Managing Viewer Expectations with social media

No, not reader expectations in books. Y’all are authors, and there are better authors than me to talk about that. Let’s talk about your online presence. How much social media do you have to have?

Well, actually, you don’t.

There, I said it. It’s heretical in the age of Everything Always Online!, but it’s true. There are some authors who have an almost entirely offline presence. There are some who barely check in on one or two forums, and their websites were last updated in 1998, and still they sell. This doesn’t mean they don’t market; it means any marketing they do may be in person, or by selling short stories to magazines and anthologies, or by placing ads in trade magazines with their target market. One lady has almost no online presence for her cookbook, but when she shows up at a gun show with a gingham checked tablecloth and plates of lemon bars as free samples, recipe is on page such-and-such, she sells gangbusters.

Anyway, your online footprint. First, the most extreme case: don’t be That Gal On Twitter, the one who hadn’t published yet but was sure Larry Correia was a total loser, because she had way more twitter followers than him. *migraine salute* Yes, they exist. And folks like that are a useful lesson that having a million followers doesn’t pay the bills.

Second: the writer who has a website for the planned sweeping book series, a presence on twitter, facebook, google +, you name it, he’s there. He’s poured 500,000 words into facebook arguments in the last month alone! But nobody’s buying the one book he has out, despite spending 12-15 hours a day building up his online presence! What marketing trick is he missing? *full frontal facepalm* Write the next book. Seriously, get off mytwitface, and write the next book.

Here’s where viewer expectations start to come into play. You see, if you’re active all over mytwitface, and suddenly you disappear off to go write the next book, two things are going to happen to the people who follow you, and you get to decide which is worse: most people won’t even notice you’re gone, and some people will constantly try to drag you back because they miss your content.

If you could steel yourself to taking a full week off mytwitface, without some Dramatic Announcement that you’re going offline, you’d find when you got back that the majority of folks never even noticed. Social media platforms are designed to make the user feel like they’re drinking from a firehose of content, and they don’t notice when something’s missing.

Personally, I’ve varied facebook from daily to once a month, and people don’t notice when I’m gone; they only notice when I post and they see it. So no, you really, really don’t have to be on them as much as you think you do.

As for the people who try to drag you back? That tells you a lot about what kind of content you’re known for. “We miss pictures of the lambs and how the dogs are doing!” vs. “Hey! This guy is wrong on the internet! Let’s you and him fight!” Neither one of these is bad, just different – but they are different, and let you know a lot about how you’re known. Think about what sort of time, emotions, and energy you want to put into that.

On your online persona: Alice Cooper has, when mentoring young musicians, been extremely firm about the need to seperate your stage persona and your private life and sense of self. If you don’t, you’ll burn out and crash hard. Turns out it’s true with social media personas, too, when you start performing for the public.

I have an acquaintance who’s known for being Angry On The Internet. She’s constantly called to come pour vitriol on trolls, knuckleheads, Someone Is Wrong On The Internet, whatever. I’ve seen her on a slow day when there’s no one to be furious at… and she literally was reaching out to people, trying to find something, anything to be vitriolic at, and getting desperate, because her online persona was her true self, and she couldn’t cope without being furious. Now, that works for her, but I sat and wondered what the long term mental, emotional, and physical damage has to be of living All Drama, All The Time. (Other than teenagers, and even those bouncing balls of out-of-control hormones manage a lot of chill and happy moments.)

So think about what you’re known for, and what toll that takes, and if that’s what you want. If you don’t… change it! You’re not dead, you can too change.

Third online footprint: the daily blogger. Blogs work at optimum for crowd draw if they have new daily content 2-3 times a day, to keep people coming back. This is, however, not feasible for most people. (Even Mad Genius Club is only a daily blog, and that’s with all our contributors writing!)

Generating enough means finding or creating content, and that can take hours of a day itself, to the point that the blog rapidly becomes a chore instead of a joy. Several ways to make it much easier are to build a buffer, mine your archives, acquire contributors, have cross-blog conversations, and grow commenters.

