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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Building Your Professional Social Network

In the digital age, it's become easier for authors to both market themselves and their books. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter,, can also be used as effective promotional tools.

However, as with any other aspect of promotions and marketing, there are both effective ways to have potential fans follow such authors, as well as common (and not so common) faux pas to avoid.

So how can authors become successful in becoming better connected on social networks? The following points are a few examples on how such networking can work for you:

1. Be classy with your profile picture. Readers like nothing more than to have a face with the name whose book they are reading or want to buy. However, be careful with selecting a picture.

Book covers (as good as they are for promotional purposes), pictures of landscapes, anime characters, celebrities, etc., will give an indication that you're hiding something. Having a presence as an author with a aura of mystery sounds exotic, but social network sites aren't the place to be mysterious. It just defeats the purpose of having an effective Web presence.

Wedding photos chosen for your profile are also a definite no-no. Posting such the first few weeks after your wedding is fine, but your portrait from twenty-five years ago is better off in an unrelated album, if you place them online at all.

Photos of you scantily clad, party pictures depicting you with a disheveled appearance, holding some kind of alcoholic beverage and/or appearing inebriated, pictures making obscene gestures shouldn't be considered at all as profile pictures. Not only do such look unprofessional, but also keep in mind that such pictures will give everyone from potential book buyers, employers who may be interested in offering you a plush job, literary agents if you're seeking representation, publishers whether or not you're already published (there's always better book deals, after all), and web site hosts looking to help promote your books the wrong impressions about you. As a result, they will move on to the next person.

Taking photos of yourself in a bathroom mirror often don't turn out well, plus it gives the message that you don't have anyone take an effective picture for you.

Posting a simple head-and-shoulder photo on your profile page, or one with your latest book, are the best choices. Though a professional shot is a sure bet, even a good at-home shot taken by a friend on your phone, digital camera, or even a web cam will suffice as well. Above all, try to look pleasant and approachable!

2. Use "you" as opposed to "I" or "me" in most messages. Cliched as it sounds, the more you address your friends/followers and the less you talk about yourself, what you have to say will have increased interest on the part of others. Asking followers such as "What is your favorite classic literature book of all time?" or "[Name of follower] suggests a book from the New York Times bestseller list. What are your opinions?" are just two examples of the "you" factor.

Promoting fellow authors is also an excellent idea. This both fits into the "you and other people" concept of posting messages and gives your colleagues some additional free publicity. Talking about colleagues and/or their books makes you supportive and respectful of other writers, scoring high marks in the writing community, not to mention a few, albeit sometimes unexpected, return favors from the authors you've mentioned in previous posts.

While we're on the subject of messaging others...

3. Include everyone in your messages. Unless you want people to run from your social network profile rather than attract them, limiting messages to or from the opposite sex while passing over your own gender shouldn't even be considered. Remember, other objectives of your web presence are drawing universal appeal to yourself as a writer and generate interest in your book(s), not create your own dating service. Save such behavior for a separate, non-professional profile.

On to the point of sending posts to famous authors or other celebrities: I've seen a considerable amount of social network pages where people have done this, and it was a turn-off to the point I'd removed the offending pages from my respective lists. Celebrities receive a larger amount of messages than we do. Trying to "talk" to famous people while ignoring your "regulars" who send posts is just rude. The practice also gives an outward impression to others that you're elitist (or desperate) and only interested in seeking your own fame - via a few shortcuts. An occasional post to your favorite author to say you enjoyed their latest book and you found their recent lecture fascinating are okay, but incessantly messaging famous figures daily with drivel (or worse, talking about yourself) is not.

4. If you can, keep out the personal and pointless. Although a cute photo of your pet or posts now and then about a funny moment in your life and even your child's birth/graduation/wedding are intimate touches to make you appear "human," posts about gynecology visits, what's for dinner, how your boss is a royal pain, or recording your bowel movements have no place online.

Also, messages such as "scratching my butt with a hairbrush and drinking, "I have a hangover, my back hurts, where's the Vicodin?" or making fun of someone online isn't appealing coming from fraternity boys, let alone adults. All these just make you look juvenile and unintelligent. It all goes back to the "think before you type" concept.

5. Answer questions, give as many holiday/birthday wishes as possible, and thank those who mentioned you/your work. Provided the questions aren't too personal (and there's no place for personal questions on a public forum to begin with), giving an intelligent response within a reasonable amount of time not only satisfies the person who messaged you, but also others who are on your page.

Who doesn't like holiday wishes and birthday greetings from friends and colleagues? Both may not be the same as doing them in person, but the effect of being acknowledged on our special days, whether it's a simple "Happy birthday [insert name here]!" or sending an e-card to their page(s) are indeed equal to a personal visit.

What I also like to do on my Twitter account is go over the list of anyone who mentioned me or retweeted a post I made (this is simple with both TweetDeck and Twitter's newest version), and then I'll send a "Thanks for the retweets and mentions..." followed by the names of who retweeted or mentioned me. It's just common courtesy.

Twitter events such as Writer Wednesday and Follow Friday (just to name two examples) are also fun and effective ways to gain more followers. Writer Wednesday uses a hash tag of #WW followed by a list of your favorite authors (and other people you'd like to mention in the literary field). Follow Friday's hash tag is #FF, with opportunities for public shout outs to friends and loyal followers.

On the other hand, avoid arguing on your public page or responding to negative messages intended to "bait" you at all costs. The last thing you need while establishing an impeccable social network presence is to be seen as immature, combative, difficult, and outright unprofessional. As with taking consideration on what photos to post on your main profile pages, keep in mind potential agents, publishers, etc. are also watching what you say. If you have a problem with someone, either take it to private messaging, or if the need arises, use the "block" function to remove the offenders.

6. Return favors if possible. If friends and those whose curiosity in your work is piqued sends a request, by all means return the favor - provided their profiles interest you.

7. Check your lists. Quality is better than quantity. When you're not busy, take the time to sort through your page and remove "spam bots" (yes, they do exist), pages with unrelated content who randomly added you, and people with whom you no longer communicate. It's better to have 200 quality people and companies on your pages than 1,000 of pointless pages - and gives your site a more organized appearance.

8. Ask for advice and feedback. Be warned, though it's good to do both, the advice and feedback may not always be flattering. On the other hand, those can be good things, provided you receive both in a constructive manner. If you find such advice useful, by all means apply it, and thank the person for their insight. However, if someone sends a post intending to be hurtful, it's best to either say a simple "thank you," move on, or just ignore them. Chances are good that such people are either having a bad day or insecure in general.

There's no guarantee of ongoing success in social networking to establish a professional and appealing presence, but the above points have worked for many to build solid ones. Good luck in your budding careers and I hope to see you all somewhere on the Web!


  1. Great post. I think I'm about following all the points in relation to Facebook and twitter but my blog is currently a fairly personal space.

    I've only just started writing and blogging, so couldn't put up a writing related post every day or couple of days. My readers know what I will be writing about as it's written on my profile and I feel it's a starting point. I'm gradually building up a following on there. It may slowly mark out it's own topic naturally, but for now it's a place where I can say more than on twitter and facebook and what I discuss aren't things I mind people knowing.

    It does seem that a public profile is important now if you want to be a published writer.

  2. It's all about marketing yourself not just your book. It's a hard process, but you DO meet lots of good, kind people on the way.

  3. I agree about blogs; once in a while, it's good to share a little about yourself. Even bringing out your humorous side tends to draw people..again, without going too far.

    Twitter and Facebook, yes, even I'm careful what goes on those, so I tend to be a bit more diligent about my status posts, because I never know who's watching. =)

  4. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.