For once, hopping on the bandwagon can actually help you stand out. There have never been more people participating in social networks. While there’s a personal dimension to nearly all such networks (and users can limit access to their profiles to whomever they choose), clever writers can also use them as arms of their platforms. But merely joining isn’t the way to do it.
Social networking to enhance your platform requires a consistent investment of time. The key? Authenticity plus generosity. If you approach these sites simply as places to shill your book or service and never give back to the communities, you’ll find yourself losing “friends” faster than you add them. As with all types of marketing, what you do on social networks depends on what your audience will respond to and what your goals are.
Using Facebook (facebook.com), one of the most popular social networks, can be as simple or complex as you like, ranging from simply telling your friends what you’re doing and uploading photos to using thousands of applications (e.g., playing online Scrabble with a Facebook friend). Social media experts generally consider Facebook one of many online outposts for marketing—not something that warrants heavy use, but an important tool for developing a following if you find your audience actively uses the site. To maximize what Facebook can do for you:
NETWORK. Facebook can help you find others interested in the subjects you’re most passionate about, including writing—and your favorite things to write about.
JOIN GROUPS RELATED TO YOUR SUBJECT. If you write horror, join groups that celebrate it. If you write parenting articles, join groups for parents. Befriend other members.
CREATE YOUR OWN GROUP. If you have a book, you can create a group centered on your book. But an even better strategy is to create one around your personal brand/identity or blog, because that can remain relevant even as your writing career progresses. Once you have a group, you can send messages to its members. Limit them in number and be sure to include only content with genuine value.
POST EVENTS. This feature allows you to invite all your friends or all the members of your groups to bookstore appearances, readings, book releases, etc.
UPDATE YOUR STATUS AND PROFILE IMAGE REGULARLY. It may seem silly, but keeping your profile current can make a huge difference in how well people feel they know you—even if you don’t reveal too much about your personal life. Frequent updates will keep you at the top of your friends’ lists—and fresh in their minds. For status updates, mention places you’ve been, articles or books you’re reading and goals you’re setting. Every update has the potential to strengthen a relationship with someone in your network.
AVOID GETTING ADDICTED. You’ll be tempted to spend lots of time making friends and playing around with the applications. Budget how much time you spend on Facebook each day. While it can be a valuable tool, your efforts to write, get published and get visible take precedence.
Twitter (twitter.com) is a micro-blogging platform that allows people to follow one another and post messages of 140 characters or less. “Tweeting” is like updating your Facebook status, minus everything else on Facebook. Some say Twitter is the new Facebook (but Facebook is the new MySpace, which was the new Friendster, and so on). To get the most out of Twitter:
FOLLOW PEOPLE OR COMPANIES THAT CAN OFFER YOU SOMETHING. That can include entertainment, information, promotion advice, inspiration, news, etc. Agents, editors, publishers, authors, publicists, marketing gurus, celebrities and others are tweeting. Google “book trade on Twitter” and you’ll find an ever-growing list of publishing professionals.
FOLLOW OTHERS TO GET FOLLOWERS. It’s unwritten Twitter etiquette that when you follow someone, they generally respond in kind. This is true whether you’re following your sister or the Los Angeles Times. You can’t send a direct (nonpublic) message to a fellow tweeter if you’re not following him.
DEFINE YOUR GOALS AND POST ACCORDINGLY. Are you tweeting for fun, just to engage potential readership? To drive people to your website? To spread the word about a giveaway? Your goal could be one or all of these and more.
USE TINYURL.COM TO ADD LINKS TO YOUR TWEETS. This site turns unwieldy URLs into more manageable ones, helping you fit links into the 140-character limit.
VISIT SEARCH.TWITTER.COM TO TRACK DOWN TWEETING TOPICS. You can search for anything, and the site will pull up recent tweets containing the words you chose.
CHECK YOUR TWITTER SCORE AT TWITTER.GRADER.COM. This site calculates “the reach and authority of a Twitter user” based on the number of her followers, the power of her network, the pace of her updates and the completeness of her profile. Use it to help maximize Twitter.
DIVERSIFY. Tweet on your Web browser, through mobile phones, via blog and website widgets and more. Check out twitter.com/downloads to view the possibilities.
LinkedIn (linkedin.com) is a social network of professionals. It can be invaluable when seeking freelance opportunities or industry contacts, but only if you start investing time in it long before you need results. Look at it as part of your professional life and marketing arsenal—not as a back door to an agent or editor.
As with other social networking sites, you have a profile page and a network of connections. You can also join groups, pose questions to your network/groups, post events and add widgets, such as your blog feed, to your profile.
LinkedIn creates visibility for what you do and offer. Your profile will appear in search engines and can be accessed by the public if you allow it to. The site also allows people to publicly recommend your professional work. Used wisely, it’s an effective and dynamic way to network and spur new ideas for promoting your writing. To get off to a good start:
CREATE A COMPELLING PROFILE. Don’t just post your résumé. Rather than describing your experience, show the concrete results you have achieved—fast turnaround, exemplary research or writing, etc.
ASK YOUR PROFESSIONAL CONTACTS TO RECOMMEND YOU. Then display the recommendations on your profile to help confirm the quality and nature of your work.
ADD VALUE TO YOUR NETWORK. Answer questions, post helpful articles or tips, and participate in a way that reflects your personality, energy and expertise. The more you give, the more you get. If you impress people here, it opens doors.
LINK TO YOUR OWN WEBSITES AND BLOGS, AS WELL AS TO OTHER PLACES YOUR WORK CAN BE FOUND ONLINE. Also post information about any upcoming events you’re attending, books or articles you’re reading, etc.
A final word of advice: Don’t substitute any social networking site for in-person or event networking. It might help get the ball rolling with introductions, but nothing can take the place of getting out there and being part of the writing and publishing scene, whether on a local or national level. When those people see you online later, they’ll take notice.