If your viewers expect new content daily (or multiple times a day), it’s just not human to expect that you’ll never have disruptions to your schedule – so generate your content ahead of time, and schedule it to appear on a regular basis. (I am, for instance, writing this early last week, and scheduling it so it’ll post while I’m busy dealing with a funeral.)

If you have sufficient archives built up, feel free to mine them for material: audience turnover & new audience growth ensures that something three years old will be brand new to the viewers who just started coming regularly in the last 6 months. (Whether you label this as old material or not is up to you: I’ve seen it done both ways, but haven’t yet talked a daily blogger into running an A/B test to see which generates more traffic. I suspect it’s when it’s not mentioned as being a rerun.)

Other contributors, often called guests posts, take some of the content-generation burden off your shoulders. Even aggregators like The Passive Voice has people with keys to the blog to manage comments and contribute posts while the blog host is on vacation. The main drawbacks of guest posting are that your fans come for your material, so traffic goes down proportionally with the number of guest posts run, and getting / filtering guest posting offers appropriate to your blog. On the bright and shiny, hey, free material your viewers will like, and driving eyeballs to nifty people who ought to get more exposure and sales. Can be awesome!

This, by the way, is where “blog tours” come in. Originally conceived as guest posts across several high-traffic targeted audience blogs, they can work… as dashing out a bunch of posts and then posting them in sequence to low-traffic blogs that are nothing but guest posts, they’re hard work and heartbreak.

Cross-blog conversations are one of the great things about writing blogs online: it’s a chance to take somebody else’s blog post, and explore it in depth on your own, then engage in an extended conversation with them. I’ve seen a bunch of first responder blogs do a round-robin where they came up with a 911 call scenario, and then each person wrote about the fictional incident as it passed through their part of the first responder world – police dispatch, police, EMS, ER Doc, hospital nurse – from both a technical “Here’s how it goes down” and a emotional impact on the responders, and on the community, level. Don’t be afraid to engage in the social part of social media, and link to others for more than just an excerpt. More than one daily blogger maintains a sidebar of folks they find awesome and interesting – and if life happens, they can post “No free ice cream today – go check out the folks on the sidebar.”

Finally, growing commenters: a few minor notes.

first, the shorter and smaller your comment box and comment space, the shorter the comments your audience will tend to leave. The bigger the comment box / comment space, the longer people tend to be. The longer the blog post or comment area, the more in-depth discussions tend to get, and the lower-drama they get. Twitter’s 120 characters is optimized for bumper-sticker philosophy, and the road rage levels of stupid drama that engenders. Facebook’s promotion of “shorter is better” by putting more than 120 characters below the fold, and increasing font size on shorter updates, again promotes drama at the expense of clarity – by design.

Second, the way to get comments is to ask questions, and to respond yourself in comments. Even then, its’ very hard. And the questions can’t be obvious comment-bait; that doesn’t work when a masseuse is going “If you like the new tattoo, like or favourite this video!”, it doesn’t work on the blog equivalent, either.

Third: moderation in all things. Whether you plan to have a comment section where only sycophants are allowed (I don’t recommend it; it’s generally unhealthy and vicious), or one where anyone can join in, you will need moderation. Because trolls exist – they range from a psychopathic stalker with a fixation on short Asian chicks and some of the worst writing known to man, to paid positions whose job is to show up anytime a product, service, company, or political position is mentioned, and either promote it or denigrate any opposition to it. Neither of these are interested in conversation or growing your web presence, and should be removed from the comment stream. On the other hand, even the best spam filters often catch innocent commenters, and need to be regularly checked.

And yes, this takes time and mental energy. Factor that in to your social media plan.

And when all else fails, manage your viewer expectations with the Big Dramatic Announcement that you’re cutting back, and here’s the new schedule. Make it a manageable schedule for you, and then stick to it! Webcomics still thrive on a M-W-F release schedule (Girl Genius), and some even on a Tue-Thu release. (However, you must stick to the schedule. Nothing kills site traffic faster than inconsistency with updates despite a posted schedule – and kills the discipline and motivation to continue updating!

Accept that you’re going to have a steep traffic hit when you implement, because you will – but again, while eyeballs are important, having books to sell to those eyeballs is far more important than eyeballs alone.

