There are writers out there who are already taking social media by storm, who are tweeting about their favourite books, sharing articles on the latest Booker prize winner and Instagramming photos of their laptops and coffee mugs at their favourite writing spot. But what if everything you just read makes your head spin? What if you’ve barely, if ever, touched social media before? Or what if you’re an avid user but you don’t know how it can help your writing? If any of these sounds like you then Eleanor St Clair has some great tips for you! She shared her social media wisdom with us in a special workshop at Corsham Court recently and now I’d like to pass on that wisdom to you.
Where should I start?
The number of social media platforms out there can be overwhelming so Eleanor suggests you start by focussing on just two: Twitter and Instagram. But what about Facebook?! I hear you cry. Facebook can be a great one too but is usually more of a personal platform whereas Twitter and Instagram are aimed at the public. What this means is that if you promote your writing on Facebook it will only reach your friends and family, even if you set up a public page it will still take a while to draw in a following of people you don’t know, whereas Twitter and Instagram are automatically public and can draw in both potential agents and potential readers from across the world. This is particularly easy to do on Twitter so this platform will be the focus of this post.
Why should I start?
I’m going to start by saying: you don’t have to be on social media to be a writer. If you try it and you just can’t get on with it then it’s better to not post at all than to post half-heartedly. However, you should also know the perks. The main point of social media is to interact with other people and there are a whole host of readers, agents and publishers out there waiting to hear your voice. Eleanor used the great example of how tweeting a blog post she had written went viral and actually grabbed the interest of Kenton Allen, who just happens to be a producer and Chief Executive of Big Talk Productions. Responding to his tweet actually lead to a private conversation and further interest not just in her blog but the novel she is writing too. The moral of this story is, you never know who is out there, reading your writing and maybe taking an interest in it. Not to mention, in this day and age, likely one of the first things an agent will do when they see your name on a manuscript submission is to google it. If what they find from that search is someone who portrays themselves as an interesting, entertaining person who is up to date with the latest literary news and clearly an ardent reader then maybe, just maybe, they will put your work on the top of the pile. It is also a massive plus if they can see that you have a strong following as it shows people are already interested in what you have to say meaning there is a market for your book.
How do I Start?
I won’t go into an explanation of how Twitter works or how to set up a profile but if you want tips on how to do so there is plenty of info out there and I found mashable.com to have a particularly straight forward and easy to follow guide. What I will tell you though is Eleanor’s tips for making social media as effective for you as possible.
To begin with, remember this one basic thing: “You have to be sociable, put yourself out there”. If you are not actively interacting with people on your social media then you are not using its full potential. Eleanor drove home the point that it is much better to have fewer followers, most of whom you interact with in some way on a regular basis than to have millions of followers who are mostly likely scrolling straight past your tweets. Once you have set up your account begin following people you have a genuine interest in. And yes, I know you might have a genuine interest in Taylor Swift but maybe leave the celebrity follows aside and focus on a more professional following – you can always make a separate personal account if you just can’t bear to not know what Swift is up to. As a writer, you want to follow other writers you admire as well as agents and publishers who have an interest in work like yours. That’s not to say you are limited to those people but when you follow someone, think about whether you would actually enjoy seeing their posts every day and how likely you are to engage with them.
What should I post?
Eleanor has a couple of great rules for this:
- The 80/20 Rule -This means 80% of what you post should be information, education or entertainment. This can be articles you’ve read and enjoyed, blog posts you’ve written or quotes you like for example. The other 20% is about you. This is the personal stuff, and no, don’t just post about the cup of tea you made or what your dinner looks like, this can mean promoting the book you’ve got coming out or maybe tweeting about an event you’re attending. A little personality is what will make your followers relate to you and want to talk.
- The Rule of Thirds – This is how you should use Twitter in general. The first third of your activity on social media should be sharing your content, for example, your latest blog post or a piece of your writing. The second third should be sharing other people’s content, so if you see someone else’s article that you enjoyed, share it. The final third is interacting with your followers. Again, social media is supposed to be social, make sure you’re setting aside enough time to do this.
If you’re still stuck on what to post then check out stumbleupon.com and feedly.com for interesting content to share with your followers. Both these sites generate articles, photos and quotes based on topics of interest you select. If you come across something you like then tweet it to your followers, after all, we can’t all be witty and charming all day every day.
