The biggest issue I hear from people struggling with online marketing is TIME. Many writers struggle to balance social media and writing or creative work. Since we don’t have the option to go back before the age of Twitter, we are left with a few options.
- Hire it out. Find someone to manage your email and Twitter and any other of your online spaces.
- Gripe and procrastinate. Hope that it all goes away. Refuse to acknowledge the idea of visibility on social media.
- Master and manage. Proactively learn the tricks and tools you need to build a killer presence on social media.
Before I dive into more specific suggestions (particularly on the third option), let’s reframe the discussion. Rather than thinking of social media as something you have to deal with, consider it this way: social media and online tools give us the means and opportunity to directly connect with fans in ways we never could have ten years ago. It can be a struggle, yes, but it is also a gift. If you think of social media as a tool for direct connection, it seems less like extra work and more like something fabulous. Now let’s consider the three options in a little more depth.
Hire it out.
While I think it’s worth your time to learn at least the basics of a few social media networks, you can hire someone to do this work for you. It is important to think about what work specifically needs you and what work could be done by someone else without ill effect. Only you can write your novel (unless you are hiring a ghostwriter). But anyone could write a tweet from you or create a Facebook post linking to your blog.
Virtual assistants provide affordable help and can complete a number of tasks, from creating blog posts or email newsletter content to posting on various social media sites. Some of them can even create images for your blog posts or social shares.
You can use a larger site like Virtual Staff Finder, but I prefer to work with people who are bloggers or using social media personally. Many bloggers supplement their income by becoming virtual assistants. They already utilize the different platforms and know the ins and outs of each. You can also check their own social accounts to see what kind of work they do. Check out a Facebook group specifically for connecting with VAs, like Elite VA Buy/Sell Exclusive Content or VA for Hire and Pinterest-Friendly Content for Bloggers, or join a blogging Facebook group like Blogging with Becky and Paula (which is also a great resource to learn more about blogging and social media).
Hiring someone to do the work that doesn’t have to involve you specifically can be a great way to work on your platform without detracting from your most important work. You may still want to consider learning about the platforms yourself or interacting personally on at least one platform to establish a deeper relationship with your fans. (See item 3 for more on this!)
Gripe and procrastinate.
I see a lot of people hanging out in this lounge. It’s comfortable and crowded. It’s also a little stuffy and stagnant. If you are currently here, I do understand. Creative people sometimes just want it to be enough to write great things. But realize that while you are complaining about platform, you could be building it. You could be creating lasting connections with your fans who will support your writing.
Master and manage.
If you want to manage the platform-building aspect yourself, you need to find a way to do so that doesn’t eat up all of your writing time. This may take a little time at the front end to get to know the platforms and set some systems in place, but once you have your methods down, it will become easier and more comfortable.
1. Choose Your Platforms
It is unrealistic to think that you can master every social platform. Even many social media experts pick one platform as their focus and use others minimally. I would suggest having a presence on a few of the main platforms, but picking one or two as your main event.
To choose the platforms, you need to get to know them a little better. This doesn’t mean you need a master’s degree in every platform, but at the least an understanding of the benefits each has to offer, where your particular people hang out, and what you like. Here are the big three questions that will help you navigate these waters.
- Where does your audience spend their time? At this point, social media is so prevalent that it’s likely your audience is probably on multiple social media platforms. Do a bit of research to see who hangs out more where. If you want to connect with people in the traditional publishing world, LinkedIn might be a good place, for example. But that may not be where readers of speculative fiction or independent authors spend their time. You may not always be able to pinpoint exactly where your people are or limit it to one platform. Consider some of the tools or ideas in this post as you work to find where your people spend their time.
- What do you love to use? The nice thing about everyone mostly being everywhere is that it means if you fall in love with Instagram, with 500 million active monthly users, some of your target people are very likely there. If you love using a platform personally in a way that doesn’t quite align with your brand as a writer, I would suggest keeping this private or under a different name. Readers tend to love a look behind the curtain at their favorite writer’s life, but they will probably not want to see six daily posts about your children unless that directly correlates to your work as a writer. Start with the platforms you know and love, but also use them as a writer, not just as you do personally.
- What does each platform offer? You need to do some homework on each platform. You might be surprised to find that a platform you think sounds like a bad fit will actually provide exactly what you are looking for in terms of connecting with fans.
If you aren’t sure where to get started with the various platforms, I created a free resource guide that provides a snapshot look at some of the bigger social media platforms. It will help you get to know the unique vibe of each platform and also provide helpful links, resources, and tools to manage each.
