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?


  1. Social media was hyped too much, but now the results are in: it's better to just stick with what you enjoy doing and not join the bandwagon of social media for promotion or publicity. Social media works best if you use it as a means of interacting with like-minded people. There are authors who are doing extremely well without joining any social media sites, and that is because their books are good enough to sell on their own merit.

  2. Jody, I too have found social media to be a shiny, happy place with cool and generous writers, in particular. I think as with everything, you get what you give. But if Anonymous' plan was only to give in order to get, then he/she GOT the experience he/she should get. (Sorry, I didn't mean for this comment to sound like a Dr. Seuss excerpt!)

  3. I second what Sabine said. Also, I think anyone who feels shunned in social media the way Anon did, then clearly they're going in with the wrong expectations and the wrong reasons.

  4. I disagree with anonymous totally. I have discovered some interesting writing and reading through my follower's tweets and Facebook friends. Similar to you, Jodie, I try to post things of interest to me and (I hope) other writers so there's never an expectation of return favours. I let the content speak for itself and don't expect everyone I know to be interested in every single thing I say, but put it out there and see. That doesn't sound very 'sociable' but I don't have time to use the social media sites for chatting. In fact, when I get a new follower on Twitter, if their entire page of tweets is just chitchat to friends I don't follow them back. That's not to say I don't have some great discussions and debates on these sites-just that I chose my interactions carefully while protecting my personal time for other things.

  5. I taught a workshop on social media recently, and in 40 minutes felt like I barely scratched the surface. Having not read the article you refer to, it sounds like this person had some unrealistic expectations for social media and the people using it. I think your response is spot on. My big thing is that we still have to be real on social media, even though it's a virtual world. If we don't go around begging for friends in real life, we shouldn't do it on social media. Not everyone is going to like us in real life, and not everyone is going to like us on social media. And there's no magic formula for making it work. The people I connect with the most on social media consistently produce and share good conduct and are people I would like to be friends with in real life, if that were possible. I'm sorry that person felt excluded but a bitter post about social media isn't going to make it any better.

  6. Great advice. I also prefer to be honest on social media, and don't automatically follow back. I try to reply to every post directed at me, and follow back anyone who seems to have the same goals as me, has something interesting to say, or doesn't seems to be only advertising!

    I have noticed that some of the bigger known writers don't retweet, but that's ok, because I was following them to read their interesting articles, not to get retweets.

    I've been using twitter for about 6 months now, and I'm slowly starting to build relationships with people, and finding people retweeting some of my articles/comments. I think it's worth persevering.

  7. I'm going to be the voice of opposition here, because I completely understand what the "Kool-aid" blogger was saying and why. I personally pretty much ignore most social media. My brief forays into it seem to do little more than suck time. (Time I could be using to raise and enjoy my children, and time I could be using to write or minister to the ladies in the church my husband pastors.) So by and large, I don't do a lot with any types of social media. But yes, I do see writer cliques on twitter (though I don't think these cliques stay just in one social media outlet. The same Twitter friends also find each other on Facebook, start Pinterest wars, etc.)

    Anyway, I have long felt that facebook is just a means of extending high school indefinitely. Think about it. How many of your fb friends did you know from high school? Now whats the first thing you do when you meet up with them? You go check out their pictures, their houses, their spouses, their kids. Whose kids are most accomplished? Who looks the best? Still the homecoming queen cheerleader? And then there's that perfect family (like the Joneses have moved to fb), always smiling and posting about their vacation to Hawaii and trips to the park.

    I probably sound cynical and bitter. I assure you I'm not, which is why I pretty much leave social media alone. But yes, social media is definitely clique-ish. I'm really surprised more of the other commenters don't see it.

    1. I appreciate your willingness to write the dissenting opinion here. In regards to high school and Facebook friends, I feel like Facebook gives me a chance to know them better and different than I did in high school. Or college for that matter. I've reconnected with people I had almost no relationship with in high school and find we have a lot in common and struggled with the same things in high school, just in different ways. And for me, it's fun to see my high school classmates as husbands and wives and parents. Sure, there's an envy factor, but I don't see that as the norm. Maybe I'm naïve. But you're right that it has a time sucker element to it and if we don't set boundaries on ourselves, we end up neglecting more important things.

    2. LOL, Naomi you rebel you! ;-) No seriously, social media can have it's down sides AND can be a huge time suck! I see that with my kids especially! But I do think we have a warm and friendly online writing community, for the most part.

