Just over a year ago, I discovered my debut poetry collection, How To Lose Your Home & Save Your Life, would be published in 2014, and the news scared the crap out of me. Being published is every writer's dream but it immediately begged the question - who on earth would read it? Although I'd been writing away for several years, attending a regular writing group, sending poems out to competitions and occasionally, reading at an event, when someone was kind enough to ask me to, I had never thought of all this as 'my work'. It was just something I did.
I hadn't even sent my poems out to literary magazines or journals - I didn't think they were ready for publication. But all that changed when I won the Cork Literary Review Poetry Manuscript Competition 2013. I was about to publish a book; now I needed to spread the word and build an audience.
I first became aware of social media in 2007, through blogging for business and using Facebook, then joined Twitter in early 2009, and was amazed at the potential of these venues for sharing information and making connections. Social media allows you to engage with an audience, or build a tribe, by offering people what they want or need - advice, information, entertainment or value for money. But how would the business model translate to using social media as a writer?
On a Facebook Page and Twitter, I shared general advice about writing, news and events, as well as following, commenting on and sharing info by other similar pages or tweeters. I used the blog for longer more content-driven pieces and also set up a number of boards on Pinterest for collecting advice, tips and prompts on writing, art and creativity.
I'm really quite chuffed with what I managed to achieve in 2014:
- Almost 11,000 views on my blog in the year - according to Wordpress that's the equivalent of selling out the Sydney Opera House 4 times over!
- Nearly 100 posts on Wordpress - almost 2 per week. Eminently respectable.
- Close to 600 followers on the Facebook Page.
- Over 1000 followers on Twitter.
- An audience of over 1800 readers across all social media platforms.
- Regular engagement from readers on Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress and Pinterest.
I haven't quite got a handle on who my audience is yet - people who read poetry, other writers or both - and so I've tried out different things to gauge interest. I'm always surprised which posts take off - it's never the ones I think will do well! Here are some of the types of blog post that worked in 2014:
- A Weekly / Monthly Round-up - writing tips, literary articles, competitions or events. I'm essentially quite lazy and anything that provides me with lots of useful information without having to scramble around multiple resources looking for it, is a damn good thing.
- Advice From Famous Writers - who better to learn from than those in the know!
- News About My Writing - this one surprised me, as I think of myself as an unknown writer, so why would anyone be interested? I know I like to hear of my writing peers doing well, whether winning competitions, getting published in journals or reading at festivals - it makes those goals seem more attainable. If they can do it, maybe I can to.
- Reports & Photographs from Literary Events - the next best thing to actually being there!
- Sharing My Own Work - I tend not to share a lot of my own poetry on the blog, unless it has already been published - I prefer to reserve exclusivity for submitting work to competitions or literary journals, as these help build my credibility as a writer.
- Sharing Other Writers' Work - I love to discover new work by other writers but have to be careful about sharing due to copyright. Just because a writer's work is published on the internet doesn't mean it is available for general use - some writing blogs invite work directly from writers, to avoid this complication.
- General Musings About My Day - the key to social media is that it is made up of the voices of real people, rather than press releases and corporate spin. It's OK to talk about the everyday real stuff because we've all got it going on - it's what we all relate to.
What I Learned
Although I didn't have any kind of schedule in place, I tweeted, posted and blogged on a regular basis - daily on Facebook and Twitter. I set up a number of boards on Pinterest, at the beginning, but only checked in occasionally. The early effort paid off, as the info on those boards was regularly shared and pinned, but I'm still not sure how best to use Pinterest and it's something I'll be looking at next year.
The Facebook Page was the biggest disappointment and gave the lowest return on investment for the amount of time spent there. It has been difficult to grow and engage with a community on Facebook ever since their change of algorithm restricted who can see posts - they want Page users to pay for visibility. I gave Facebook Ads a try and did see an influx of new followers to my page but they were primarily from developing countries (possible click-farms) and very few of these new followers actually engaged with the page by liking, commenting and sharing info. Proof that it is best to focus on social media outlets that allow you to grow an audience organically.
And Twitter was hands-down the best of the bunch! It might seem surprising, when you can only tweet messages of 140 characters, but it's amazing what you can squeeze into that tiny space and how many like-minded people there are out there to chat and share info with!
Social Media & Self Promotion - Top Tip
When first engaging with social media, I was nervous about the idea of self-promotion and how that fits into the whole tweeting, posting and blogging spectrum. One of the most useful pieces of advice I came across was this great rule-of-thumb for promoting yourself online:
For every 10 posts / tweets / pins etc, only 3 should be pure self-promotion, with the other 7 being pure relevant content for followers. The exception to the rule is a post where, if the self-promotion part were to be removed, the rest of the post would still have value to the reader.
In other words, readers will tolerate a passing mention of something you're promoting, as long as the rest of the information is useful and relevant to them - otherwise, no more than 30% of your output should be self promotion.
My first year of blogging and using social media as a writer has been great fun - in looking out for great articles to share with others, I've read and learned a lot - but it's been quite chaotic and one of the challenges for next year will be to put some kind of structure on posting, tweeting and blogging.
To this end, I treated myself to '365 Social Media Tips' - an e-book by Lorna Sixsmith & Amanda Webb of We Teach Social - to learn some insider tricks on using social media. On their advice, I've already tried out Buffer - a quick and easy way to schedule posts for Facebook and Twitter, and look forward to implementing more time-saving tips.
I'd also like to step up my game on You Tube - this is now THE venue for poets and spoken word performers to share their work online, through recordings of live performances or the growing film-poem genre. I really enjoyed my experience of making a film-poem of 'The Tigers' Tail, with photographer, Mike Bors, earlier in the year and am hoping to develop more live-film pieces in 2015.
It's going to be a busy year!
Are you a writer using social media? Do you have any tricks or tips to share?