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Do Writers REALLY Need to Use Social Media Anymore?

 
By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

With the rapid growth of self-publishing, many writers have stopped putting stock in social media as a marketing tool. Instead many writers are focusing on output–creating more content to get in front of readers with the hopes that the writing itself will be the biggest marketing tool.

Essentially the strategy over the past year or two has been for writers to put a permanently free (aka perma-free) book out there to act as the catalyst to draw readers to their other books. But in order for the perma-free book to work at maximum potential, it usually has to be the first in a series. It also helps if the author has a decent backlist.

However, with every author now attempting to put out a perma-free book, the free book market has become glutted. If you're like me, you probably have dozens of free books on your Kindle that you haven't gotten around to reading yet. Unfortunately all of the free books have undermined the value of ebooks (but that's a topic for another post!).

Of course writers are trying other ways to get content in front of readers (in addition to a perma-free book). They're writing enovellas, eshorts, serials, and republishing out-of-print backlists.

But the question always remains (one I'm asked frequently by other writers, especially new ones): "How do get the word out about all of my content? Even the stuff that's free or relatively cheap isn't garnering much reader attention nowadays. So how do I get my books noticed?"

In the not-so-recent past, the typical answer would have been: "Build a social media presence, develop relationships. Then your friends and followers will want to help you get the word out because that's what friends do for each other." (Or something like that.)

All of us were at different parts of the path on the journey to publication. So those of us who were coming behind would cheer on and promote those farther ahead. And those farther ahead would do the same for friends once they landed their first deal.

With the explosion of the indie movement, the publishing journey is much shorter with fewer differentiations along the path. Almost everyone who wants to be published is published. And so that means everyone needs help with promotion at pretty much the same time as everyone else. Basically, we're all in the same place of needing to get the word out about our books.

In fact, as I thought about my early blogging friends, most are published or are in the process of it. Many of us have the same circles of influence. Some of us even have the same readers. And while we can support each other as best we can, I can only imagine that at times readers' eyes glaze over at the barrage of promotion they get from all of us.

In addition to the over-saturation of promotion among social media, the nature of social media is constantly in flux. New ways of relating come up that make the not-so-old seem antiquated.

Does that mean social media is fairly useless to writers as a marketing tool? Should we just throw in the towel and do nothing?

At this point, I  don't think writers should close up their social media accounts. Yes, I think a writer's focus should remain on producing content. We should have a perma-free book even if it's only a novella (like mine) or an eshort. We should continue to have a large volume of books (including backlist) available for purchase; occasionally we should even put them on sale to draw attention to our front list books. We can make use of BookBub and other promotional sites.

But we can't completely neglect social media. With patience and perseverance, with consistency and a little more creativity, the various outlets can still be an effective way to reach readers with the news of our books.

Above all, social media is an awesome way to connect with readers on a more personal level (and not just when we're trying to promote our book). I want my readers to know I'm here, I'm available, and I appreciate them. I don't want to be the kind of snooty author who sits away in her ivory tower pumping out book after book with the attitude that I don't have time to mingle with the masses.

Rather, I'd like to be known for my warmth, compassion, and accessibility. To me, being an author is more than just about my books. Yes, I want readers to find hope and enjoyment in the stories I tell. But I also want to be known as a real person who cares. Social media allows for that . . . if we do the work to make it happen.

What about YOU? What do you think is the role of social media in the writer's life nowadays? Has it stopped being an effective marketing tool?

23 comments:

  1. I swear sometimes you're in my head, Jody. I've been on social media less lately. Mostly because I realized I didn't have a lot to say that wasn't about my writing (and even I get bored talking about that on social media and seeing authors talking about nothing other than their writing). Plus, I'm still private about my life and my family (unlike some writers), so that kind of cuts down on what I can talk about. Plus I found as soon as I went on social media sites, I'd end up on them for too long and my productivity would take a huge hit...even if I had only planned to be on them for 5 mins. And given the games FB plays with us, some days I wonder why I even bother. Sure there are new sites to check out, but that only adds to the time suck as you try to build your following from ground zero and still play around with the other sites because not everyone has moved to the new site. It's all very frustrating.

