Putting the "Social" Back in Social Media

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Lately, I've observed a disturbing trend among the writing community on social media sites—the lack of interaction. Hordes of writers are populating Twitter and Facebook. But over the past year, there's been a steady decline in person-to-person socializing among all those writers.

Instead of having real-time communication, nowadays social media—particularly Twitter—has become one big infomercial.

As I watched the live stream of tweets one morning, almost every tweet was a plug for something. Here are just a few of the tweets I saw in about one minute of looking:

"I'd love more 'likes' on my FB Author Page. Help me out, but only if you want to [insert link]."

"Some of the best fantasy in the world comes from right here [insert blog]. Stop by and follow to keep up with the best."

"Don't forget your favorite vampire antho is now in the #kindle store! [insert link]"

For every one tweet from someone attempting to have a real conversation, there were about 10 tweets from people promoting books, blogs, businesses, or some other social media site.

The twitter stream that morning was mostly SPAM. And watching it disheartened me.

I think there are a number of reasons for the decline of socializing on social media sites:

1. The newness of a site fades and the initial enthusiasm wans. When that happens we tend to slow down in how much time we spend on particular sites.

2. We don't know what to say anymore. Perhaps after time we've said everything witty or interesting about ourselves, and we don't feel we have anything left to say.

3. We've grown disillusioned with social media. Perhaps we thought it would bring about some measure of success. And when that didn't happen as quickly or easily as we'd hoped, we fall away from using it regularly.

4. As we add in more social media sites, we become spread too thin. We don't have the time to spend on each site to adequately connect with our followers in meaningful ways.

5. As we become busier in our writing careers, we've had to prioritize our workload. Socializing on twitter or facebook has to take backseat to other responsibilities.

6. After trying to do it all, we eventually get burned out. We tell ourselves that we don't want to disappear completely, so we schedule interesting links, quotes, or promos about our books in order to keep our avatars in the public spotlight.

All of the above can happen to the best of us. I'm guilty. There are times when I've been too tired or busy to socialize. It's during those lulls that I fall into the trap of sending the "social" in social media on a vacation and start treating my sites like billboards. When we reach that point, we're better off to give ourselves a break, unplug for a few days or a week, and then come back energized.

Even though all of the above factors have likely contributed to all of us misusing social media on occasion, I think the BIGGEST CULPRIT in the demise of socializing on social media is the increased numbers of authors jumping into self-Epublishing. 

The self-Epublishing surge has increased the numbers of books being published as well as the number of authors needing to promote. As more and more authors (traditional AND self-published) compete to attract readers, they become more desperate in their marketing efforts. Many mistakenly believe that social media is the magic bullet in the scramble to get "discovered." And many also mistakenly employ traditional marketing methods on social media.

And thus our twitter streams have become clogged with everyone shouting about their books. But as the shouting has grown louder, no one can be heard any more. It's just noise. A lot of unpleasant noise.

So what am I suggesting? Should we stop promoting ourselves and our books on Twitter?

After all, I'm not really sure that social media boosts sales. (Read my recent post: Does Social Media Really Help With Success?)

Perhaps we don't need to take a drastic approach and cut out any mention of our books at all. But maybe we can work harder at putting the social back into social media, in making social media a community where we can come together for support, encouragement, and information.

Even if we never sell another book as a result of social media, we can all still benefit from being apart of the community of writers who are there for one another in all of the challenges we face.

Social media can be a place where we can share our joys and frustrations with other writers who "get it." It can be a place where we learn collectively how to be better writers and navigate the ever-changing industry. And it can definitely be a place for us to relate on a personal level with our readers.

I like Kristen Lamb's Rule of Three for social media interaction: 1/3 Information (link to your blog), 1/3 Reciprocation (RT for someone else), 1/3 CONVERSATION.

So no, it's not "wrong" to post informative links to blogs or to retweet or make an occasional plug for your book. BUT, we can't do it to the exclusion of having conversations.

We need to be there and be real. Because ultimately people are more important than products.

How about you? Have you noticed a decline in interaction on social media and an increase in promotion? How does it make you feel? 


  1. I've been guilty of "falling-off" lately in not having conversations and just getting bored with twitter all together. And then there's Pinterest and avoiding entirely due to the recent blog out there about one author being sued big time for using an image on her blog. It makes me leery.

