Social Media


Social media is hot topic among authors, whether traditionally published, self-published, or somewhere in between. Should authors be on social media? Which social network will do the best job of connecting authors to readers and of getting the word out about our books? What’s the best way to utilize the most popular social networks? What’s not the best way?

I don’t think most authors would claim to be social media savants, myself included, but I’ll do my best to get you started, so let’s tackle those broader questions one at a time.

Should an Author Be on Social Media?

Yes. And no matter your thoughts on authors who have traditional publishers backing them up with a marketing budget or authors who have the budget to hire a publicist, you can’t disagree with this one fact: many of your readers are on social media. If you want to find potential readers and tempt them with your book, you have to be on social media, too.

How much time and effort you put into social media is up to you, but if you're wringing your hands right now, let me share two things that might help ease your biggest worries:

1. If you commit to posting updates across multiple social networks bi-weekly or weekly or daily, and it becomes too much work—especially if it starts affecting your writing—it’s okay to adjust your social media schedule. Never feel like you have to post the most updates, all of them zingers and each tailored for a particular social network. Don’t think you’re a fuck-up if you don’t check Facebook for a week to recover from some bad news. Don’t kick yourself if you want to stay off Twitter for the day because your timeline is full of tweets about a horrible news story that hits too close to home. Don’t feel like you’re dropping the ball if you’re in the middle of outlining and haven’t filled up your Tumblr queue.

2. Many authors friend or follow other authors in their genre. They’ll open up Facebook on a day when they’ve struggled to write anything and find an update from an author announcing that they wrote two-thousand words before their family even got up for breakfast. They’ll hop over to Twitter on a day they read a bad review and find a slew of reader tweets raving about another author’s latest book, which that other author retweeted all at once. They’ll move on to Instagram on a day when their quarterly royalties were hardly enough to pay for their webhosting and see several dozen gushing comments on the gorgeously arranged promotional photo of a book that just became a bestseller.

A lot of authors really can’t help making comparisons, and seeing that kind of thing hurts. Some writers find motivation in that feeling, but for others, that feeling erodes their self-worth. And lowered self-worth can make your internal editor much louder when you’re writing. So, you end up writing slower, and you hate your ideas much more often. Your struggles erode your self-worth even more, trapping you in a soul-sucking spiral, but you don’t want to quit social media. You can’t. Readers need every opportunity to find you. They need to see you're active and "cool" enough to follow. The friends and family you turn to for comfort tell you “It’s not a competition,” or “They have bad days, too,” or “You’ll get there someday!” You’ll wish such platitudes helped, but sometimes they don’t.

So, here are some links to other authors who struggle with anxiety and envy. They don’t necessarily confront it through social media—rejections from traditional publishers and agents, or even sitting down to read a new book, can make those specters manifest—but commiseration is, for me at least, one of the few things that lifts some of the weight.

One of the other few things that helps me is remembering that the only person I’m competing with is myself. If my writing has improved from one book to the next, then I’ve achieved one of the things all writers aim to do: evolve.

Building an Author Platform

Let’s take a closer look at some of the networks where you’re likeliest to interact with readers. (At this time, I will not be covering Google+, YouTube, or LinkedIn.) Each of the following sites is a Pandora’s Box of options and concerns, so I’ll hit the points that I think concern authors most and provide links to more information where I can.

I’ll also tell you your options, if there are any, for managing a personal (real-name) account alongside an author (pen-name) account as well as any privacy or security concerns.

At the end, I’ll provide additional tips and links for more general social media concerns, such as building a consistent brand across all your social media accounts. Regarding paid advertising and general marketing, head to the final post in this series.

Facebook

Chances are you’ve heard of Facebook, and that you already have an account. But let’s pretend you don’t, or that you haven’t explored the site much. Upon creating a profile, you have many ways to share content, manage it, and customize your interactions with others. These tools fall into three general categories: one-to-one interactions, one-to-many interactions, and many-to-many interactions.

