Herewith a short extract from my recently published non-fiction work 'Authorship Demystified. This part deals with the nightmare of social media... (or part thereof, actually)
A Visit to the ‘Social Media Arms’
..... Whilst standing at my local bar I look round to see if there’s anyone there I know. Within moments someone I’m acquainted with casually nods and we exchange pleasantries. There’s another chap sitting at the opposite end of the bar apparently ignoring everyone but actually he’s quietly watching everything that is going on. A noisy group in one corner are playing cards and making a racket. A couple of the players are trying to outshout their opponents but they all seem happy enough. In another corner three guys are puzzling over a magazine and quietly debating the pros and cons of some article that’s caught their attention. They seem to know their stuff as they put concrete arguments forward as to the content of the magazine. Behind me a couple have fallen out and are having an audible but restrained argument. Such is life at the local.
Actually, it is similar in social media circles.
For me, I suggest that people who use social media can be dissected and broken down into categories which occasionally reflect their personality.
There is an argument that account holders can be separated out into the following titles:
Users – Users are defined as people who join, read, share, interact and participate in social media activity. They are the nuts and bolts of social media and ‘make it happen’. They are the regulars in the bar. Without these people the bar is empty and social media is empty and void. These are the individuals who ‘like’ ‘follow’ and comment. It’s extremely likely that this is where new readers will emerge from
Sleepers – Sleepers are defined as people who join and read posts on social media sites but rarely interact, share, or participate in discussion. They just watch what is going on rather like the bar fly we spotted earlier in the village pub. Occasionally they come to life at Christmas, New Year, Easter and Birthdays, populate the site with love and laughter, and then disappear into cyber space until the next time.
Spotters – Spotters are those who only use social media as if it were a ‘spot prize’. That is to say, they open social media accounts, say hello to everyone and then disappear from the radar for a while. Authors amongst them then suddenly appear back on the site about a month before their book launch is due. They occupy a prime ‘spot’ on the site for the duration of the launch, create a ‘buzz’ about their book, and then slowly disappear until the next time. This category of account holder has arguably achieved an excellent work-life balance in that they write for a long period, return to Facebook for a short time, and then disappear to write for a further long period. An alternative argument exists that they are not making the best possible use of the site since, whilst they carry out promotional activity, their recruitment of followers may lack specific impetus. These comments are included here to stimulate your mind into ways that you might choose to manage social media.
Groups – A group is a collection of people who form together to achieve a common purpose. They habitually comprise of individuals of differing skills and abilities who come together to learn from each other. There is often an initiation ritual whereby entry is permitted subject to conditions laid down by group managers or founders. For example, you must be an independent author, or you must write in a particular genre, or have some particular skill factor or personality trait that defines the group. Some groups are extremely useful and share knowledge to best effect whenever possible. They have an official or unofficial hierarchical structure that becomes apparent through time. Groups tend to have their own objectives and often vote on matters within their range of interests. Sometimes these votes are in-house and stay within the group. Other times group members visit other book related websites and carry out similar voting practices in order to boost the profile of a group member or members. When this occurs regularly ethical conduct might be called into question as a false impression to readers can easily be created, but I leave that to you, the reader, to decide upon. Conformity is expected within the group. Failing to conform within a group eventually leads to being ostracised. Roles within the group emerge and power bases are apparent. Expectations rise. Competition is evident, and from which leaders emerge to impose their will on the management of the group. Sub groups are formed. The focus of the group diminishes.
Sub Group – Sub groups are formed within groups. They are often informally or unintentionally created. They offer differing beliefs and attitudes to the main group. Eventually they challenge the ethics, conduct, and reasons for the main group’s creation. At this point, the main group is likely to splinter further.
Networks – A network is made up of individuals who from together to share common objectives and similar material. There are sometimes formal and often informal networks. There is often a leader, manager or founder who formally creates a network or informally causes a network to be formed. Network members tend to begin from an equal footing. Members join groups to learn, individuals join networks to share and appreciate a stronger concept of equality. Formal networks may impose a financial entry fee and terms and conditions. Failure to comply may lead to expulsion by the founder without reference to the network members. The nature of the network is such that management is minimal since networks tend to be used by individuals who already have a sound business base or common product interest. Members of networks tend to take a substantial degree of knowledge to the network because they are often more experienced. They share information when it is in their interests and when it is appropriate in order to develop further business contacts. There is little in the way of management structure or hierarchical responses in a network. The playing field is more level for users. Statistics and analysis is prominent within networks and sharing of data within the network is a primary business function. Networks tend to be more focused and intensive and require greater input than any other social media user model. In return, a greater output for the member is often the case because of the way the network operates.
