John Hughes’s iconic 1985 teen-angst film The Breakfast Club follows five very different high school students over the course of a day-long Saturday detention, during which time the audience gets a run down of their home and school lives and finds out what led to their spending part of their weekend confined, at least in theory, to the school library. At one point, they discuss their extracurricular activities, and Anthony Michael Hall’s geeky character volunteers that he’s a member of the math and physics clubs where they get together and discuss properties of math and physics. Molly Ringwald’s character is quick to point out those are “academic clubs,” therefore quite different from the groups she and her friends would join, but Jud Nelson’s character declares them to be “…sorta social. Demented and sad, but social.”
The world of social media is, in some respects, far more egalitarian than your average high school. Blogger, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook… you can join any or all of them. But just because you’re invited to all the parties, doesn’t make them all the same. And when it comes time to market yourself and your writing, only you can determine which parties will serve you best, and where your time is most wisely spent. Not all writers are comfortable with all formats; one person might find 140 characters far too few to get a thought across, while another balks at blogging twice a week. So how do you make the most of the social media platforms?
Master one or two forms of social media at a time – Don’t rush in and try to juggle every available social media format at once. Pick a couple and get started. Learn how they work, how you can make them work for you, and be consistent in your usage and participation. If you allow comments on your blog, respond to them; start up conversations with people on Twitter; determine if you have sufficient visual content to keep your Tumblr page fresh and interesting. And don’t forget to leave some time for real life in addition to your online social life.
Get a head start – Hitting the social media scene the week your book comes out is like arriving at a new school in May and expecting to be voted prom queen. It takes time to build real social connections. No one likes a spammer, so don’t expect to show up and start talking up your book and win any popularity contests. Social media is social. You need to join in and chat with folks, share ideas and discoveries and respond to what others have to say. Make friends and network months in advance of a book release. Then when your book comes out, you can share your enthusiasm without sending everyone running away.
All things in moderation – Even your friends will get sick of you if all you do is talk about yourself. Keep the self-promotion to a minimum, especially on Twitter, where it’s tempting to retweet every great comment and review that crosses your path. Try to keep your book-promo down to under 20% of your social media interactions, and closer to 10% on Twitter. (Places like your website and blog will naturally have a much higher ratio, but these are less social and more your home on the web; visitors will expect to see book covers and links-to-buy all over the walls of your virtual living room.)
Customize your content - You wouldn’t expect the same experience at the jock’s keg party as you would at the party thrown by the brainy geek, so don’t try forcing the same information into all your social media outlets. Avoid automatic distribution features that have your exact same blog post appearing on your website, Facebook page, Goodreads page, etc. Rotate where you debut your information and expect audience overlap between your media sites. Post images where they will show to their best advantage, such as a blog or Tumblr, and avoid posting them places where they get lost in the shuffle, like Twitter.
Be consistent – Don’t join the social media bandwagon just to vanish for months at a time. If you’re going to be traveling, make a point of scheduling some blog posts and Tweets to post while you’re away, and try to check in for some real-time responses and activity even during your trip. If you know you’ll never manage to blog every week, stick to a more traditional author website, and update with other sorts of information to keep it fresh, such as release dates, cover reveals, signing or conference information, contests, giveaways, sneak peeks, etc. The only way to build an audience is to keep showing up.