This is going to be a long read, but trust me when I say it is SO WORTH IT. Timothy Smith is one of the brightest, most intelligent people I know. He’s been around the social media block since the early days of the Internet, and he knows whereof he speaks. Want to sell more books? Need to get a handle on this social media monster? Tim is The Man.
I also want to thank the brilliant Mr. Smith for taking the time to write this up for my humble blog. He and his Most Amazing Partner, Shannon Smith, are neck deep in their own hair-raising adventure, and I deeply appreciate the time and care he took in writing this valuable piece. Read, my poppets, and take notes. This is information which can really help you.
For some reason (I am thinking probably either a pharmaceutically or alcohol induced psychosis) the lovely and talented Annetta Ribken has permitted me to take over her blog as a guest writer. She said I could post about any ol’ subject I desired (even though she rejected out of hand my suggestion of Deep Space 9 porno fan fiction) so I thought I would talk to you all about Internet marketing for writers instead. I am assuming most of you are writers, editors, or publishers in one form or another. My hope is that I can possibly suggest some things you may not know when it comes to social media and using various sites, apps, software, and tools to promote your words to a larger audience—more effectively and affordably.
How I Know All This Stuff
First, a little background… I have been making my living off the Internet (more or less) since its widespread popularization in 1992-ish. In 2000 I started my own Internet development, hosting, and marketing consultant group here in North Carolina. Before I started AASB Productions, I spent too many years working for various businesses and dot.com startups who were riding the wave of selling any small to medium-sized business owner with a credit card the latest and greatest “trend” online—databasing, Flash design, SEO placement, Adword strategies, etc. Most people, back then, would throw pounds of money to anyone who had the knowledge and skills necessary for them to cash in on a new form of media. It was, I suppose, a lot like what it must have been in the early days of radio, movies, or television.
So yes… I am old school. Yes, I have seen trends on the Internet come and go. There have been a lot of passing fads with lots of promise, yet no real longevity. But before I get into how best to take advantage of today’s Internet I should probably give you a sort of short, historical perspective of the medium. Most people tend to think of the Internet as essentially being the same today as it was 20-years ago, I can tell you that there have already been three distinct “ages” of the Internet and how people use it… and we’re quickly approaching the fourth.
The Ages Of The Internet
First, in the days of the early Net, it was all about information presentation. You had a website with a set number of static pages, some drop-shadowed pictures, a couple of animated gifs, and those pages promoted or presented information from provider to consumer. Creating a website at this time was a very expensive proposition for many small businesses and individuals, but the benefit was being able to sell to just about anyone, at anytime, anywhere in the world. There was a lot of potential, lots of expense, and for a select few of early adopters… huge rewards for those offering their products or information to a global audience. It was a digital gold rush of sorts.
The second era was the age of information collection. It started a few years later when obtaining data about your web visitors became as equally important as presenting information about yourself. Somewhere, sometime, someone—selling a massive amount of product online—said, “Hey, we should look to see if there’s a pattern with those purchasing our product and visiting our site.” This led to a period when every website had a form to fill out or some sort of a membership process successfully completed before access to the desired information was made available. Essentially, website owner evolved from wanting you to know who they were, to them wanting to know who you were. This led to things like databasing, data mining, spam, and search engines that used algorithms (Google) to produce highly individualized results as opposed to directory driven results (Yahoo). Amazon could now make suggestions as to what you should (statistically) be interested in based upon your prior purchases. “Cookies” now tracked which pages of a site you visited and how often. Amazing amounts of information were being collected, parsed, and sold without you even knowing.
