Anyone Else Suffering from Social Media Exhaustion?

I was cruising my social media universe the other day – it seems all I’ve been able to manage in 2013 is a little cruising – when I came across something that sort of disturbed me. I won’t link to it (a) because I can’t find it and (b) I don’t want to come across as critical of someone who has clearly mastered social media marketing in a way that is far beyond me.

This blogger/writer was touting the benefits of a particular social network site (it might have been Triberr or something, I truthfully can’t remember) and she was commenting that she really liked the auto-approval feature, which allowed her guest posters to post blogs, etc., during the week she was away for vacation or a conference and wouldn’t be available 24/7 to approve posts. Which sounds simply lovely, in terms of functionality. If you are a super-mega-blogger with tons of contributors and followers, I’m sure auto-approve is a convenient and helpful feature. In terms of scale, this person was sort of like the Emperor of Prussia, while I am more like the manager of a convenience store. And that’s all good.

What bothered me about the post was the next statement. It was something to the effect of, “I would hate for my social media venues to go silent for a week while I was away.” And I thought, REALLY? You can never just be ‘off’?

Wow.

For me, social media is all about genuine connection, learning something new, and having a venue to post ideas I find interesting or informative (mine or others). Yes, it’s about reaching readers and marketing as well, but as I’ve matured in my experience that has become less the focus for me.

Between the kids, non-writing work, managing a household, and everything else; just finding time to write is challenging. To have to be constantly “on” social media as well… wow. Just wow. Some people seem to do it — tweeting every few minutes, blogging three times a week, guest posting, reading and retweeting others. I just don’t know where they find the time. And I wonder (and maybe readers wonder too) how they can produce quality writing while they’re spending so much time being social.

In the end, it’s probably a matter of time, situation and personal style. I can’t tweet forty times a day and be genuine, the same way I can’t write a novel every six weeks and do my best work. But I have a one year old and a three year old, so maybe those who are super-present on social media have more time (and less yogurt smeared on their laptops) than I do. Or maybe they work harder. Maybe they simply want it more.

It will be interesting to see, if we have a way of measuring such things in the long run, whether authors who are ultra-active on social media have more success than those who post less frequently or those who abstain entirely. Certainly it seems unwise to stay away altogether (unless you’re J.K. Rowling, and then you can do whatever you want), but I have to feel there must be diminishing return for time spent posting and re-posting, especially instead of writing and revising, past a certain point.

Could it be that in our frantic race to get noticed by readers and other writers, we are creating expectations for online activity that are completely unsustainable over the long run? Are we watering down the tools we love, and our communal dialogue, through ever-increasing quantity and ever-thinning quality? Could it be that we are contributing to information overload, flooding our followers with information that is often repetitive and only marginally useful or entertaining?

Or maybe I’m just rationalizing my own laziness. It could totally be that, too.

{By the way, happy new year, everyone!}

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…And that’s how I lost all my friends

Remember email forwards? If you spent any time in front of a computer between 1999 and 2004, I’m guessing you do. Conspiracy theories, chain letters, jokes, requests for prayers, virus hoaxes (not to mention actual viruses)… all delivered daily to your inbox from your friends, neighbors and – in my case – my grandmother. At one point in the early 2000’s it took me forty-five minutes each day just to clean out my inbox to get to the actual mail there.

My very favorite of these was the “National Friendship Week” email. Every single week between October 16, 2000 and April 3, 2004 was National Friendship Week. As you may know, our longstanding tradition for ‘NFW’ in this country is to honor our friends by sending them all an email, created by someone else, and containing a horrible poem and some form of animated dancing cherubs. This email is directed at everyone in our contact list, and while it has nothing personal in it whatsoever, it does end with a threat that if we don’t forward it to at least ten of our other friends, something horrible will happen. Every time I realize that I’ve lost touch with someone special I know it’s because I didn’t forward those damn cherubs.

