Writers’ Morning Out
May, 15 2021
Panel Discussion on Social Media Summary by Jody Savage
Moderator Carol Phillips convened this panel discussion on the subject of What are social media and “platform” and how are they to build an audience?
The panelists were:
- Charles Fiori – communications director for the North Carolina Writers Network. His latest book is Coyote Loop.
- Graham Bird – Marketing Consultant and former fellow of the Charter Institute of Marketing
- Tammy Bird – Literature professor and novelist (currently writing her third novel, Protégé)
Carol: What is social media?
Charles: Social media means dealing with a community of people electronically, online.
Tammy: Social media is something that will never be stagnant, forever changing. So our skills needed keep changing.
Graham: The key is that social media is two-way. Interactivity brings a new set of demands. While you have a marketing plan, you’re often being driven the other way by feedback, not all of which is pleasant. So social media is different from almost everything else you’ve done for publicity.
Carol: Are there differences between the types of social media?
Tammy: Yes. You have to understand and know your audience before you publish. You may think you can use one type of post across social media but that isn’t true. Instagram for example is picture-focused. That audience rarely reads long text. What you are putting out is visual. Twitter is hashtag-based. You have to know how many hashtags and which ones to use; the text is snippets. Facebook is an older crowd. The young have largely gone away from Facebook. Wording and tone need to be different for each social media venue.
Graham: Tammy’s point is critical: You must make different points to different audiences. That implies you know to whom you want to talk. I am not a huge fan of social media except as doing a job as part of your marketing mix. You need to be familiar with social media to build it into your marketing plan. All social media venues require a long haul – you can’t dip in and out. You are building a relationship; that’s easier on some platforms than on others. Twitter is very noisy, very boisterous. As an author, you are building a brand, and you need to think about your voice. Your social media voice may be subtly different than the way you talk in your books. You may be talking under a pseudonym that may be a different personality; that may affect how social media works for you.
Charles: A nonfiction writer may want to focus on your subject; find your wheelhouse and focus on that. Provide interesting articles on your social media outlets. The more interesting you are in content the more engaging you will be. It’s impossible to do it all. Pick a platform. You may be more attractive to one platform than another. Social media is a tool. You need to control it; it wants to control you. There are also ways to manage from one place. One is Hootsuite.
Carol: What is “platform” and how does it relate to social media?
Graham: There is a whole host of jargon in publishing marketing. “Platform” is contextual. You might want to produce your own platform that could include your website, blog, and newsletters. Consider: What are we trying to do? What tools might work for us? What do you want to achieve? Never mind the labels; combine social media with other elements into a set of tools that works for you.
Tammy: When we talk about platform we think of social media but also internet reviews like Yelp. Snapchat is another image-sharing venue like Instagram that leans younger. When you put a picture of yourself on Snapchat you can make yourself beautiful. You can pay to have those pictures come up if your audience runs young. Also consider YouTube, Vimeo, and Tumbler. LinkedIn is an older crowd that is interested in more cerebral thinking, but still interested in fiction and very interested in the isms, including ageism. This is so broad a question, with so many choices.
Graham: Platform is in a state of flux. One of the traps: It’s easy to get sucked into too many outlets or to hop. Remember the fundamentals: These channels are a means to an end.
Charles: Change is the name of the game. Some authors are providing paid newsletter subscriptions—if you’re a member they’ll answer your questions. I’m exploring this right now as a reader.
Tammy: Patreon is hot right now. An author will create a site, which you can imagine as a funnel. At top of funnel there is free content. If you buy the writer a coffee for five dollars a month, you get a little deeper, get different content. As the price goes up, more access. This allows the author to get to know her audience. It’s also a huge time suck. Consider how much time you have to invest into each media platform you use. How much is your time worth? Some of my writer friends use Patreon. Subscribers can name characters in their books, have first access to read their work. It’s fascinating but do watch your time.
Charles: Ten thousand subscribers means ten thousand people will buy their books.
Graham: It’s a great model and it’s not new; Charles Dickens sold subscriptions. You are building a revenue stream. It is difficult but has benefits.
Charles: Some of these subscription newsletter writers get interesting guest writers too.
Carol: How does social media fit into a broader marketing plan?
Graham: When a lot of this began, people said this social media stuff is all we need to do. It is not; it is a channel. Our main focus should be: What are we trying to do, what is the best way to interact with an audience? Social media is a channel. It works differently and it’s interactive, it requires different skill sets, but we always go back to what we are trying to do.
Tammy: We have to acknowledge social media spaces. If you don’t build to a specific social media audience you are not as likely to be successful. We live in a world of technology and you need a presence. It can be whatever is the best platform for you, but it should be part of your marketing plan. And you need to build a brand across your platform. You should have the same logo, your face should be the same, wherever you place yourself online. Think about Coke: you see one branding everywhere.
Graham: Absolutely. The key is consistency and coherency. For that persona, build that brand. Every interaction you have affects your perception by that audience. For example, politics: Think carefully before you go political. For the most part I advocate avoiding politics. Sometimes you need to have a position. Support those causes wholeheartedly but be prepared for fireworks.
