Before embarking on creating an online presence, it helps to ask yourself what you’re doing it for. Even if you’ve already taken your first steps, regularly checking in with your goals is a great way to hone and focus your online ‘brand’. It’s easy to set off with the intention of promoting yourself as a writer, but end up side tracked by all manner of distractions. It can take a bit of experimentation to get into the right groove, but ideally, social media should fit into your routine, not consume it.
Think about who you are, and what your writing is. Does it cover particular themes? Does it sit within a particular genre? Are there subjects you, the author, are especially interested in or knowledgeable about? These things can act as a guide for what to post online and what to engage with, and having some idea of this helps you steer your own ship when there’s a lot of noise all around. For example, some writers of historical fiction frequently post about interesting and curious historical artifacts. Others, who write about a social issue, such as class, share and discuss news articles relating to the subject. Their followers/readers come to expect this of them, and this builds online brand.
Figuring out what to post to represent yourself as a writer is one thing; and you can have fun with it! But the best tip of all, the thing that has helped me most, is thinking of social media as a networking tool, not just a broadcasting platform. Online are fellow writers, journalists, media outlets, festival programmers, and all kinds of people whose professions are complementary to the emerging writer. I live in Glasgow, and while there’s a distinct publishing scene in Scotland, Twitter has been a very useful way to do a bit of networking with literary types from across the UK and further afield. Follow and engage with people; over time you will become part of an online community and spot opportunities. I have made wonderful friends and allies this way.
A book I’ve found particularly helpful in understanding what I want from social media was How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Coming from an artist’s perspective, she examines the ways in which social media platforms shape and influence our communication, and how posting online can easily slip into a form of unpaid labour. It’s a very thoughtful, soothing book. I think about it when I feel too much temptation to post boastful pictures on Instagram or wade into arguments on Twitter (although I don’t always succeed in avoiding the latter!). Again, thinking back to your goals and what you’re setting out to achieve with social media helps keep things on track.
It’s easy to lose focus when in the midst of a huge, global conversation, everyone coming to it with their own agenda and pulling and pushing from all directions. Social media can feel like the Wild West at times; many writers just starting out with an online presence can feel apprehensive about drama and trolls. If that’s you, you’re not alone; it’s a very common fear.
Fortunately, there’s no rule that says you have to engage with anything that makes you uncomfortable. I use the mute and block buttons liberally, to remove anything abusive or that might have a negative impact on my mental health. Occasionally, people can misinterpret what you say with an uncharitable reading. People having bad days sometimes take it out on others. Social media can do strange things to people’s self esteem when they rely upon it for validation; it can amplify anxiety, jealousy, and fear of missing out.
But my advice in these situations is to disengage; treat people with kindness; and try not to take it personally. Stay true to your own values, and you’ll be alright. If it ever gets too much, walk away from it to regain some perspective. There’s a whole world out there, and social media is just a tiny fragment of it.
I’ve learned over the years that I don’t want to put too much of myself online. Some people are comfortable chattering away about everything that happens in their day, but I am not. You’re there to promote yourself as a writer, right? You’ll find your own balance over time, but this is something to think about.
Don’t be afraid to set limits on your social media usage. I frequently deactivate my Twitter account at weekends, because I struggle not to look at it when it’s active, and I need regular breaks from all the noise. I also use a web blocker called Freedom, and when I’ve had enough for the day, I use it to block my social media accounts for a few hours so I can get on with my work – and writing!
Overall, social media is a tool. Make it work for you. But like any tool, you need to know what you’re picking it up for. After all, you’d use a hammer to hit nails, not just swing wildly.