The writer sits at her computer, fingers poised over the keyboard. Her whole body speaks of hesitation, uncertainty … FEAR. The blue-white light of the screen accentuates the creases in her anxiously wrinkled brow and gives her skin a ghostly pallor. She types a few words and stops. Backspace, backspace, backspace. She tries again. No, not right – highlight, delete. Shoulders hunched, she remains in place – just staring … stuck.
This writer isn’t battling writer’s block. Writer’s block was a walk in the park compared to this. This writer is trying to figure out social media.
You know you should be there. You’ve heard all about the importance of the writer’s platform. You “get it,” but you just don’t know how to get it. Each time you work up the courage to open a browser tab onto Facebook or Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn, you suddenly freeze up.
You shared a lot of great comments on my recent post, Why Social Media Is a Good Idea for Writers. As I read through your observations and questions again, a few common themes emerged. I know we’re a small focus group; but I also think that the issues and concerns you raised are pretty universal for writers trying to get a handle on social media:
Fear #1: The learning curve is too steep. It’ll take too long to get things set up, and I’ll probably screw up royally and my career will go down the drain because of some stupid Facebook faux pas or Twitter trip-up.
The bad news: If you’re totally new to social media, there is a bit of a learning curve. The good news: It’s not as steep as you think. The awesome news: There is no “right way” to do social media.
You never learned to program your VCR and you only know how to use your smartphone because your kids showed you how. I get it. I don’t consider myself a luddite, but I’m no tech whiz either. I am, however, reasonably proficient on most of the popular social networks.
You can be, too. No, really. You can do this.
Here’s the thing. The people who design social networks are usually trying to make them as idiot-proof as possible. I’m totally not calling you an idiot; I’m just saying that these people are not trying to make social media hard. They want you to participate, so they are going to make it as easy as possible.
The key to getting past your fear of diving in is two fold:
Focus your efforts
If you’re completely new to social media, I’d suggest that you check out a number of different networks and then pick ONE to PLAY with. I say “ONE” because I don’t want you to be overwhelmed. I say “PLAY” because that’s how I want you to approach social media. Though you will eventually want to have a strategy and a process, at first you just want to explore and experiment. Hang out and see what other people are doing. Lurk. Maybe engage in a few conversations. Share something. Don’t feel pressured, just do what writers do best: observe.
Take baby steps
When you feel ready (and you’ll know when you’re ready), take a few baby steps towards a more in-depth and consistent kind of engagement. Don’t feel like you have to flood your profile or feed or whatever with tons of content right away. Pace yourself. Let your presence grow organically.
- You don’t need to be everywhere.
- You don’t need to do everything.
- There are no hard and fast rules.
- You aren’t going to get a ticket or a black mark on your permanent record.
- Finding your social media groove might not happen overnight, but it won’t take forever either. Start with fifteen minutes a day and just see how things go.
Fear #2: I will tumble down the social media rabbit hole and never write anything again except for status updates and blog posts.
On the other hand, you might be worried that once you start spending time on social media, you will become completely addicted and spend the rest of your life scrolling through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, reposting LOL cat memes, and pinning pretty pictures on Pinterest. You will sacrifice all your writing time to the demon gods of social media and never publish your novel/poetry/short story/whatever.
You’re right. It could happen.
But … probably not.
There’s no question that social media can become addictive. I’ve read about numerous studies that demonstrate the addictive nature of social media. In some cases, clicking around on Facebook or Google+ has been found to be more addictive than alcohol or tobacco. However, the chances of you logging onto Facebook and never coming out again are pretty slim.
Social media can be a (major) time suck, but only if you let it. Avoiding the black hole of social sites requires two things:
When it comes to the relative chaos of social media, systems are your friend. I could write a whole other post on this topic alone, but just to give you an example, here is the system I use to process 100 – 200 blog posts each day:
Content curation (sharing other people’s content) is a big part of my social media strategy. I read a lot of blog posts. I typically scan 100+ posts each day and read about 30 – 40 in full. I don’t have time during my workday to read and share posts, so I batch process:
- I use Feedly to aggregate all the blog feeds into one place.
- I find corners of otherwise unused time to scan through Feedly on my iPhone. (Usually this happens at night while I’m waiting for my daughter to fall asleep after bedtime stories. I also hit Feedly during random “down” times like waiting in line at school pick-up or at the bank.)