Tammy: Agreed. I suggest sharing politics on your personal page, not on your author outlets.
Carol: What are some other elements that are useful to include in branding on social media?
Graham: You are always trying to build a relationship. One key is building an author mailing list so that people are dealing directly with you. This way you seek permission for that ongoing conversation. We also use Story Origin and Book Funnel to build community with other authors too. Some of the channels you are forced to go through are less advantageous to building that direct connection. Goodreads sucks blogs off and acts like they are Goodreads material; that doesn’t help you build your list. Same with Amazon.
Charles: North Carolina Writers Network is on Twitter and Facebook, but the majority of conference signups come through the email list.
Tammy: As a Twitter user, I’ve found if you know how to use hashtags (#) correctly, Twitter great selling tool. Every Saturday, a group of writers I’m involved with promoting each other’s work. You put your book information into their tweet. They retweet, and you retweet; like a book exchange. I have sales from it every Saturday. It is time-consuming. You will feel like you’re tweeting into the void. But if you do it organically, you’re not going to go from ten to ten thousand followers; it is a slow time-consuming process. You must pretend from day one that you have ten thousand followers and in five years you will. Act like you have a billion people in love with you. Hootsuite provides an introduction to hashtags.
Audience Question and Answer Period
Question: Where do I start with social media?
Graham: Find the things that work for you and do more of them. Try things, tweak things; focus energy and attention on the things that work for you.
Keep in mind if you’re doing it for fun, you might have a whole different perspective than if you’re doing it for money.
Tammy: Your author page on Facebook also likes hashtags. As an older lesbian writer I include #ownvoices to indicate I am writing from my own diverse experience. Also, I include #author #writers and #writingcommunity (which is not marketing but building community). To reach readers I use #newbook and #readme.
Graham: Positive feedback feels comfortable; community makes you feel loved but it’s not the audience you want.
Charles: You don’t want to bombard readers with “buy my book.” What you want to do is develop and share content, discuss other writers you admire. Every once in a while sneak in a picture of your new book next to your sleeping puppy.
Question: Is there a Social Media Marketing Book for Dummies?
Tammy: Check out the Twitter hashtag #mswl. This search brings up agents posting what they are looking for. And if you want to self-publish, there is also online training for that.
Carol: I ran a google search on ‘social media for dummies” and found five such books. There may be more.
Question: Regarding the hashtag #ownvoice, there is not a lot of demand for coming-of-age stories of old white men. Social media creates a demand for new kinds of writing. Flash fiction under 1000 words drives the world. That’s the attention span of people on Twitter. You’re writing captions.
Tammy: It’s a beautiful thing: Social media has demanded we let new voices and new ways of seeing the world speak. There is still plenty of space in social media for old white men; they need to look for space now. Personally, I love flash fiction. And I love contests like the New York Midnight Challenge, which gives you a genre (like ghost story), an object (like peppermint candy), and an action (like opening a window) and asks you to write 1000 words in a limited time. If you make round two you get a new genre, object, and action. Really stretches you as a writer.
Carol: Be sure to vet contests well. Check out Writers Beware for more on that.
Question: I am new to social media presence although an experienced writer. If I haven’t already established a social media presence, how much will it hurt me in finding an agent or publisher for my next book?
Tammy: Many agents will go out and look at a writer’s online presence. But if your book blows them away they’ll take it anyway.
Charles: You can build a platform now for your memoir: Retweet related articles and so on.
Graham: Your track record should be exploitable. If you work with folks you’ve worked with before, you can use traditional contacts. And please get your website back up and running.
Question: What about serialization?
Charles: I haven’t seen this done but you could roll out a chapter of your novel at a time and charge for it.
Graham: The Atlantic serializes books. New subscription services are cropping up. There is a lot going on.
Tammy: People do serial podcasts. Check out Wattpad—they do the same thing: serial storytelling. Clubhouse is the new hot thing. If you know someone who uses it, you can be invited to come in each week to hear someone talk about a particular subject.
Graham: There is a lot of convergence in the tech industry. Spotify that streams music is now getting into the podcast business.
Tammy: You might be on the cutting edge.
Graham: Serialization has lots of benefits for authors; maybe the time is coming.
Concluding Question from Carol: What are best practices for social media use for authors?
Charles: Don’t oversell your product. Think of it as conversation, as community building—like a cocktail party. Those are human beings on the other end and social media is still a very human endeavor.
Tammy: Branding is a best practice. Know your audience. You have to find the fine line between bombarding and not getting your stuff out there enough. Post at varying times. Write a bunch of stuff and put timers on it, because your readers are online at different times. Learn how to save time doing the things you know you need to do to market your material.
Graham: Have a plan and follow your plan. Not rigidly; get feedback. And remember: consistency and coherency. For more about developing a plan check out Marketing for Writers with Graham Bird on YouTube