It seems as if social networks are always in the news these days – whether it’s an unsigned band being snapped up through their MySpace page, the usual round of Facebook privacy issues or Stephen Fry’s latest pithy remark on Twitter. Whether you use social media or not, all those column inches should tell you something important – millions of people are logging onto these sites day after day, which makes them the ideal place to promote your books.
In this article, I’m going to try to show you how you can use the various social networks to your advantage – but please be aware that site layouts and options are regularly updated or changed, so you may have to dig around a little to follow exactly what I’ve written. It’s also worth remembering that what works for one person may not be the best choice for another. So, play around with the platforms and find a combination that works right for you.
There was once a time when almost everyone on-line was using MySpace. As the first real social network, MySpace was learning what its users wanted as it went along and – for that reason – it quickly became a mixed up jumble of just about everything.
If you go to www.myspace.com today and sign up for a free account, you’ll find dozens and dozens of garish, badly designed pages, blaring music at the end of every link and more spam messages than you can fit in a teenage hacker’s inbox. In short – leave MySpace well alone.
That’s not to say there aren’t authors making MySpace work for them – I know of one horror author who has given his antagonist a terrifying yet hilarious page and teen horror scribe, Darren Shan, regularly cross-posts new entries from his own blog – but those guys were there from the start. Nowadays, MySpace is full of wannabe bands trying to play you their latest composition and teenage girls who like glittery lettering and converse in text speak.
MySpace is dead; long live Facebook. Perhaps…
This one splits authors right down the middle. There are those who use Facebook effectively to promote their work, and others who believe the site is just one short step away from eternity in the cold, hard earth next to MySpace. I think the truth is somewhere in-between.
I use Facebook to promote my work and stay in touch with my readers. But there are a few simple guidelines to follow if you want to make the site work for you. These aren’t hard and fast rules – just suggestions that have worked for me…
First – adjust your privacy settings.
At the top right hand corner of your main Facebook page, you’ll find a menu labelled ‘Account’. Click on that and choose ‘Privacy Settings’. Here you can decide which parts of your profile other people see. I recommend setting everything to ‘Friends only’. That way, only people you approve will have access to your personal information. If you are going to allow your readers to add you as a friend – you may want to go a step further and keep some information – such as your address and ‘phone numbers – off the profile completely.
Decide whether to use Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family OR for promoting your work. Using the site for both is a tricky road to navigate.
If your readers find you on Facebook, they will try to add you as friends. Whether they’re too young to officially be members of the site or not (the current sign-up age is 13), they will try to track you down. If you do decide to accept their friend requests, remember to keep your photos and status updates suitable for the age group that will see them (no snapshots of boozy barbecues or explicit rants about your personal life).
Don’t start chatting!
If you do allow your fans to add you as a friend – do yourself a favour and log out of the internal Facebook chat system (currently at the bottom right of your page). If your readers spot you online, they’ll bombard you with messages and you won’t get any work done ever again! Just click ‘Go offline’, and they won’t be able to bother you.
If the chat system is something you want to use, you may want to consider not adding your readers and keeping Facebook for your friends and family alone.
Leave Farmville alone!
And not just Farmville – I’d suggest you don’t sign up to any of the seemingly endless supply of time-wasting applications you can now add on Facebook. I’m not trying to be a killjoy – but for every app you add, your readers can use that app on their own profile page to interact with you.
I prefer to keep a clean and streamlined Facebook page – and limit my Newsfeed to status updates or newly added pictures. I really don’t want to hear how Billy found a vole on his farm and successfully reared it for 150 points so – any time anything like that appears on my home page, I hover my mouse over it and click the ‘Hide’ button that appears.
You may find that you are constantly invited to sign up for certain applications – often by the same people over and over again. This can be dealt with by choosing to ignore the app in question, or to ignore any further requests from that friend.
Again, I’m not meaning to sound harsh – but if you want to use Facebook as a promotional tool – you simply can’t fill your profile full of games and puzzles.
Start a fan page.
Another way to use Facebook to promote your books is to start a fan page about your work, or even about yourself. At the time of writing, this is done by clicking on ‘Adverts and Pages’ from the menu at the left of the page, and choosing ‘Create Page’.
You can now fill the page with information about your books and invite people to become a fan of or ‘Like’ your page. You can then post photos to the gallery, start message board style discussions or message everyone of your fans at the same time.
Before Facebook introduced Pages, the same result could be achieved by starting a Group. You can still do this (Groups > Create a Group), but they’re more or less exactly the same as Pages, so choose one and stick with it.
Just like with a blog – you should try to update your page regularly with news, links to reviews, forthcoming release dates, etc. I’m often guilty of forgetting to keep on top of my Facebook pages, but there’s nothing that looks less appealing to a fan than logging on to find the last comment you posted was six months ago – so if you promise to keep your pages updated, so will I!
Remember that people can access what you post!
I can’t stress this enough – everything you post online stays online. Even with the most draconian of privacy settings, there’s nothing to stop someone in your friends list copying and pasting your status update with “Hey, look what my favourite author just said…” in front of it. If you don’t want people to see it – don’t post it!
That’s about it for Facebook. But what about the other social networks out there, are they any good to use?
Bebo and Friendster and Diaspora, Oh My…
I’ve really not found a way to make the smaller social networks work for book promotion. They all do more or less the same as Facebook – and that’s where the greatest number of people are. So, if I were you, I’d leave the others alone.
