A Blogger’s View of Authors and Social Media by Paula Radell When Alexandra invited me to do this guest post, she didn’t give me a topic ~ she simply asked me to write about a something I’m passionate about. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time – too much time, probably – thinking about what might be meaningful to post on an author’s blog; something that would encourage, inform, perhaps even inspire its readers to learn more about a subject I’m personally passionate about: the impact of social media in the literary world. Social media is powerful and ever-present. It is instant, immediate, and because it consists of user-generated content, it is impossible to control. As a result it can make or break all types of businesses, large and small. Think about the YouTube video showing Domino’s pizza employees who filmed themselves “contaminating” take-out orders. Talk about being caught with your pants down?! That video went viral before the executives at Domino’s knew what hit them, and they had no defense for it. Speaking from painful personal experience, social media can also make and break relationships faster than the blink of an eye. Tweets and posts can be copied and forwarded by anyone, any time, for better or for worse. So take it from me, if you don’t want to see your words, innermost thoughts & fears, confessions or photos splattered across the web or through e-mail for the whole world to see, keep them to yourself. Trust is a rare commodity in a competitive world, and social media can either bring out the best or worst in us. Because of its relative anonymity, it can be unrelentingly cruel and unforgiving as well. Avoid those who don’t encourage and uplift you; cherish those who do. Let me begin by saying that I do not hold myself out as an expert at being an author, a blogger, or even a social media “consumer”. I’ve only been a presence on social media for a little over a year; a blogger for a little less than that; and I’ve yet to finish my first chapter of “my” book. I will also admit that as a newbie on social media over the past year or so, I’ve made some embarrassing mistakes born of naiveté, misplaced trust, and words I can’t take back. It’s been a continuous learning process, exciting and sometimes even agonizing, but worth every minute of it. For those of you who may have read my blog, visited my Facebook page, or seen me on Twitter (@Lady_LovesBooks), you probably already know that I recently quit my full-time career in healthcare to pursue my passion for and fascination with social media marketing, with a goal of developing the credibility and business acumen necessary to actively support and promote independent, self-published authors. What was once an idle interest born of an addiction to reading has now become a full-time commitment to observing and studying social media, and helping new authors get the recognition they deserve by reading, reviewing, supporting the writing process, and promoting their work. So why the fascination with social media? For one thing, there is no question that it is here to stay. Web 2.0 has been called “the second coming” of the internet – bringing new life, immediacy, and interactivity to the world of news, marketing, and social communications, consisting primarily of communities of like-minded individuals with common interests. Currently, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ are considered the leaders in social media; but everyone wonders what the “next big thing” might be, and right now, out there somewhere, someone is working on it. All authors need to take advantage of social media to reach their audience, but independent authors have the most to gain or lose. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s free, and with a unique selling proposition, followers and fans will find you. Used properly, these followers and fans will become your biggest supporters; used abusively or without sincerity, they can also become your biggest detractors. This is word-of-mouth marketing 101: every encounter leaves an impression; make it count in your favor. Knowing how to navigate and use various types of social media effectively and appropriately can make all the difference between success and failure. Here are a few facts to consider when thinking about the value of understanding and using the power of social media:
- From its launch in 2004 through the end of 2012, Facebook gained more than 845 million active users.
- Twitter has more than 500 million users that generate well over 340 million unique tweets per day (unique = not counting re-tweets).
- Within 16 days of its launch, Google+ gained over 10 million active users.
- YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world – only Google generates more searches on a daily basis. YouTube reports more than 4 billion views per day, more than 800 million unique users per day, and over 600 million mobile views per day. YouTube has, in and of itself, launched entire businesses.
- In early 2012, LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, had more than 150 million members in over 200 countries and territories.
- With respect to the power of reviews that are publicly posted on social media, blogs and other reader-focused web sites, Nielsen research has demonstrated that 70% of people trust reviews; that number rises to 90% if they know the person who wrote them. All authors know that reviews are a critical component of success or failure, making it important to be visible, promote relentlessly, and – equally important -develop trusting relationships with bloggers, reviewers and the larger reading audience.
- Amazon.com is considered by many experts to be the “king” of user-generated content, because it encourages everyone who makes a purchase to rate and review it. It ranks highly among experts because it is very timely and the content generated by its users is relevant – it answers a searcher’s questions; in this example, what to read next. In addition, it is powerful enough to take the next step and recommend, based on previous purchases and searches, what a reader might also like, using personal language such as “if you like this, you might also like…” and “people who bought this book also bought…”. Ratings on sites like Amazon and Goodreads (which is owned by Amazon) heavily influence a reader’s purchasing decisions.