  8. Like any other social interaction, online methods are what you put into them. If you are friendly, people are friendly back. That's what I've learned.

  9. I do think there is a high school feel sometimes to social media, but I never let it bother me back then and I'm certainly not going to now. To me, it is less of a shunning issue than a group-think, "let's all dress alike". The real trick is how to stand out and make what you do unique.

  10. Wow. Interesting comments. I love social media. And personally I have discovered that all those popular kids from high school are really nice and they like me. We just didn't know each other back then. I have also discovered a lot of the people I shunned, yes, we all lived within our own hierarchy, are also really nice and that I should have been nicer and more "social" when I first met them. Social media is social. Duh. And just like IRL, you have to be a friend to make a friend. Thanks for sharing, so you around. Amy (

  11. Anonymous sounds like the kind of writer I avoid on Twitter. Like you, Jody, I follow people I'm interested in and want people to follow me for the same reason. I like Twitter because it doesn't have to be reciprocal like Facebook is.

    I try to reply to direct mentions, though sometimes I get busy during my work day and one slips through. I do reciprocate retweets, but only if the person has tweeted something I think my followers would be interested in. I'm not going to spam my followers with irrelevant tweets out of some unstated social obligation I never agreed to.

  12. Twitter, like any social media, hell, like anything you do, is all about what you make of it. I'm not a Twitter Maven; I'm too introverted for that. I never expected Twitter to be the end all and be all; it's just one of several venues I'm trying in the process of building a platform, a project that not oly involves blogging and social media, but also real life stuff like conventions, readings, and membership in several writers' organizations.
    You can't put your eggs in one basket, sorry anonymous. Nor can you give up too easily. Instant gratification is the real Kool-ade. These things take time.
    Great post, Jodi :)

  13. Thank you for all of your comments, everyone! This has been a fun discussion! I appreciate hearing all sides to the issue! :-)

  14. Jody - I feel anonymous' pain. Social media has been a terrific way for me to meet new friends, but if you are prone to depression or insecurity, it can very much feel like high school. Or perhaps a better analogy is to compare it to a business cocktail party. Plop two people in the same party - one who is extroverted and one who has social anxiety, and you will have two very different experiences. I can tell you now that there are days I love being on Twitter, and days being on there makes me feel life Bobo the Unloved Dog.

    Does that mean social media is a bad thing? Not at all - but it does mean that for many people, it causes more stress than it's worth.

    Bottom line is exactly what you said - being on social media doesn't noticeably sell more books. I believe authors should engage in social media to the extent they feel comfortable. And I believe they shouldn't feel obligated to be involved in all forms of social media either. Again, it's what they are comfortable with

    (BTW, I should add that the true key to online success is authenticity.)

    As always, a well thought out post. This is one of my favorite blogs.

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  16. I'm too busy reading books when I'm not writing to tweet. When I'm not doing that, I'm learning more about the business-something writers need to know and lack. Business is business and twitter isn't critical to business although a whole of of other things related to doing business are. Twittering is low on the must do list.

  17. I adore social media, but don't for a moment consider it any more perfect than anything else in life. I'm not sure it's possible to know if Anonymous is shy, extroverted, or much else. Who cares anyway?

    The comments that are most useful are those that address various people's expectations of social media connections, and it's fun to mull over this issue. Thanks for bringing it up.

  18. Hmm. I think Anonymous' problem is more of a case of a lack in knowledge and confidence, rather than being "shunned" in the realm of social media. I say that because a person like that should already know the nature of the beast. Retweets aren't mutual, Twitter presence is not indicative of success, and soliciting follows is pointless. I believe that while social media gives leverage to the writer, in the end it's the content that matters.

    Kristofer Mcginty @

  19. Well, if you go in with the mindset of building a network just to endorse your book online and not to actually meet people with the same work or passion, the result would be pretty much like what happened to Anonymous. I can understand that certain friendships and acquaintances meet up online, but they still talk or meet up in real life. But if you just talk to them and expect to be retweeted or linked to their network, then you’re no better than a spam bot.

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  22. That is what usually happens when someone plunges in on social media. It creates expectations, which is not good at all. Let us remember that a social media account is a personal space, where we can do whatever we want, and no one is obliged to follow or like someone else for anyone's sake. Thanks for sharing.

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