There are, however, more niche oriented social media sites from Library Thing and Shelfari (books) to Last.FM (music) and Linked.In (professional contacts). You can now even add people as friends on YouTube! Whether you should use these sites or not is up to you – just remember that every profile you have to update is time taken away from your writing.
You’ve probably heard plenty of things – both good and bad – about what Twitter is. But let’s start out by clarifying what it isn’t: Twitter isn’t a way of finding out what other people are having for lunch, or other such mundane trivia. Sure – there are people who use the service in that way – but you can simply ignore them.
Twitter is a micro-blogging service where you sign up for a free account (www.twitter.com) and post short messages, called Tweets, of up to 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation). When signing up, you may find that your preferred name has already been taken (there are millions of users, after all), see if your book title is free for use – or try adding ‘author’ or ‘books’ to the end of your name until you find one you’re able to use. Then you’re ready to start tweeting…
The only people who can read your tweets are those who sign up to ‘follow’ you and, in the same way, the only tweets you get to see are those sent by people you have chosen to follow.
There is a thriving publishing community on Twitter with authors, agents, publishers and booksellers announcing new titles, running competitions, posting links to articles of interest and even doing business with one another. I have been approached by several schools and bookshops to arrange author visits via Twitter. Plus, I’ve met some valuable new contacts and even made a few friends there.
You’d be amazed at some of the people you can have direct access to via the service (as I finished writing that last sentence, I glanced up at my screen to see tweets from Father Ted creator Graham Linehan, US author JA Konrath, actor Noel Clarke and a certain MC Hammer – yes, that one!) They can all be followed on Twitter – and they may even follow you back.
Of course, Twitter isn’t just about following celebrities (although if a link to your site is tweeted by Stephen Fry, you’ll be swamped with new visitors) – it’s a place to chat and share ideas. Here’s how to get stuck in…
Get a client.
Once you’ve signed up for a free account at www.twitter.com, you can begin to follow people and send tweets right there from the website – but it’s much easier to use a dedicated piece of software called a ‘client’. There are dozens of free Twitter clients out there (just do a search in Google) and they all work in pretty much the same way, so try a few until you find one you like. A lot of people use Tweetdeck (although I find it a bit too big for my needs) or, if you’re on a Mac, I recommend Tweetie.
Once you’ve set up your account with your Twitter name (that thing that starts with an ‘@’ symbol – I’m @tommydonbavand) and password, you can start sending out tweets. But there are a couple of things to consider first…
Listen in for a while.
Take a bit of time to follow a handful of people and listen to (or rather, read) what they have to say. You’ll very quickly pick up the style of conversation that’s used and get an idea for what others are chatting about.
Ask for followers.
There’s no point tweeting if no-one’s going to hear you – so don’t be shy in asking for others to follow you. You’ll often find that, when you add a user to your list, they’ll add you to theirs in return. Post your new Twitter name on your Facebook update, or email your friends and ask them to follow you. So long as you’re tweeting interesting or entertaining stuff, you’ll quickly start to build up a following (which is why the ‘what I’m having for lunch’ crowd soon fade away).
One way of finding new people to follow – or simply to learn more about a particular topic – is to use hashtags. A hashtag is simply a word with the hash symbol – # – in front of it. When you click on a hashtag, your Twitter client should show you all the tweets (by everyone – not just those you follow) that have used that tag. So, if you want to find people on Twitter with whom to discuss the latest episode of Doctor Who, simply search for tweets with the hashtag #doctorwho.
One of the most popular hashtags is #ff – or Follow Friday. This is used every Friday for people to recommend twitter users as good individuals to follow. Post a few of these, and you should find yourself names as a recommended tweeter by someone else.
If hashtags don’t make sense just yet – don’t worry! It’s much simpler to see them in action than to describe it on paper!
Just as you wouldn’t go to a party and try to sell copies of your books to everyone there (at least, I hope you wouldn’t), out and out sales talk is frowned upon on Twitter. Yes, you can talk about your books and what you have coming out – but if you ram it down your followers’ throats, you could very quickly find yourself unfollowed or blocked by them.
If you see something you like on Twitter and think your own followers would be interested in it, you can choose to resend that message or ‘retweet’ it. Quite simply, all that does is send the message out to your followers along with the name of the person who originally posted it. Having your tweets retweeted is a great way to find new followers so, the more entertaining your posts, the further they’ll go!
With just 140 characters per tweet – every letter counts! So, when posting a link (also called a URL) to a web page (such as http://www.tommydonbavand.com/blog/) you should find that your Twitter client has the ability to shorten that link. My client, Tweetie, has just shortened it to http://bit.ly/6Vbke – a link that still goes to the exact same page, but has saved me some precious message space.
Pictures, Audio and Video.
Twitter can also handle the tweeting of pictures, audio files and even video clips. Each of these has one or more free services linked in with Twitter to host and display the media in question (for example, pictures are often sent through sites such as Twitpic or the bizarrely named Yfrog). Have a root around in your client’s menu for ways to attach photos and more to your tweets.
Have a go!
As with any new communication tool, the quickest way to learn how it works is simply to dive right in and try it out. And with Twitter clients now available for most recent models of mobile phone, there’s no reason why you can’t promote yourself and your books wherever you are. Good luck!