Bloggers – Bloggers are people who are competent and compelled as individuals and as such represent the top level of social media users. They tend to be supremely confident, amongst the brightest, and more successful than others. They stand alone independently with much belief in their endeavours. Sometimes they belong to groups or networks – often both – but creatively they use a blog site or website - their cyber home base - to promote themselves and often the works of those of a similar status. They draw on their experience and knowledge from multiple sources to promote themselves and their blog sites or websites. Invariably, they have a very good working knowledge of their website and tend to maintain the content and functionality themselves. Whilst bloggers may embrace many networks and groups, their true home is that of their independently maintained blog site. They tend to be highly specialised in their endeavours and selective of the people with whom they are seen to work. They search for successful people to work with or promote within their sphere of influence and are truly independent high grade social media users. They use their sites on a daily basis to promote themselves and hand-picked peers to colonise the site in a way of their choosing. Frequently, such sites offer unique and specific promotional events. A good blog site carries attractive and colourful content in both image and text format often displaying hyperlinks to multiple contacts who share common aspirations.
Associated to these categories, but standing apart, one finds a variety of websites that have built their reputation on the platform of being a ‘book recommendation’ site. I have joined many such sites and left details of my books, cover images, other images and retail links, and then retired gracefully with only a sporadic visit to maintain an interest in the site. This is not being disrespectful to the site, I argue, since some of the sites would be better described as ‘event notification’ sites. Once you build up a following in such sites be aware that they can become increasingly difficult to manage. Demands on your time are apparent and that work life balance we spoke of earlier is in danger of being tilted the wrong way. For example, logging into such sites when enjoying hundreds – if not thousands of followers in some cases – sees an author swamped with book and event notifications. Expect to be invited to review a book; download dozens of free books, asked to attend a live question and answer session with another author, vote on the best book of whenever, contribute to whether someone’s book cover should be green, blue or pink, and then update any of the groups you may have joined and deal with messages in your inbox. I’ve even been offered cooking recipes and knitting patterns on some of these sites.
Are you still a writer or has the monster of social media finally broken you? Are you now addicted to social media to the point that you have forgotten why you started writing in the first place? Are you alive and well in a cyber-swamp? Or digging an escape tunnel?
The argument is made that social media is merely an extension of the bar and is made up of real life people. Authors moving into social media for the first time should expect to encounter the types of users I have detailed herein. Going to a bar every night of the week and drinking to excess may well turn you into an alcoholic and destroy your writing ability. Using social media to excess every day may make you dependent on its existence to the point that you forget you are a writer. It is so very easy to wander into social media believing that relationships in cyber space are fairly irrelevant and can be switched off with one click. It doesn’t work like that and an awareness of the media is a worthwhile tool. Every day someone enters social media for the first time. Every day, someone leaves.
Eventually, an author might want to set up their own website or blog site. Such use should be clearly defined in the mind of the creator. As you travel through cyberspace visit lots of websites and blog sites to see how other sites are configured. Some authors carry out interviews on a very regular basis – always an excellent promotional opportunity. Many merely post details of their work and retail links. Others write articles and short stories whilst some promote and organise anthologies and blog tours. Variants organise writing competitions, quizzes, book raffles, reviews, and on line interviews in real time.
Indeed, some bloggers carry out a mixture of all the elements I have described. In nearly all cases, such authors always promote their fellow academics and have a proven readership. The size of such a following is less important in social media terms since the term ‘blogger’ is attributed to one who is capable enough to grow a selected readership by many of the methods described herein.
There is also an additional ‘value added’ concept in running your own blog site or website. I selected ‘blogger’ – a Google product - as my website simply because I favoured the Google browser. A perfect addition to my budgetary requirements, thought I. Yes, Google do indeed inhabit such a website with a few advertisements. That’s why it’s free to use and, in any event, I took the opportunity to select a regime of mainly book-related adverts on the site. You can do that if you read the small print. Many other well-known website providers also deliver very similar products.
An author can follow a step by step guide to building a BlogSpot or website. It’s really quite easy and there is an opportunity to select colour, theme, and lay out as you create your cyber home. Indeed, that’s what your visitors experience when they visit the site – colour, theme and layout sprinkled with your text and image content. Yet in the background more helpful information rests undisturbed in the admin and control panel. Go and disturb it......
..... Using data in the way described might seem cumbersome and unwieldy. Actually, it’s not at all daunting and is simple to attain. It’s not rocket science despite the cyber age. I contend it is merely using the tools provided to you by these website providers in an effective manner. For me, it represents the effective use of social media. Now all you need to do is try to be nice to people. And if you are really honest, that actually isn't as easy as it sounds.... Now please, no more knitting patterns or recipes.....