If you’re tired of scrolling past Instagram photos of your smiling, bikini-clad high school classmates, or clicking “hide” when that coworker starts sharing recipes and Candy Crush invites sixteen thousand times a day, then you know from experience that Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, StumbleUpon, and tumblr can be more of a hassle than they’re worth.
Social media doesn’t always work as a sales platform. With millions of authors, musicians, actors, start-ups, and artists looking for exposure, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. I’m no media whiz kid, as my 94 followers on Twitter and 44 Facebook “likes” will be the first to tell you, but here are some of my top do’s and don’ts when it comes to keeping social media from turning into social mediaaargh.
Learn everything you can about SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the foundation of the only thing that matters in the universe: Google page rankings. Want your blog to come up on top when someone searches for “space pirate murder mystery robot love story?” Then you better have short, relevant, eye-catching titles, and work those keywords into the first 160 characters of your posts.
Pay attention to your URLs. Tag effectively. Keep your articles under 1000 words, because people typically won’t read any more than that. Use sub-headings to define your article’s content and chop it into easy, bite-sized pieces for readers. Google gives preference to titles with fewer than 60 characters, and the more buzz words you can pack into that half-a-tweet, the better. You can’t get read if you can’t get found.
Keep it short, keep it relevant, keep it funny
People have short attention spans. They want to be entertained, and they want to be entertained by the stuff that matters to them. If you’re commenting on an article about diagraming sentences, no one cares about your opinion on global warming. And they care even less about hearing your elevator pitch and having to scroll past your Amazon link.
Being a productive, interesting member of any online community is about contributing to the topic at hand in a way that makes people look forward to your two cents. Humor works. Funny humor works better. Get to the point and get to it fast, or you’ll attract a lot more eye rolls than eyeballs to your next tirade.
Don’t let l’eau de desperation stink up your campaign
Look, we know your free Kindle promotion is going to start on Wednesday. It’s only been half an hour since you last mentioned it. We’ve seen your Facebook posts, and once you’ve invited us to like your page once or twice or three times, we get that it exists. Now we’re just ignoring you.
No one likes spam, but what people like even less is the blatant guilt-tripping that often accompanies it. It’s great to let people know you’ve got a book coming out. Some of your old friends might be proud of you. Most of them are going to “like” the post and then never buy a copy. That’s just how people are. The more bullying, whining, cajoling, and demanding you do, the fewer sales you’re going to make. Alienating your friends is never a good marketing strategy.
Stick to what you’re good at
When I first published The Last Death, I tried everything. Kindle message boards, fantasy communities, discussion groups on Shelfari and Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, this blog, and even Pintrest. I thought spreading my net as wide as possible would get me the most exposure, and I guess technically that’s sort of correct.
But I had no time or energy to give each of these things the attention they deserved. Leaving one “buy my book” post before disappearing into the ether was not being a good community member, nor was it a very effective way to make people want to hear more about what I have to say. So I decided to stick to WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter to thoroughly cultivate my brand. If you can’t figure out who I am and what I have to offer based on those three platforms, then I can’t help you.
Jesus, in his infinite charity and kindness, may accept every Farmville invitation and click on every Buzzfeed photo montage. He might buy every self-published author’s magnum opus and retweet every mildly amusing quip you have on hand. But you don’t. You’re mean and horrible and have to keep some of your money to buy food and chocolate and anti-anxiety pills, because you’re a writer with limited tolerance and limited grace. Most people are like you, in that respect. They skip things. They ignore things. And that’s not something that’s ever going to change.
So before you post anything, whether it’s an artsy cell phone pic of your dirty sneakers or a self-indulgent whine about how long it’s taking to get through the line at the post office, think about how you would react if you saw that Facebook post from someone else on your friends list. Would you scroll past? Would you get annoyed? Then don’t post it.
Building a strong, attractive brand requires some sacrifice, and sometimes that means forgoing that snapshot of your turkey sandwich. It also requires a little reciprocity. Click on other people’s links sometimes. Leave your mark on their blog just as you wish they’d do on yours. Social media can be a game-changer, but only if you stick to the golden rule.