Writers tend to be self-employed, and are often “their own brand”. This can mean the lines between promotion of work and promotion of self are blurry, especially as more and more people are active on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, or more niche sites like Goodreads.

My writing career is pretty young, so I may be an odd person to listen to about marketing. However, thinking about my future as a self-promoting writer has colored my experiences as a reader, consumer and user of social networks. These are the rules I’ve internalized. I say they’re “for writers” but I suppose they’re for anyone who is their own brand — anyone who finds the personal and the promotional mixing in social networks, and doesn’t want either to suffer as a result.

1. Don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable. I hear people talking about the sites they use as if they are giant chores, or acting as if sooner or later someone will force them at gunpoint to sign up for Twitter. They won’t, and you can live your life and have your career, I’m fairly certain, without having a Twitter account. You have to decide what you’re comfortable doing, not just now but longterm. Everyone’s different. If using Facebook, or even blogging, is a chore and you think it’s eating away your creative time, don’t do it.

2. Remember these are social networks. Even if your primary reason for being on a network is business, you’re surrounded by people who are doing it for fun (okay, not with LinkedIn.) Their expectations for the network are social, and if you only use it for promotion, they’ll feel used and turned off. If you occasionally mention your books and stories, but also post silly anecdotes and links, you’ll come off a lot better than someone who is only posting promotional info. Another way of being social: engage in genuine conversation with others and comment on their links and doings. If doing the social stuff seems like too much of a chore, consider #1. Those networks may not be a good fit for you.

3. Offer information, don’t demand attention. There’s a natural order of obtrusiveness in communication, something like:

  • Dropping by
  • Phone call
  • Text message
  • Instant message
  • Email
  • RSS feed
  • Posting on the web and hoping they read it.

Twitter and Facebook status updates are somewhere between RSS feed and posting on the web. They’re mostly passive. It’s up to the other person whether they want to check the site, and whether they pay attention to that particular item, gloss it over, filter that sort of content, whatever. That’s pretty unobtrusive. Many people have, say, Twitter direct messages or Facebook messages set to notify them by email, which demands more of their attention. So use messages, or event invitations, more sparingly than you do wall/status posts or tweets. (This is especially true of Facebook messages to multiple recipients, as even if a user deletes the original message, he or she gets all the replies. Facebook’s suggestion for dealing with this is to educate your friends about using ‘reply’ rather than ‘reply-all’. Oh, that sounds fun.) I don’t mean you should never send out email or email-level communiques: just that you should remember you’re being more demanding of your audience, and reserve their use for more important occasions.

4. Avoid multi-posting. There are limits to this. If I subscribe to your blog’s RSS feed, follow you on Twitter, and am friends with you on Facebook, I expect a little overlap. But you should also be aware that that overlap exists. Consider it before implementing reposting software, for example, and also consider whether the place you’re reposting content has robust filtering (Facebook has decent filtering; Twitter doesn’t unless you use some of the most cumbersome third-party software.) Consider this most strongly before multiple-posting something on the same network. Sure, a double-post for time-zone reasons might be reasonable. But repeating much beyond that, you run the risk of the reader seeing that bit of self-promotion three times on Twitter, another two times on Facebook, one time aggregated on your blog, another time when the blog post is piped into another site…the last thing you want is your potential readers — especially people who know you and should be rooting for you — tired of you.

5. Opt-in, not opt-out. If you want to use more aggressive tactics than I’ve discussed above, consider using an opt-in system: for instance, making a “page” for yourself on Facebook. “Profiles” have friends. “Pages” have fans. While you still don’t want to spam people continuously, if people sign up to be your fan, they explicitly want to hear about your career, and you don’t have to worry about #2. It can be awkward for someone who values you as a friend to have to opt out of your marketing efforts. You don’t want to put them in that situation. Using a different medium, like a fan page on Facebook, an author page on Goodreads, or a group e-mail list, allows your friends to opt in if they’re interested, instead of assuming your social network also wants to be your marketing network.



Plus if you get a message from someone on FB that’s been sent to multiple people, the only button I see below the reply box says “Reply All.” So just today I didn’t reply because I didn’t want to tell this person’s whole list of friends, in response to her posting the link of the detox diet she and her husband are on that says it will, among other things, make them more attractive, that this is a dangerous proposition since they are already an attractive couple and is Seattle ready?!

Another strike against Facebook’s suggestion for how to deal with the problem.

Well done, Felicity. This is an essay that needed posting.

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