Won’t This Take Up All of My Time?
If you’re not on social media already then this is probably one of the top reasons why. Fear not, Eleanor has a solution for this too. She claims all you need to do to have a successful social media profile is spend just five minutes a day on it. Of course, this is a minimum and you may find that once you’ve gained a following and started interacting with people you want to spend more than just five minutes but it is all you need to get started.
The secret to this is buffer.com. Buffer allows you to set up tweets in the morning that it will automatically post throughout the day. It even knows the best times to post your tweets so they will be read by as many people as possible. It’s best to set this up daily as you want to make sure what you are saying is current and relevant but if you want you can set it up to tweet over several days or even the whole week. Eleanor recommends 4-5 tweets per day. All you need to do is find or write some content, set up your five daily tweets then leave Buffer to do the rest. If half-way through the day you change your mind about a tweet that hasn’t gone out yet you can always log on and delete it but note that if your tweet was set to go at 3 pm and it’s 3:05 pm then that’s five minutes during which your followers will have already read your tweet, even if you delete it through twitter. Try not to completely rely on Buffer though, you still want it to feel like there is a person behind your account so remember to post on the spot when you have a thought or find something you want to share and definitely don’t forget to log on at the end of the day to respond to any retweets, like a few posts of people you follow and answer any direct messages.
Some Final Tips
Lastly here are some quick fire tips to keep in mind as you begin building your social media:
- You don’t get a following overnight. It takes time. It’s better to have 300-500 followers who care and have an interest in your tweets than millions who don’t.
- Use Twitter analytics to analyse your followers and discover how you might improve your social media standing.
- Don’t tweet if you don’t have anything to say. The point of social media is to represent your unique self and people will know if you are just tweeting for the sake of it.
- Check out lists on Twitter or even make your own! This is a way of grouping people on Twitter. Agents might have lists of authors they like so you can see whether you could fit in with these writers. You can also keep lists of writers or agents that you like – just maybe don’t name your list ‘Agents I Desperately Want To Publish Me’.
- Start a blog. If you feel you have more than 140 characters worth of things to say then start a free WordPress blog and get writing! If you want some inspiration, check out Eleanor’s or mine at jessjournalofjoy.com. It’s just another way to show off your skills while proving to agents and readers that you are an interesting and thought-provoking person. If you don’t want to write blog posts you can always set up a static page with a bio and, if you want, a portfolio of work so that any agents or publishers googling can find something to tell them all about you. This is especially great if social media like Twitter and Instagram isn’t really for you but you still want a space on the internet to tell people about you.
- Don’t put your email address on your blog or social media. There are people who browse the internet and take these email addresses so they can spam and scam you. If you want to give people a way to get in contact with you then add a contact form to your blog.
- Tweets with pictures get 313% more engagement – check out pixabay.com for free images if you don’t want to use your own.
- Quotes are 53% more likely to be retweeted – check out goodreads.com for great quotes from your favourite books!
- Don’t forget to use hashtags! Hashtags group tweets with the same hashtag together so if someone wants to search a particular topic they can type in the hashtag and find all the tweets using it – including yours! It’s a great way to find new followers and be followed #hashtagsaregreat!
- BUT research your hashtags before you use them. Make sure what you use isn’t going to get mixed up with a different topic that isn’t relevant to what your saying, isn’t inappropriate in any way, that it is a popular topic and that you have something fresh and new to say about it.
- Have individual content for each social media platform you use. Each one works differently and so draws in different people for different reasons. Instagram allows you to write captions of any length next to your picture so you can use this to tell a story. Twitter wants you to keep it short and sweet with their character limit so it’s better for sharing content and quick updates. You also want to give your followers a reason to follow you across platforms and if they are seeing the same content on each one they have no reason to do so.
- Worried about your spelling and grammar? Grammarly.com makes sure anything you post online is grammatically correct, after all, you’re showcasing your skills as a writer so typos and spelling errors could be damaging to your reputation.
- Instagram is currently the fastest growing network out there so if you love sharing pictures and writing little stories to go with then this is the social media for you. Check out #bookstagram if you want to see just how big the writing community on there is.
- Retweets are one of the most powerful ways to get new followers. If you like a tweet, retweet it.
- Enjoy it! Using social media should be fun, if it’s anything but then it’s not worth using. So, get sharing, get Instagramming and get tweeting!