(Image from Flickr by Jason A. Howie)
Should writers be on social media, or should they stay away?
By “social media”, I mean sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. (Technically, social media also covers blogs, but I’m leaving those out for simplicity’ sake.) There’s a good chance you have an account on one (or several) of these sites – and you may well spend quite a bit of your day chatting to friends there.
But are you wasting your time, or are you doing something great for your writing? Let’s take a look at the case for and against social media:
Why Social Media is Great for Writers…
I love making a living writing – and social media has really helped me along the way. Here’s how it might help you too:
#1: Make New Writing Friends
Social media is a brilliant way to connect to other writers and make new writing friends. While I’m also a big fan of local writing workshops – there’s nothing that can replace meeting up face to face – social media has the undeniable advantage that you don’t have to leave your house (or even get dressed).
It can also be a good way to further a real-life relationship, potentially turning casual acquaintances into friends.
#2: Networking for the Shy
For shy writers, social media is a great way to network. Although I might come across as pretty confident on my blog, I’m always quite nervous about meeting new people and I shudder at the words “networking event”. If you feel the same, you’ll enjoy social media: you can bob in and out as much as you want, and you can connect with people through the written word.
And if you do go to conferences and events, you’ll have ready-made friends – people you already know through social media.
#3: Build Your Author Platform
Your social media presence is part of your author platform. If you want to have a book published, either by a traditional publisher or as an independent author, you’ll need to be able to reach a responsive audience – your platform.
While it’s important not to only use social media and to have a blog or email list as well, your Facebook fans, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, and so on all form a part of your platform. If you submit work to agents or publishers, they may want to know how many followers you have on social networks.
…And Why Social Media Isn’t So Great
Of course, social media has its dark side. You may find that it’s:
#1: Distracting You From Your Work
If you’ve ever lost several productive hours to chatting back and forth on Twitter, clicking links on Facebook and drooling over photos of cookies on Pinterest, you’ll know how much of a distraction social media can be – especially on days when you’re struggling with your writing.
When you know your writing friends are just a mouse-click away (because they’re probably procrastinating too), it can be tough to stay focused. And while switching from your work-in-progress to Facebook to check a new message may only take seconds, it can really knock your concentration.
#2: Becoming a Bad Habit
Sometimes – and I’m ashamed to admit this – I find myself staring at the front page of Facebook and wondering what the heck I’m doing there. In a moment of idleness, my fingers have flicked open up a browser tab and headed straight to Facebook without me even thinking about it.
If that sounds familiar, social media is becoming a habit for you. Not necessarily a terrible habit – but probably one that isn’t doing wonders for your writing, concentration and productivity.
#3: Making You Angry or Upset
While social media is, 99% of the time, a great place to be, there’ll be moments when it really doesn’t improve your mood. Perhaps one of your Facebook friends never shuts up about their political views – which run entirely contrary to your own. Maybe the people you follow on Twitter have a tendency to snipe.
In real life, we rely on body language and tone of voice to help us figure out how something’s meant – and it’s easy to see the effect our words are having on others. In social media, we only have words, and sometimes a comment that’s meant in a light-hearted way can be really hurtful.
Using Social Media Effectively: My “Do” and “Don’t” Tips
Distinguish between “family/friends” and “colleagues”. Your nearest and dearest may not be the best people to support your writing – and your writing buddies or blog readers may not want to see yet another photo of your baby. On most social networks, you can create a “business” account as well as a personal one. (On Twitter, you may want to create two accounts, as Twitter doesn’t distinguish.)
Don’t overanalyse every word or sentence. As a writer, you’re unusually attuned to nuance, and one different word (or even one different punctuation mark) can alter the tone of a whole sentence. Non-writers will often completely miss this, and may well be communicating in a hurried, slap-dash way. Take a deep breath, and ask yourself whether they might have meant it differently.
Choose one or two sites to focus on rather than trying to be active everywhere. I’m primarily on Facebook (here) and Twitter (here) – I’m not especially active on other sites like LinkedIn and Google+, though I do have accounts there. Choose the sites that are a natural and easy fit for you. If you’re very short on time, Twitter’s the best one to go for.
Don’t keep social media sites open constantly. Have specific times for social media – perhaps during your lunch break, or at four pm, or in between Pomodoros. When you’re writing, close the sites. It’s impossible to stay focused if you have new alerts pinging at you every few minutes.
Let social media slide when necessary. Sometimes, something has to give. Your writing is what’s most important – your Facebook friends and Twitter followers can live without you for a few days, weeks or even months if necessary. It might not be ideal, but it’s much better than sacrificing your writing.
Don’t dismiss automation. Some people feel that automating social media makes it soulless, but it’s fine so long as it’s not the only way you use social media. Buffer, for instance, allows you to schedule messages in advance – e.g. if you want to tweet your blog posts in the middle of the night for people on the other side of the world.
I’d love to hear your views on social media. Is it too much of a distraction for writers, or are the benefits worth the time you put in? Drop a comment below to tell me what you think.