  • People whose profiles you Friend can be managed in custom Lists, which help you manage not only whose content you see but also who sees the content you post to your profile.
  • People can also Follow other users without Friending them.
  • Facebook’s Messenger feature lets you chat with one friend or many friends.
  • You can also create a Facebook Page that users can Like and/or Follow in order to receive content updates from you, rather like a blog where you post content and people subscribe to it. Pages are typically utilized by businesses and celebrities.
  • You can also create or join a Group, which is for users who share a common interest to come together without necessarily Friending each other.
    • A Page is meant to be public-facing, but a Group’s content and membership can be “publicly available for anyone to join, require administrator approval for members to join, or keep it private and by invitation only” (source).

Choosing how to deliver content updates on Facebook can be tricky, more so for authors with a pen name. Facebook’s messy design, its scattered settings pages, and the small, confusing differences between some of its functionalities makes your choice even more difficult.

You can avoid some complexity by simply inviting readers to Follow your profile for updates, but Pages offer additional utility, such as the option to assign administrative abilities to others, integrate other social media connections, and customize what someone first sees when they visit. Groups tend to be formed by fans for fans, but authors with a large fan base might see potential benefits from forming one if it doesn’t already exist.

What do you do if you write under a pen name?

First, you should know that creating a second Facebook account for your pen name violates Facebook’s Terms of Service, specifically what’s known as their “Real Name” policy. I think the policy is complete bullshit because enforcing it has hurt vulnerable groups, including trans people, drag performers, people with traditional Native American names, and abuse survivors.

That said, many authors have created a second account, and I haven’t heard of anyone with a pen-name profile get their account disabled. To be frank, I didn’t know back when I did the same that doing so would violate the TOS, so if you’re in the same boat as me, I feel your pain. I don’t boast many non-author Friends, but the work of creating a new Page from my personal profile, asking people to Like it, and disabling the author profile did not appeal. That said, I'm happy I no longer need to sign into two (or more) different accounts.

My advice would be to create a Page from your personal profile, whether you write under your real name or not. The usefulness of the tools only accessible with a Page are undeniable, and you don’t have to use all of them at the start if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Moreover, you can elect to outsource some maintenance tasks as your readership grows. My advice may not be worth much, though, so I encourage you to seek other opinions, including those in the links below, and decide for yourself.

Before we move on, let’s talk briefly about privacy and security on Facebook. I’ve already touched upon Facebook’s Real-Name policy, but there’s so much more, ranging from privacy settings being reset without notice to the enabling of stalking and harassment. In addition to understanding how tagging works and how to select the audience/privacy level both for your profile and individual posts, you should set a recurring reminder on your author calendar to confirm that your privacy and security settings are correct; “The Always Up-to-Date Guide to Managing Your Facebook Privacy” by Whitson Gordon via LifeHacker can be your guide for that checkup. Make sure you take advantage of two-factor authentication, and be sure to use a unique, complicated password.

Additional Resources/Opinions:

Twitter

Unlike Facebook, you can have as many Twitter accounts as you want. When creating an account, you’ll be asked to choose a unique username, and most authors go with the format FirstNameLastName in one block. I had to choose @ruby_duvall because @rubyduvall was already taken (and suspended!). But while your username cannot change and should ideally be on the short side, your display name can be anything you want, from perfunctory (“Ruby Duvall”) to holiday-themed (“Spooky Duvall”) to tongue-in-cheek (“Face-rolling My Keyboard”).

When you write a tweet, you are limited to 140 characters—only URLs are truncated down to 23 characters. (That sentence was 104 characters including spaces.) What this means is that you have do some word gymnastics to express a complicated thought in a single tweet—or just write a series of tweets.

To ensure a series of tweets are read in order, the two most common methods are to either number each tweet (e.g. 1/10 [tweet], 1. [tweet]) or reply to your own tweet in order to create a “thread.” If you do the latter, make sure you reply to your most recent tweet. (When the reply field appears, you can delete your username—it’s not necessary—before composing your next tweet.) Longer tweet threads are sometimes referred to as “tweetstorms.” They are not universally liked.

You can also tweet photos or GIFs (up to 4 total) and video (up to 2 minutes, 20 seconds). If you include a URL, your tweet will typically include a “preview” or “summary card” of the destination’s content, typically an image and a snippet—image size and orientation will vary. (Learn more about how cards work.) Some authors preempt the summary card by uploading an image that takes the summary card’s place.

