Wednesday, May 04, 2011

EerieCon 13 Panel (Handling Social Media)

As I promised during a panel this past weekend, as well as mentioning on my blog a couple of days ago, I thought I'd post some thoughts based on notes I took and discussion that took place during one of the panels I sat on during EerieCon 13 in Niagara Falls, New York.

This particular panel was called:

How do you handle all the social networking: Facebook, Twitter, Blogs? What if someone gives you a bad review? Panelists: Lois Gresh, Stephen B. Pearl, John Harlacher. Moderator: Mark Leslie.

The first thing to note is that none of the panelists (including myself) are social media experts. We are merely authors and creators who use social media to connect with fans, with other creators and with the online community in general - so we were speaking about our own experiences.

That being said, it became obvious from the questions that audience asked us that while we're not experts, we do have enough experience to share some basics. And a lot of the questions were from those writers and creative types who haven't done any of it and didn't know where to start. That's what I'm offering here. A basic look at where one might start. I'll make no claims to be an expert, just someone who is willing to share from his own experience.

Before I get into this topic, I should point out some speculative fiction authors I'm aware of who have a really good handle on social media. Check them out and you'll find tremendous value in what they offer and how they engage in social media.

Michael A. Stackpole (whom I regularly listen to on the Dragon Page: Cover to Cover podcast), continually offers useful tidbits and advice, both on that podcast, and on his own website. Definitely worth checking out both.

My friend, Robert J. Sawyer, also has a plethora of content useful for other writers and is a social media magnate. (His site, with over one million words, 720 documents and 25,000 links, was the first-ever science fiction author website, established June 28, 1995)

Below I'll post some links that I believe will be helpful in understanding the basics of what some social media is, but I wanted to spend some time talking about why.

Marketing guru Mitch Joel (check out his blog and podcast for incredible value when it comes to social media) regularly states to his clients that they shouldn't be asking IF they should be employing various social marketing strategies, but rather WHY? and to what end.  IE, the question isn't "Should I be on Facebook?" but rather "Why should I be on Facebook?" and "What do I want to get out of being on Facebook?" - pose that same question with each social media element you investigate.

As an author, ask yourself first WHY you want to do it and WHAT you want to get out of it. Take the time to seriously explore the details, and here's why - because engaging in social media takes time. As discussed on the panel, it usually takes at least an hour a day.

The issue for writers, of course, is that hour (or more), is most likely going to eat into time you can be spending writing new content or doing the other activities involved in writing: research, market submissions, editing, filing and organizing, planning, etc.

It's interesting to note that for the panelists, most of them (John being the exception, since he is likely the most savy of us to employ social media to connect with customers and fans, given his focus has been through his haunted house business in NYC and LA) engage in social media BECAUSE THEY FEEL THEY HAVE TO. Lois and Stephen are involved in various social media outlets (website, blog, Facebook, etc) but would rather be spending their time writing and focusing on that. This is a decent and important recognition of the time it takes away from actual writing.

I have a slightly different perspective on that - yes, I see social media as necessary, but I have also gotten so much valuable return on that investment of time, that I see it as a delightful necessity. (But yes, a huge time-sucker that takes away my writing time) - Of course, when I first got into blogging, back in 2005, I used my blog as a writing warm-up exercise. I'd blog for 10 to 15 minutes, then kick right into writing or editing projects. But often, the content itself that I've engaged in has led countless people to me and my writing, connecting me with readers (in the same manner that attending a con or book reading/signing helps me to connect with and share my writing with new readers)

My own basic reasons for having a website and being engaged in or having a blog, podcast, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads? Basically, connecting with readers, other writers and friends. But it's also important to be discoverable. So, someone hears one of my works, or reads one of my stories in an anthology or magazine and they like it and want to learn more. They should be able to type my name into Google or other search engines and immediately find out more about the author, more about the person - and potentially learn more about me and my other available works.

Once they find me, is there something potentially interesting for them to read/listen to/learn more about? I hope so. What I write isn't for everybody, but if it is your cup of tea, perhaps you'll get something out of it. That's why I continually offer free content, so people can, without any cost, sample what my writing is about. And if they like it they might either buy something or tell a friend.

But back to some basic advice if you're an author looking at getting into social media:

1) Don't dive in head first into unknown waters. Take a bit of time to first ask what you want out of it, and test the waters. Pick one or two that look interesting to YOU, register for an account, and first, just listen, check out what others are doing, follow some conversations; then, once you become a bit more comfortable, start testing it out.

