Does a Writer need a Social Media Platform?

The simple answer is no. As suggested by the word platform, social media is a means to an end and not the end in itself. You wouldn’t just turn up at a railway station platform and hope that the first train that turns up will take you to your destination. You’d decide where you want to go, research the best route to get there and check timetables and prices first. So don’t jump on the social media train and hope that it somehow translates into worthwhile effort.

Publishers like writers who understand social media. Publishers love writers who are already thinking about who will read their book and how to get the message to potential readers that their book is available. For a writer, not getting involved in publicity is not an option. Or, at least, it’s only an option if you don’t want to be published.

It is an incredibly useful exercise and reality check for writers to actually take a step back and think about who will read their book. It is thoroughly recommended for poets who have the smallest potential market of all. Once a writer knows who their readers are, it’s easier to go and find them.

Naturally, how a writer gets the message their book is out is entirely dependent on two factors:-

  • Where the readers are and the best way of getting to them
  • How the writer best expresses their passion for their writing and their book.

Tense, nervous writers do not sell books.  If you get tense and nervous in front of an audience, radio and social media are better options.  If you love meeting people and could stand at the front of the Albert Hall talking about writing, your book and enthusing your audience, then public speaking, readings, literary festivals are for you; social media may not be.

Most poetry sells at readings or by word of mouth.  Bricks and mortar bookshops don’t like poetry: it doesn’t have a quick turnover and the slender volumes are difficult to stack. Live literature event organisers love poetry: it’s short, digestible, fits on a promotional poster and poets are getting better at doing readings and marketing their work.

So where does social media fit?

At its simplest level, social media is a way of meeting readers and potential readers on-line and directly communicating with your audience. However, it’s not a one-way communication channel. Writers who constantly self-promote and do not respond or join in the conversation will find themselves losing readers or followers or ‘friends’ rapidly. How writers use social media will depend on how they best communicate with readers.

So before creating a social media platform in the hope that it will look good when you approach publishers, do some research first:-

  • Ideally (money and marketing budgets no object) how would you love to see your book marketed? Would you prefer your book to be heavily advertised with little input from you or would you prefer to be out there meeting audiences and being interviewed?
  • Are you more comfortable with doing a pre-recorded radio interview or would you prefer to be interviewed live?
  • Are you comfortable standing in front of audience giving a pre-rehearsed reading or doing a question and answer session without knowing what the audience will ask?

If you found yourself agreeing with the first half of those questions, then you are more likely to benefit from micro-blogging, blogging and podcasts or videos.  Blogging enables writers to contribute articles either to their own blog or as a guest blogger on another’s blog and respond to comments.  Micro-blogging (eg twitter) enables brief messages sharing links to interesting content or brief comments that may interest readers.  Podcasts and videos give the writer control over what’s said and can be rehearsed. A podcast can be an interview or talk about a book and/or a reading of work. A video can be a book trailer, an interview, a talk or a short film.

If you found yourself agreeing with the second half of those questions, then you’re more likely to benefit from social forums and social networking. These allow direct on-line conversations with readers and potential readers and are less formal and rehearsed than blogging and podcasting.

Before launching a social media platform, also consider this. Whilst social media is largely cost-free (if you’re not hiring someone else to do it for you), it is time-consuming. If you know you can’t update a blog regularly, particularly if you find it difficult to write fiction and non fiction alongside each other, then don’t blog. Setting up a profile or fan page on a social media site may not take long, but you need to maintain it. Allow information to get out of date or fail to list a forthcoming event with sufficient notice and potential readers will fall away.

However, social media doesn’t have to take over a writer’s life. Just because the news is available 24 hours a day, doesn’t mean you listen 24 hours a day. I bet your local supermarket extending its opening hours didn’t tempt you to change your regular shopping habits.

So decide where you want to go with your social media platform, research and plot out your route and decide how much time you can spend on your journey. Providing you are consistent with updates and when you are on-line socially, your readers will learn to adapt to your timetable. What readers want more than anything is your next book so ignore calls to blog every day or update your social media profile several times a day and commit what time you know can you spare.

Advertisements

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.