Interaction with other Twitter Users:

  • Reply to a user’s tweet (also known as Mentions)
    • If you want that tweet to show up on the Timelines (TL) of people who don’t also follow that user, you’ll need to put something in front of their username. Most people throw in a period. If it’s a new tweet that starts with a username, such as “@ruby_duvall’s latest book is out!”, then you no longer need the period, apparently.
  • Retweet (RT)
    • This sends another user’s tweet into the timelines of those who follow you, even if they don’t follow the person you retweeted.
  • Link to a tweet you wish to comment on
    • Like retweeting, but it pushes the original tweet into its own summary card and gives you the option to include commentary (limited to 117 characters, of course—140-23[for the URL]=117).
  • send a Direct Message (DM)
    • A DM is a private message. You can only DM users who already follow you. However, users can elect to receive all DMs, even from users they don’t follow, by going to Settings > Security and Privacy and scrolling to the bottom.
    • Twitter etiquette - careful with DMs” by Nicola Morgan

Now let’s talk about hashtags. Writing a solid block of letters after a # will turn it into a link that anyone can search to see other tweets or users talking about that topic—almost exactly like a keyword. Typically, the hashtag refers to a topic that can be anywhere from light-hearted (#explainafilmplotbadly) to very serious (#blacklivesmatter). At any given time on the Twitter website, you can see a list of “Trends”—popular hashtags generating a large number of tweets. Some are promoted with ad dollars, and some might be tailored for you based on your tweet history. For the self-published author, selecting the right hashtags can help you reach potential readers, and you can often find relevant Twitter Chats to participate in by using the chat’s hashtag. 

As you follow more and more people on Twitter, the volume of content in your timeline can be overwhelming. Thankfully, you can create Lists to group certain users, even those that you don’t follow. Thus, you can filter your timeline by viewing only the latest tweets from a List’s members. You might also want to schedule tweets so that you can promote a new release at a time of day when you have to be on the road or asleep, but when most of your readers check their Twitter timelines. A variety of Twitter clients out there can schedule tweets, show the live feed of your Lists in their own column, and much more.

Last but unfortunately not least… Abuse on Twitter is a Big Problem, and it has been for a decade. Because Twitter itself has done next to nothing about abuse—even though the issue is greatly impacting its business—protecting yourself has to be your job. As with all your online accounts, take advantage of two-factor authentication whenever it’s available and use a unique, complex password. Also, avoid posting updates/pictures that might give away your work/home address or your current location. Not only could that lead to online abuse manifesting in the real world, it has also led to burglars learning exactly when and where to rob homes while the owners are out of town.

Alternative Twitter Clients:

Additional Resources/Opinions (Your Mileage May Vary):

Pinterest

In an author's online platform, Pinterest fills a certain gap. Though “pinned” images on the site do allow for captions and comments, Pinterest is an image-heavy site: from infographics to portrait and landscape photography to—you guessed it—book covers.

When you create an account, you get the option to sign up with your Facebook information or by providing an email address and a new password. For security reasons, I would recommend providing the email address/password. (You can still connect Pinterest to other social sites by going to your Settings.) The username you select (the most obvious for authors would be FirstNameLastName) determines your Pinterest URL—for example, www.pinterest.com/rubyduvall. Your Pinterest page is where you create Boards to which you pin images from other people’s Pinterest boards or from the internet at large.

Once your account is created, you can search by keyword for images you’d like to start collecting, or you can browse categories. When you find images of interest, you can click the heart icon to Like it, you can Repin the image to one of your boards, or you can leave a comment on the image. If you like the things another user pins, you can follow them or one or more of their boards. Newly pinned images from the boards and users you follow will populate your ever-updating Home Feed. You can also collaborate with other users when pinning images to a certain board.

To pin images from other websites, use the Pinterest browser button, but note that some websites have coded their site to prevent Pinning. Personally, when collecting inspirational art related to a book, I try to pin directly from the original artist or photographer so that attribution remains intact. I’m not a fan of finding an interesting image and being unable to locate who originally created the content so that I can see what else they’ve done.

Authors specifically can use boards to collect ideas for things like writing prompts, story ideas, imagery, and characters (personalities, interests, physical appearance, clothing style). They can create a board for their book covers, for their favorite books and quotes, and for writing-related infographics or links to writing help. Filling a board with relevant imagery for a new story could not only be of interest to your readers, but also a very useful tool when commissioning a book cover!