  2. I like the 80% - 10% - 10% rule for Twitter:

    80% supporting other people.
    10% conversations and socializing.
    10% sharing your own good information.

    I develop "lists" for Twitter. I have the main one, writer-Tweeter ones, A-Z Challenge Bloggers, and a few private lists (friends, agents, "don't miss," etc.) so I can see Tweets from certain people without having to dig through a cluttered Twitter stream. When I find a new person to follow, I'll often add them to my private "don't miss" list. If they do nothing but Tweet links to their blog, book, FB page, etc., well, they get pulled from the "don't miss" list.

    I've been on Twitter for several years now, and I still love it. I don't see myself leaving that channel anytime soon. But I've learned to sift the wheat from the chaff. ;)

    (PS: Jody, you are DEFINITELY on my “don't miss these Tweets” list!)

    1. Thanks, Tracy! I like your break down for Twitter too. It really is about looking for ways we can support each other. And if we're keeping our eye open for ways we can encourage others, then we're all going to be blessed by social media!

  3. I love Twitter. But I've definitely noticed Twitter becoming less social. In fact, I have slowly restructured many of my Tweetdeck columns to eliminate some of the noise in the columns where I "socialize."

    Interestingly, I have one column in my Tweetdeck that is a group of authors that I don't socialize with necessarily, but I watch. A kind of research, I guess. And I noticed a while ago that suddenly every single avatar flowing through that column was a book cover. What's that about? Suddenly I was expected to socialize with a book instead of an actual person? I don't know. It feels silly to think about that, but suddenly that "person's" twitter feed felt like an advertisement instead of a person who wanted to connect with me or anyone.

    I guess what I'm saying is... I would love to see more social in social media.

    1. Hi Heather, that's an interesting point about the book covers as avatars. I know some agents and marketers who encourage their clients to use their book covers as avatars. So that might be why that's happening. But I agree with you one hundred percent. When our avatars are book covers then it does begin to feel like the book is paramount. I've steered away from using my book covers as avatars, and I think you summed up why! Thank you! :-)

    2. Personally, I like my book cover better than my pictures : ) But I guess you have a point in making it personal. Will have to think about it and take a bunch of pics to see if I can find one of me I like.

    3. I by no means say this to hurt anyone's feelings. I do get why people use their covers. And I think it's great to keep book covers out there and on people's minds. I just think it's a decision that shouldn't be made lightly. I think marketing ourselves and our writing is so, SOOOO hard, and we shouldn't be afraid to try different things. BUT, I also am afraid we are forgetting the purpose behind social media - to have one big social conversation. And I find it difficult to build relationships with things or books. I like communicating with friendly faces.

  4. Once more, excellent points, Jody!
    You seem to have a lot of important and great ideas and I always appreciate it when you share it here with the rest of us.
    AMEN! '..maybe we can work harder at putting the social back into social media.'

    a lovely day to you all =)

  5. I've noticed plugs for books are ever increasing. I even stopped going to Twitter because it didn't turn out to be the "social" place I had hoped it would be. I like Ganise's idea, work at putting the social back in social media. I may work on that.

  6. I'm so not a math person but Kristen Lamb's thirds idea sounds pretty solid!

    ~ Wendy

  7. Good morning, everyone! I'm glad that I'm not the only one who's noticed the decline in interaction on social media these days! If we work together, maybe we can set a new trend for actually socializing on social media! :-)

  8. Jody, you hit many great points! As a debut author trying to find my way around all this it's been a struggle.

    I also learned from a social media guru friend that for every 10 tweets about others/conversation to do 1 of your own plugs. My publisher also recommends I do 2 tweets a day with direct buy links to my book. I dont think that's too much. Tweet Deck really helps categorize folks I like to have conversations with. I've also put together a list of people who have grown as my "street team" on their own - people who tend to RT me a lot. I RT back and visit their blogs. And I like that I have grown side friendships with many as well leading to FB friends and guest posts on each other's blogs.

    All this social media can really kill writing time! And as an author with 1 book out I know I need to build my audience with another book out and another..while still having conversations.

    I've decided to focus on 3 places: twitter, FB and GoodReads. No more please!

    AND you are right about the "noise" on Twitter. I did Triberr for a few months but my twitter then seemed clogged with spammy posts of people I mostly did know or even read their posts. So I got off that and decided to have more conversations and you know what? My blog traffic stayed the same AND my twitter/FB followers continued to increase.

