This article was inspired by some self-posed questions: ‘Do authors have to be everywhere on social media?’ was the instigating question. This morphed into: ‘Do authors need social media?’ and ‘Do authors have to use social media?’ These resulted in this article that will attempt, in measure at least, to address those questions.
Before continuing it is worth considering the actual aspect of social media. The Cambridge Dictionary defines social media as: ‘Websites and computer programs that allow people to communicate and share information on the internet using a computer or mobile phone.’ A concept nearly all are now familiar with. Just in case there is any confusion: a social media site is in reality a website supported by various computer programs and software for things such as likes, comments, sharing, etc.
There are mixed opinions relating to social media. Some people really enjoy using it while others find it a bane. And, surprising as it may be for some to hear, there are people who do not, and have never, used or even been on a social media site. Nevertheless, even they are aware of its existence.
To try and do this topic justice, and to provide best possible insights, the two aspects of the detriments and benefits of social media will be considered. These will be followed by thoughts upon how an author may accommodate, deal with, or ignore, social media.
This article is dedicated to authors though some of the aspects discussed may also be relevant to others.
Detriments of Social Media
- Takes time from writing.
- Is distracting.
- Algorithms often limit visibility.
- Out of user control.
- Contains spammy behaviour.
- Often poor return on investment.
- Can be depressing and draining.
- May become addictive.
- Can fuel a fear of missing out (FOMO).
- May be withdrawn without notice.
Obviously, this is by no means an exhaustive list, nevertheless, it helps concentrate the mind.
Benefits of Social Media
- Constantly active (There are billions of users).
- Ease of communication.
- Enables regular contact with relatives and friends.
- Interactivity (Most sites are interactive).
- Communities for a variety of interests.
- Can be entertaining.
- May provide insights and knowledge.
- Most sites provide an advertising platform.
Again, this is hardly comprehensive but does highlight some of the primary benefits many will identify with.
Do Authors Have to Use Social Media?
The instinctive answer for most is a resounding yes. But is that true? The wide uptake of social media, in all its forms and caricatures, is probably the driving force behind such a positive response. Nevertheless, is social media really a necessity? May authors do without it? Why do some people consider authors cannot do without it?
A consistent challenge for authors, especially independent (indie) ones, is gaining attention and establishing a base of dedicated readers, not to mention attracting new ones. Because of its wide uptake and regular activity, social media is a natural go-to. After all it is where a large proportion of the population, together with many readers, not to mention fellow authors, may be found. However, there are a few established, notable, authors who have never bothered with social media and who in fact detest it. And yet, they are successful and make a living from their writing.
Most authors, especially indie ones, feel they have little choice but to utilise social media if they wish to get knowledge of their book’s existence into the wider world. Without it they fear their darling project will wither and die. In reality, it must be acknowledged this is a possibility. Nevertheless, despite that possibility, should authors force themselves to be active on social media when they detest, or even hate, it, or perhaps simply find it annoying? There are dangers in doing so.
Where the author does not feel engaged but does feel pressurised it is very likely the posts, tweets, pins, etc., they draft will be, and come across as, stilted and forced. Consequently, they are unlikely to resonate with readers and may in fact turn potential audiences off. Undoubtedly, in these circumstances, the focus will err toward ‘selling’ terminology rather than building relationships and a community, which should be the primary aims. Book selling may follow once some degree of trust and authenticity has been achieved. If anyone thinks they are leaning toward the aggressive selling ethos they would be better off abandoning the social media option and actively seek alternative means for bringing knowledge of their writing and books into the public domain. Some ideas are shared below.
So far most of the above has been on the negative side however, there are many authors who enjoy, even love, social media. They are in their element chatting with people in the environment and within some of the communities and groups within it. Some have even set up their own groups. Many have established a dedicated fan and reader base by such means and continue to attract new readers through it. This is good and provided they continue to enjoy it, they should carry on.
It must be recognised, despite some of the limitations introduced due to various companies and organisations focusing more on revenue, social media is a golden pot of activity. Every day millions, probably billions, of people utilise it for communication and discovery. Many businesses now recognise its potential and are consistently active on it. The various advertising opportunities have also made it a popular resource for those with the means to pay.
Alternatives to Social Media
What may those, who do not like social media and who have no wish to use, do? As mentioned there are some successful authors who do not bother with it. What alternatives are there? Some suggestions, most of which those authors have utilised in one form or another:
- Regular posting in blogs utilising effective SEO.
- Guest posting on other peoples blogs.
- Email (e.g. newsletter; direct contact; etc.)
- Join, and be active in, live or online discussion groups.
- Participate in speaking events (live, podcast, or video).
- Cross promote with other authors.
- Join book clubs.
- Attend book fairs.
- Set up competitions.
- Conduct giveaways.
- Contact influencers.
- Market through retail sites.
- Seek to utilise traditional media. (Can be difficult but not impossible.)
- Utilise content distribution engines. (E.g. Quora; Reddit; etc.)
As with the other lists, these are only some possibilities. No doubt many reading this will have further ideas and experiences. Please share by means of a comment.
Not mentioned is the option of paying someone else to undertake social media activity on behalf of the author. The fact is, most indie authors do not have the means to do this and even if they have, need to consider whether possible returns (sales) will justify or balance the cost.
One consistent is, to write good quality books and, assuming the author maintains a website (recommended) and/or blog, good quality, valuable, articles.
For those authors who choose to utilise social media, general advice is to try out each site one or at most two, but no more, at a time. Thereby they may assess: whether the site suites their taste, aims, and abilities; whether the general content is relevant to them and their books; and whether they are likely to find the audience they seek therein. Subsequently, they may test a further one or two, and so on, until they discover which are a suitable fit.
Further advice is to determine what, for them, really matters. What is important to them? What it is they truly wish to achieve? Once decided they may look round for facilities that may fulfil those desires and intents.
Naturally, an integral part of all this is discovering where the readers and writers they wish to connect with spend their online time. Which social media sites they use? Where they have their most productive conversations? Where they may be contacted?
Authors do not have to utilise social media however, it does open avenues of communication wherein billions of users are active.
Those who prefer not to bother with social media still need to accept there is a need for some sort of communication channel, to get knowledge of their books out into the wider world and to readers who are seeking the sort of content they provide.
Social media can be a pain and will often not give a good return for investment, whether time, money, sweat, or tears. However, for those who enjoy the option, it may prove fulfilling even if it does not result in many sales. That said, the likelihood is their interaction will, may, lead to the community they share in becoming curious about their books.
Whatever the personal preferences, it must be acknowledged, and accepted, non established authors, especial indie ones, need to seriously consider utilising at least some of the social media available. After all, it is where billions of people spend their time. But, to reiterate, it is not a must; the choice is entirely the authors.
Social media in itself is not evil but its value is often diminished by improper and unwarrantedly rude and offence use. In addition, the increasing lean toward revenue strings, and consequent diminishment in organic reach, is having a negative impact for those authors will minimal or negative resources. The push toward advertising to get noticed is out of the reach of many.
This has been a cursory consideration on the topic of authors and social media but hopefully, it provides some insight for those unsure about the options.
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