellow Torchlight and the Blues by Emma Lee” is better than “book cover”. Text browsers can’t ‘see’ pictures and rely on the alt tag to describe what the picture is. So it’s good practice to have descriptive alt tags. And, if you’re in the UK, you may fall foul of the Disability Discrimination Act if your site can’t be read by text browsers which tend to be used by people with visual impairments.

5. Fresh Content
Just as you know that a site that hasn’t been updated since 2000 isn’t going to have any current, useful information on it, so do search engines. If you’re developing as a writer, update your site as you publish a new book, do a new reading, give workshops, etc. If you’re writing a blog, update it.

6. Duplicate Content
You don’t like reading the same poem in several magazines. You don’t like reading a book that’s practically the same as a book by your favourite author. Search Engines don’t like seeing the same page or article on different websites.

Don’t be tempted to stick the content on your website’s biography page on your publisher’s site. Take care when categorising blog articles and try and stick to one category per post as some search engines will read one article with two categories as two articles.

If you are blogging about a piece of industry news, offer an insight and commentary so you’re not simply repeating news announced elsewhere. This also offers value to your readers and is good practice. If you submit to article directories – don’t stop, search engines know what these are and they’re not going to harm your rankings.

7. Linking
Not all links are created equal. Generally it’s about balance, relevance and authority.

Outgoing Links
A site that doesn’t link out looks suspicious, so link to your publisher and link blog posts to other sites where relevant but don’t link for the sake of it.

Internal Links
Linking from one page within a site to another page on that site is good: it makes the site look less like several sheets of paper with no binding and more like a book. But keep links relevant. If you’ve written a blog post on publishing poems, can you link to any posts on the same topic? If you’re reviewing a thriller, have you also go other thriller reviews you could link to?

Anchor text is the text used in a link so an incoming link using anchor text “Emma Lee’s informative blog for poets and writers” is great, “click here” is as good as useless. Think carefully about the words used when creating links and try to avoid using the same anchor text every time as it diminishes the value of the link.

Incoming Links
Incoming links from relevant, authority sites are the gold standard. Incoming links from spam sites, link farms or badly-designed sites will harm you and you may even be penalised by having your site excluded from search engine results pages simply by association. Keep an eye on who is linking to you.

Mutually beneficial links, eg a link from a writer in your niche where you link back to that writer, are fine. Linking to the local pet shop simply because you’re both in the same city, isn’t going to benefit either of you. Save that for a blog post on how beneficial your pet is to your writing.

Paid Links
Don’t go there. A paid link that’s labelled as such (like an advertorial label on an advert that looks like copy)isn’t a problem but won’t help your search engine optimisation. But a paid link that’s not labelled could result in a search engine results page penalty.

Link Requests
Any link request that dictates what anchor text to use and helpfully gives you html code to copy and paste into your site, send straight to the delete bin.

As when selecting where to hold a reading, which bookstore to do a book signing in, which writers’ group to join, who you want to be friends with, be cautious about accepting link requests. Links from fans, writers, publishers are all great.

Encouraging Links
Off-line networking assists on-line networking. Make sure your website and/or blog is included on your promotional material. Go to readings by other writers as well as giving readings.

Best of all, write good content that others will want to link to.
You’ll know that the phrase ‘good practice’ cropped up more than once. Essentially search engine optimisation is good practice and complements good writing practice. It is good practice to have a website that’s easy to find, easy to follow and navigate round and accessible.
Like writing, there’s no overnight success in search engine optimisation, but good basics and having your website and/or blog search engine optimised will mean that when your latest book is an overnight success, your sites are ready to complement that and help those readers that made your book a success find you and buy your other books.
Search engine optimisation is one aspect of search marketing and I’ve not even attempted to cover other aspects of search marketing such as pay per click and/or social media marketing – that’s probably worth several more posts.