Choose at most two or three platforms to start. I like to actually park my name on the various platforms (especially as newer ones emerge) so that I can keep the consistency of my name across all brands. It’s so easy to tell people to find me as kikimojo on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram rather than having a different handle on each. But aside from signing up to check out the platforms, you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew if you plan to self-manage. Choose a few platforms and really rock them hard. Then when you feel you have systems in place, you can consider broadening your reach.
2. Set Up Systems and a Workflow
Systems are the methods and processes you set in place to reach your goals. They are a way of strategically simplifying and often automating your workflow. In simplest terms, you will want to set up tools and processes that will simplify your workload for you. This typically involves using tools to automate and schedule your social media activity.
Scheduling and automation are similar, but an effective strategy employs both. Scheduling may look like you sitting down once or twice a week to schedule tweets through a tool like Hootsuite. Automation may look like setting up a tool like Social Jukebox to continually push your blog posts to Twitter. You set it up one time and it keeps happening until you adjust the settings. Read more about the pros and cons of scheduling and automation in this post.
3. Automating Effectively
There are a number of tools that you can put on autopilot to push out your content on various platforms. These are in some way similar to hiring a virtual assistant. You could invest in a larger scale option like Edgar (for $50 a month), which seems expensive, but not compared to hiring a person to do your sharing for you.
- IFTTT: If This Then That lets you set up “recipes” where one action triggers another. As an example, you could create a recipe that says every time you publish a blog post, links will automatically be shared on Facebook and Twitter. There are any number of really great options on this tool and you can create your own recipes as well. This is a free tool.
- Recurpost: This allows you to create a content library of social shares and a schedule to share them over time on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It has free and paid options.
- Tweet Jukebox: Similar to Recurpost, this allows you to set up a sort of library of social shares that will continue to autopost on Twitter over time. It has free and paid options.
- Revive Old Post: This is a plugin for WordPress that you can set up right within your blog to autopost your blog content over time to Twitter. It has free and paid options.
A big mistake people often make with automation is to set up posts for one social platform to go out to all social platforms. As an example, you’ve probably seen the tweets that have the beginning of a sentence, then cut off and have a link that is clearly to a Facebook post. Why is someone from Twitter going to jump off to read your post on Facebook? This comes across as disingenuous or lazy.
If you want to reach your Twitter followers, tweet to them. Don’t link to your Facebook post or Instagram photo. There is no value in a shortened post with a link to read the full post somewhere else. It takes a bit more time, but size your images correctly for each platform and post for the platform you are using. The occasional crossover is okay, because it does remind people that you hang out in other places. But I would advise against setting up all your posts from one platform to automatically push to other platforms. Be intentional and platform-specific. This will be much more effective in the long run.
4. Scheduling Effectively
Schedule your social media management into your week. Set aside a weekly block of time to schedule posts. (Note: Instagram does not allow for third-party scheduled posts. Many tools will say they allow Instagram scheduling, but this will merely be a reminder you set in place to post your content on Instagram.) Ideally, on most platforms, you should schedule a mix of your own content and posts from other sources that would be relevant to your audience.
Popular tools to schedule content are Buffer, Hootsuite, CoSchedule, or Post Planner to set up posts ahead of time. For better reach right within Facebook pages, I would recommend scheduling right from within Facebook. (See more best practices for Facebook in this post.) For Pinterest, tools like BoardBooster, Tailwind, or Ahalogy can have great results.
5. Engaging Effectively
Even if you have great automation and scheduling in place, you should plan for a window of time each day to interact in real time. Respond to comments, retweets, or other engagement. Follow relevant people back. Answer or ask questions in real time. Do some non-scheduled shares. In general, be active for some period of time each day. (Read this post to see my workflow for using Twitter in 15 minutes a day.)
This is where many people fall into the abyss. Don’t trust yourself to be good about your time. Set an actual timer or use apps like Rescue Time or Minutes Please that will literally set a timer and shut down the sites you choose after the allotted time.
An effective workflow will include automation, scheduling, and interacting in real time without exhausting all your time or energy. Start with one or two platforms and set up your systems. Consider using a combination of hiring a virtual assistant and managing some of the work yourself. Whatever you do, don’t wait until you’ve completed a manuscript to start considering your platform.
Reframe platform as a way to connect with your fans and make the most of your time by working smarter, not longer.
Kirsten Oliphant has an MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is the creator of the Free Email Course to help de-mystify email lists for bloggers & writers. She writes about authentic platform building at Create If Writing and interviews writers, bloggers, and other creatives on the Create If Writing Podcast. You can find her tweeting as @kikimojo or sign up for free monthly workshops on list-building, image creation, or other helpful training.