Friday, September 11, 2009

SOCIAL NETWORKING: A CURSE OR A GREAT COMING?

When I began writing back in 1987, we were still putting manuscripts in the mail, using floppy disks and responding to fan letters with real live letters, envelopes and stamps! My how far we have come.
I was one of the early dissidents against cell phones. I thought they were the most ridiculous, obnoxious and obtrusive pieces of technology known to man. What in the world could possibly be so important that one must have a conversation walking on the street, in the car or on the bus (the worst)? Flash forward—if I walk out of my house without my IPhone, you can be darn sure I’m going back to get it.
In other words, over time, we’ve all grown accustomed to our love/obsession with being connected—and that one special someone is no longer sufficient—we want to be connected with the universe by every trick of technology possible. And for authors—aspiring or those sunk deep in the trenches—the opportunities to spread the word about your work has multiplied exponentially as the plethora of cyber opportunities has grown, becoming affectionately known as “Social Networking.”
Networking used to be that thing you did after work at the local bar, restaurant, hot spot, and trade gatherings. How many of you remember the glass bowls where you deposited your business cards? Well, now you can network from the privacy of your own home, in jammies and hair curlers, through the magic of Social Networking.
What are social networks anyway? In their infancy social networks were very often simple author loops, where authors from a particular house or specific genre set up a loop where they could email everyone in the group to be kept up to date on trends, gossip and industry happenings, share advice, joys and sorrows.
With the growth and development of YAHOO and its various uses, individuals were able to form YAHOO GROUPS for whatever topic pleased them, build an email list from those who joined the group, and share information between ALL those who held a common interest. MSN has similar “group” capabilities. Both YAHOO and MSN give authors an opportunity to develop a fan base where members join to discuss the author’s, books, characters, ask questions, find out about new releases etc. and most importantly to connect with their favorite author in a matter of seconds.
SHELFARI is a book lovers dream. Members can list their favorite books, build a bookshelf that can be embedded on an author blog or website (showcasing your books of course) and it is also a place to spread the word about your own books and upcoming projects. SHELFARI allows you to build your own network group within the community. A great way to get thousands of people talking about your book. http://shelfari.com
MYSPACE-the social network giant introduced the world to the art of connecting through cyberspace. Setting up a MYSPACE page is relatively easy. There are templates available and all sorts of links to help get you up and running with a look and feel that represents you. The great part is, nothing is etched in stone. If you don’t like the look you can always change it. Most important it is a way to gain friends and hopefully potential readers. The features of MYSPACE include Blogs, Bulletins, and Notices. There is an address book feature as well as a categories feature (which is extremely helpful in categorizing the people that ask to be your friend—are they already fans, potential readers, book clubs or other authors?) http://myspace.com MYSPACE has grown so large that there are MYSPACE pages just for musicians and book lovers.

FACEBOOK—the younger of the social networking giants is truly “everyone friendly.” There is no page building, graphics etc. to contend with to get “a look.” It is a place to get connected with others, share news, talk about yourself and be cheered on by all those who have “become you Facebook friend.” There are a few nice little perks to face book. As an author you can actually set up your own fan page. And as surfers scoot by your page they can become a “fan.” Great way to get announcements out to your FACEBOOK friends about appearances, book release dates, and what you ate for breakfast! http://facebook.com

Amazon Connect—power house Amazon has a neat feature for writers. With Amazon Connect, you can have every book that you’ve written “verified” by your editor or your agent. Once the books are verified and you post to the Amazon blog, each and every person who has ever purchased any of the verified books will automatically get an update. What I found out quite by accident is that my own blog feeds OUT to Amazon as well. So all of my blog posts go to every person that has ever purchase any book of mine through Amazon!

NING—is a thing of beauty and my personal favorite. The versatility and ease of use is wonderful. My entire fanclub was built through NING. The features are wonderful from blogs, to chats, groups, and forums, you can add video and audio as well. A great alternative to a static website. With NING you can build your very own network with your own focus and purpose and have a membership base than can continue to grow. http://ning.com

TWITTER—uses SMS technology (Short Messaging System) to keep friends and family updated about every aspect of your life… if you wish. It’s fun and great for hot off the press info sharing. Twitter is rapidly becoming the go-to network outlet for up to the minute information, resources and trends. The downside is that messages must be short. http://twitter.com

EZTexting—a nice way of not capturing email addresses but cellphone numbers! This free service allows you to embed the widget into your signature line, website, blog etc. and capture cell phone numbers to all those who sign up. This is an excellent way to remind fans and potential fans in one fell swoop (while you’re on the go) that today is the day that your book drops! Or I’ll be at the local Wal-Mart for my signing at 6. Again, this technology uses SMS so the messages must be short and sweet. http://eztexting.com

Every day EMAILING is a form of social networking. Use it to the maximum. Be sure in your signature that you include your web address and the link(s) to any social network site that is/are YOURS. i.e., http://myspace.com/donnahillwriter

Internet Radio is also a form of social networking. On BLOGTALK RADIO for example, you can set up and host your own radio show for free. In addition to mentioning your own books, you can bring on guests that drive listeners to your show and hence find out more information about you. What’s great about BlogTalk is that each show is archived. Listeners who missed a show and always download a missed episode. Your show and what you want to say can be heard by listeners literally around the world. You can embed the widget on your blog, or website so that visitors can sign up for reminders, thus building your listening audience. Listeners can call in and talk to you and your guests. And guests wanting to get on your show to tout their latest offering brings more listeners to your program. http://blogtalkradio.com/author-donna-hill



There are many other social networking sites out there. But these are some of the big ones. And they are all FREE. However I must share a few words of caution.

*Every social network site or utility is not for everyone. Choose one that represents who you are and what you can manage.
* Don’t join a group or network simply to toot your own horn. Members really don’t like it. And can smell you coming a mile away. Join a group because you are interested in what the group is interested in, share your interests, what you are doing, and actually make friends. It’s the best way to gain support when that book comes out. The members will feel that they are supporting a member of the “family.”
*Don’t post to the lists that you belong to or the networks that you are in, only about you, or only post when you have a new book. Members will ignore you.
*One great way to drive traffic to your group is to have fun, informative and relevant information that is not necessarily about you.
* If you build a group or a social network that is specific to you and your work, make sure that the members feel that by being a part of it they are getting something that non-members can’t get.
*Don’t start a group, loop, blog, or social network site that you can’t maintain and keep up with.

There is no doubt that in the current economy, and with publishers pulling back on tours, advertising dollars and new contracts, authors have to be creative and pro-active about getting the word out on their books. Becoming social network savvy is and will continue to be for a very long time, the way that authors will connect with their readers. On my fanclub site, for example, I have members from as far away as Dubai to as close as around the corner from where I live. That may have never happened without the advance of social networking.

With all the Tweeting, and Facebooking and Emailing and Blogging it is easy to actually become disconnected as opposed to connected. We all crave that human connection. Don’t get buried so far behind the screen and SMS messaging that you forget the real world. Send a real thank you card to the book clubs that have supported you. Try to get out to a store or two in your travels to meet your fans. And be as nice in person as you are on screen and your fans will follow you anywhere “in the world.”

1 comment:

Dee-Dee said...

Love this post I am so into social networking to get the word out and just to tap into my different interest but it can be overwhelming at times.