Hey, you’re a writer now. You know what that means? It means that a big part of your job every day is social media-ing, in hopes that anyone anywhere might actually read your goddamn book, story, article or whatever. If you do your job right, you might get some traction. Most likely, no one will read it, but you might get a few “likes.”
That’s okay, I’ve decided. Having hammered away at social media for more than a year now in a more or less official capacity on behalf of So You Created a Wormhole, I feel like Nick and I have carved out an incredibly modest divot into which we fit neatly. I’ve also realized that the vast majority of this s–t is in no way worth the time, money or effort.
I can’t speak from anything but my own experience when it comes to any of this stuff. And I can’t say that I’ve been hugely successful. But I do know what things not to do when other writers on various social networking platforms do them, and if they bother me — a writer who seeks out and pays attention to other writers — I’m almost positive they bother other people too. So here’s the best I can do in terms of social networking advice: a list of s–t to avoid (mostly because I dislike it).
5. Don’t Be ‘Social Media You’
Nobody hops on Twitter to read what Kim Kardashian’s publicist has to say about what Kim Kardashian had for breakfast today. They hop on Twitter to see what Kim Kardashian has to say about Kim Kardashian’s breakfast. So too are they there to hear from you — not Fake You, but Real You. Humans are interesting when they’re unfiltered, off-kilter, realistic, and opinionated. You have a subjective experience of the universe that is unique to you, and the means by which you convey it to the world is your writing. You’re already actively trying to make a living by funneling the You-niverse into tangible form that can infect others — that’s what writing is — so why would you stop doing it in a space that’s expressly for sharing your experience and connecting with others?
4. Don’t Argue (Like a Child)
Twitter is an awesome place for discussions. In fact, if you do nothing else with your Twitter feed, use it to engage people, whether they’re your readers or not, in interesting discussions. You have an unprecedented technology for shooting the s–t unlike anything the world has ever seen. No, seriously — talk to people. People think you’re interesting and want to engage with you, and that’s a universal fact no matter who you are. And you should argue, in a polite, dignified way that can be enlightening.
What you should not do is air your grievances or entertain squabbles with idiots. It’s like fighting with your dad over politics or your girlfriend or boyfriend — in the middle of Walmart, at top-of-your-lungs I-think-my-larynx-is-bleeding volume. It’s awful for everyone involved and everyone watching, and while some people might chime in on your behalf (or in opposition), most are going to think you’re a tool. Flame wars are for 1996 and people who use anonymity to be asshats. You’re out here to be accessible, not to have yelling matches with people who have nothing to lose.
3. Don’t Use Your Platform as a Soap Box
It’s Thanksgiving. You’re at the table, dinner’s about to be served, and the whole family is clustered around, eagerly awaiting the annual sacrifice of flightless foul as tribute to the gods of Not Being Destitute or Dead. Suddenly, Grandma launches into a diatribe on the benefits of eugenics, the godlessness of air travel, and how much nicer things were during segregation. Everyone is stuck, held prisoner, as the vitriol spews forth. No one wants to hear it, but it doesn’t stop. And worse, some members of the younger generation present try to argue, dragging things out even further.
That’s you — you’re the racist grandma at Thanksgiving when you start spouting your political rhetoric on your favorite social media platform (unless, of course, that’s what you’re known for…it’s a bit of a gray area). Most people didn’t sign up to be bombarded by blasts from your digitized text megaphone, which is what happens when you slather this stuff onto Facebook, Twitter and the like. People can’t avoid it without avoiding you.
Not to say you can’t ever talk politics, just don’t preach them. Discuss, debate and disagree, sure, but as politely as if you were having a conversation with your spouse’s mom, or really, a perfect stranger. Not everyone agrees with you and you don’t have to agree with everyone, but you ought to respect those differences and refrain from taking advantage of the fact that you have listeners to try to indoctrinate them. Don’t be an agenda; be a person.
2. Don’t Be Rude
People are going to try to talk to you through social networking if you maintain any kind of presence there. That’s the point, after all, but there’s some give and take involved. Social media is social, not just media, and there’s going to be some engagement involved. You want to bark your noise into the ether and have it land on the ears of people who are interested; if they talk back to you, that means they’re listening. So that’s good?
But if they talk to you, the polite thing to do is respond. If someone spoke to you on the street or in a coffee shop or anywhere else, and they were perfectly pleasant and not weird, you’d answer. So answer in virtual space just like you would in non-virtual space. Because it’s polite, for one, and because you have no excuse not to. And here’s the thing — you have everything to lose by not answering, because in social media, everything is cataloged and long-lasting. It’s hard to miss when someone talks to you. And when ignoring someone is a deliberate choice, that someone will probably get annoyed that you ignored them. So answer.
1. Don’t be a billboard
I said it already, but nobody goes on Twitter and Facebook to listen to someone preaching or yelling at them. So if you assume that people want your advertising dumped in their face just because you’ve got a nice photo of yourself attached to it, you’re really missing the point. Think about it: if McDonald’s was pushing a new big gross sandwich in your face every time you logged on, would you be happy about it?
Even if you like McDonald’s, you don’t want to be berated by it every time you log onto the Internet looking to connect with other people. The same is true with you hocking your stories. Even if I like reading your stuff, I don’t want it to be thrown in my face. That doesn’t mean you should never share something you’re excited about — you definitely should. You’re a writer, people know you as a writer, and they want to read what you’ve written. But that’s not all they want. Several of the authors I follow on social media think that it’s they’re personal bulletin board for advertising things, but the people on the other end of the Internet are more than just eyes and wallets.
So that’s it. Avoid some pitfalls, make some friends, earn some readers. Be real. You need to put in actual effort to make social media worth a damn; so try to remember to spend your time online being cool, and not an annoying jerk.