Friday, March 25, 2011

Social Media: An Introduction

Several people have asked me for background and help on social media. And I want to help, but first I want to say: I'm not an expert. Seriously. I just like playing around.

Which leads me to my next corollary: You don't have to do anything. This is my soapbox, and I find myself getting on it more and more lately. I do social media because I like it. I don't do it to "win" readers or "gather followers" or any crap like that.

The analogy I use is this: social media is like a cocktail party. Come to the party if you want to. At the party, meet new people, reconnect with others. It's a business party, so it's okay to talk shop, but it's not okay to monopolize the conversation and push yourself or your product on other people. Be polite. You can be a social butterfly or a wallflower; you can come with a thousand friends or not. It's up to you. You don't want to come to the party? Don't. You want to leave early? Do.

So my point is: you don't have to do anything. You don't have to do anything. But if you want to learn more about social media, then here's a little bit I've picked up on the way.

Blogs
  • What type of blog should you have? There are several different places you can go for a blog. Here's the most common:
    • Blogger
      • Advantages
        • A greater number of bloggers use this format
        • Easy to design, post, edit, etc. User friendly.
        • Run by Google, so Google Apps work with it (and are being developed for it)
        • Built in follower network--follow a blog, they go into your RSS feed; you can also stream your feed easily into Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr
      • Disadvantages
        • Commenting system is clumsy
      • Here's an example of a well done Blogger blog
    • LiveJournal
      • Advantages
        • Easily comment in-line; emailed notifications of comments
        • Good for groups (such as the Elevensies) as you can have locked posts just for group members to see
      • Disadvantages
        • Clunky formatting of posts
        • Difficult to format/change designs
        • Not as popular as Blogger; less people 
      • Here's an example of a well done LiveJournal blog
    • WordPress
      • Advantages
        • Creates professional looking pages; can be substituted for a static webpage (Although Blogger has recently added a Pages feature)
        • Streamlined commenting
        • Adapting more Google Apps
        • More pre-made designs available
      • Disadvantages
        • Not as popular as Blogger
      • Here's an example of a well done WordPress blog
    • See also: tumblr (below)
  • Appearances are everything. Whatever format you decide to go in, make sure your blog looks professional.
    • Design
      • When you have the option of a pretty design versus ease of reading, go for ease of reading. Don't clutter things up so much that I can't read your stuff.
      • Some basic online design tips: NEVER print black on red. It's hard to see for everyone, and for some, red/black color blindness is an issue. RARELY use black background on white type. Here's an exception to that rule: a white on black blog done well.
      • Err on the side of professional.
      • But don't be afraid to show your personality.
      • Don't focus your blog to one book--focus it more to yourself. For example, if you wrote a book about fairies, don't turn your blog into a fairy zone. After all, the next book you write may be about leprechauns. Instead, keep your blog mostly neutral, with a fairy graphic or two.
        • Therefore, I suggest making your URL your name rather than your book title.
    • Ease of access for information: There are some basic things that every blog should have in very clear, easy to find places
      • Contact information--not too much, but an email or contact form
      • Subscription feed (and if you don't have a subscription feed: fix that. You need one.)
      • If you are a published author, put your book in an easy to find place
  • Followers
    • Calm down. You don't need a gazillion followers to impress anyone. 
    • If you're that worried about getting more, then work for it: comment on other people's blogs, participate in the community. That's the best way.
  • Posts
    • Ask yourself what you want your blog to be. Do you want to talk about your dogs or your writing? Do you want to review books or talk craft? Do you want to post pictures of how cute your kids are, or do you want to highlight a certain genre of book?
    • Tone
      • You decide this. You can be super professional. You can inject your voice into your posts (a good example of voice in blogs is this one). You can be incredibly snarky and rude and trash other people. It's up to you. But think about what you do, and be willing to live with the consequences.
    • Style
      • Think also about the style of your posts. Use pictures. (Ironic, considering I am not using any in this post.) If you're disseminating a lot of information, use bold and italics and bullets (ah! at least I'm doing that!). 
  • Comments
    • Calm down. You don't need a gazillion comments to impress anyone.
    • If you're that worried about getting more, then give more. That's the best way.
    • You could also end your posts with a question to encourage answers.
Twitter

  • Remember the cocktail party analogy? Twitter is the best example of that. You drop in, you drop out, you talk with other people.
  • Tweets
    • The most important rule: Don't monopolize the conversation. You know how annoying it is when someone tries to sell you something? Yeah. Don't be that person. 
    • Lisa and Laura have a fantastic rule that I think everyone should follow: every time you talk about yourself or your book, you have to follow that by talking about someone else or someone else's book. It's fine to share that your book got a great review. But follow that up by sharing someone else's great review.
  • Tweet design
    • URLs: They should be tiny.
    • Hashtags: They can be relevant (i.e. #kidlitchat) or they can be funny (i.e. #youseewhatididthere) But remember: less is more. The master of this? Maureen Johnson.
    • Don't copy. Be yourself. Yes, Maureen's funny with her jar and her 4Qs. But that doesn't mean you'll be funny if you do the same thing. Find your own voice. It'll take practice, but you'll find a way to show your personality in 140 characters. 
  • Twitter Background Design
    • It's fine if you want to use your background to showcase your book. An example of this is here. I think, actually, that's a good idea.
  • Info
    • There's a spot in your profile for your information. In that spot, make sure you put in your website and your book (if you're published). Also, your interests--i.e. that you're a book reviewer, that you write YA, or whatever. Here's why: sometimes, someone tweets back at me. I don't know who they are. If I click your profile, and can't tell, I might think you're a creeper and block you.