For a busy author who simply wants to write and let someone else take care of the promotional work, using social media is a choice; but it should be a thoughtful one. Some of the busiest, hardest-working authors I have had the pleasure of meeting through social media regard it as a priceless tool for building relationships, and therefore “brand loyalty”. Some are much more effective than others; the ones that are most effective know that “word of mouth” is still THE #1 marketing strategy in the world, and no one can be successful without it. Social media is exactly that – the fastest, most immediate word-of-mouth vehicle that currently exists for the purpose of marketing. When advising authors as a free-lance consultant and a student of social media, I always encourage them to establish a unique, personal presence on Twitter and Facebook at the least. The evidence shows that a loyal audience is only a click away, and readers are more than willing and eager to communicate with the authors they admire. Once author-reader relationships are established, whether formal (e.g., a “street team” or a fan club) or informal (simple tweets and conversations), these readers become your biggest, most vocal supporters. Authors I consider role models in engaging readers through social media are Deborah Harkness (the All Souls Trilogy), Sylvain Reynard (the Gabriel Emerson series), Meredith Wild (the Hardwired series), Sydney Jamesson (The Story of Us trilogy), Christina Lauren (actually two authors, famous for the Beautiful series), E.A. Stanbridge (Blogger, “Captive in the Storm”), and A.J. Linn (A Gentleman’s Affair & A Gentleman’s Secret). All of the successful authors I have the privilege to know understand that there are 8 basic rules to engage followers. They are:
- Transparency – Be who you are. You can’t farm this out. Followers and fans can tell if you are disingenuous, or if you’ve hired a promoter to do your tweets and posts for you.
- Be friendly and open. Remember that it’s not all about you. Readers want to know that you care about them, value their feedback, and appreciate their support.
- Be diplomatic and tempered. All people have to base their perceptions on is words on a page. Words can be used to uplift or discourage; they easy to post but nearly impossible to take back. NEVER detract from your perceived competitors in the literary world; there are plenty of readers out there for everyone, and it will backfire on you every time. Your public face is your reputation; those who work with you represent YOU. Make sure that what people see is a professional, a colleague, a member of a larger community albeit in a competitive industry.
- Be easy and colloquial. Basically, don’t be stuffy and critical. Be approachable. Communicate naturally. Use your sense of humor liberally. Show your human side.
- Be open to criticism. This is not to say be accepting of unacceptable behavior; it simply means to learn from the feedback you receive, IF it is well intentioned.
- Be ready to fix. If you do something that you regret – or should regret – be humble enough to admit it and apologize. A sincere apology is often the most effective way to restore trust, and with trust comes loyalty.
- Be ready to friend and follow. This is common, simple etiquette. Yes, your timeline can be packed full of conversations you don’t want to see – so manage it using lists. Thank new followers and welcome them to your TL.
- Post timely and interesting content. You don’t have to post any more often than you have time to do so, and you certainly don’t have to respond to every tweet or post, but the investment of that time has value to your followers. Respond as promptly as you can, when you can. Engage followers early and keep them engaged with updates, teasers and news. Celebrate your good reviews and thank those who gave them. What you do with bad reviews is up to you, but I suggest tactfully responding, even thanking the reviewer; or simply ignoring them. Avoid too much shameless self-promotion; it is a real turn-off and makes you appear self-absorbed, even arrogant. Maintain a sense of humility and humanity.
Social media is full of people in all walks of life, at every rung on the popularity ladder, who don’t follow these simple rules of social media relations. We’ve all seen it, and probably experienced it: powerful and not-so-powerful people who are discourteous, defensive, aggressive, insulting, self-serving, protective, insensitive, argumentative, spammy, ingratiating, and – almost worse – automated, using a service or another person to tweet or post disengaged, empty, canned responses. You get what you give, and if you use these self-destructive tactics, you get what you deserve. I would love to hear your comments on this opinion piece – and engage in a discussion about it with you, if you are interested. Contact me on my blog, http://curlupandread.com. Thank you, Alexandra, for the invitation to post some thoughts here today. I’ll see you on Facebook, in the Twitterverse or the Blogosphere… Paula Radell