Tuesday, 19 June 2012

How Many Baskets?

Social media is one of the elephants in the room, the monkeys on the back, the metaphors still in the forming of being a self-published writer. Pretty much everything that needs to be or can be said has been said - and will probably keep on being said for years to come. I'm as guilty as anyone of contributing to the noise - for more than two years I've been writing a column on using social media for Words With Jam magazine.

I was writing this piece anyway, but then I came across Jane Friedman's article on platform on the Self-publishing Advice blog. She advocates
"Producing a body of work on your own platform—e.g. blog, e-mail newsletter, social network, podcast, video, digital downloads, etc.—that gathers quality followers. This is usually a long-term process."
Now absolutely this is very sound advice, especially that last bit about the long term.

But it got me thinking - and asking (though I have yet to see an answer - note to anyone out there contributing guest blogs - answering comments is rule number 1 for guest blogging) what this means. There are so many forms of social media and "platform" sites it's easy to get totally flummoxated both knowing where to start and knowing where to stop! And there's the secondary problem that most of us don't set out from a standing start to build a community around our work. Many of us will already be on Facebook, or have a blog, or be on twitter at the least, and because we've only just thought about building our communities we probably didn't give "branding" much thought.

Which I suppose is tip one - if you can, use the same distinctive username everywhere. That's very much a case of do as I say not do as I do. Before I proceed any further, this is a sample of my sites that will show you what I mean:

I'm on YouTube

here's one of the videos I have there - it's a site I use for putting up poetry readings I do

And here's my tumblr - look, it has the same username! Huzzah!
here's my twitter - er, wait, that's not Farmer Barleymow
My main website at least has my name on it
as does my Facebook page
but my other blog is back to its old tricks

And then, of course, I write articles across the web, and I'm part of a couple of great collectives like Authors Electric, the Alliance of Independent Authors, and the League of Extraordinary Authors.

And the list goes on. In other words, my internet presence is somewhat hit and miss - in fact the only place where you can get to everything I do is on my website.

Which leads to two questions.
1. Should this worry me?
2. What should you do?

This is a series that will run to many episodes, and I'll tackle each website separately (I originally thought of my social media contribution to Words With Jam as a single article. Two and a half years later I'm just getting started!), but I want to do some thinking around teh first question today that will hep with the second - I also want to open the floor for thoughts and tips.

Common sense tells me absolutely, yes, I should be very worried. I've done it wrong. I've not branded myself consistently. The single greatest danger this poses, as I see it, is that someone sees something I do and is desperate to know more, to find a book, to purchase it - yippee!! But wait, there is no click-through. We are told again and again that one-click is everything. And, yes, that's right.


we are looking here at commuity-building, at creating a group of "true fans", people who really want to know what you're up to, to be part of the conversation with you. Yes, they may start as browsers, they may stumble across you, but if, having done so they are still at the stage of casual interest, they will probably never be part ofthat core community. I have no interest in parting people from their money on a one-off basis. I want people to buy my books because they are desperate to see what I've written, because they are so engaged with what I say and what I do. The absence of a single omnipotent click is not such a disaster.

In fact, go back to what Jane says about the long term. She's absolutely right. What people who coordinate their tweets with their Facebook with their linked-in pinterested tumbling don't get is that a great online platform-building site is great precisely because it does something specific. And you use it best if you use it for that specificity (if you, as it were, enter its narrative community to bring Wittgenstein in again). So whilst, yes, I wouldn't say go out of your way to hide your identity and make each platform you use an utterly discrete parcel, I think the main thing is to treat each separately, on its own terms, using it for what it does best and using it because it fits with what you are trying to do as a whole.

Over time, and without harping on that really is the key, each tendril you send out into the ether will strengthen and send out its own branches, and each of those will gradually converge so that each community you build aruond yourself will begin to blur at the edges with others. Don't worry if there always remain large sections that overlap nowhere - different "true fans" of yours will engage with different sides of you. Remember this:

The only reason to keep all your fans in the same place is to make your life simpler - and how is that related to the central artistic principle of giving?

So, use platforms judiciously (though by all means play aroudn to see what works rather than just taking my word for it over the coming weeks - after all, you can only know a conversation from the inside...) and don't worry if you are part of separate conversations. What matters is the integrity and your commitment to each of them. Perhaps, just perhaps, you could, even should, just stick to one...


  1. Nice post.

    From a social media perspective, I'm very much in the camp that holds that 'being there' is much more important than 'being everywhere.' Social presence relies on actual interaction.

