Social Media engagement is crucial, but what works and what does not?
Last week’s post about how I see my blogging numbers decline seemed to have hit a nerve with writers. It’s been very well ready by colleagues and several have made very valid comments. Many of you rightly point out that blogging alone isn’t a good strategy. Blogging needs to be part of a greater social media strategy. I completely agree, and I’ve mentioned some of the things I do. Yet here’s the challenge with social media: it’s a bit of a moving target, and I don’t see it move in any predictable pattern (am I wrong?), which makes it difficult to choose what to do and when. In this post, I’m trying to show what I do, what works and what doesn’t, while also asking you to continue to add your voice to the discourse, so that we all may learn and improve our approach to getting word about our works out there.
Why blog and use social media in the first place?
I began to blog and use social media long before I began to write professionally. Originally, for me anyway, my reason to be on social media were purely personal, and egotistical. I am a social being. However, as an author, I need to get the word about my books out to people, because I want my books to be read, not just because I’d like to make a buck off of it, but also because I actually (weird, eh?) believe that my books have a message and should be read. Yeah, I know, not very humble, am I?
And since I can’t afford to buy shelf-space at book stores or advertising space next to the New York Times bestseller list, I have to make due with other ways of reaching out to potential readers. Needless to say, I’ve tried most. I have tried advertising in literary magazines, I have paid for ads on Google, Facebook & even “Gollumreads”. The challenge for me has been (and is) that I can’t really see the ROI of it all. I’m shooting blind, because I’m not a self-publisher, and I can’t bother my publisher to give me up to the minute sales numbers to see how an ad is doing. I wish I could, but their time is at a premium, too.
One of the wisest things anyone has ever said to me, years ago, when I started was this:
Your next book is your best advertising for your latest book.
You have to be in this for the long haul.
I don’t have any data or insights to disprove of this. I’ve been writing professionally, more or less since 2013, so this is my fifth year, and while my very first book, Jonathan’s Hope still is my bestselling novel (which sort of proves point 1), I’m not sure I’ve been in this long enough to really know about point #2. Besides, in this very time frame, reading has continued to decrease, and particularly in my genre, reading has been slashed by several ugly fights on “Gollumreads” in Gay Romance related groups, which ultimately affect those of us who do not write mainstream even more, as gay fiction is a stretch to read even for avid gay romance readers.
Professional v Personal
When I began to write, I had a Twitter account, and I had a personal Facebook account, and I blogged. Most visitors to my blog came from my Twitter account, thanks to Triberr (a blog sharing aggregation tool). Over time, I added an Instagram account, a Pinterest account, and – finally – opened a dedicated Facebook page for my author self. I’ll briefly address the various channels separately, but one of the things I’ve always felt challenged about was the line between personal and professional, and how to use #hashtags properly.
I’ve always been very WYSIWYG, I have few secrets and my personality shines through. I can even discuss private matters without blushing, so my take on the above subheading has always been Professional AND Personal. I don’t see them as contradictions. I think you can be personal while still being professional, in how you express yourself. In this, I try to apply the age old adage:
if it’s not fit to be said publicly, don’t say it (online).
Sometimes I fail at that. I am only human, but overall, I think I do a pretty good job. Because here’s the thing, and I’ve said that to countless young people I’ve spoken to over the years: once posted online, it CAN become public at any given point. Just because you think you’ve sent it to a friend doesn’t mean they can’t share it, copy it or even take a screen dump. Heaven knows I’ve made quite a few screen dumps myself…
I also think that readers in general prefer us to be human beings rather than automatons who only share about the professional aspects of our lives, book readings, conventions, signings, writing. Readers, in order to connect with us, want to see that human aspect. Frankly, I can’t blame them. I am no different in how I relate to other public figures, actors, singers etc.
I resisted Facebook for a long time, holding out because of privacy concerns. But when my husband turned thirty, and I tried to throw him a surprise party, I knew he had many friends on Facebook, from university etc, people I didn’t know. When I joined, I had over forty requests from old friends and people I hadn’t been in touch with for years. I was instantly hooked.
My use of Facebook has changed over the years. Nowadays, most of the people on my “friends” list are probably readers. I say probably, because I simply don’t know them. Mind you, I’ve become pretty good at vetting and no army major in Afghanistan and no plastic bosom passes by my argus eyes. However, when readers friend me, and I don’t know them, they are placed in one of my lists and unfollowed. Why? First of all, I only have so much time. I can’t be bothered to read about the grand-child or someone I don’t know, while I miss the death of a loved one to a real friend in my overflowing news feed. That happened once and it was awful.
When my writing turned serious, I resisted the Facebook page for the longest time possible. Many of my author friends have separate profiles for their author selves, and I just couldn’t. I don’t have a pen name (I do have a pen age instead, much smarter) and I would go nuts trying to keep the parts apart. Besides, it’s not really kosher with Facebook policies, and I’m one of those people who don’t really like to break rules unnecessarily.
Eventually, in order to see what posts “work” (i.e. are being read) and to be able to advertise, I did open up a page, but yeah, I’m not big enough to matter to people. I have almost 1,700 friends right now, but only 650 or so who’ve liked my page. For a while, I stopped updating my page, but recently I’ve been posting there again, to make sure it doesn’t wither and die completely. I’ve also done some advertising for my most recent novel, and had good “click through” results, but whether or not that impacted on sales I won’t know until July, when I get the numbers for Q2.
For me, Facebook is where I spend most time. I do so because most of my friends around the world are there, not primarily because of my writing. As soon as I start to think about “I should post a writing something”, I feel awkward and “salesy”, and that just isn’t me. But as far as i’m concerned, Facebook is at the core of my social media activities.