2) It takes time. You start a blog, a podcast, get a Twitter account, etc from scratch. Don't expect people to come running immediately. You need to invest in and develop a community online. That means not just pushing out blatant self-promotional stuff (although you can't help buy do that once in a while when talking about your upcoming or available work or events, etc), but engaging in discussion, offering and giving to the community. Like-minded people out there will eventually connect with you. But it takes time - a whole lot of patience, time and really hard work (just like writing, which is what you already know about)

3) If it's not working for you, drop it and try something else. Most social media is free in cost (but not free in time) - it's not a mortgage that you have to invest 20 years in paying. If, after a bit of time and experimenting, it's not working, then don't waste your time doing it. (Think, again, of the way you approach a writing project - if the story or characters are not working, you try to fix it, try to change, but sometimes you just tear it up and start something else)

Here are some amazingly wonderful looks at WHAT various social media items are and how they work from the good folks at commoncraft - simple, eloquent introductions you're likely to find useful:

Social Media in Plain English
Blogs in Plain English
Twitter in Plain English
Podcasting in Plain English

Also, Chris Brogan (another social media guru and colleague of Mitch Joel), offers a great step by step suggestion for authors getting into social media - check it out, here.  Also, his book: Trust Agents, is an amazing book to read. Yes, it's for businesses, but writing is a business so books like this are well-worth exploring. You might also check out his book Social Media 101 (You say you don't read. Really? I thought you called yourself a writer. But that, my friend, is a whole other discussion for another day)

One last thing, and this is something I mentioned during the panel, and was a direct response to the question on the panel topic:  What if someone gives you a bad review?

First of all, bad reviews are part of the game, and, in my opinion, perfect evidence that not everything you write is going to be enjoyed by everybody. Get over it. If all you have are GOOD reviews, then people simply aren't being honest. Reacting to a bad review is almost never a good idea. I think the best way to illustrate this is to point to a recent online review in which the author attempts to respond to the review and very quickly the conversation devolves into ridiculous absurdity, with the author coming off looking extremely unprofessional.

Read this review, but, more importantly, read the comments - the author demonstrates (sadly, because I feel terrible for the hole she dug herself into -- no, not just a hole, a gigantic pit) how easily taking the path of commenting on bad reviews can go.

One of my fellow panelists offered this wonderful advice - don't push into social media any comment/content that you wouldn't want posted on a gigantic billboard.  Simple yet very solid advice indeed. I would also caution you not to let social media take over all of your writing time - like commenting on reviews, it's a very easy pit to fall into.

Hopefully, this post has offered at least a bit of info and links to content that you'll find useful and helpful.


Rand MacIvor said...

Great, great post Mark! Thanks!

Bill H (Ottersfan12) said...

Do you think the author's rants against the online review were an attempt to create attention for her book? I noticed she stopped commenting after other posters said the thread had gone viral. I checked Amazon for the book and 2 of the 5-star reviews were by her relatives. At least one Amazon reviewer bought the book because of the online review going viral. It worked if this was her intention but backfired against her in the end because of the poor use of English in her book.

Mark Leslie said...

@Rand - thank YOU. :)

@Bill - it appeared to me as if the author was genuinely concerned about the bad review, rather than calculating. She likely stopped once she realized she'd gone too far (obviously too late). Her emotions ran really high in her continued responses.

I know they say there's no such thing as "bad publicity" but this example of "author behaves poorly" was like witnessing a trainwreck. Personally, I couldn't tear my eyes from the scary situation, but just based on her use of English in her replies (not to mention how much the attitude turned me off) was enough for me to determine I wouldn't be wasting time looking for or reading any of her work.

Carl Frederick said...

Thanks for the terrific panel. As a result, I've now got a twitter account, learned how to 'selective tweet' to my facebook page, and signed up (as an author) at Goodreads.

And I've been able to employ my college nickname 'Frithrik' (the Old English and Icelandic versions of my name Frederick for my sign-ins.

Again, perhaps the best (and most useful) panel I've ever attended.

Lynna Merrill said...

Belatedly, thanks both for the panel and for this post, Mark. I only recently released my books and am currently in the process of setting up social media. Your information has been very helpful.

Mark Leslie said...

Lynna - thanks so much for your comment - I'm glad you found the panel and this post helpful. CONGRATS on the books and all the best luck with your dive into social media.