Write It Sideways

Developing Your Writing Presence on the Web

Today’s post is written by regular contributor Susan Bearman.

In addition to being a writer myself, I help other writers define and establish their online presence. The three questions I’m asked most often are:

It’s the “really” in those questions that gives away the answers. Yes, you do, and you knew that already. But … and this is a big but … if you’re not going to do it well, don’t do it at all.

Setting up a Facebook Page or Twitter account, then failing to post regularly is even worse than being conspicuously absent. It sends the message that you either don’t know what you’re doing or that you don’t care.

The same is true with a blog. You certainly don’t have to post every day, but you do have to post regularly to attract regular readers, and you do have to have something to say.

Why You Need a Web Presence

Really? You’re here, on a website, asking why you need a web presence. You already know the answer to this question, too.

The Internet is the Yellow Pages, encyclopedia, billboard, road atlas, newspaper, PR agent, catalog, shopping center, and reference librarian all rolled into one, multiplied by infinity and available on every tablet, hand-held and desktop device worldwide.

If you aren’t on the web, well, then you simply aren’t.

But It’s All So Overwhelming

Yes, but it doesn’t have to be. Most things on the web are pretty accessible if you park your technophobia down the block and spend a little time strolling around the social networking neighborhood. If you don’t understand how to do something, wander over to YouTube and you can find a video explaining how to do just about anything.

You can also break into social networking at your own pace, in manageable chunks. No one says you have to start your website, Facebook page, and Twitter account all on the same day. Take some time to explore. Stop telling yourself that all this social media stuff is a waste of time and figure out how to use it to your best advantage.

Because here’s the thing: if you want people to read your writing, they have to know it exists. Unless you’re some phe-nom literary prodigy, no one is going to market you better than you can market yourself.

The First Word in Social Networking is “Social”

You’re a writer, not an infomercial. Online social networking, just like in-person networking, can be an effective marketing tool, but you have to use it with finesse. You have to give as good as you get. Sell, sell, sell does not sit well on the Internet. It’s all about the added value. What can you bring to the table that will make other people interested in you? There are any number of ways to attract followers and readers:

Define Yourself

As they say, there’s nothing new under the sun. Just as you have to find a hook in your writing, you have to discover your personal hook in social networking societies. Maybe you write top notch reviews. Maybe you’re a trend spotter. It’s OK—in fact, it’s great—if you can develop an online persona that’s just a little better and more interesting than maybe you are in real life.

Present yourself consistently across all platforms. Use a good head shot or create an interesting avatar (square is preferable) that will help people identify you. Try to set a specific tone and stick with it. Just as in your writing, you need to find your social networking voice.

Edit Yourself

This is the time to listen to your inner critic. Don’t fall into the trap of using the Internet as your own personal mind dump. You want even your <140-character Twitter posts to convey that you are a skilled writer.

Shorter is almost always better. If your blog post is 600 words, cut it down to 400. Play with your Twitter posts. Make them into a writing challenge. Can you express something meaningful and interesting in <140 characters without losing your integrity as a writer?

Don’t badmouth anybody. My mother used to say, if you have something negative to say, do it in person, not in writing. Writing lasts forever. This is especially true of the Internet. It never goes away. It is never completely private, no matter what the privacy policy says. Use discretion, good manners, and common sense.

Be Generous

Don’t plagiarize—give credit where credit is due. Wherever possible, provide a link and a name. Promote other writers as you would want them to promote you. Say thank you.

Facebook Profile vs. Facebook Page

I get this question a lot: what’s the difference between a Facebook profile and a Facebook page. Think of your Facebook profile as an invitation-only party. You should know all your “friends” personally. If you don’t care what their kid or dog did this morning, you probably don’t want to be Facebook “friends” with them.

Think of your Facebook Page as a conference. It’s a public place. People don’t need an invitation to “Like” you. Friends, acquaintances, colleagues, fans, even strangers, are all welcome.

Having a Facebook page is vital for drawing the line between your personal online self and your professional online self. If you were to suddenly become the next J.K. Rowling with thousands of people Googling your name every day, you would want them to find you on Facebook and connect with your work. You don’t want them to have access to the personal information you share with your real-life friends.

Watch what you post and where you post it. You may decide that some things are worth posting to both your personal and professional Facebook timelines, but don’t overdo it. Keep your personal profile personal and your professional page professional. You are allowed only one personal Facebook profile, but you may have as many pages as you like. Some writers have a single author page; others have a page for each of their books.

Tools that Can Help

Many people ask “But when will I have time to write?” It’s easy to get sucked into social networking, so it’s important to outline your goals and set your boundaries. Some people set aside certain times of day (or the week) for social networking. Others use a variety of tools to schedule their postings. Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are just two of the tools that can help. Both act as kind of dashboard where you can manage multiple social networking accounts all at one time. In addition, Twitter and Facebook have apps that can let you post from one to the other, or both.

Most blog hosts allow you to write posts in advance, then schedule them for a later time or date. For example, I do a Wordless Wednesday post for my husband’s pet store blog with pictures of people and their new pets. It’s a big hit with readers and I can do most of the work in advance. My husband sends me three or four images a week; I write up a brief description and schedule the picture/posts for the next three or four Wednesdays in a row.

Develop a Strategy

If you have a blog, but not many followers, seek out other blogs and leave relevant comments. If you find a blog that is a particularly good fit for your area of expertise, offer to write a guest post. Many bloggers welcome new content and are happy to provide a short bio with a link back to your site.

Spend some time visiting the different social networking sites and see which ones best suit your personality and technical skills. If Twitter doesn’t appeal, check out GoodReads. This is a terrific place for writers to interact with readers. You can find and write reviews, start an online book club, or set up your own author page and blog so readers can find you.

Pinterest is the place for the visually oriented. Quora is all about the questions. There are new sites popping up every day. Don’t attempt to become a full-time user of all of them, or you really won’t get any writing (or anything else done). But don’t run screaming back into the dark ages, either. Make the investment in yourself and your career to keep at least reasonably well versed on the social networking scene.

If you can’t find the help you need online, look to your local writers’ group for resources. Subscribe to industry publications that include marketing tips. Take a class at a conference, workshop, or community college. And take a little time to run around the Internet playground. It’s fun.