By Shawn Humphrey and Michael Magnus
You’re a writer. You’ve mastered the patient art of chaining yourself to a chair and desk when all the other kids are out making snowmen and doing donuts with their cars. When you’re passively experiencing the world around you, there’s always a part of your brain storing these moments away for that major writing project you’re planning next month, next year, or the year after that. Everything feeds into your craft at some level.
As a writer, you’re almost certainly already on social media. There are some writers who feel that microblogging takes away valuable time from their already cramped day. Besides, who cares what you had for breakfast or what your hot take is on the latest political row?
Your audience cares more than you think.
No, they may not be fixated on minutia and you shouldn’t approach your social media work like a diary entry. You should develop a plan, keeping in mind your goals, schedule, and content preferences.
Before you register an account on a single social media outlet, consider these ten key points.
1. Define Your Goal/s
Every project should have clearly stated goals before it begins. As a writer, it makes sense that your focus is to try to reach your audience, the folks most likely to buy your books or read your articles. But what are you actually looking to do with this info? Are you trying to-
- Grow your audience.
- Increase the loyalty of your existing audience.
- Inform your audience about events, deals, or new materials.
- Connect with other writers.
- Share your research.
- Explore what motivates your writing.
- Use your new platform in some other way that you think will help your marketability.
You can have more than one goal, of course. Just be sure you know what you’d like to accomplish before you start.
It’s also okay to not make your social media efforts eternal. You may want to push for a short challenge before diving in full-time. Consider reading up on one woman’s efforts to rekindle her interest in blogging.
2. Choose Your Platforms
By now, you’ve probably heard of the various social media platforms out there- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WordPress, and dozens more. Some are considered microblogs, avenues for sharing short posts which aren’t usually as long as a short article. With all the choices out there and the constantly changing platform landscape, which platform is best for you?
The good news- there’s no reason to be constantly active on every available platform. Many of the platforms are fine as purely a distribution channel. For instance, if you maintain a blog on WordPress, you can easily share your link from your blog to Twitter or Facebook with only a few sentences of context.
It’s a good idea to look into the platform you’re considering using as your primary outlet and find out if your audience already exists there. Platforms tend to attract different demographics, reflecting age and gender differences. If your writing is targeted towards a particular demographic, you’ll want to make sure your audience is reflected in the platform’s users.
Don’t forget to pick platforms that make you comfortable. If you really don’t enjoy a particular platform, don’t spend a lot of time forcing yourself to use it. Make the most of the one that works best for you.
Algorithms on search engines will filter your content out if you overload your material with keywords. You want to focus on making your work findable by using keywords when they make sense, but only within the natural flow of discussion. Don’t overdo it.
3. Make Your Work Findable
Most social media platforms use hashtags to increase content discoverability. Depending on the platform you’ve chosen, it’s a good idea to use those hashtags where it makes the most sense to promote your ideas.
If you’re writing a gardening book, whenever you write a post on Twitter specific to gardening, use the hashtag. But don’t overdo it. If your post isn’t related to the topic, don’t tag it just because you’re promoting your book. Don’t overload your posts with hashtags, either, as they reduce the readability of the post.
This can also be where having a website is helpful to direct people to your social pages. Channeling the latest trending hashtag is great, however you may find long-term value by having a digital homestead for your content that links to your profiles. This helps with redirecting search engine results to your content where it might otherwise be missed if it lived exclusively on social.
Know that you don’t have to be a coding expert to have something that looks quite professional when using some of the available online tools, such as a site builder. Having a website is a bit more of an effort than social channels alone, however investing that time in yourself will certainly have long-term payoff.
4. Stay on Schedule
Before you begin, review your entire personal schedule holistically. How much time can you devote to this new venture, realistically? And once you’ve determined how much time is reasonable, how often and when do you plan to publish?
Microblog or not, social media is still a publishing medium. Set a reasonable expectation for yourself for when you plan to publish, and if possible, maintain a regular schedule for that posting. This is a particularly good practice to put in place for video or long-form blogging. When it comes to the shorter formats, it’s okay to depart from schedule, but try to post without long breaks or gaps in your posting.
Most social media platforms have a best time of day or particular days that are more active. Consider when you like to read social media; you’re more likely to check your social media right after work or in the evening, but less likely during your busiest work periods during the weekdays. Weekends, during great weather, may also mean a reduction in viewing time. Try to catch readers when you think they’ll be most likely to want to check in on their social media, rather than at 2 in the morning when you happen to have a post you want to share.
