I know you've heard it somewhere, at some point. “If you're going to be an author, you need a social media platform.”
For a lot of writers like us who are introverted, the thought of tackling social media is daunting. You want me to figure out how to put myself out there on top of the exhaustion of writing? Hell no! I get it. I really do. Social media is a different creature that takes time and energy to learn if you're going to keep it up in a professional sense. You've got number counts to reach and editing to do. Why put another serving of stress on your plate?
Having come up on two years learning my way around the public internet setting, I've also come to see the other side, too. The initial reason behind my endeavor was solely artistic-based. I wanted a platform to connect with people over my writing. I also wanted an outlet to get back into one of my minor hobbies, photography. Since then, it's flourished into something I really, genuinely look forward to doing on the regular. (Not every day, of course. Like good writers, we need to take breaks from our upkeep of Instagram and Twitter. Just like we need to take breaks from the keyboard.)
On one hand, there were many things I expected before I started. I'd been following my favorites for a while. I saw how they posted and the way they did things. It wasn't a blind endeavor that I jumped into. I also had some ideas of what I wanted my social media to look like, and the outcome I wanted from it.
On the other hand, there were beasts I had no preparation for—like how long and grueling and frustrating it can be.
Social media will test your patience and make you wonder if the time it requires is worth it. But watching it grow and learning how to cultivate it as a tool to reach other people can be so weirdly fulfilling, when you learn to maintain it and not let it take over your life.
If you've ever felt that pull of well, it could be neat, these are the biggest pieces of advice I wish I'd known going in. These are not step-by-step instructions on how to grow a successful platform, but rather ground rules I've found crucial for a good foundation journeying into the great beyond.
- Social media will not give you a career platform overnight
Whatever number of followers you have in mind, know that it can easily take two, three, or even eight times longer to get there than you might think. Social media creates a different connection to people than simply being a name on their bookshelf they know and love. Both have the opportunity to merge, but don't think one is simply interchangeable with the other.
So take it slow. Take it easy. You have no rush to find your footing, so find it with care. You will reap the rewards down the line in the form of people's interest in your publications. Approach social media with a mindset of pacing and patience. You will find yourself caught up less in the cycles of feeling shitty about yourself and burnout. Trust me.
Also, it is completely okay to start out by copying your favorites. If there is something they do that you like, there is nothing wrong with getting practice in by mirroring them. There's something you like about them. That just means there is a part of you drawn to it, and by practicing, you can learn how to let that part of yourself out for digital eyes. In the end it will be original, because it's coming from you. It will grow past copying and become unique.
Oh, and you absolutely do not have to post every day. Seriously. It's not worth the energy.
- Be genuine with people
One thing social media offers is an opportunity for real connections with people. I have made so many writer and artist friends that I never would have if I'd given up when my likes and follows were down.
People will be drawn to you because they like you as an individual. Don't be afraid to share that person with them. You don't have to be glossy and flawless all the time to be on social media. You'll be surprised what happens when you make a practice of letting the facade down. You don't have to hide behind pictures of your coffee and excerpts from your book all the time. Nine times out of ten, people are more intrigued with your work if you let them get to know the person behind it. (So don't be afraid to show your face every now and again.)
One thing I notice people getting wrong about social media is focusing solely on what they can get out of it. And it shows in what they post. If you expect strangers to just show up and buy your book, or even give you a follow, it's going to be difficult to get anywhere. Offer something of value first to build up a currency of trust. These are human beings behind the numbers and notifications. Respect their time. Don't beg for follows and likes.
Remember that your audience is smart. If you are disingenuous with your content, they will pick up on it. Authenticity will always shine the brightest. Couple that with passion for what you're doing—your writing, for example—and you will attract people who will be an engaged audience. People are drawn to the things they not only value, but love to see reflected around them. Be engaging to a point that they can't bare to pass you up. You don't have to look any further than yourself.
(And here's the neat part. The type of value you offer is completely up to you. Which leads me to...)
- You don't have to have the most astounding content ever
In all honesty, sure, it might help. But it's not exactly necessary. All you really need is to find your niche and be authentically yourself within it.
Ah, yes. That word. I'm sure you've heard it thrown around before. Niche. What exactly does it mean?
Think of a niche as the two or three things that make up who you are. They can be completely different. In fact, the more different they are the better, because they provide you with a unique combination.
My main niches online are being a writer, but also an LGBT content creator, and a voice of encouragement for other writers to be bold in their pursuit of mastering the craft. Sprinkled in are a preference for dark aesthetics, love for plants, and some everyday outfits. It allows me a hand in multiple pots, while I can also exist within those pots uniquely. And the things I listed don't even seem all that out there, right? Once you get a sense of where your personal interests lie, your niche will come naturally to you, and it will draw people to you.
Another great tool to utilize is a peek behind the scenes. People love to see how things operate, even if they never partake in those things themselves. It's a way for an audience to feel involved, and therefore invested, without ever having to get their hands dirty. You have content to delve into from the work you already do. How do you edit your drafts? What are some unforeseen issues that come with tackling the middle of your novel's plot, and how did you find a solution? What do your break periods look like?
Now, how do you take it one step further from there? Look at the elements of your niche again. Find out what people are doing in those communities. Then brainstorm ways you can do it a little differently. Everyone is doing the same thing, all the time. Trends can be useful, but to find your way to stick out from the masses, present it in a fresh way. That is what a niche is.
You don't have to take over the whole highway. If you can find your individual lane and learn how to dominate it, it will take you much farther than fighting to get your posts to the top of the tags with eight million posts.
- Just like writing, at one point or another, you will want to give up. It's part of the process.
It will come many times. Everyone faces it. So first, don't feel you have to shove it under the rug and just keep plowing along. Learn to recognize it and acknowledge when it comes up.
Sit down and really ask yourself—why do you want to do this? Not in the hypothetical future, but right now. If you're going to survive the dry periods of burnout, slow growth and algorithm changes, approach it with respect. Try to keep a mindset that this beast we know as social media is a tool. Nothing more. You must control its place in your life in order for it not to control you. Make it a priority to keep it fun from the getgo, and it will help shape the way you approach not only being online, but offline, too.
If you are able, long before it gets the chance to spring up, create a bank of four to five pre-made posts so you have some breathing room in the current moment. It gives you flexibility for the days when you need to take a break. The peace of mind it offers alone is worth it. And if you come to realize the online world isn't for you, that's okay too. It can be looked at as a different form of art, just like makeup is a different form of art from painting. It's not everyone's cup of tea. Do it because you want to, not because you feel you have to. The world is stressful enough as it is. Don't bog yourself down with another chore that sucks the life out of you.
There are plenty of other things to be said about social media, but that falls more into people's personal experiences. So I'll leave that open for you to experiment with on your own. I promise it's not as scary as it might initially seem. Just be patient with it and with yourself. Giving yourself the permission to be you makes it a lot less stressful. I look forward to seeing you out there.
You can check me out on Instagram @ollieadoherty. You can also visit olliedoherty.com and take a peek at my upcoming book, or join the Tough Writer's Club—an online support group with live writing sessions every week.