Is Social Media a Good Thing for Writers? (Pros, Cons and My Tips)

by Ali on January 15, 2014

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(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.

{ 3 trackbacks }

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Alicia Rades January 15, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Great post! I like that you’ve added extra tips, especially about choosing only one or two sites. I really only use Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes it feels other people are trying to guilt me into using everything I can. I just don’t have the time for it all.
Alicia Rades’s last blog post ..Stop Writing for Pennies Already! You Deserve Better.

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Ali January 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Thanks Alicia! I think Facebook and Twitter are great ones for most writers. It’s handy to have a Google+ profile so you can implement authorship, but you don’t need an active presence on every site going. Life’s too short!

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Allison January 15, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Ahahah I need to get off tumblr.
I think for me, it’s more of a hindrance because once I get off, I’m hooked. Waaaaay too easily.
The advice for just setting a time and x-ing out the window sounds good though–definitely something I’mma try.
Definitely going to use just one or two from now on.

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Ali January 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm

I can imagine that if Tumblr had been around in 2003, I’d’ve got into that instead of blogging… :-)

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Karine Gantin January 16, 2014 at 10:01 am

Interesting post! I have weeks with more active participation to social networks than others. Also, once or twice a year, I spend a couple of days updating, checking, waving at people on social networks. When I worked as a freelancing full-time journalist, I had around one third of my time dedicated to promoting, chasing, contacting, selling, talking to people, meeting with new magazines, and so on. I would rather consider social networking as one integral part of the time dedicated to marketing. With that in mind, I more easily sense when it is appropriate, – or a waste of time. Now, with blogging, things become more ambiguous: the social part is also a way to investigate about what is said on your subject, find information, create your own content or your own brand, and make the difference, – there are now blurring borders between the different bits of the work to be done.
Last, I love your advice about focusing on one or two social media. When I check for someone to follow, I am happy to identify one only source that I can come to in order to find the latest that has to be known.

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Ali January 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Thanks Karine! I definitely go through some more active periods than others. I agree social media is an aspect of marketing — though you’re right that it’s very easy for boundaries to get blurred, especially in blogging.

I think it’d be hard for writers to succeed without ANY use of social media these days (obviously I’m not thinking of established authors here) — but I’m sure there are also lots of new writers who spend a lot of time “building a platform” on social media without doing any actual writing.

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DJ January 16, 2014 at 10:38 am

There’s a plugin for Chrome (and possibly other browsers) that allows you to set limits on how long you spend on websites. It’s called Stay Focused. I use it and it really helps. It flashes ‘Shouldn’t you be working!’ and pulls me out if I’ve spent more than my self-imposed time limit on certain websites.

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Allison January 16, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Just installed this. I think this, paired with BlockSite add-on, will definitely be helping my productivity. :)
Thank you!

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Ali January 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Great tip, DJ, thanks!

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CliqueOut January 16, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I think it depends on the type of social media/network we’re taking about. Writers would be able to pick and choose the ones that would benefit their work, yet leave the ones they see as non-useful (waste of time).
It also takes discipline when immersing in these websites.
I consider places like Wikipedia as social media/network; information is constantly updated by volunteers.
Additionally, we need to be careful about the information we source from networks; thats’a danger for these sites = are you looking at fact, or fantasy?

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Ali January 21, 2014 at 1:20 pm

That’s an interesting thought about Wikipedia — I wouldn’t view it as a social network personally. (Though I’m sure for volunteers, there’s a strong sense of community.)

In terms of sourcing information, I’d definitely be careful: rumours can and do spread very fast on social media. As with any research, you want to look for reputable sources.

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Darnell Jackson January 17, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Excellent topic.

I think people need to remember that BLOGGING is social media and when done right this is all about starting engaging conversations about your topic.

So, yes writers should do this on social media. I recommend starting the discussion on your blog and then encouraging social media users to return to your blog for the discussion.

Post on your site share on social media.
Darnell Jackson’s last blog post ..The NEW KNEW strategy for Freelance Writers starting with NOTHING

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Ali January 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Some bloggers find they get a lot more discussion on, say, Facebook than in their blog comments — I think it depends on your audience (and also on what you nudge readers towards). I definitely agree it’s a good idea to link to your posts from your social media sites.

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Karl - Tiny Thought Guy January 20, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Ali, Thanks for the tips and input on the Social Media sites. I think you’re the first person I’ve read who provides a rational view vs. the idea that a person needs to be on every social site as frequently as possible. It seems that new authors look at established authors with a “hardcore” presence and then being new they try to keep up, not realizing that it is a staff person is most likely taking care of all the work/promotion. I believe that it is best to start with quality wherever you are and then build to quantity.

On a second point, I had been meaning to contact you to say how much I appreciated your book “Publishing E-books for Dummies.” I put reviews up wherever I could and I recommend it to anyone looking to enter the world of E-book publishing: thanks for putting that together. Just curious, how many hours would you say you spent on that book?

All the best to you for 2014 and beyond.
Karl

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Ali January 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm

I’m all for rational. :-) And yes, large brands (including big name authors!) generally have a team or admi assistant handling social media.

I’m so pleased you enjoyed Publishing E-Books for Dummies, and I really appreciate your reviews! It took me about a day a week for five months to get the first draft done, then a few more days to get the edits back to Wiley (they have a streamlined and rigorous editing process). I write pretty fast, which helped! :-)

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George McNeese January 26, 2014 at 4:27 pm

These are great time tips, Ali. I use Facebook to find writing groups and Twitter for one-on-one conversations with writing buddies. I also have a Pinterest board for props and settings. They can be distracting at times. Overall, they are helpful in developing my writing.

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M. P.WARD February 9, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Totally agree with this post .I’ve found myself so distracted from my writing by social media. I’m half way through writing my third book, in the Sea Witch series, Sam to the Ends of the Earth. Sam and The Sea Witch and Sam and the Beast of Bodmin Moor are both published now and I am beginning to worry about the distraction. I’m going to take your advice and switch off from it for a while.
M. P.WARD’s last blog post ..Blurb for Sam and the Beast of Bodmin Moor

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