- I use the integrated BufferApp to schedule tweets of posts that will be useful to my audience. BufferApp creates the tweet including the post title and a shortened URL, and then all I have to do is add my two cents and hit “Buffer” to schedule the tweet.
Another quick example of a system is how I use Twitter “lists” to filter my Twitter stream so I can focus on only the tweets that are most relevant to me. I have almost 4,000 followers on Twitter. It’s insane to think that I could have any useful or meaningful conversations by just randomly scanning through such a huge stream of tweets. Talk about a needle in a haystack! Luckily, Twitter has a “lists” feature that allows me to assign the people I’m most interested in to topical lists. For instance, I have a list for my “real world” friends, a list for writers, a list for marketing folks I admire, a list for artists, a list for clients, etc. I use Hootsuite to display my lists in a multi-column format that lets me easily scan all the tweets that are important to me.
There are hundreds of mini systems you can use and dozens of smart tools that help you streamline and automate social media activities. In fact, I’m investigating a few new tools that offer a more comprehensive suite of features, and as soon as I’ve road-tested it I’ll be sure to share.
This one’s pretty simple: Stick to your systems. Don’t make excuses to “just check one thing.” Don’t allow yourself to be lured by the siren call of “the funniest video ever.” Stay focused. Make your social media time productive, not frivolous.
Fear #3: My ego will take over and I will become obsessed with comparing myself to others and constantly checking my stats, leading to deep feelings of inadequacy and depression which will eventually leave me sobbing quietly under my desk.
The land of social media can be a treacherous one. Though words like “authenticity” and “transparency” are thrown around like beads at Mardi Gras, let’s face it: most people show only the good bits. It can be challenging to keep a firm grip on reality when comparing your life (which you know to be imperfect) to the shiny, sparkly, social media life projected by others.
The cure for this fear is simple: step back for a reality check.
The truth is that things aren’t always what they seem on social media. You need to be able to keep your perspective. For example, a friend of mine was feeling low because she was comparing herself to a high profile blogger/podcaster. This “big fish’s” content featured high profile people and consistently had astronomical retweets, likes, and +1’s. My friend was suffering from that sinking I’ll-never-get-there feeling until I told her that this seemingly uber-successful person wasn’t making a living and had moved home.
Don’t be fooled by the illusions.
More importantly, don’t get caught in the comparison trap in the first place. You don’t need to keep up with the Joneses. Social media should not be an arms race. The numbers – subscribers, followers, friends, etc. – are only part of the picture. Instead of worrying about whether you’re measuring up to some fabricated standard, spend your time having real conversations and making real connections with people.
Fear #4: I’m just not comfortable with putting myself out there. My personal life is personal and I want it to stay that way. On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t want to be “that guy” – constantly shilling my book until I’ve alienated all my friends and die cold and alone in the gutter clutching my WiFi-enabled device.
You find selfies disturbing. You have absolutely no desire to post pictures of your cat, your pedicure, or your dinner. You do not feel a need to confess your deepest fears or desires. You just want to share your stories.
You’re on social to promote your writing, but you don’t want to feel like a broken record. Feeling like you have to always be talking “my book this” and “my book that” leaves you wanting to shout, “Damn it, Jim. I’m a writer, not a marketer!”
The cure for both these issues is simple: It’s not about you.
It’s about your work. It’s about your ideas. It’s about the things that inspire you. It’s about the people who inspire you. It’s about other people’s stories and the way they intersect with your stories. It’s about the craft and journey of writing. It’s about how people identify with your work
Also, remember: Social media is meant to be social. It’s meant to be a conversation, meaning a give and take. In a real world conversation, you aren’t expected to carry everything yourself, right? Social media is no different. Ask questions. Invite dialog. Encourage debate. Have some fun.
So, to sum things up:
- Worried about the learning curve? Don’t be. This isn’t as hard as you think.
- Worried about screwing up? Don’t. There is no one right way.
- Worried about getting sucked into the social media vortex? Set up systems and stick to them.
- Worried about succumbing to constant comparison and status chasing? Skip that. It doesn’t matter.
- Worried about over-exposing yourself? That’s a non-issue because it’s not about you.
- Worried about becoming a sleazy salesperson? Focus on the give and take of the conversation, not the sales pitch.
Social media has huge opportunities for writers. Bust past your fears and get out there. It’ll be worth it on many levels.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
Image Credit: Mike Thomas