Having a social media presence is no longer an option, if you're a writer.
If you want to publish a book, potential publishers want you to talk about how active you are on Twitter and Facebook in your book proposal. And promoting your stories via social media sites is becoming every bit as crticial to the success of your career as a journalist as researching and writing those stories in the first place.
Unfortunately, we only have so many hours in the day to devote to the growing number of tasks that fall into the job description of writer. So how can we use our social media time as wisely as possible, as opposed to getting sucked into the vortex of permanent chit-chat and never actually getting any writing done? Here are a few tips, based on what I've learned through the social media school of hard knocks.
Weigh the pros and cons of allowing any of your social media accounts to notify you in real time about messages and posts from friends and followers. Instead, plan to log in to your various social media accounts at certain times of the day. If you're having a great morning writing, the last thing you need is to disrupt that flow because of a Facebook or Twitter alert.
Be honest with yourself when it comes to deciding which types of social media activities are business-building and which types of activities are just for fun. And decide how much time you can afford to spend on either/both.
Don't interpret an increase in follower numbers as evidence that your social media efforts are working. Unless you're been cleaning out your Twitter account on a regular basis with a tool like Twitblock, which looks for spam followers, and/or Just Unfollow, which helps you to identify accounts that have been created and abandoned, there's likely a sizeable gap between your total follower count and your number of truly engaged followers (the number of people you interact with on a regular basis).
Develop a social media style that feels natural to you, that encourages people to interact with you, and that isn't all about spreading content about yourself. The number one mistake that authors (and far too many journalists) make when they first sign up for social media is constantly broadcasting information about themselves. Place information about yourself in your bio and occasionally mention something related to your books/articles, but don't constantly bombard your followers with updates from Amazon.com reader reviews. You will drive your social media audience around the bend -- and away. Repeat after me: it's not all about you....
Find out how you are doing, really. If you'd like to get an objective sense of how you are doing with this social media thing (a more honest opinion than any of your friends will ever give you), you may find a social media metrics tool like Crowdbooster useful. Crowdbooster analyzes data from your Twitter account and your Facebook Pages to let you know which types of tweets and updates are the most effective at engaging your audience. (Data about the number of retweets or shares and the number of people reached is provided for each tweet or update over the past week or month -- or for all time.) As you analyze and think about this data, you can challenge yourself to create even more compelling content. After all, you're a writer.
What you shouldn't do is become obsessed by the numbers. The stats are there to serve a purpose, not to become the sole focus of your energy and your activity. And no social media stat can measure the pleasure your writing just gave to a reader who is enjoying your book on a park bench or the converation your article just sparked at breakfast tables across the country.
The online world still only reaches so far. And no tool can measure everything. It's important to keep that in mind.