Monday, March 7, 2011
Social Networking: So Many Options, So Little Time
Social networking is both a blessing and a bane to authors. It literally opens the world up, allowing authors to chat with people they never would have been able to meet in real life. It allows people to share insights and knowledge.
It can also become a huge time suck, and like anything social, can be filled with land mines.
So what's an author to do?
I think the first thing an author needs to do is decide why they are going to network, and then what, how, and how much. Nearly anyone that's ever blogged or networked can attest to getting burned out.
Networking can be rewarding for many reasons. It can be used as a way to branch out, to form friendships, to find some great support systems, a way to gnaw on ideas and share them, a way to help others, and a way to help promote your own books as they come.
I think knowing the why is a crucial first step, because you are projecting an image of yourself out there, and that image will become your brand. Knowing why you're there can help focus your efforts as you make deliberate decisions on exactly what your brand looks like.
So, you've decided to dive in. Now what? What are you going to say? What do you have to say? From my own observations, those that are successful with social networking have something to offer. They might be funny, informative, have a beautiful voice, or any number of things. But the one thing they are not, is a commercial. While there's nothing wrong with mentioning yourself or your books, I would caution how many times you do it in a given time period. I'm trying to adhere to a 1:5 ratio. Me once, someone/something else five times before cycling back to myself.
Remember, this all goes back to branding--how people see you. If the only time they hear from you is when you're promoting your book, asking people to come to your signings, buy your book, or hey, look at this awesome review of *my* book, you're going to lose or even alienate the audience you were hoping to cultivate. You'll no longer be a person, but a commercial. And how many people pay attention to commercials? People are much more receptive to other people that have something to offer instead of always asking for something. Again, it's not bad to promote yourself, but I would do so with discretion. Be a person. Be yourself.*
I think it's also important to share things you're passionate about. Because all of the networking in the world won't do much good if you don't care about the things you're passing on--focus is the key. Some people are very successful in being eclectic in what they blog/tweet about, while others are less so. Find what works best for you.
Now that you know why and what, it's time to figure out how. Something that I've discovered recently is that social networking platforms are not created equally. And, with the exceptions of blogs, it's easy to maximize your output with a minimum of time.
Blogs: Blogs are where the deeper sharing of ideas occur. You've got more space you can take up, people can comment, and conversations can happen. Blogs, for me, are where the essays are posted. The important thing to remember, as with all the different platforms, is to keep your audience in mind. I blog mostly about writing and anything writing related both here and on my personal blog. But even though I blog about the same topics, the tone is different. I'm more professional here, and a little more personal on my own blog. Different audiences have different expectations, and it's important to understand what the expectations are if you want to get the most out of the platform.
Twitter: Hit and run conversations and the spreading of links. Twitter's a great place to converse with writers, authors, publishing professionals, and nearly anyone you can think of. It's easier to do it on Twitter vs Facebook, because you can follow a person without them having to friend you back. It's also a great place to serve up links.
Paper.li: This is connected to Twitter in that it takes all your links from your feed and puts the most popular ones in the form of a newspaper. As of now, there's really not much you can do to personalize what you want topic-wise (at least to my knowledge), but that could change. I've recently started using this, and have found a lot of helpful links to writing articles I had missed before.
Tumblr: Twitter! With pictures! Tumblr has also been dubbed as the microblog of our times. So if you have important things to say, but prefer to disseminate the information in bites rather than all at once, Tumblr might be something to look into. I'm still experimenting with mine, but I've developed a love for feeds that feature books and pictures full of bookish places.
Facebook: Facebook is another great place to have conversations with people. The only drawback is that unless its a page, the other person has to friend you back in order for you to write on their wall. I like Facebook for conversations that are a little more placid than the rapid fire that is Twitter. And since the comments are all lumped together, it's a lot easier to follow the conversation.
One of the most frequent complaints I've heard about social networking is how exhausting it is to keep up with everything. People get burned out, go offline, take blogging breaks, etc.
How much you participate in social networking will be a personal thing, but I do think it's important to maintain balance. Networking will help get your name--your brand--out there, but you won't be able to keep your career going unless you get that next book written, and the next. Not to mention that we all have lives outside of the computer screen, and this all takes time.
I think the most important considerations to take are consistency--whether it's blogging five times a week, three, or even once a week. Getting onto Twitter at certain times during the day, etc. Another thing to consider is activity. You want to be active on your accounts, but without draining yourself. A way to achieve this is by linking accounts. I have it set up so that anything I post on Tumblr automatically gets posted on Twitter, and anything posted on Twitter automatically gets posted on Facebook. So I can hit three places at once while only really visiting one. And I check up on @mentions and comments in between bouts of writing/revising or at night. This has saved me a lot of time.
So there you have it. What are your experiences with social networking? Which platforms work best for you?
*About the social networking being a land mine thing, remember, always remember, that the Internet never sleeps, and it's forever. It's important to be yourself, but it's also important to be mindful of the things you say and to remember that everything has its consequences.
Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.