For writers, especially new writers, Twitter, Facebook and Blogs are the platforms that have captured our attention the way email once did. And like the well-intended mother of my friend, who sent me those cherubs EVERY SINGLE TIME someone sent them to her, some of us are unintentionally making a nuisance of ourselves, undoing all the good we hoped to accomplish by signing up for social media to start with. And other writers are letting us know about it. Sometimes by complaining, sometimes by simply un-following us and never looking back.

I will say that I’m guilty of some of the faux pas the above writers have listed (I have tweeted too much about my books when they were free, and did quite cheerfully tweet how much I enjoyed hearing from fans after getting a particularly touching email). Some of this is owed to being new to the medium, some to the fact that different writers have varying opinions on what the purpose and propriety of social media really is — especially Twitter.

Some say more followers is good, and your ‘platform’ for marketing your books can be made on the weight of sheer numbers. Others eschew the concept of the ‘platform’ altogether, and feel that all social media is a place for making personal connections with other professionals. I happen to believe that both views are right and both can be wrong.

Twitter is something of an enigma. It’s both more and less possible to make real, meaningful connections through Twitter than Facebook or other venues. On the one hand, Twitter is real-time, so you can drop by a tweet stream like #amwriting or #myWANA and find writers who are there, right then, writing and tweeting. (Except for the ones who scheduled tweets with those hashtags, which is kind of annoying when you’re looking for real-time support. But maybe those people are new, too, and don’t yet understand that some hashtags are actually more like hangouts. See? There are some things you can only learn through experience.)

On the other hand, Twitter is really impersonal, too. Unless you have a private account and only follow 17 people, you don’t read your whole tweet stream. You don’t even read 5% of what floats through there. Most of the time, when I log on to Twitter, I read the 10 or so most recent tweets in my stream, and if I don’t see something there that catches my eye, I move on with my day. With that kind of noise, it’s hard to be heard unless you tweet fairly frequently. But not too frequently. And about what? Endless book promos aren’t interesting, but neither is a minute-by-minute update about the fact that you’re drinking coffee or what you’re planning to watch on TV later.

Twitter is a medium that requires people to be interesting, succinct, genuine, real-time, present but not too present, social media savvy, friendly and patient. And while you’re balancing all of that, you have to decide what you’re using Twitter for and to whom your tweets are targeted. That’s a tall order for any of us.

I submit that the best way to do all of that is to tweet experimentally, and spend a good deal of time reading and responding to the tweets of others. Follow the people you find interesting and model your strategy after those who share your vision, both for Twitter and success overall. It helps to review your own tweet stream periodically to ensure you’re coming across the way you intend.

In the meantime, be patient with yourself. You’ll make mistakes. We all do. You may alienate some people, or miss out on others who might have value to offer you. It happens. And later, when you have the hardened sophistication of months under your belt, others will annoy you with their aimless or overly self-focused twittering, and you should be patient and kind to them, too. After all, it’s National Friendship Week.

Self-Promotion: Getting Past the Ooginess

For many of us, the idea of self-promotion is about as appealing as eating dinner in a train station bathroom stall.

But if you are a burgeoning writer – self-published, small press or even big press – one of your tasks in this book-flooded age is to market yourself. This is true whether you’re the manager (and only employee) of your own multi-media, multi-outlet social marketing machine; or you have a large staff doing the marketing for you, and your job is limited to blogging and book signings. If you’re a writer, you are the brand, at least to some extent. That means self-promotion is a part of your job from day-to-day.

For those of us who aren’t, well, raving narcissists, self-promotion can be counter-intuitive to say the least. Most of us have been socialized to believe that tooting our own horn is unseemly and conceited (especially women, I’m sorry to say). The idea of trying to foist our latest novel or blog onto total strangers can be nightmare fuel. Is it possible to self-promote without losing your integrity and humility? If so, how do you get past all those doubting voices in your head, and open yourself up to the world?

In my experience, those people who are most modest and self-conscious about promoting themselves often have the most thoughtful, insightful and interesting contributions once they are discovered. Not always, but often. The trick is to find a happy medium between hiding your light under a bushel and becoming that annoying person who just won’t shut up about their damn book.