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    1. I totally hear you, Stina! Social media can be a huge time suck. And most of us are already struggling to find enough time to give to our writing let alone social media. That's why I've determined to do my writing work first and save social media for my "leftover" time (if that makes sense!). And it really has been unfortunate (and disheartening) to see the changes in FB policies over the past couple of years especially with their drive to monetize everything to increase their profits. But, most of my readers still hang out on FB as their primary social media and so while it may not work as a marketing tool (all that effectively), it is a wonderful place to hang out and connect with readers.

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  2. As a reader, I honestly like authors who use social media....and use it well. I have bought and read many books simply because I talked to an author on Twitter. This doesn't mean they were pitching their book to me, or even talking about their book on their Twitter feed. They just talk about regular stuff..things I had interests in and because of our interactions, that is what caused me to want to read their books.There was an author who we somehow got connected through a shared love of live tweeting during The Walking Dead. While their occasionally would tweet about having a new book, because they never forced it on me, it mad me want to go out and read it.

    Far too many times, I'll get followed by an author and I see their Twitter feed is nothing but a billboard for their book, asking people to read it or buy it or review it and nothing else. Then because I didn't do what they wanted, they promptly unfollow me. I'm sorry but you're not doing social media well then. Because...it's called SOCIAL media. Interaction goes a long way.

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    1. Love hearing your perspective, Deborah! Thanks so much for chiming in! As you said, writers need to keep the SOCIAL in social media! Ultimately that's what it's for! But at the same time, it's also a good way to keep readers up-to-date on releases, giveaways, and other happenings. That just can't be the only thing or it does become a turn-off!

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  3. Great post, Jody! You totally nailed the current situation. I love your solutions too. I know someone who pretty much exhausted getting any of her Facebook friends to buy her book and then just left Facebook. i can see from the time suck side but I thought it looked so rude to go somewhere new to find more readers and just leave all your FB friends dangling.

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    1. Thanks, Catherine! It's amazing how much things have changed over the past couple of years, isn't it? I wonder what we'll be saying two years from now! :-) I'm sorry to hear about the FB incident you experienced. Sadly, that's all too true. I get FB requests from people quite frequently asking me to go check out their books. And I almost always ignore those requests. For one, it feels pushy. And second, that's just not the point of social media, to connect with someone with the intention of trying to make a sale.

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  4. I follow several writers on Twitter, and occasionally I'll retweet links to their work to help promote it. But I've found that there are some other writers who follow me on Twitter not because they're actually interested in my Tweets, but because they want me to RT them. Even if I follow back, it's often not enough because they just want me to RT links to their books. Most writers don't do this, of course, but I have encountered some who do on Twitter.

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  5. I think if authors are just wanting to use Social media to sell their book, yes. They likely should leave it. Social media is for social networking. The bible verse comes to mind… “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly..” Proverbs 18:24, KJV.
    You can't just post about your book and expect people to buy it. Even posting your same book for free or on sale over and over. It doesn't catch people's eyes that are buying books. But connect with the reader, find something you have in common. It might be another author's books, it might be a TV show, or that you enjoy carrot cake. They connect with you. Then they notice "Hey, she is an author. I might want to buy her book." I have bought and read books solely because the author took time to connect with me. I am not only an avid reader and writer, but I am also a book reviewer/buyer for a small bookstore. I know that often when I recommend a book, people buy it. There are not hundreds of them yet, but they have connected with me and trust me. So, when I connect with an author on social media, they are not just connecting with me, they are connecting to the several hundred friends I have as well. They are connecting to my book groups. I will talk about what I read. So, that is my push for authors to stop promoting their books the way they think sells them and connect with readers on a more personal level. Does it take more time? Yeah. But it pays off.

