As a means of self-advertising, for the beginner at least, social media can be exceptionally frustrating. Our ‘friends’, at least when we start out, will be composed largely of people we have contact with by other means, or people who share our interests, often given that they themselves are involved in the same area. The former are likely to know about our projects already. The latter, and we’re in that awkward situation of, for example, writers selling to other writers, the ‘you buy and review mine, I’ll buy and review yours’ mutual back-scratch.
I’ve seen people dismissing social media altogether given these drawbacks. However, it’s not entirely without potential, not entirely lacking in possibility.
- Going viral. It may just be that some post or another grabs the imagination of a few friends enough they post it on to their friends, leading a few friends of theirs do likewise. Though the chance of this happening to any great degree is slender, without social media it’s zilch.
- A wider contact base. I’ve noticed of late that many more people are adding me to their Twitter feeds in particular. Some of them I’ve no idea who they are or why they’re adding me. I can only put it down to retweets.
- ‘Cross-over’. Enticing other writers to buy our books, for example, feels painfully amateur, and often incurs obligations, implicit or explicit. However, also selling prints on Fine Art America and, when I get around to it, selling CDs of what I wryly call ‘my music’, (soundscapes with no ‘musical’ content as such, but with which I’m pleased all the same), there’s the chance of a writer buying a print… or, at some point, some ‘music’. A writer who buys one of my books may well expect reciprocation, and that’s fair enough. A writer who buys a print or a CD almost certainly doesn’t.
- Broader reach. Posts on Facebook, in Twitter, on LinkedIn, Tumblr and all the rest of them increase presence in Google, and thus the likelihood of a passer by taking an interest.
- Automatic posting. A lot of services – WordPress and Fine Art America among them – allow for the automatic posting of alerts to some, sometimes many, social media outlets, so given there’s no time expenditure at all involved, why not?
- Points of contact. For those who have already shown an interest, perhaps even bought something, social media can become useful in alerting them to new work, or even just giving them more background on you as a personality. The present trend in marketing, even with major corporations, is to try to build up a social network where people take an interest beyond the product itself and can readily provide feedback, thereby increasing customer loyalty and a sense of connectedness. If that’s important these days for large companies projecting ‘corporate personalities’, how much more important is it for, say, authors, whose personality and ideas shape the product itself in a very real sense?
However, I don’t entirely disagree with those who condemn social media in the way they are used for self-promotion. There are certainly a large number of drawbacks. Amongst those that worry me most, personally:
- Time-wasting. I am, paradoxically, blessed in some ways in that the Chinese government blocks many social media outlets. Getting to them is a pain. I read somewhere, (bearing in mind reading something somewhere isn’t proof of credibility unless it appears to make sense in and of itself), that writers, for example, should spend 75% of their time writing, only 25% of their time on promotion. I suspect, beyond initial announcements and occasional teasers, along with the odd ‘Here I am, this is me’ post, social media suffers immensely from the law of rapidly diminishing returns. In these sad and sorry days when it is not enough merely to be able to write, and the author also has to be an expert in marketing and, ideally, a diva in his or her own right, it’s worth remembering the #1 item on the job description is ‘Write!’ That is something, I must confess, I myself forget all too readily.
- Loss of credibility. Having been invited into a few groups where writers boost one another artificially rather than from genuine enthusiasm, I can see the advantages for sure of having a dozen people post my promotion automatically to all their friends. However, it does have the drawback of my having to post to all my friends the promotion of a dozen people. It’s clear to many of them that much of what I’m backing isn’t something I, personally, would touch with a ten-foot pole, and thus my account becomes nothing more than a billboard, a servant of Mammon, another scuzzy commercial break shouting for attention and adding to the general racket rather than something which is expressive of myself. People going down that path may want to be wary. Either open new accounts strictly for the purpose, or make sure the people in the group you are promoting are people whose work you genuinely admire and can truly endorse. That way, your promotion of them – and, indeed, their promotion of you – will actually mean something, rather than being mindless yelling.