    I think if we all try to reduce the noise and open up new conversations we can really meet one another and learn more about our world and the people in it!

    1. Donna, I like your 10-1 break down as well: 10 tweets about something else to our 1 promotional tweet. I think that two times a day promoting links about our books could be a bit much though. Even during a launch, I usually don't link to Amazon or other online stores. I link to interviews or guest posts more often during a launch. And sometimes I link to blog reviews, but I usually don't put out a link to an online store. Most people aren't going to follow the link and I'll likely only irritate my followers by constantly putting it up. As you said, we're really all better off reducing the noise and engaging in real conversations!

    2. It's funny, as I don't feel comfortable tweeting direct buy links myself and agree on your approach.

      If I have a new review I love, I do post that instead, and guest posts/interviews as well to inspire people to visit and chat. I've also decided to step away from a regular blog schedule (I never felt all that comfortable doing it anyhow) and write guest posts for other sites. I love to have visiting authors on as guests too - so it works both ways. Thanks Jody!

  9. You're right, Jody. I have my twitter feed on the screen next to your post and most messages include links and "invitations" to try an author's book. It's fun to discover what people are authoring, but the constant commericals built into these messages is overwhelming.

  10. Wow! You must have been reading my mind. When I started using Twitter, it was like having my own personal magazine of writers' resources. Other writers shared great links to their own articles and those of others, and I did my best to do the same and retweet the ones I liked. I explored and learned and shared and felt I was part of a great community of writers. Today, when I go on Twitter, finding those gems is a challenge. I scroll through promo after promo and it's very disheartening. I do promote my work, but my promos are rare and I usually like to give something away when I do, or invite people to use a resource that I have that they can use. I'm not ready to give up yet, but I am going to think about my investment in my social media time. While I work on that I'll keep scrolling, and try to find a balance that works for me between my interacting and promoting.

  11. I agree we need to be more social...connecting person to person:) I only send 1 or 2 tweets/day so I like the Rule of 3 too...just makes sense. Good post!

  12. Thank you for this post, Jody!

    I'm a social media coordinator for a university by day, so I see more social media faux paus than I care to admit. It is easy to become "social media sour" and I find myself unfollowing and unfriending people at a higher rate.

    Social media marketing is not marketing. It is relationship building. All the 90/10 rules are spot on - and I'll reference Rachelle Gardner's most important 90/10 rule of all - spending 90 percent of your time working on your craft and 10 percent marketing and social media-ing. :-)

    Social media is a new world and constantly evolving, but the same social rules that apply in a cocktail party apply online. If you go around selling your product the whole time, people will stop listening.

    Let's be social, people, not salesmen. ;-)

  13. Hey Jody! I agree. I heard another writer say that Twitter has become this giant bulletin board with advertisement after advertisement...I'd agree. While I interact with writing friends there, I notice a lot of people don't. And I think you're right. Much of the "noise" comes from people who are self-publishing. Not that there is anything wrong with self-publishing...I understand it must be difficult to find way to promote. But I've got to think there has to be a better way. I seriously skim over those and don't even read them! I should start using lists to filter some of that out...

    1. Lindsay, LISTS are a lifesaver on Twitter. Without them, I wouldn't be able to wade through the spam. However, I've noticed even within my lists, a lot less interacting. But still, all my many lists help me keep up a little bit.

  14. I'm a self-pubished writer but I have never used twitter or facebook. What you describe sounds most disagreeable. When I go to the Kindle sites occasionally (the public ones not the ones for writers) I find them unhelpful for the most part and downright rude and insulting at other times. I guess I just don't like the idea of being friendly with someone with an ulterior motive. It reminds me of the candle or houseware or make-up parties that some people hold and invite their friends and relatives to. You end up buying something overpriced that you don't need and feed slightly used at that. I don't know what the solution is.

    I'm happy to be able to write publish and garner a few readers. I think it is difficult if you have a sales goal you need to work towards.

  15. I believe there is more thought on comments in the blogosphere than the general social media. If you take time to read a blog and find something relatable, your comment may or may not be thoughtful. Maybe we are too rushed in this technology age.

    I agree: don't promote your book, blog, etc. in the social media and that just sets up less followers and an unlikeable image. If you are dying to have followers, then comment and slowly but surely, you'll gain your followers. I've been running around the blogosphere and commenting and it has lead me to some followers... They'll come but don't rush it.