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  6. I loved this Jody! I'll admit, a tiny piece wanted you to say: "Rest easy, everyone, you don't have to do social media anymore!" To which I would've said "Freeeeeedom!"

    Just kidding, I actually really do like social media and I agree, it's an awesome way for authors to keep in touch with readers and build genuine relationships. But I'll admit, I did get to a point where I realized I had to allow myself to slack off. I know lots of people who believe (and strongly) that authors need to tweet X times a day and make sure to post links to this and that and schedule everything ahead of time and...etc etc etc. I can't do that. Following too many rules just ruins social media for me AND it takes away the "social" aspect. I think it also loses some of the "real time" genuine-ness of an author's presence online...if that makes sense. So awhile back, I decided to stop listening to the rules and just use it the way it works for me, keeping it fun and social. :)

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  7. What a great post! I, too, find social media to be a part time job, and full time for others. Although, and this may show everyone that I am in my 40s, I still think word-of-mouth is a powerful tool. Sometimes, you pick up a book because you liked the author, the book cover caught your attention or the blurb sounded different and amazing (that's how I read "Twilight") Then you tell a few friends and two of them read it and love it and it just snowballs from there. That's how I discovered "Outlander" in 2002. I'm kind of like a child: if someone is shoving a book in my face (Gone Girl) and yelling at me to read it and I see the cover on every site I visit, I am going to back down, cross my arms and say "no". I eventually read "Gone Girl" a year later as someone left it at my house and the hype had died down enough that I gave it a shot. (I didn't like it in the end, lol.) I do like Goodreads and Twitter and being able to connect with like minded people that way and get titles to try from them.

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  8. Interesting points. I think of social media the way I've always thought of it...a way to connect and learn.

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  9. I've become really disheartened with social media - both personally and professionally. I switched gears with Twitter recently and really focused on just trying to interact with people - making no mention at all of my writing or my books, unless it was broached by others. I found myself completely bombarded by others doing the hard sell, auto DM'ing and asking me to like this or that. Whenever I tried to just converse...crickets. Nothing.

    With Facebook, I rarely post to my page because of the policy changes and the blatant manipulation of the page by Facebook that restricts page views and therefore interaction.

    In my personal feed, I see a lot - A LOT - of rubbish posts - Memes and links to articles which are just click bait to enhance SEO rankings. Now, I know I can't control the kind of content my friends post but what I have noticed is that the ability to engage on a conversational level is much much harder. When I have tried to engage by commenting on something, the best response I might get is a like - even when I ask a follow up question to encourage the conversation onwards.

    So, the result is that I've withdrawn significantly from social media in the past six months - both professionally and personally. As I prepare for the release of my new novel this year, I will consider the worth of social media as a tool to advertise it but I don't think it will be a priority for me. I will look for other avenues.

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  10. I've been struggling with social media for the last several months. I try to be active and involved, but find I'm not getting much return on my investment. I find I'd rather be producing than promoting.

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  11. I agree that the priority needs to be creating content but it's not time to close down those social media accounts. They are a viable way to promote yourself, share snippets and connects with readers and other writers - all major advantages. The key is to avoid spending hours on social media rather than writing.

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  12. Jody, you're discussing what has been going through the head of lots of writers lately--do we have to spend so much time and effort on social media? In my case, like a lot of writers, I'm really an introvert...yet we're expected to keep our names in front of readers and mention our books via social media. Even if we follow the 70/30 or 60/40 rules (make posts and tweets about our work only 30-40 percent of the time), it still feels like I'm being a marketer. And I don't like it. When you come up with a final answer, let us know. Meanwhile, thanks for kicking off the discussion.

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  16. You choose good topic.. As a content writer i feel its necessary to maintain social media accounts for a writer. You can tells about your latest content on social media it helps a lot to getting more viewer for your content. As i writing cover letters for a living so i always maintain my all social media accounts properly.

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