The third age is what we’re in now; the age of information subscription & promotion. You have a product, skill, or possess a personality which other individuals want to know or learn more about. The act of “friending” or “liking” or “following” is now a euphemistic endorsement which can be a bajillion times more valuable that an actual purchase of whatever product you’re selling. We have all entered a sort of digital high school where your social status enjoys a meteoric boost by the mere wink of the prom king or queen. The apparent value of who you are and what you’re selling depends greatly on how many people link to, share, follow, and recommend what you do and say on social media sites. Politics, religion, activism, consumerism, artistry, government, and generational identification are all now, at least in part, only as successful as the potential outreach a single individual can attain with a serendipitous post of a Youtube video, Tweet hashtag, Tumblr repost, or promoted Facebook status update.
The fourth age of the Internet, which we’re just now starting to skirt the event horizon, is the age of information augmentation and man-oh-man, it’s gonna be a doozy.
But Let’s Not Jump Ahead
Let’s stay focused on where we are now; the third age of information subscription & promotion. Ironically, it has only been around a relatively short time, but it’s completely altered how we communicate, interact, derive information, and sell our products on the Web. Social media sites have transformed the art of self-promotion every bit as much as Yahoo transformed search, Amazon redefined media distribution, and WordPress revolutionized website development.
There are many reasons why social media caught on as well as it did, but perhaps the most significant boon to social media came from the proliferation of mobile devices and tablet computers. What once would have been information only found on a website via a search engine suddenly became an “app” that could be taken with you wherever you go on your phone, tablet, or even your car. Hell, toaster ovens now have an operating system capable of allowing you to play Angry Birds while your bagel browns and post a status update about it in real time!
There’s still a one caveat which cannot be ignored:
You must create quality content.
This will probably sound very familiar to you writers out there. I cannot begin to tell you how many established writers and publishers I have heard who pound the simple rule of “write more, write better, write often”. It seems simple enough, but for many, it is hard to put into practice. As a writer, you cannot measure your success or failure on the number of units your book sells. The same is true in Internet marketing. You cannot measure the success of your social media efforts solely on the number of “likes” you get on a single status update or visitors to your website in a single day, or retweets on your cleverly composed hashtag. You have to “post more, post better, post often”.
So with this somewhat long introduction, what follows are some things to consider and implement when delving into social media and marketing yourself online.
1. Be honest, be interesting, be yourself.
15 years ago no one knew jack squat about George Takei other than the Mr. Sulu thing (and his embarrassing stint as a prostitution kingpin who put a pimp-smackin’ down on Melanie Griffith in that one Miami Vice episode). But today, nearly every person on Facebook has either seen or heard about one of his posts. It’s not his celebrity from Star Trek that made him famous on Facebook, but his social activism, his philanthropic efforts, and his humorous good nature about all things science fiction. He posts his own statuses, he isn’t afraid to take a stand, he apologizes sincerely and quickly if he feels he’s made a mistake. But most importantly, his feed isn’t ego driven. In other words, it’s not all about him so much as what he believes to be important and making the world a better place. Contrast this to Shatner’s or Nimoy’s Facebook presence (which are infrequent, self-promoting, and un-entertaining) and you’ll see that Sulu had the last laugh.
2. Don’t be a “one-trick” poster or a “one-issue” poster.
Remember, Facebook allows you to create different kinds of posts, i.e. pictures, text, pictures with text, links, links with text, events, polls, etc, take advantage of them all. Don’t “just” make text posts and don’t “only” post pictures. Diversify your feeds, change your timeline photo frequently, conduct polls… these different methods each represent a specific tool of engaging your audience. Additionally, there is no one mistake you can make, regardless of social media site you’re using, than this one. If all you post about is how great pineapple on your pizza is, the only audience you’re going to end up with is people whom either one, agree with you, or two, don’t agree with you. Eventually, many of the people who agree with you will feel like a choir being preached to. When your face or name appears in their feed, they’ll start to move past your posts without really paying attention to what information you’re providing (probably because they’ve already seen it elsewhere) and eventually lose interest to some degree. This will leave you, mostly, with the people who think you and your children are atheistic communists who hate America and worship the devil because of your outspoken support of tropical fruit on an Italian staple food.