  16. I have noticed that some of the writers I follow do a lot of promotion and not a lot of conversation, from looking at their stream. Once I have enough followers, I might need unfollow those that I don't think it worth perusing as a connection. It's not worth following someone if all they do is promote--and you're not interested.

  17. I agree! And more interaction. So many authors do not acknowledge people commenting on their posts.

    1. Martha, I agree. Interacting within blog posts is important too. I don't automatically respond to every comment. I don't have the time to do that without leaving trite answers. I'd rather pick a few comments that resonate or answer questions which allows me to give a little more thought to my answers. And hopefully blog readers will know that I'm present and involved, even if I can't directly respond to each comment.

  18. Jodi - as a newer Twitter user, I'm really struggling with this issue. I can't keep up with conversations between advertisements and I just get discouraged. I linked my blog to my twitter account just so that I can contribute but I'm sure it seems like advertising, too. It's not ALL social media that I dislike - I love the interaction on FB and between me and my blogging buddies (like this!) because it means that people are stopping, listening, reading, processing, and responding - they're real. Twitter seems to have eliminated the "real" aspect for me.

    Thanks for sharing,

  19. Such wise words, Jody. Lately I've been feeling as if Twitter is a rolling list of links. I try to promote others, but then I'm adding to the Link Pond. I miss having conversations with friends and getting to know followers.

    I'm still trying to find the right balance.

    1. The balance is difficult to find! I really appreciate all of the links that I find on Twitter to blog posts about the industry or writing. The links have helped me grow enormously! BUT, I don't JUST want links. I'd like to engage in real conversations too where we're sharing our joys and frustrations together. Sometimes, though I think it's easier and less time-consuming to throw out links and call it a day. It takes more work to interact.

    2. You're right. I've also learned a lot through the blog posts I've found about the industry, writing and blogging. However, I too have noticed that the home feed has become clogged with promotion. I rarely look at it anymore. I use the @ connect column for conversations (though few of them lately because of a very busy summer), and I find blog posts through hashtags. Yet I can understand why people post repeated tweets because their tweets disappear from the hashtag feeds quickly (and none of us can afford to spend endless hours on Twitter so that nothing is missed).

      Frankly, if I didn't enjoy conversations on Twitter and continuously meet terrific new people, I wouldn't spend much time there. It's sad to see fewer and fewer conversations, but I'm hoping this is a summer phenomenon caused by vacations and outdoor activities and by just not being online as much. Summertime used to be full of laid-back, lazy days, but it's become nothing but go-go-go.

      That said, I have to confess that this summer I've been online so infrequently that I've been guilty of posting more tweets about blog posts (mine and others') than engaging in conversations. I resolve to do better!

  20. Yes, and that is exactly why Social media can get a bad name. I don't want sales advertisements and pleas for joining a FB or Twitter. I want to build a community of friends. Really. I do.

  21. I'm not on Twitter, but I think that reading several Tweets in a row that are just about self-promotion would be like watching nothing but commercials on TV for an hour. (No thanks!) It's good that the authors are trying to promote their books, but like you said, social media should primarily be about social interaction. Making connections with other people is the best part of blogging.

  22. I've grown increasingly shy about promoting my books on Twitter and Facebook, purely because I'm so irritated by authors who seem to do nothing else all day. At the moment, due to time constraints, I probably retweet more than I tweet, but I try to engage directly with others on my timeline even if it's infrequently. I honestly believe that people who use social networking sites solely for marketing purposes are missing the point, but then I'll never be a marketing expert ;)

  23. Jody, you must be reading my mind! I've only been on Twitter for a week, and I am SO turned off by the constant barrages of self-promotion. I don't see how it could attract anyone unless you're a huge author that wants to get out some info on their upcoming book or something else. Otherwise, it does the opposite for me - instead of sparking my interest, it sparks my disdain and makes me want to UNfollow the person.

  24. I've never really been able to get into Twitter for that very reason. The few times that I have tried to use it to connect I usually get ignored...

  25. I know my social interaction has declined on Twitter -- and I happen to love Twitter. But deadlines (and wildfires and weddings) take precedence over tweets -- and chatting via Twitter.
    I do try to promote others online, even as I tweet about my blog post or my book (occasionally). But I miss the chit-chat part of Twitter -- the social interaction.
    It's the time constraint that challenges me -- the whole "There's only 24 hours in a day" truth -- and I'd like to use some of them to sleep.

