Social Media for Writers: A Kool-Aid Drinking Cult?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Last week I read an interesting article about social media called, "I Drank the Social Media Kool-Aid."

The article was written anonymously and compared social media (Twitter in particular) to a "junior high school clique, an impenetrable inner circle."

And as the title of the article implies, the author apparently feels he or she has been fooled by industry professionals into believing social media was "the answer" similar to those who join a kool-aid drinking cult believe whatever they're told.

Of course I had to smile at the comparisons. They're just slightly embellished to make a point. And the point is well-taken. Anywhere we go in life, there will always be those who are unfriendly and treat us like an outsider. And I'm sure there are groups, even among writers, who get cliquish.

But strangely, I've not had the same experience as Anonymous among the large online writing community. I've had an active social media presence over the past several years. And honestly, I can't remember a time when I was shunned, where I got the cold shoulder, or when more "popular" people refused to talk to me.

I've actually had the opposite experience. I've had published authors, agents, and editors stop by my blog or interact with me on Twitter. I've rubbed shoulders with a huge variety of industry professionals.

I've found the barriers that once separated people seem to fall away on social media.

But what about those who jump into social media because they're told they must build a platform, only to experience what Anonymous did in the article listed above, the cliques or the disillusioned cult-like feeling? Why do some people end up feeling that way?

Here are a few things Anonymous said along with my thoughts:

1. Regarding giving and taking: 

Anonymous said: "I frequently retweeted the postings of a number of writers, who never retweeted mine—even though our web sites served overlapping audiences . . . They (other writers) only posted their own work and that of a handful of online associates."

My response: I NEVER retweet anyone with the expectation that they must retweet me. Never. In fact, I never endorse, promote, or otherwise help another writer expecting they do something back for me. I give without any strings attached.

Moreover, when I tweet links, I do so because I think the information is something that will interest or benefit my followers. I don't pay attention to WHO wrote the article as much as WHAT the content is about and whether it will appeal to others.

Social media really works best when we aren't thinking about what we can get out of it for ourselves but rather with the mindset of what we can do for others. And usually in the process of blessing others, we're blessed in return.

2. Regarding interacting: 

Anonymous said: "These writers gave nothing away, no response of any kind, just a surrounding silence."

My response: I always interact with people who chat directly with me (unless they're spamming me). I never intentionally ignore a tweet or comment (although some may have slipped through the cracks).

On the flip side, I don't often make the time to watch my tweet or facebook streams and begin conversations anymore. For various reasons, I've cut back the amount of time I actually socialize on twitter or other sites.

All that to say, if any writer is hesitant or feels left out, the best thing to do is to start initiating the conversations. Don't sit on the sidelines and wait for others to notice you. Like any other social situation, we have to jump right in and start talking. As the saying goes, we have to be a friend to make a friend.

3. Regarding building a platform: 

Anonymous said: "We writers are told we must have a platform, if we want agents and publishers to even consider our work, and the major social media sites are critical elements of that platform."

My response: I've recently done a couple of blog posts about social media for novelists. In my post, "The Changing Nature of Blogging for Fiction Writers" I mentioned that my large social media platform has not helped me sell significantly more books. Sure, it's been helpful in other ways. But by and large, fiction writers will build their platform by writing one great book after another.

4. Regarding followers: 

Anonymous said: "Some writers who write about writing ask that you, “Follow me on Twitter." Then I go to their Twitter page and find they have say, 6,000 followers, but follow only a tenth that many."

My response: I've made it my personal policy never to solicit follows. I don't ask people to follow me on any of my social media sites. Of course I prominently display links to all my sites. But I never demand, coerce, bribe, or beg for more followers.

I want people to follow me because they want to. Plain and simple. I never promise to follow people back either, even though I do my best. I honestly can't keep up with returning follows on all my sites, especially because it's difficult to wade through who's legit and who's spamming.

All that to say, I try to connect as best I can on social media. I want to be available, real, and helpful to my readers and to fellow writers. I may not be perfect, but if I'm having problems with connecting, I usually lay the blame at my own feet first before pointing a finger at others.

How about you? Do you agree or disagree with Anonymous? Have you found social media to be full of cliques? Impenetrable? Frustrating? If not, what advice do you have to give those who do feel shunned?

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