Social media is a great tool for promotion. One’s presence on social media can mean the difference between successfully selling a product versus not selling it at all. With platforms such as Twitter and Facebook fan pages, branding is accessible and attainable for every day people. Unlike a decade ago where artists’ teams worked on their branding/image, Twitter has served as the sort of do-it yourself tool for professionals, celebrities, musicians, writers and authors to “sell” the public on whatever it is they’re trying to promote.
Anyone oblivious to Twitter’s power can look no further than Tony A. Gaskins Jr. or the pleasantries guy. Gaskins with a following of 106,247 has plateaued his success as an author, motivational speaker and consultant. Both have reached turned their patriarchal advice and tips (mostly directed at women) into lucrative opportunities. Ask any new author whether or not Twitter and Facebook numbers matter. Many will reluctantly reveal that once their manuscripts were read, the editor was sold on the idea of the book, they wanted to know what the inspiring author’s numbers were. Do you have a blog? How many hits do you receive? How many Twitter followers? How many FB “likes” do you have? Chances are if you didn’t have the numbers, you weren’t getting your book signed to a major publishing house. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. But exceptions are never the standard.
For writers, social media has been a great avenue to reach an audience that may otherwise have never heard of them. Every writer uses Twitter differently; but those who are authors or journalists typically tweet and post their articles, press mentions and book signing events to their followers. Awareness is key. If people have no clue who you are the chances of them being familiar with, let alone supporting your work, are slim.
Not everyone uses Twitter to promote their own projects. People like dream hampton use Twitter to exchange and share ideas (in all fairness she does tweet links to her work, both old and new). One of the things she has repeatedly said she loves about Twitter is the engagement. After all, there are real people behind the Avatars and screen names. At the Brooklyn Book Festival Terry McMillan read from her next book that she’s currently writing. During the Q&A session someone asked all of the authors about social media. McMillan was the only one to say she loved it and added, “I don’t use Twitter to promote anything I do.” The point here is that writers use social media in various ways that suit their needs.
Although dream and Ms. McMillan have the luxury of not using Twitter to “brand” themselves (obviously their names are already well known), new writers do not. Having an effective presence on Twitter and Facebook is a must. As one editor told me, “Your biggest goal right now should be creating a name for yourself.”
I’ve been on Twitter since May of 2009. My recollection for Facebook is a tad bit grey, but I believe I joined when you needed an .edu email to join. Facebook has been around much longer, but was never in the same realm as Twitter in the sense of promotion until recently. It was always more personal– a way to keep up with old friends and family. But FB is catching up to Twitter in the sense that it too has become a platform for individuals and businesses to reach massive numbers of people. When I first joined Twitter I had no clue what I was doing. I only joined because I was interning at VIBE and my boss said, “By Monday you better have a Twitter account.” I joined that day. By not really knowing how Twitter worked I would just tweet my thoughts with absolutely no filter. I’d curse, I’d talk about the lunch I had and occasionally tweet about my internship. Back then there was no blog to promote. I definitely hadn’t written for any publications.
As time went on I got the hang of Twitter. I used Danyel Smith (@danamo) as an example. She seldom promoted anything of her own because she hadn’t started The Smithian yet. The most you’d get about her personal life was what she cooked for dinner or her favorite “BK bound.” She followed all the news and magazine sites. She followed well known journalists and writers. I did the same. DSW pretty much used Twitter to share links to a myriad of articles.
Sometimes I struggled with Twitter. Figuring out what was acceptable to tweet, learning how to keep certain opinions to myself, learning to not respond to every asshole who attacked my opinion, it all became a process. Who knew social media had to be so strategic.
Two and a half years later it took my best friend’s birthday weekend for me to decide I’d been putting it off long enough. It was long overdue. I finally deactivated my Facebook account, cleaned up my Twitter page and got off of social media. If you could deactivate your Twitter account and reactivate without losing any followers I would have done so. Originally I wasn’t concerned about how long I’d do it, but rather what I wanted to accomplish before getting back on. Four months sounded reasonable since by then it’d be my birthday and my new year. Without question I knew my blog numbers would suffer.
The top three traffic drivers to my site are Google, Facebook and Twitter. By not tweeting my blog posts or posting links to FB, ultimately less people are aware that I’m writing daily, which equates to less visitors. I was never in the habit of blogging daily so my readers aren’t accustomed to checking the blog every day for new posts. On the flipside I enjoy the freedom of writing for myself.
Another adjustment I’ve had to get used to is no longer finding out about breaking news from Twitter. I learned of Heavy D’s death from the radio. Just like the ol’ days. Watching TV shows with my Twitter followers also became a weekly normalcy. Those were hilarious moments. When I meet new people who want to connect on FB they won’t find me there since my page isn’t activated. Others don’t understand why with 22K tweets my Twitter page is private. And more so, as a writer whose work is very public, people expect you to be using social media daily.
Publications also hope their writers will tweet the articles they write because it brings traffic to their site. The interview I just did with Tamar Braxton for VIBE.com was not tweeted. I haven’t been able to share with anyone outside of my close circle that I’m in December’s issue of ESSENCE on the contributor’s page. I also have a two page story on couples who’ve made marriage work. And the funny thing is that under my bio on the contributor’s page of ESSENCE it sends people to my Twitter, which is locked and I’m not tweeting. This is horrible brand building at its finest. But I am enjoying life to the fullest. Now that Twitter apps are no longer on my phone I enjoy events and outings with my friends. Instead of tweeting about the things I’m doing I’m enjoying the company I’m with. I’m fully listening or observing because I’m not worried about tweeting what celeb I just interviewed. My productivity has multiplied by a trillion. Social media was a huge time drain. The amount of time I’d put into tweeting was slowing down my actual hustle. The hours I spent on social media could’ve been hours I spent blogging or pitching ideas.
One of the biggest truths is that I believe a lot of people use social media as escapism. Many people use social media to escape from their own life and create a whole world of cyber friends, having to know what’s going in and what people are saying. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the cliques on Twitter. It’s like high school reincarnated. You have the cool kids. The nerds. The eccentric. The bourgeoisie. The Posers. I always wondered if the same people were on tweeting day and night or every time I’d log in, how are they living their own life? When you are truly living social media becomes an after thought. For me, the energy being exhausted into it and some of the energy coming from it was not conducive with what I’m trying to do at the moment. And that’s be my best self and live my best life.
I’ll continue to be anti-social media for as long as I need to, even with losing followers daily. Yes, I know this is happening. I know my line of work goes hand in hand with the whole cyber world, which is why I still regularly update my Writing While Black FB page. Will it hurt the brand? Probably. Will my numbers continue to decrease? Maybe. Is it a sacrifice I’m willing to take? Yep.
Social media is probably more powerful than any of us ever thought it’d be. Too bad it’s so powerful that we’ve come to rely on it for promotion and brand building. Sometimes your brain doesn’t want to strategize how to effectively use social media. The work should speak for itself. That’s all I ever wanted anyway.