I once dubbed myself the first retiree from Twitter, and just possibly the first one to come out of retirement, too. Today, I’m approaching 8,5K followers, followers I’ve gained organically. I’ve never paid for followers, because I fail to see the point, even though such accounts follow me regularly. I rarely tweet directly, it feels a bit like standing on a mountain top, screaming into the void. Yes, someone might hear you, but yeah, the likelihood isn’t big. And at 140 characters, it’s just not my tool for discourse. It’s more a shouting and screaming match when things get heated, not really allowing for a balanced discussion. I had a wee shitstorm a while ago, when writing about minorities, and let’s just say I’d rather not do that again.
In conjunction with Triberr, Twitter used to be a great tool, but sadly, so many of my friends (some of the people I’ve met on Triberr years ago are really good friends now, and our relationship stretches far beyond just the T&T) having had their Twitter accounts blocked because of “suspicious automated tweeting” that many have given up on Triberr. Even I had my Twitter account frozen recently, while I was in the U.S. using my U.S. phone number so that I couldn’t immediately recover it. It’s annoying and I can definitely tell that fewer people use Triberr now than a year or two years ago. People share less, and yes, they post a lot less, too. I recently stopped paying for my Triberr account, after having spent over $1,200 on it annually. I just can’t justify the ROI any longer. For now, I’ll continue to use Triberr, and I have no reason NOT to use Twitter. It’s great for searches on hashtags and for special events like #ESC2017, to get really close to the action.
I began using Instagram because “everyone else” was. Or so it seemed. I have less than a thousand followers, and unlike Twitter where people seem to follow back to gain/keep followers (I’m being very selective), I only follow accounts when they have great pictures, i.e. pictures that interest me. Yes, I do see too many cats on Instagram, and I prefer to see nature photos, and I personally try to emphasize photos of natural settings, intermixed every now and then with a funny family photo. I just can’t with people who only post selfies. I just don’t have the time for it. Once every few months, sure, but daily? On Instagram, I get comments and loads of likes when I use great hashtags, more so than anywhere else. I try to not overdo it. Some people use 15-20 hashtags, and when they also share it to Facebook, it gets really annoying. But alas, I guess they have a reason to. I go on Instagram once or twice a day, more to relax for a minute than to post. I sometimes go days without posting, and I’m sure that’s “bad”… But hey, I have a life.
What for? I tried. I really did. I had many boards, and I pinned and re-pinned, and I still didn’t get it. This is the one social network that has always eluded me, and given that most of my author friends are in gay romance, the number of pins with half-naked men was just too much. I don’t regret not using it any more. I understand from comments that some people really love Pinterest, but it wasn’t for me. I loved the images of nature, but I get those in Instagram, too, and they’re not as tied to links and commerce as they are on Pinterest. And don’t get me started on all the memes…
Oh my… Why did I ever agree to replace my daily blog posts with a weekly YouTube video? But I try to keep it up, as difficult as it is, because of 2) above. But yeah, compared to fashion and make-up tips, the Author Cave isn’t exactly aimed at a large audience… LOL And yes, my book trailers are posted there. I guess YouTube is more a hobby than anything else. I just like to play with Final Cut and video editing. Does it sell books? I wouldn’t know.
Tumblr, Snapchat and others
I had an account on Tumblr for a month, to make a point to a young friend. But I never posted and I don’t use any other social media outlets, although there are dozens of them. I tried Snapchat once, when it was new, but yeah, it was more of a “show me your dick here” safely, because it’ll be gone in 24 hours, and I didn’t have that particular need. And when I see all the many filters people use, all the anus kissing faces etc, I realize I’m probably 35-40 years too old for that particular medium. I gave up years ago.
Same with “GollumReads”. I go in every now and then to approve new contact requests and check messages, but yeah, I don’t read reviews or engage. GR is like the darknet of writing and reading. So much hatred, so many trolls. I just can’t be bothered with it. I post reviews there for the books I read, but that’s it. Sometimes, I do a giveaway and I’ve recently advertised a bit on it, but alas, the results won’t be clear until Q2, and then the question is, will I be able to know how it relates back to GR?
I know many authors like it and that’s why I keep sharing reviews there, largely because I know most authors I review and Amazon is bitty about that aspect. I also have an account on G+, and if anyone ever figures out what the use of that thing is, I might use it for more than just spreading my YouTube videos there…
With social media you just have to focus. We only get so many hours to spend every day, and while it’s a generous amount, a third goes away for sleep (at least in my case), and I also need time to cook, eat, look after the house, family and work. My social media allowance comes partially from the “work” aspect, but also from my spare time, which is limited as it is. I’m not going to waste it on unessential stuff.
A moving target
Am I missing any great new medium out there? What’s the next big thing? It’s my impression that Facebook is still the “rings to rule them all”, and using the right hashtags on Twitter and Instagram is the way to go. It’s how I search for stuff, and I don’t think I’m that much of an oddity. But yes, using social media is difficult, and I was caught by surprise by the swift decline of Triberr and thus Twitter for my blog. While my blog posts used to be shared 150-200 times by other bloggers on Twitter, that number is now less than half. Even a post as successful as the one last week has only been shared 111 times. Well below the average I had a year ago.
So what’s next? Will Twitter have a resurgence? Will anus kissing selfies on Snapchat and floral hair filters be replaced by serious book snaps? Will Instagram flatline? Will the next update to the Facebook algorithm drive people away? Apart from my personal challenges in measuring my sales, not being able to tie them to a specific source, I also try to stay grounded and not focus too much on “likes”. Then again, without counting likes, how do you know what works and what doesn’t?
What’s your take? Is there a next big thing in sight? Do you measure your social media impact on sales? Are you able to trace results back to the source? If so, willing to share how?
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