Last month I facilitated a weekend-long writing/publishing workshop in Bellingham, Washington. In workshops I like to gauge the temperature of the crowd to see what concerns and anxieties people have. Our group was 27 strong, so there were a lot of them, but overwhelm and how to juggle new technology/social media was one that stood out.
Lots of writers I work with are concerned with staying on top of social media. We’re talking Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, SecondLife, and a many many others. Recently, in a mastermind group I’m a part of, a hardworking entrepreneurial woman in the group was sharing about backlinking her Digg, del.icio.us, Foursquare, and more. I only vaguely understood what she was talking about.
There are writers out there who are tremendously tech-savvy, and of course many others who are not. Most people are drawn to write because they love words, not because they love computers and html. And yet, the power of social media, and the importance of having an online presence and traffic, makes it so that you—the aspiring (or especially published) author—MUST in fact care and tend to your social media. But you can keep your social networking in check.
After all, you might ask, where does anyone find the time? Good question. The majority of the writers I work with are struggling to find time to WRITE. I try to get all my writers (except those maniacs who write every day) to get on a three-by-three schedule (3 hours, 3 days a week). But that’s just for the writing alone. Social media could easily take up that much time or more a week—and for some people it does. (For a great read on being obsessed with being connected, check out this essay by Gary Shteyngart.)
If you want to publish, at least do Facebook and Twitter—and update them. You really can get away with only doing these two, in addition to having your own website. You can link your accounts so that every Facebook post also updates Twitter, releasing you from the burden of double-posting. Later, once you publish your book, you’ll need to make a fan page for it. As far as other forms of social media go, I think it’s important to ask yourself how much time you are willing and able to commit; and it’s not just about time. It’s mental energy being expended into the universe in a particularly deliberate way. I know people who can’t go out to dinner without updating their status mid-meal. If this strikes you as problematic, set a schedule and some ground rules about when and what you’ll post online.
In her recent New York Times article, Peggy Orenstein wrote about the ways in which Twitter propagates life as performance. She writes:
“The fun of Twitter and, I suspect, its draw for millions of people, is its infinite potential for connection, as well as its opportunity for self-expression. I enjoy those things myself. But when every thought is externalized, what becomes of insight? When we reflexively post each feeling, what becomes of reflection? When friends become fans, what happens to intimacy? The risk of the performance culture, of the packaged self, is that it erodes the very relationships it purports to create, and alienates us from our own humanity.”
This is coming from a self-professed fan of the medium. Everything I’ve read about Twitter suggests that we’re waiting to see its actual capacity to sell things. It’s so much a part of the social networking landscape that it’s not going anywhere, but it still feels like people haven’t quite figured out how to harness its real power—and by power I guess I mean influencing decision-making and consumer choices. Interestingly, the authors of a book I edited called The Choice Effect did a free Kindle giveaway of their book, largely promoted through Twitter. The result: 10,000 copies downloaded. So the viral capacity of Twitter is nothing to bat an eye at; the question is, how do authors (or anyone) get similar results for things that aren’t free?
If you’re working on a book now and don’t Facebook or Twitter, start now. Do consider how connected you want to be, though. Three posts a week is a solid place to start. And keep a check on how into it you get. Try to keep it relevant to your work and/or process. If you start needing to post to Facebook every time you’re doing something fun with your family or friends, you might want to reel it in. After all, there's a name for what you might be setting yourself up for: Internet addiction disorder.