One other option open to you as a self-publisher is Pinterest’s business account type, which is free (unless you purchase advertising, obviously) and which gives you access to analytics as well as their “buy-now” button and other fun features. If you already have a personal Pinterest account, you can easily convert it to a business account.

Security concerns on Pinterest tend to be phishing or honeypot scams. (See examples here.) Pinterest has reporting tools you can use to help them remove offending pins or to review questionable or abusive comments. Pinterest doesn’t currently offer two-factor authentication, but per usual you should use a unique, complex password.

Additional Resources/Opinions:

Instagram

Whereas Pinterest is more about collecting inspiration or visual resources to clarify a certain aesthetic, Instagram is more about showing off your aesthetic. The social aspect of Pinterest is rather minimal, but it’s amplified a great deal on Instagram. Users can leave comments on and/or click the heart icon to Like the latest photos posted by those they follow. They can use and browse hashtags. And they can Tag other users in posts to boost visibility and engagement.

Note: while you can visit your Instagram feed and view/edit your profile on a web browser, you can only post new photos or video to Instagram from a mobile device where the Instagram app is installed.

One of the most-liked features of Instagram are its photo-editing tools, such as filters, which for authors who aren’t professional photographers or experienced photo-editors can be a huge timesaver. You can also post video to Instagram, anywhere from 3- to 60-seconds worth (you can’t post a 2-second video, FYI). If shooting a video on your mobile device, you can record multiple clips in one video, meaning it doesn’t have to be one continual shot. Instagram also somewhat recently introduced Stories, which allows you to share photos/videos with your followers that disappear after 24 hours. The utility of temporary content might seem small, but Instagram introduced the feature to boost instant and recurring engagement with their service. Authors might, for example, use Stories to push a temporary sales price or a contest, or to inject a less polished but more authentic feel into news you’d like to share.

When posting a photo or video, you have many tools for boosting its visibility, leveraging it toward building your brand, and creating new potential sales. You can:

When it comes to privacy, security, and potential abuse, Instagram has many tools available. You can control (and reduce) your visibility in various ways. You can set keywords for filtering out certain comments so they don’t appear on your posts. If a post seems inappropriate or you receive harassment in some form, Instagram has blocking and reporting tools. That all said, however, Instagram has had its own controversies regarding fair enforcement of its content policies, especially around sexual content, nudity, and women’s bodies.

Additional Resources/Opinions:

Tumblr

Although Tumblr is a blogging platform—microblogging, specifically—it has a social component not found (or really possible) on traditional blogging sites like Blogger or WordPress. And like other social networks, it has its own particular culture. Of all the social networking sites that I’ve talked about in today’s post, I’m most familiar with Tumblr, but even I may have trouble describing its various facets. I’ll do my best, though.

First, the basics of using Tumblr: when you create a new account, the first tumblr URL (or blog name/title) you create is your primary blog. You can change the URL and thus your primary blog’s name at any time, but if you create a secondary blog, know that it can never be converted into your primary blog. This limitation is important because most of the social interaction (keyword: most, not all) you have with other tumblrs can only be done with your primary blog—things like Following, Asking questions, Liking posts, Submitting posts, etc.

Secondary blogs get their own particular features as well. Only with secondary blogs can you allow multiple users to create and manage posts, and only secondary blogs can be password-protected. (However, you can use two-factor authentication for your primary blog.)

The social interactions you can have on tumblr include Following other tumblrs, Liking individual posts, leaving a Reply on certain posts, sending a Message to another user (this used to be Fan Mail but is now like a chat feature), sending an Ask (these can be replied to privately or published on the blog—some tumblrs will allow anonymous Asks), or Submitting content of some kind to be considered for publishing.

That’s not all, though! Any post you see on another tumblr (unless they’re using a crappy theme) or on your own Dashboard can be Reblogged, which re-posts it onto your blog (or a secondary blog of your choosing) for your followers to view. When reblogging, you can elect to add your own commentary and/or other content to the bottom of the post.

Anytime a user reblogs, likes, or replies to a post, it generates a “note” (short for notification), and these are tallied, generally showing up on a post below the tags on the bottom-left. A large number of notes means a post has gone viral.