Tumblr

  • Tumblr is hard to explain. The best method would be to try it for yourself.
  • Fandom
    • There is a strong fandom base in tumblr. Things like Doctor Who and Firefly are more up my alley, so I sought those sort of blogs out. You can find plenty of fandoms for whatever you like.
  • Reblog/Like 
    • In tumblr, you have a dashboard. From the dashboard, you see posts from everyone you follow. Think of it like Twitter, but with longer posts and lots of pictures and .gifs. If you like something, you can click on a little heart to like it. This does nothing but add to your list of things you like, and lets the person who posted it know you liked it. You can also reblog. That's sort of like retweeting--it shows up on your dash.
  • Give credit
    • If you write a quote; give credit. If you reblog; give credit. It's basic kindness, but tumblr's extra watchdog on that.
  • How to use it as a writer
    • Tumblr is mostly about a community and entertainment. Don't try to sell them something. They won't like it. But here's what I think--if you build a community of people and fandoms that you like, then if you occasionally post something on your stuff, you're integrating your likes with theirs. It's like this: if you're in line to see the next Harry Potter film, and you start talking to someone else in that line, then you can be reasonably sure they might also like some other book/movie that you like. 
    • So...I post about Firefly and Doctor Who and astronomy and nerdy stuff that I like. People follow me for that. Occasionally, I also post about my book. I figure if people like the other stuff I post, they might like my book.
    • But--I really mean occasionally. Recently, I posted about my Win Breathless contest--and if you check out my tumblr, you'll see that's buried under 8 pages of other posts that have nothing to do with my book. 
  • Posts
    • Keep it short
    • Keep it simple
    • Just a photograph is fine. Just a quote is fine. Just a short paragraph is fine.
  • Ask Box
    • This is a great tool that others can use--they ask a question, you get to answer. A very simple way of doing the "ask me anything" thing.
  • Here's an example of a great tumblr
  • Updated to add: Amber made a great point that some people do use tumblr as a blog base, to very great effect. I think she's 100% right--you absolutely can use tumblr in the exact same way that, for example, I use Blogger. To check out her site, click here. She's a great example of how to do long posts in tumblr very well. 

Facebook

  • I'll be the first to admit: I don't Facebook well. I'm sure there's others that do it better than I. I use it mainly as a way to interact with readers (I try to respond to every wall post) and I use it as a landing page for everything else I've got going on.
  • My best example of an author's Facebook is Carrie Ryan. So, from looking at her site:
    • A landing page is a great way to make an easy-to-see advertisement for your book
    • Store all your photos, especially of alternate book covers
  • Fun, easy to enter contests
    • A good thing about Facebook is the easy-to-share feature. Get a contest going on, and you can easily get others to help spread the word among their friends. The Across the Universe page does this well, I think (and for the record, my publisher runs that, not me). Lots of contests, lots of interaction, really focused on building a community.
  • Anyone else got pointers for this? 


YouTube

GoodReads


Feeds

  • Be aware of what feeds where.
  • Look, I get that this is a lot of stuff. But--you don't have to do it all. You don't have to be everywhere. So if it's overwhelming, don't do it. Or just do part of it. 
  • But what you shouldn't do is do one thing and feed it everywhere. 
  • Example: you only blog. You feed all your blog posts through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. You never post anything on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr--you only use it to feed your blog. 
  • This isn't a bad thing. But don't expect much from Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr if you only use it to feed your blog. People can just follow your blog and ignore the rest. I have new, different content on Twitter, Tumblr, and this blog. Facebook feeds my Tumblr, but I do also interact on Facebook, although not much, admittedly. But my point is: go to any of my social networking sites, you get something different. Some people subscribe to all four. Some just subscribe to one. That's cool. When I've got something big going on--a book launch, a big contest, etc.--then I cross-post to everything. My audience for the occasional rare big thing is exponentially larger then. 
What I Do
  • Blogger
    • This is what you're looking at now. I selected Blogger as my program of choice because I felt that it was the best to design and the most popular program among other writers.
    • My blog is focused on reading and writing, primarily YA in both. So, I post about books I like, and writing things.
    • I also post about my own book--but I hope in a non-braggy way. I just want to make sure that what to know about it, do. I consider this blog as a base to my website (notice that the header's linked to my website), so I figure this is one of the first places people go for information.
    • Contests are based here--this is because this is the easiest place to organize and post information, and provides me a larger base to do so.
    • I consider this place to be a bit formal, in that I post more about books/writing than about silly things.
  • Twitter
    • I use this as a conversation--it's the epitome of the cocktail party analogy. If I've got a big contest going on, I do tweet about it, but I'll spend more time on Twitter just chatting than anything else.
    • I also use Twitter as a source for information--a love finding new links and clicking around--and I try to also provide information for others through it.
  • Tumblr
    • This is the comedy--fun, interesting, neat things that I think people would with my tastes would like as well.
  • Facebook
    • This is mostly a landing place for everything else, but also a way to connect and talk directly to readers. 
  • YouTube
    • I don't do this one--but I've got my eye on it for now.
  • GoodReads
    • I use this for my own personal uses--an easy way to keep track of what I'm reading/want to read. I don't really consider it a social media site as I don't use it as such.
  • Cortex App
    • The secret to my success--an easy app that's an add-on for Chrome, that makes it super-easy to share links, pictures, etc., is the Cortex App

I know this was a lot--I hope it was helpful for people! In the comments, let me know if you have any other questions--and if you have any tips for anyone else! My way isn't the only way, and there's a lot of smart people doing a lot of smart things online. Watch them. Figure out what works and why.
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