3. Pace yourself.
Don’t forget the world is a big place—many, many time zones and days of the week in which your post may or may not be seen. It is best to post your updates according to whom and when you’re trying to reach. Don’t post fourteen pictures in a row of Grumpy Cat at 8:00 AM EST when no one on the West Coast is even awake and wonder why no one is commenting on them. A great tool you can invest in is a service like Hootsuite which allows you to schedule and pre-compose your posts and tweets to your various social media sites at a pre-arranged time. (*Editor’s note: I also like Buffer.)
Another mistake often made is people attempting to post too much on too many different social media sites. It is not always a good idea to set up a Facebook “Fan” Page, a Facebook user page, a Twitter feed, a Tumblr site, a GoodReads profile, a WordPress site, a StumbleUpon profile, a Reddit account, YouTube channel, LinkedIn profile… blah, blah, blah. Focus on building an audience on one or two of these—at first. Then, as you build success, branch into the others as it is appropriate to what you’re promoting and the demographic to whom you are selling. Each one of these sites is utilized and frequented by a particular type of audience in a specific kind of way. The audience you can build on LinkedIn is going to be very different than the audience you build on Tumblr.
If you have a new book to sell or site to promote and you want to announce it to the world, announce it! But “roll out” your announcement with different verbiage, at different times, on different days, and in creative ways, to your various social media profiles. Nothing speeds up the process of people passing by your face in their feed than seeing the exact same post on seven different social media sites all within an hour of each other… and then again the next hour… and then again the next hour… and again the next hour.
6. Promote the work of others.
Interact with others in your industry; post links to their work, give them attention, compliment their efforts. Altruism in promoting the work of others accomplishes two things; it makes people like you, and it makes others want to be liked by you.
7. Know when to engage and when to walk away.
This is a no-brainer. There is no need to respond to every compliment, engage in every argument, moderate every discussion, or lay down laws of behavior. Let the Internet do what it does best on your feeds; create discussion. Don’t take sides in flame wars, etc. It is a wise and successful practice to know when to say when and when to say nothing.
8. Pithy posting paints prolific pictures
I think the worst thing Facebook ever did was remove the 420-character limit on status updates. If you’re like me, you know pith and creativity make for awesome bedfellows and can provide awesome challenges to any writer. Don’t say in 500 words what can be said in 20.
9. Steal what works.
This medium of social media is meme driven. If you have someone you follow religiously online, there’s a reason why. Discover what that reason is, define how they’re doing it, modify it to fit what you do, and make it your own. Be original, but don’t be afraid to emulate what works. Don’t “copy” what others are doing, rather, study it, dissect it, then innovate it into something that is distinctly yours.
10. Study your metrics.
Nearly every social media site you use offers some means of plotting and parsing the effectiveness and outreach of its users. Take the time to learn how to access them, understand what they’re telling you, and make adjustments to how, when, and what you’re posting. A great service which consolidates this information for you is Klout. Give it access to your various social media profiles and it will track on a scale how effective your online presence is and the outreach you’ve obtained (it’s free and fairly easy to understand its interface). I can always tell when I am slacking on my posting when my number starts to slip.
So, I hope you all found something in here you can find useful. And a thanks to Annetta for allowing me to write a 2500-word article on how to be pithy and succinctly creative with social media! As I am sure many of you already know much of what I have written about (and I am sure there are plenty out there that might disagree or suggest better alternatives). Regardless, thanks for reading… now go share this article on your feed!
Timothy Smith is a professional Internet marketing consultant and owner of AASB Productions. With a 20-year background in computer sciences, Timothy has been helping individuals, non-profits and small-businesses understand how to use computers and the Internet to succeed and better communicate with the world. His recent focus is teaching and instructing others with the best practices of integrating social networking, blogging, and Web 2.0 with existing Web technologies.
He currently resides near Pinehurst, North Carolina with his wife and two dogs, Pepper & Kona.