“The internet is forever.”
Wrong. We’ve all heard this warning. I say it to my teenage daughter all the time. But this so-called helpful advice is not only not helpful to you, if you’re like most people, it’s probably detrimental to your success on social media.
Unless you’re talking about nudie pictures, (public service announcement: don’t post nudie pictures on the Internet) letting your social media strategy be guided by the fear that any of your posts will ever be fascinating to the whole world for all time is kind of like planning your three-year-old’s career as an NBA superstar. Sure, it happens to some people, but the odds of it happening to you are just so (to be polite) ridiculously small. And, in fact, your biggest problem is much more likely the opposite: getting anyone, anyone at all, to read and care about what you’ve posted.
My day job is social media marketing, and I spend a lot of time doing it. So, from my experience, let me suggest some better, more helpful advice.
- Use fewer words. You know people do it. You probably do too. You see a wall of words, lengthy and dense, and you move along without reading it, even if you know it’s probably interesting. tldr is an abbreviation the kids use these days for “too long; didn’t read.” The attention span of the average social media user is approximately a nanosecond. Or less. Even if your high school taught the 12-sentence paragraph, as you’ve long suspected, your high school was wrong. Keep your sentences and your paragraphs short. Use lots of white space. And, lead with your important thoughts, so your readers see them before they stop reading.
- Go back and cut out a few more words.
- Don’t post without explanation. Tell people why you’re posting this picture, or sharing this person’s post. You’ll engage with them more if you let them know why you thought they’d like something or find it interesting. Social media is a chance for your readers to hear your voice, maybe understand a little of what you’re thinking, maybe respond, and to feel connected with you. So, connect.
- Avoid “saminess.” And, yes, before you say anything, that is a real word. Probably. Social media platforms all have top-secret formulas for deciding who, and how many people, will see which posts in their feeds. This is called your post’s reach. One of the things most heavily penalized is saminess. Same pictures. Same words. Sometimes you need to repeat yourself, promoting a new release, for example, but it’s important to find different ways to present it on subsequent posts.
- Vary the types of posts as well. Promotional posts typically get the lowest reach, but are the most important to you as an author. Build up the size of your audience with different types of posts, such as interesting informational or educational posts that your readers will find useful, and engaging posts that touch their emotions. No, it doesn’t all have to be your original content. It can be shares. And yes, sometimes this means kitten pictures and hamster videos. These kinds of posts help you connect better with your followers. And then, when you do promote, there will be more people to see it, and they’ll be more inclined to care.
- Avoid “selling words,” or be prepared to pay. Using words such as “on sale” or “sale price” or “to purchase” or “for more information” flags the top-secret formula that you’re advertising something. Posts with selling words have the lowest reach, because the platforms want you to sponsor or boost these posts (i.e. pay for them to be delivered to more people’s feeds.) Sometimes, that’s actually a good idea. You get to choose how much money to spend. The amount you’ll pay to get a decent reach is gradually rising, but this is still a relatively cheap way to advertise. Plus, boosted/sponsored posts let you reach people beyond those who have liked or followed you. For your first experience, start with a small amount of money, maybe five or ten bucks, and experiment with how it works. Pay attention to audience selection. You can choose your audience by age range, gender, geographical area and interests. The more you filter your audience, the smaller it will be. On the other hand, the more you filter your audience, the higher the likelihood that your post will be seen by someone who might actually be interested.
- Use pictures with every post you can. For many people, posts without pictures might as well be invisible.
- Pick the platforms that suit your style or appeal to your preferred market. There are too many to use them all. Google “social media statistics” to find out which platforms are currently popular with which gender and age group. Then get started. If you don’t yet know which ones suit your style, then just pick a popular one and try it. Feel free to change your mind after you’ve gained some experience with it. Follow other authors, and pay attention to what they’re doing, especially if you find a post engaging, or it gets a lot of likes, comments or shares, which means other people are engaged by it. If it’s working for them, give it a try.
- Don’t worry about making every post perfect. Take some chances, and find your voice. Just as in writing, where we have to turn off our editor on the first draft and just write, let yourself make mistakes starting out on social media. If you’re embarrassed later by something you’ve posted, you can go back and delete it. If you notice a typo later, you can go back and edit it. There will be awkward first efforts. Post anyway. That’s the best way to get the hang of it, and to develop your social media style. Remember that early on, not many people are paying attention to what you’re doing anyway, so try things. You’ll make mistakes. Take that as a given, and do it anyway.
- Likewise, don’t wait for the perfect topic. It’s great to post big exciting news of success, signing an agent, scoring a contract, finishing a manuscript, or releasing your next book, but you don’t wait for big news to post. Readers are interested in behind-the-scenes glimpses of the writing process and the life of a writer. It might be where you’re at in your current book, the amazing fabric you found at the quilting store, what you’re currently reading, something you learned at a workshop, an interesting post you saw on someone else’s feed, or even the color of the sky outside your window. The important thing is to provide content that someone would care about. Not sure yet what that is? Don’t worry about it. Give it your best shot. Let yourself make mistakes. You’ll figure it out. And remember, as long as you haven’t posted nudie pictures, the internet isn’t forever. It won’t be long before your awkward misfires (or even your perfect, golden flashes of genius) are buried under hundreds of subsequent posts, deep down the rabbit hole of your timeline.
by: Kristin Bayer
By night, Kristin is a playwright, and an aspiring romance author. By day she’s a digital marketing consultant and a mom. Find her at her website or on the bleachers at her kid’s game.