Peter recently did this on his blog, Bayou Renaissance Man – he took his lowest-traffic day, Sunday, and announced it would be a one-post day, focused on music. While it did drive traffic off a cliff on Sunday, it didn’t affect the rest of the week – and he has one day a week now where he can be offline, recuperating and working entirely on other projects.

He’s also, as I type, working on other posts and queuing them up, and there’ll have been a notice that due to death in family, posting will be light and inconsistent. This way, even if we are completely swamped with real life and not near, or paying no attention to, online – the viewers will be informed, happy, and come back when there’s more content.

So bottom line? You don’t need nearly as much social media as you think, but if you’re doing a blog, you need consistency and consistently good content to keep people coming back. However, you don’t always need fresh, original content created by you. And no matter what, the most important part is writing the next book.

Speaking of the Next book, Tom Rogneby just released Lady of Eyre! Swinging between high fantasy and everyday adventures related in a high fantasy tone (The derby of the pine chargers! Yeah, anybody who’s been a boy scout or a boy scout parent knows where that one’s going…), it pretty awesome. Fair disclaimer: I wrote the blurb. I wrote the blurb because I like the story! I did not write the story – it’s better than if I had done it!
https://www.amazon.com/Lady-Eyre-Minivandians-Tale-Book-ebook/dp/B071HWPNYK/

26 Comments

Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, Uncategorized, WRITING: LIFE

26 responses to “Managing Viewer Expectations with social media

  1. Draven

    what if we’re known for snark and carp dodgings?

  2. paladin3001

    Social presence. Had two blogs and they have both withered on the vine. Things changed in my life so I couldn’t update them often enough. Had a twitter presence and deleted both accounts. Saw how they were treating conservative minded people and didn’t want to be part of that system. I was on Google + and that’s been rather quiet now for a few years. Facebook is my big online presence these days since the majority of friends and family are there and it was more important for me to share personal news (things got complicated almost two years ago let us say).

    Even as a nobody things got a little too much to maintain everything continually. Blog content creation became a chore, Especially with one being politics. Had to stop that one because I was getting too angry. My photography blog became harder to create weekly content due to a move and lack of time.

    Upshot, if I do start another blog it’s going to be very different and harder to do, and who knows if I will even start another one.

    • Agreed – I have a couple of blogs and a FB – I cross post a lot. Still takes time and effort, which takes away from the writing time.

  3. I’ve noticed that this past month my blog has suffered. Why? Life, finishing a novel that took its plot into its own hands and dragged me along for the ride, and trying to double-blog so there will be material while I am more-or-less off the ‘Net. I noticed yesterday, with two of those pressures “off,” I could blog a lot more happily.

    Since the blog IS pretty much my entire social media and marketing presence, a weak blog is a Big Problem for me. For other folks, meh, Larry Correia can go two weeks or so without updating and the discussions/arguments/extended diversions into who-knows-what happily continue in the comments section. But all the Monster Hunters know that Larry is deep in writing another Big Fat Fun Novel, so who cares?

    Moderation: I have first time moderation with the option to block for misbehavior. Shilling your product with links and not asking permission gets you warned and the link removed. Repeat offenders get blocked. Russian, Spanish, and other language business pitches get blocked. That writer mentioned above, the one with the really strange obsession? Seriously blocked.

  4. How important is it to have a Facebook account? I’ve avoided it so far because I really have no desire to share my personal life with the entire Internet, but now that I’ve started writing again I guess I have to do something about marketing.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Your blog looks interesting.

    • it’s not necessary. You can always create a professional author page on facebook if you really want to be able to interact there. That does mean you have to make a personal page, but you don’t have to post anything on the personal page, and you can button the privacy down tight so people can’t see much of anything (if you set it to say, friends only, and then never accept or send friend requests, it’s effectively not there).

      That being said, having a blog is fine if your readers know it exists. Mine is linked to my Amazon author page, so readers coming to me from Amazon actually can see the posts pop up there. This allows them to see updates, or just fun content they might enjoy.

      • Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve read so many people saying “You HAVE to have a Facebook presence!” Now I’ll file that advice right next to “You HAVE to go to cons!”

        General heading being, “For those who like that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.”

