I have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a message board and a personal blog that is mirrored to LiveJournal. I used to be on MySpace, but I deleted that account after MySpace became geared mostly toward musicians. I signed up with LinkedIn a while back, but I soon observed that my only activity on the site was approving (or not) link requests from other people. I’m not actively looking for professional contacts—at least not in the LinkedIn context—so I deleted that account, too.
I have not yet explored Pinterest or Tumblr. I think I have a sense of what Pinterest is all about, but I have no idea what Tumblr’s advantages are. Maybe someday I’ll look at it, but not now. I have enough social media to suck up my “spare” time, thank you very much.
One of the reasons I like Twitter so much is that it is unidirectional. Someone can follow me, but I don’t have to follow them back, and vice versa. That way, I can create a stream that consists solely of people that I’m interested in hearing about. At present, I have roughly eight times more followers than people I follow. There’s also more possibilities for interacting directly with people who are normally out of reach. I’ve had television and news reporters answer questions that I’ve directed their way. Ditto with writers, musicians and film celebrities. Last week, Ian Rankin, one of my favorite crime novelists, was ruminating about getting ready to write his next book. I was curious about how much he knew about the story before he started writing, so I asked—and received a response a few minutes later. I also hear most news first on Twitter, although you have to be careful about false reports and the unreliability of breaking news.
I also maintain a personal message board and a blog that I update 2-3 times per week. The message board allows fans of my work to interact directly with me, and it doesn’t require much upkeep. The blog is really a personal journal that I choose to share with whoever is interested. It’s mostly about my daily writing, forthcoming publications, television shows, movies, what I’m currently reading. Since I don’t keep a diary—and I have a terrible memory for when things happened—it’s a way of recording things for posterity. I’ve used it any number of times to figure out when I did something. If anyone else finds my ramblings amusing or interesting, so much the better.
Why am I writing about social media on a blog about writing? Because social media is a free tool available to authors to spread the word about their work. Used correctly, it can allow you to build a community of people who want to hear from you and might even spread the word to others. Used incorrectly, it can enable you to piss people off (either because your posting behavior is considered spammy or you express unpopular opinions) and it can also suck up valuable writing time.
I spend far too much time on Facebook, scrolling through pages of updates of my news feed. I admit it. Twitter is a quicker fix. Even first thing in the morning, I can be caught up on everything on my Twitter feed in a few minutes, while I can easily spend fifteen minutes or more catching up on Facebook. I like seeing what family and friends (real or virtual) are up to. Facebook often leads me off on tangents, such as to putatively funny videos.
The biggest problem is that I have a very limited number of waking minutes each day. If I spend 30 minutes on Facebook, that’s 30 minutes I don’t have to write, or conduct other writing-related business (research, story submission, etc.).
In all my social media interactions, I rarely get involved in political or philosophical discussions or debates. Those, too, take up a lot of time. The most visible indication of my political and philosophical leanings comes from the tweets I choose to retweet, usually without comment. I don’t feel the need to convert people to my way of thinking. Most of the times when I’m tempted to respond to issue-driven discussions, I delete what I’ve written before hitting Send. I chide myself: why bother? Life’s too short. I could be writing, or reading.
At the core, for writers, using social media is about building a platform, a term marketing people at publishers like to use. What kind of audience have I built that I can address directly? If I post something, is it a tree falling in the woods, or are there consumers who will hear what I have to say and, perhaps, act on it? I know that sounds very me-centric, but the reality for writers is that the onus for promoting their work rests heavily on their shoulders unless they’re in the upper echelons.
So, use your social media wisely. Some people find it advantageous to separate themselves into two parts: the person and the writer. Have real friends as a person and followers as a writer. Find the right balance between promotion and over-promotion. Find your online voice, which in my experience shouldn’t be too far from your real voice. Perhaps a subset of your real voice.
Most importantly, keep in mind that social media only work to your advantage if you actually have work to promote, which means that you have to log off and write.