Try to avoid oversharing as well. If you oversaturate your feed, your subscribers will tune you out. Space out your material and it’ll last longer for you.
5. Your Style is Yours to Define
There’s an argument to be made for writing in a purely professional manner, and a counter-argument that suggests you should just write how you feel and try to be as human as possible in your blogging. There is also a middle path, and that’s to write with a professional tone that’s still personal enough to connect with your audience.
The best style is almost always going to be the style you find most comfortable for you. However, you may find that an adjustment to style is warranted in order to best connect with your desired audience. If you tend to write humor, you’ll want to make sure you keep that going on your social media platform posts. If you’re generally more professional, you may be better off to defer to that format.
The only limitations should be to avoid what’s exceptionally unnatural to you. You never want to come off as insincere or stilted in your writing.
6. Write What You’d Want to Read
Just as when you’re working on your book or article, you should be creating social media posts that you’d read if someone else had written it. The topics should be pertinent to whatever parameters you’ve already laid out, but it’s okay if they stray a little so long as you are invested in the writing.
For instance, if you’re writing a traditional vampire thriller, it would make sense that you’d write about the Bram Stoker biography you read, your review of the Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie from 1992, or your trip to Romania and Transylvania to discover the historical Dracula. If you stray into discussing a documentary about real-life vampires in New Orleans or compare the history of writing about werewolves over vampires, it’s probably fine- so long as you can somehow connect that with your overall project and how it’s impacting your work. If you go completely off topic, even then it’s acceptable so long as you don’t stray all the time and if it’s relevant to providing a little insight into you as a writer. That’s especially true if it relates to the writing process.
7. Keep An Eye Out for Content
It’s not at all uncommon to spend far more time browsing the net than we’d like to admit. Take a look at your Google search history (if you dare.) You may be surprised to discover just how much content you’re absorbing on any given day.
You may wish to share links, videos, or bibliographies along the way regarding the topic you’re writing about. There’s no rule stating that you can’t share after the writing publishes, either.
8. Interact With Your Readers – With Caution
People enjoy social media because the medium can sometimes give them an opportunity to engage with a person they’re interested in. In this case, it’s you!
It’s called “social” media for a reason, of course. If you can acknowledge a comment personally, it shows you’re paying attention and that you care about what your followers think. That will increase their appreciation for you, if you’re kind, informative, and respectful. If you have a massive following, it’s not possible to reply to every comment. Sometimes, it’s not advisable to reply at all!
If there’s a controversial discussion playing out, you’re always welcome to sit back and choose not to participate. Whether you dive in or not is up to you. You are not obliged to respond to each and every comment; if you want to clear something up, sometimes it’s best to issue a single statement and not get into a back-and-forth.
9. How Personal is Too Personal?
Remember that when it comes to anything you’re putting out there to the public, you’re taking a risk. It’s inadvisable to give your audience really personal information in the same way you may not want to let a crowd of strangers know when you’re on vacation and no one’s home.
I’m not suggesting you don’t want to tell personal stories. By all means, share your stories and let people get to know you. But it’s in your best interest not to give out your address, your children’s names, or divulge highly personal information that you may regret sharing later on.
10. Guest Writers: Welcome or No?
Before committing to having a guest write for your blog, it might be a good idea to have a short discussion with them about what they hope to accomplish through the collaboration. If they’re remote, set up a virtual meeting or correspond through email.
Check in with them to see if their subject is suitable for your audience. You may want to think about standards and norms, but also whether the chosen subject even fits in with your audience’s interest. Also, consider if their personal brand aligns with your brand. Is it content for content sake, or is it value-added for your site and your readers?
Rather than trying to censor or edit your guest, you may wish to simply do without guests; you don’t want to offend people involved in your craft, and it’s ideal to try not to. Also, if you have a content schedule to maintain, be prepared that your guest blogger might not deliver (on time, or perhaps at all), so you’ll want to have something at the ready just in case.
If things work out, and they enjoy their experience working with you, you may be approached to guest blog with them as well. Be sure you link to your efforts afterwards.
Shawn Humphrey is the former social media manager for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a writer for banks and tech firms, and a collaborator at Magnus Opus.
Michael Magnus is a digital marketing lecturer and consultant based out of North Texas. With a background in film, his approach to brand strategy is “measurable storytelling”, helping companies, non-profits, and individuals focus on connecting with people through meaningful narratives. Magnus is also a recreational leathercraft historian with Elktracks Studio.