    Having outposts all across the social media space can help your digital footprint but I'm not convinced it helps with platform building. The idea comes from the mass market paradigm that requires the widest possible dissemination of a message in hopes that some very small portion of the audience will respond. Micro marketing requires you to put your messages in front of only those people who are predisposed to answer.

    Not being spread too thin is really important.

  2. thanks Dan, very interesting post.
    i'm a social media newbie. I didn't have a twitter account two months ago... or never had written a post! Against all prejudices, I'm now totally in love with twitter. FB is growing much more slowly for me although I was more familiar with it to start with. At this point, I can already feel that while there's a need for consistent branding across my platform it's important to use every medium (FB, TWitter, blog) differently. I wont post the same content on my FB page or on twitter. I find FB more appropriate for personal messages re: my writing, my life as a writer etc... I'm very careful not to talk too much about me and my work on twitter where I connect and interact with like-minded people.
    Social MEdia is a fantastic oportunity for self-pub authors but, in my humble opinion, it's important not to forget that there won't be any success, sale etc without a well-written, professionally produced book...

  3. Nathan - yes that's the real key - these are two very different forms of marketing - a single person will never be able to survive in the hit everything and hope something sticks marketing world and shouldn't try to. One thing I've found is that a lot of people I really respect and who have very devoted fans only really operate in one or two arenas - maybe one "push" and one "pull" format - that's all they need or want, and they are able to maintain personal contact with enough people to do as well as they want to.

    Marion - twitter is the most lethal for me because it's so easy to get suced into so many conversations through hashtags - even if 5 or 6 people are talking about something that's a conversation that can run for hours and hours! And then the chances of that book emerging...

  4. A lot to think about. The particulars and execution of all this frankly overwhelm me.

    Yesterday, I sat at a particular spot by the Gulf of Mexico in Pensacola Beach, where I lived when I was a kid. It was a dive back then: a small row of shabby Nixon-era townhomes with long flanks of empty beach on both sides and flea-infested, trash-strewn empty lots across the street. Now it's all swankypants. The old place was destroyed by a hurricane in the 1990s and replaced with high dollar apartments and upscale houses side-by-side the entire length of the once God-forsaken road.

    I won't nostalgically argue that the old place was better. It wasn't; it was a shithole. But it was a shithole with a beautiful white sand beach. Yes, it's crowded now, but back then it was lonely. Yes, it's overly commercial now, but back then it was ill-maintained because only a few people cared about it. Eventually, all these new things will fall away and be replaced by something else.

    What remains constant is the beach. The white sand and blue Gulf -- that's the source of the spiritual, recreational, educational, physical, emotional, financial power of this place.

    All of which is to say that branding has to be about who we are, not what we do. Our nature is consistent; money, bizzyness, trends and opportunities are not. Each of us has this powerful natural wonder within ourselves. The question we're asking (though we might not like the sound of it) is: "How shall I best exploit this?"

    The broad strokes are obvious: In any development, as many windows as possible should face the beach. Boardwalks and roads should be kept up properly. The beach must be protected from pollution. Access to the beach should be open in some areas, controlled in others. Above all, the beach should be shared, enjoyed and loved. Honored. Because the beach came from God and ultimately belongs to God. It's both fiscally prudent and spiritually healthy for the beach to be consistently branded as sacred.

    Peace and grooviness ~

    PS ~ Dan, you've branded yourself as consistently awesome.

  5. You have me wanting to be on a beach :)
    Yes, if I take you correctly you are saying that we need to be places that fit best with who we are and allow us best to be ourselves, which I think is right - the proliferatin of places it is possible for us to be can seem overwhelming but rather than all of us thinking we have to be everywhere we should think rather that more and more of us are being provided with somewhere to be ourselves

  6. Great post Dan and I also enjoyed all the comments. I know you across most of your platforms by all your guises and akas and I have to agree with Joni - you are 'consistently awesome'. And I always go away with my brain buzzing after I've read something of yours.

  7. :0 I do wonder sometimes if I know myself in all my guises across all my platforms sometimes!

  8. Haha! Makes life interesting ;-)

  9. Interesting post Dan.
    Although I have been involved with the Internet and the WWW since 1994 (yes, that far back :-)) I am new to the Social Media scene and find it both interesting and disconcerting.
    I think in some ways we are concentrating too much on the "brand" and not enough on the actual content being produced/published.

    Of course, it depends on whether or not you are publishing on-line to make a living or not.