        • And FaceBook does not like pen-names, even if yours has a legal identity. ThePassiveVoice had an article last year (?) about an author who was informed by FB one day that it did not permit pseudonyms. All at once she had her real name, home address, phone numbers, everything revealed to the world. It took her several months and a stack of legal papers and proof-of-existance to get FB to relent even a little.

  5. Christopher M. Chupik

    Being on social media has taught me one thing: that some people should really not be on social media.

  6. Sam L.

    Limiting comment space is wise. See https://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.com/ and look for comments by Ares Olympus two weeks ago and further back. He was told to keep his comments concise and short.

  7. Uncle Lar

    Sincere condolences on your family’s loss.
    And as always much thanks for a serious, well reasoned, and most helpful article.
    As I may have mentioned before, your suggestions on a release date for our new series made a world of difference in early sales.

  8. If you could steel yourself to taking a full week off… you’d find when you got back that the majority of folks never even noticed. Social media platforms are designed to make the user feel like they’re drinking from a firehose of content, and they don’t notice when something’s missing.

    Personally, I’ve varied facebook from daily to once a month, and people don’t notice when I’m gone…

    Thank you so much for pointing this out. I tend to be very inconsistent with Facebook. I use it mostly to stay in touch with my cousins, but I’m absent from the platform for weeks at a time. I used to apologize for my absences, but now I’m thinking that apologizing merely draws attention to them. In future, I’ll simply post/react/like and skip the “sorry I’ve been gone.”

  9. Excellent points! As you know, I blog daily, usually one post. My FB is intermittent for a reason…LOL and don’t twit either…

  10. There’s a rock band called Palaye Royale that is doing the on-line thing right. They are all over Twitter, Farcebook, Instagram, you name it. https://twitter.com/PalayeRoyale
    I have been dragged to a couple of these concerts by Young Relative. Not bad music, they treat their fangirls quite well, hard working band.

    Most of the content of their pages and tweets is generated by the fans. Endless memes, fan pages, all kinds of crazy stuff.

    But ghod, what a buttload of work…

  11. My sincere condolences on your loss. *hug*

    Third: moderation in all things. Whether you plan to have a comment section where only sycophants are allowed (I don’t recommend it; it’s generally unhealthy and vicious), or one where anyone can join in, you will need moderation. Because trolls exist – they range from a psychopathic stalker with a fixation on short Asian chicks and some of the worst writing known to man, to paid positions whose job is to show up anytime a product, service, company, or political position is mentioned, and either promote it or denigrate any opposition to it. Neither of these are interested in conversation or growing your web presence, and should be removed from the comment stream. On the other hand, even the best spam filters often catch innocent commenters, and need to be regularly checked.

    I can’t say what it’s like for Blogger, but WordPress has a pretty good plugin thing for managing spam and letting you know if there’s been new comments/user signups. Beware of plugin conflicts though! I finally caught the one that was preventing new users and logging in with one’s WordPress account to comment.

    As for the bit about needing to be angry all the time – I couldn’t do that. Anger is exhausting. There’s better things to spend time on. Like pet vipers.

    Speaking of pets, my pet parrot climbed up my clothes to play. I got distracted. ^_^

  12. TRX

    …and – if you’ve set up a blog, requiring any casual commenter to set up an account with some service first isn’t going to do much for traffic. Nor will filling it with broken, browser-specific HTML and Javascript that only works on the latest, OS-specific versions of two or three web browsers.

    I imagine that sort of thing *does* cut down on the number of comments… but if you didn’t want comments, why did you bother leaving them enabled? [Peter Grant, I’m looking at you…]

  13. Asko

    Sometimes the Facebook profile is counterproductive. The author of the “Bill the Vampire” series has quite a bit on FB, including separate accounts for his characters. And he is constantly posting something.

    But I think that too much interaction with the fans on his pages forced him to release the last book in the series sooner than he should have. Which is a shame. They are good books, pure bubblegum entertainment, but this one is pretty bad. And no way am I saying that over there, I will get eaten alive! Pun intended.

    I think it needed another hard edit, and it has a sloppy feel to it. Too much takes place in Bill’s head. What if this, maybe that, and an entire chapter goes by with nothing really happening.

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