As you might guess, I have some suggestions:

  1. Be worth promoting. Before you launch yourself on the unsuspecting masses of twitter, the blogosphere and Aunt Cynthia’s Christmas party, make sure you feel confident in your own product. In the case of written works, make sure they represent your true best efforts and that you’ve taken the time to edit, proofread, and solicit honest feedback from people who are able to be unbiased. Notice I didn’t say make sure your product is perfect. That would paralyze you for sure. If some of your timidity about promotion, however, stems from genuine embarrassment about your writing, you may want to investigate and correct that before proceeding.
  2. Address your fears. If talking to people about your book makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why. Are you afraid of rejection? Striving for perfection? Uncomfortable with criticism? Unsure how to handle attention from others? Whatever it might be, the only way to get beyond fear is to confront it head-on. Write down what scares you, say it out loud (to yourself or someone else) and ask yourself what the worst realization of your fear would look like. Could you survive the worst-case scenario? If the answer is yes, then once more unto the breach, dear friend!
  3. Remind yourself of #1. You wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t think you had something to offer, right? If you’re too humble to spread the word about something you spent months or years crafting, revising, and… basically birthing, you might be robbing the world of something truly valuable. You also might be robbing yourself of an opportunity to gain feedback, improve your skills, make money, win acclaim, share your story, and maybe even make a career out of this.
  4. Get the ‘lay of the land’. You wouldn’t start off a new job by storming into the conference room and pitching your own pet project on the first day. The same goes for promoting yourself. When you enter a new online community, give a speech, join a writer’s group or address a new twitter contact, stop to look around first. Learn the rules and ‘listen’ to the tone of a chat stream before putting in your two cents, do your research on any group or person you’re propositioning directly, and make a soft, respectful start. For heaven’s sake, don’t let your first interaction be a request that someone buy or read your book, like your Facebook page, or follow your blog. How about a little foreplay?
  5. Be genuine. Nearly all successful ventures are built on relationships. Real relationships. And believe me, even on twitter, people can tell the difference between someone who is entering the conversation to build connections in good faith, and someone who is only promoting themselves. Promotion is a two way street: it takes listening, absorbing and responding to others as well as trying to get your own point across. It’s also a long-term proposition, requiring cultivation and care.
  6. Share, don’t sell. We all have negative, slimy associations with the archetypal idea of door-to-door insurance salesmen and cold-call telemarketers. Why? Because their one and only goal is to close a sale and move on to the next target. In reality, the most successful salespeople are those who listen, learn, and fill a genuine need, without pushing potential customers to an uncomfortable place. Self-promotion’s main goal should be keeping your name and your brand ‘out there’ in front of writers and readers, so that when they go looking for their next book, they might think of you. The goal is NOT to push everyone you meet to buy your book (more on target markets later).
  7. Give first. This means something different in every context. Promoting someone else’s blog posts instead of, or alongside, your own. Tweeting another author’s book promotion. Connecting two people you know who might help one another with no thought to how it benefits you. Volunteering. Listening and empathizing with someone else’s story without launching into your own. Emotionally investing in and asking about the lives and projects of others. And, maybe this should be obvious, but in my experience it’s not: you should talk about other stuff besides your project in whatever forum you’re in. Be multi-dimensional. You know, like a person.
  8. Take the hint. If people unfollow you frequently on twitter and no one ever seems to re-tweet your posts, if no one shares or comments on your Facebook page, or if people drift away from you at parties as soon as the topic of your writing comes up, it’s possible that either (a) you’re not putting out quality content and information or (b) you’re making it too much about you. Don’t let this ruin your dreams. Just ask for feedback when appropriate, re-evaluate, and re-engage by listening more.

Self-promotion doesn’t have to be slimy or annoying. It’s about developing genuine, mutual relationships and having the courage to share about yourself and your work along the way. The people you meet will give you feedback (sometimes via silence, which is useful, too) and as long as you incorporate that feedback with an open spirit, you’ll be well on your way to promoting like a pro.