Social media marketing sells books…if you do it right!
by Barb Drozdowich
Did the title catch your attention? I’m older and the word “Dork” speaks to me. I didn’t grow up with social media in my life. The phone that I talked on was still attached to the wall. A smart phone and communicating electronically was a later addition to my world.
The world of social media is new and unfamiliar to many writers, and I understand the feeling of uncertainty, the unfamiliarity, the hesitancy. However, there are some pretty easy things you can do to increase your comfort level.
Several weeks ago I gave a workshop on just this topic. It was fun, and the authors in the audience learned quite a bit. Let’s see if we can translate the workshop to a blog post.
Beware – there are activities!
The world of social media has a unique language – words we didn’t grow up using. There are ever-changing platforms, ever-changing rules — and don’t forget all that advice. Everyone, it seems, wants to offer advice on how to be quicker, how to take shortcuts, how to make things easy.
I’m a hard working girl. I don’t really believe there is an “Easy Button” when it comes to social media or more largely, communicating with readers. Just like developing relationships in real life, developing relationships on social media also takes time.
Let’s face it, people spend more energy mulling over whether or not to buy a book than they do their daily latte. They also likely spend more on their latte.
That being said, let’s see if we can look at some straightforward actions you can take.
1) Use Hashtags and Use them Correctly
What’s a definition of the word “Hashtag?”
A hashtag is a word or phrase, without spaces or punctuation, and has a number sign at the beginning. Some examples:
Hashtags can have capital letters – such as in #AmWriting – but no spaces or punctuation.
Hashtags should add clarity.
Although humor is great in hashtags, they shouldn’t be so long that they’re hard to understand.
The above would be bad examples – perhaps funny if someone could figure them out, but not really worth the confusion they create.
You’ll notice in the screenshot below, a hashtag is a different color than the rest of the text in the tweet so it stands out.
Why would we add hashtags to our tweets?
When most of us think about searching a topic on a computer, we likely consider opening up Google and entering some words to search. We don’t generally think of searching Twitter or Facebook in the same way, though.
But researchers have found that people use the platform which is the most comfortable to them to do their searching. If they are most comfortable on Twitter, then they use Twitter like Google.
This is where the hashtags become really powerful.
A hashtag is clickable on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and a few other places. If this happens on Twitter, for example, people search for tweets and account holders which contain the same hashtags. In other words, by including a hashtag in a tweet, you connect that tweet to all other tweets with the same subject matter.
Time to send you off to Twitter – test this theory out to see if I’m telling the truth.
Click (or tap if you are on a mobile device) on some hashtags and see what happens. See if you can use hashtags to quickly find associated content.
Some hashtag guidelines
Although you want to include hashtags in your tweets to make them searchable or clickable, you want to be helpful in a number of ways:
- Don’t make up new hashtags that no one is using – no one is searching that hashtag so it is not only a waste of your time – it makes you look like a dork. Authors are often encouraged to do this for book series titles as an example. Don’t.
- Make sure your hashtag(s) is clear and commonly used (and searched for)
- Don’t be misleading – your hashtag(s) should apply to the content of your tweet
For the last point, the example I often use is if you use the hashtag #JustinBieber, your tweet might get a lot of views, but unless your tweet is about the singer, you won’t attract any interested people – just people scratching their head in confusion.
One last thing – don’t look like a dork! Use the number of hashtags that fits the platform that you are using.
Facebook – 1 hashtag
Twitter – 1-3 hashtags
Instagram – 10+ hashtags
2) Create a short, yet powerful bio
Although we give a lot of thought to our bio that goes on the back of our book, or on the “About” page of our website, many authors don’t work on the short bios. Let’s face it, as writers we tend to be verbose, not counting every character.
On social media, short and economical is appreciated. Look at the selection of bios below:
You’ll notice that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon display very few words. Some of the platforms like Twitter display all the words, but restrict the character count. Others like Amazon and Facebook only show a small portion of what they actually allow to be entered. We are going to be using a bio to share content about ourselves – to attract readers, to attract followers. This is a skill we need to learn.
Let’s use the example of a Twitter bio to be economical. We have 160 characters to share some information about ourselves. Here’s my bio:
I’m not holding myself up as an example of a perfect Twitter bio – in fact I don’t believe there is a perfect example, but there are lots of really bad examples. For example, having a bio of “Author” or “I write books” is not helpful at all to developing relationships with readers.
I suggest you use as many of the characters as possible. In my workshop I had everyone go through an exercise to create their Twitter bio.
How to Create a Twitter Bio
Take a piece of paper and list:
- All the nouns that refer to you (Author, Writer, Storyteller, etc)
- All the verbs that refer to you (teach, entertain, enthrall, read, etc)
- Relevant hashtags to associate yourself with appropriate groups and content (#author, #HistoricalFiction, #CosyMystery, #Thriller, etc)
- Two links that have been shortened using Bit.ly or other shortener. If you are published I suggest that you link to your website and your Amazon author page. If you aren’t published, link to your website and another social media profile. Include one link within your 160 characters and the other in the link section.
Now take this information and create a readable, relatable bio that tells folks what you do, what you are interested in and why they should follow you. Use humor where appropriate, but use full words.
Once you have practiced, click on the link below to download a template to practice on. The template has 160 lines. Remember when counting characters, spaces and punctuation counts.