Let’s talk about tagging, though, which for Tumblr works like hashtags. These are added/edited/seen at the bottom of posts. (To draw another user’s attention to a post, either include a tag they track, often their own username, or type @username into the main text field of a post.) Only the first twenty tags on a post are searchable across Tumblr, so list the heaviest hitters first when tagging, but in general, you don’t need to drown a post in tags.

When searching individual blogs (note that not all tumblrs allow it), you can use either the blog’s own search bar, a tag cloud (only offered by some themes), or the following URL scheme to find relevant posts:

  • tumblrname.tumblr.com/tagged/keyword finds posts with that specific tag
  • tumblrname.tumblr.com/search/keyword finds posts where that keyword appears as text in the body of the post
  • For multi-word tags, separate each word with a hyphen.

So many aspects of Tumblr’s design (e.g. it supported GIFs way before Facebook and Twitter) allow its meme-loving users to play around with content in myriad ways, some of which can be nearly incomprehensible to newcomers. Its user interface, while often criticized, has enabled unique and sometimes unexpected social interactions. And it supports a wide range of content types that encourage creativity and remixing. (Tumblr is also famously quite porn-friendly.)

People talk in the tags, create gimmick blogs, use images and GIFs to wordlessly react to something, combine disparate audio and video assets for comedic effect, and so much more. Even the way people type and the grammar they use on Tumblr is a trove of nuance.

Learning the ins and outs of these site-specific idiosyncrasies takes time, but can be delightful (both in the literal and sarcastic sense) in the same way you take delight in finally understanding the in-jokes of a new group of friends. For the sake of the post’s word count, I can’t go into great detail, but below are a few well-written explainers:

What can an author do on Tumblr to build their brand and maybe garner some sales? First and most obvious, you can post self-promotion in whatever format you wish, including links, tags, and engaging copy. Cross-posting from your website’s blog onto Tumblr is a great way to get visitors to your site. You can also connect your Tumblr to other social media sites as well as schedule (or Queue) posts.

Second, Tumblr’s Asks can be a great way to showcase personable interactions with readers and fans to everyone who follows you, so make sure they can send you an Ask and make sure you respond in a timely manner, if possible. (Also, take time to judge whether your response to an Ask should be published to your tumblr or kept private—some people don’t want their question made public.)

Third, your Tumblr can further clarify your author brand and personality based on the design you choose and the non-promotional posts you publish or reblog. Just like other social media sites, you can choose how much of yourself to put out there. You can keep things professional by only publishing and reblogging highly polished posts about writing, inspirational quotes, relevant news stories, etc. But you could also take part in the site’s culture of memes, political discourse, and “aesthetic” posts.

Because Tumblr is a microblogging platform in addition to a social media site, it is an option for an author website. Many themes—especially custom, premium themes—can inject just as much functionality into a tumblr as what an author would want for their regular site, and it’s easy to assign a custom domain to your tumblr.

Regarding privacy, security, and potential abuse on Tumblr, the platform can be a nasty place sometimes. Auto-likes/follows from shady tumblrs try to lead you to scam sites or piggyback on your legitimacy to boost their SEO. Abuse from other tumblr users is also a possibility. Public posts on non-password-protected tumblrs can be seen by anyone and reblogged with vitriolic commentary. The tags you use to make your content more easily discovered can be used by the disingenuous to find anyone talking about a certain topic and subject them to abuse. A post that goes viral can flood you with notifications if you have them turned on, so a deluge of notifications for a post going viral in a negative way can be a source of stress. And choosing to allow anonymous Asks or to receive Messages from tumblrs you don’t follow is also a point of entry for cruel comments and disturbing images.

To protect yourself, make use of the privacy and security tools Tumblr offers as well as its Block feature. You can adjust an individual blog’s privacy settings at any time by clicking on the Account icon then Edit Appearance, and Tumblr’s reporting function lets you ask for help (see Community Guidelines).

Additional Resources/Opinions:

General Social Media Resources

Wow, that was So Much, and I didn’t even cover every social networking site or get into an insane amount of detail. Managing the online platform part of your self-publishing business can be a huge time sink, so I want to end this post with a few more resources that might help you be more efficient.

Visual Assets:

Etiquette:

Efficiency:

General Advice/Opinions:


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