  26. Great post, and some fantastic, thoughtful comments. I also have dismayed watching screens and screens of book ads go by. I try to talk about things other than books, and try to start conversations, but people rarely bite. It can be very disheartening and lonely.

    I never automatically follow back and my readership is much lower than most people because I unfollow spammy, boring people, and they probably end up doing the same to me.

    But I guess it's just part of the Me, Me, Me world. I am SO thankful to my best friends on twitter, who are equally interested in conversation.

  27. Awesome post, Jody, great points and a very true fact that's happening with social media -- Twitter & Facebook alike. When writers turn to spam bots, it completely defeats the purpose and main advantage of social media.

    A friend and fellow writer/blogger, Kern Windwraith, also voiced her concerns with this trend, which is unfortunately also supported (though not by intention) by Triberr. I couldn't agree more with her, and with you.

    And yes, Kristen's perspective is straight to the point. I love her books & her blog, and she's a great role model in this respect. ¨
    I think more writers should seriously consider what they're doing on social media platforms. :)

    Thank you very much for this post, Jody. Great arguments.

    1. I've heard Triberr has contributed to the problem too. Unfortunately, we're all busy. And we're all looking for ways to cut back on other commitments so that we can devote more time to writing. But a couple of real tweets a day or even one real comment a day is probably going to go further than a whole bunch of spam comments that people won't read anyway.

  28. Great post, lots to think about and good to read the comments.

    Twitter's changed as you'd expect anything to as more join. Many don't chat at all and use it purely to promote. That makes it tougher to keep it social but adds a deeper dimension too. I get all my news via twitter each morning. I might not have been blogging or have written any novels (ok still in draft form!) if it wasn't for twitter.

    Through Twitter, I've met some wonderful writers, found out about great events and made some new friends in real life! Oh, and I have lost many hours of my days too.. Hours when I could have been editing or reading.. hmm.. xx
    (looks like I might be anonymouse..;) not sure why. @LynneinPborough

  29. You are absolutely right, and I have been guilty lately. I'm coming off a 2-day free promo and trying to keep my sales spike going, but I think it's time to dial it back to my 1 book link a day. Thanks for the nudge!

  30. As someone who just jumped into Twitter, I'm glad to hear these comments: I thought it was all my fault that I'm having trouble having any sort of conversation there. It's hard to strike up a conversation or start a relationship when all you get is "read my x" tweets.

    I told myself I'd give the Twitter thing a try for a month, but so far I'm not very impressed...guess I'll just have to keep trying for now.

  31. I HAVE noticed this. I don't mind promotion. We all do it. I'm nervous before I put something on twitter/facebook that is "promoting" my book, and try to make sure it is not frequent.

    I'm seriously thinking about unfollowing a few people where it is excessive. I'm not good at doing that, but I think there ARE a lot of social tweets out there, they just get lost in all the other tweets that it's hard to find them!! I feel mean doing that though... but I really DO love using social media for social purposes;-)

    I miss all our hilarious twitter conversations!!! :-)

  32. Excellent point! The best way to ruin social media is to make it distant and meaningless.

  33. I've been on Twitter for a couple of years, but only really starting participating in the last few months. Even in that time I've noticed an increase in the promotional stuff. Some of it is great (like that I now have so many free books on my Kindle I don't think I ever need to be worried about not having something to read ever again, not to mention all the great new authors I've discovered!)

    However, the neverending "buy my book / link to this blog with a review of my book / quote something great someone said about my book" I can only tolerate for so long. I recently unfollowed one person because not only was every single Tweet a promo for her (self-published) book, but they would be three-four times a day. If someone wasn't interested in buying your book at Tweet #1 I can guarantee they aren't buying it by Tweet #4!

    I have to say one of my favorite Tweeters is Jenny B. Jones. I've never seen her promo one of her books, all of her promos are about other people and pretty much everything else seems to be random comments that are really funny. She's brilliant!

  34. Who has access to your social media web sites? Can any individual post feedback? It is important that anyone check your safety settings in all your web sites.

  35. Social media participation becomes one of the things i doesnt fail to do everyday. Twitter for timely updates about current happenings, FB for personal use and Linkedin for a good read.


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