Two things before we move on.
- We’re using the example of a Twitter bio to practice on, but the general principles apply to all social media bios as you can see the compilation graphic at the start of this section.
- Social media bios shouldn’t be static things. Play with them, tweak the language, change it as your details change. And don’t be afraid to use humor!
For more info on bios, check out Anne’s post on How to Write an Author Bio for Any Occasion.
3) Don’t just say ‘Buy my Book”
Many people assume that social media is only used for selling. I disagree – and in fact many disagree. As the graphic above states: “Social Media is….social.”
I often compare interacting on social media to being social in real life.
Picture yourself sitting with friends over a cup of coffee catching up on news. It isn’t normal to only talk about yourself or your books/your writing. There typically is a give and take in a real life social situation. Everyone talks and everyone listens and everyone shares.
You celebrate each other’s uniqueness – each other’s knowledge. Often social situations are occasions to share relevant information to the group. You’ll talk about a great book you just read. Or about a great movie you just watched. Share info about a great vacation spot. Remember, we value advice from our friends and acquaintances over that from strangers.
You can do the same thing on social media. Talk about a great book you have just read. Share information about a blog post you just read that others might find helpful. Share an inspirational quote. Or just ask a question:
I find it amazing to read the suggestions I get when I send out some version of the above tweet. Certainly, some suggestions are self-serving, but many just want to suggest a great book they think someone else should read.
If you are seen as a great source of information, people will appreciate the information that you regularly share. But if you are that person who can only say some version of “Buy my book,” they’ll tune you out.
4) Don’t break the rules
I like to compare the rules on social media platforms to speeding. We all know if we are caught speeding, there is a penalty. Depending on how fast we are caught going, that penalty may range from a stern lecture to our car being impounded.
I find many authors are unaware of the rules that exist on the various social media platforms. Although they may click on the “I agree” button when signing up for an account, they don’t ACTUALLY read what they are agreeing to. Just like speeding, you are welcome to break the rules on social media, but be prepared to accept the penalty. The penalties tend to range from your account being frozen for a short time to your account being completely removed.
It isn’t uncommon for me to hear comments like “Facebook is being mean to me,” or “Twitter has frozen my account again,” or “I’m in Twitter Jail again.” The implication is that the social media is singling the author out for special punishment. Generally speaking that isn’t true.
To many, comments like are mentioned above make you look like a dork, whether you are aware of it or not.
There are 2 important rules that are regularly enforced on Facebook and 2 on Twitter as follows:
Unbreakable Facebook Rules:
- #1 Facebook rule – Must use your real name for a personal profile – “You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.”
This is a problem for authors who write under a pen name. They open a personal profile on Facebook under their pen name and at some point Facebook challenges them to prove their identity. If a pen name is created from initials instead of a full first name, then there is little problem, but if a pen name is completely contrived, it is difficult to defend. The penalty for breaking this rule is the profile account being shut down as it is considered to be fraudulent.
- #2 Facebook rule – “You will not use your personal timeline primarily for your own commercial gain, and will use a Facebook Page for such purposes.”
As authors, we need to primarily use our “Author Page” or “Business Page” to talk about our books – or the content on our blog if we aren’t published yet. Can we occasionally mention our books on our personal profile? Yes, of course. But the primary site for promotional material needs to be our author page.
Unbreakable Twitter Rules:
- Twitter rule #1 – No graphic or violent content
This rule is typically only enforced upon complaint. Twitter as well as other social media platforms see themselves as being a PG environment. Overt violence, graphic content, nudity or racy content can be sanctioned. This comes into play with author’s book covers. Generally speaking, if your book cover is published successfully on Amazon, you likely won’t have trouble displaying it on Twitter, but be aware of this rule.
- Twitter rule #2 – “You may not use Twitter’s services for the purposes of spamming anyone.” eg Tweets consist mainly of links shared without commentary
The tweets shared on Twitter should be a mixture of content tweets and promo tweets. What this means is you should share a selection of tweets with a link and tweets without a link. Twitter accounts with content that only consists of tweets with links can be frozen or shut down. Likewise, accounts with repetitive “Buy my book” content can be frozen for a period of time or completely shut down.
We’re at the end of our 4 easy suggestions.
They sound doable, don’t they? I think, with a bit of practice, anyone can become more comfortable on social media.
- Take some time to play with hashtags in your communications.
- Create a new bio and see how it resonates with your audience.
- Find content to share with your audience. See what people like by watching their actions. And don’t just talk about yourself and your books.
- Use the various social media platforms without breaking the rules. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a hard working author totally lose their platform because they unknowingly broke some rules.
You can find me on social media and subscribe to my blog. Like Anne, I regularly post helpful information for authors focused at a beginner level.
And mostly importantly, have fun!
by Barb Drozdowich (@sugarbeatbc) April 15, 2018
What about you, scriveners? Do you find social media daunting? What is your pet peeve about the way writers use social media? Do you find social media helps you sell books? Do you have any questions for Barb?
Barb Drozdowich is a technical and book marketing consultant and the author of 17 books on Internet marketing. She also loves to read and has been a book review blogger since 2010. Her book blog is Sugarbeat’s Books.
Barb has 15 years of teaching and technical training experience and has spent 1000s of hours tutoring authors. You can find her at Bakerview Consulting.
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