Writers: social media is a tool — not a magic bullet

Every novelist, journalist and aspiring writer I know is all over social media. They’ve got a blog and a Twitter account, or a Tumblr and a Facebook page.

Or they have all four, plus three things that are so bleeding edge, I haven’t heard of them yet.

HOWEVER: you could spend all day banging out blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates. It could suck up all your free time. And you might not get that much out of it.

I see people doing it wrong all the time, and it kills me.

So let’s get some things straight:

  • It’s not about how many friends you have on Facebook.
  • It’s not about how many hits you get on your blog.
  • It’s not about how many people follow you on Twitter.

If you want to make more money writing for a living — or quit your day job to write full-time — then you need to look inside the media toolbox and see each type of social media for what it is: a tool.

Not a magic bullet. Not a sure-fire path to fame and fortune.

You also need to realize that social media can’t be your entire media plan. And no, you are not the exception, Internet Boy.

Here’s a quick-and-dirty look at each tool:

Twitter

This whole Twitter thing is for meeting people.

The social barrier is incredibly low, because tweets are by definition super-short.

Nobody is going to send you a rambling five-page email about their feelings. There’s a lot of freedom in 140 characters.

Want to BS with other writers? Look up the right hashtag for the kind of writing you do. I bet #poems will get you in touch with poets around the world.

Movies, romance, thrillers, journalism, whatever you’re into, you can find people with the same interests on Twitter, and it’s non-threatening.

It’s like a big bar that’s always open where the drinks are always free and the people are friendly, because they’re drunk. I said THE DRINKS ARE FREE.

Facebook

The Book of Face is nothing like Twitter, nothing at all. It’s a closed system.

If Twitter is a big bar where anybody can talk to anybody, then Facebook is a giant hotel with 500 million rooms where you’ve got to know the right hotel room number, knock on the door and have the person behind the peephole look at you and say OK before they open the door and let you in the private party.

Facebook is for friends and family.

It’s for people you’ve had dinner with, or would have dinner with, and want to share baby photos and wedding photos and private things you don’t want to share with the world.

Maybe you think a Facebook fan page is the best thing ever, and you swear by it, and it’s the reason why you went from reporter at The Willapa Valley Shopper to editor of Vanity Fair.

I don’t recommend it. Facebook’s niche is friends and family. There are better tools.

Also: don’t play Farmville, or Bejeweled, or whatever on Facebook, for doing so a Sin, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster DOES NOT FORGET.

He doesn’t forgive, either. Not his thing.

Blogs

Blogs are a bit like Twitter, in that everybody can see them. It’s not a private party like Facebook.

With a blog, you can write a helluva lot longer than 140 characters and put in silly photos of zombies and movie clips about hair bands from the 1980s. IT IS GLORIOUS.

Blogs are where the people you meet on Twitter can come to hang out. You can have literary flame wars in the comment sections about whether the Spork should be sent along with Snooki and the Situation on a one-way mission to Mars.

Different tools for different jobs

Think about those three tools — Twitter, Facebook and blogs — compared to a face-to-face meeting, a phone call and an e-mail.

  • Asking for a face-to-face meeting with an important and powerful stranger is the highest possible hurdle, right? A six-foot brick wall to climb over.
  • A cold call is chain-link fence. A little easier.
  • E-mailing that same VIP is three-foot wall.
  • Posting a comment on their blog is a little hop over decorative plants.
  • Tweeting is like hopping over a crack in the sidewalk. It’s nothing. Go give Yoko Ono a tweet. DO IT NOW.

It’s not about getting hits

Social media is not a games of Tetris, where you’re trying to get the high score.

Having 500,000 hits to your blog or 20,000 followers on Twitter doesn’t do anything, by itself.

Social media is about meeting people and learning things. It’s about a dialogue, not a monologue.

Fame and fortune still comes from old-fashioned mass media.

Do people like Charlie Sheen start Twitter accounts and instantly get 6.8 bazillion followers? Yes.

And there is a reason for that. That reason is simple: he was already a famous movie and TV star.

Also, he is an infamously insane train wreck, which is hard not to watch.

Want to reach a mass audience? Use the mass media

If you want national success, you need to reach a national audience.

To sell a million movie tickets, or novels, you’ve got to reach tens of millions of people with the mass media — and if you’re lucky, advertising. National success means trying to reach 330 million people. International success means reaching out to all 7 billion on this rock.

You can’t do that with Facebook and Twitter and a blog. Not everybody uses it. The only real way to reach a mass audiences is by using the mass media. TV. Newspapers. Radio.

A big chunk of the population only gets their news and entertainment from the idiot box. A different chunk only listens to the radio. A smaller bit rely on newspapers and magazines.

If you’re not on all of those channels, you don’t exist to those different audiences.

Social media isn’t a magic bullet

Old-fashioned mass media still has the biggest bullets and the biggest guns.

Is this heresy to the fanatics of the web? Yes. Too bad, so sad, tell your dad. Journalists and public relations pros will tell you this is the truth. Suck it up, internet boy. Sometimes, you have to get up from behind the keyboard and talk to real reporters, live and in person.

Someday, you have to go on a radio show. Eventually, you need to get on TV shows — not once, repeatedly — to reach all those people who only watch TV, even if you’re just trying to reach a local or statewide audience.

Say you’re a playwright in Seattle trying to make your debut play a success. Are you gonna sell out the season by having a blog and a Facebook fan page and tweeting twice a day? No.

Don’t waste your time dreaming that lightning will strike via the internets.

Get on the local TV stations, on radio, in the newspapers, on local blogs that are already popular. Your own blog and whatnot is gravy. It’s not a serious media plan.

Take solace from the fact that with 5.84 bazillion people trying to do via the series of tubes, there’s less competition for serious, hard-working people who know how to work the mass media. By “work” I don’t mean “annoy.” You need to do it right.

It isn’t easy. It isn’t simple. But it’s a lot more effective for reaching a mass audience than hoping hits on your blog will turn into magic, like lead into gold.

There are gold mines out there. That’s where you should take your pick and your axe and your mighty pen to look for the shiny yellow stuff. Because that’s where it lives.

11 thoughts on “Writers: social media is a tool — not a magic bullet

  1. Love this post. I’m honestly not a huge fan of social networking, but, I dragged myself kicking and screaming eventually. Like you mentioned earlier, I feel like it takes up way too much time, time that could be spent writing. So, I blog every few days, not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I prefer to leave it for when I have something more important to me to share. As for Twitter, it gets a look in once or twice a day, cause you know, people want to know when I’ve woken up and when I’m going to bed. ^^

    Like

  2. Social media is definitely a tool…and the tool is only as good as how it’s used. And isn’t there that saying about the hammer and the nail. 😀 I’m fairly new to social media but I’m learning as much as I can. It’s not a magic bullet by a long shot but it can help a writer build a platform for a career.

    Like

  3. LOL!!!I always tell people the same thing. If you don’t like it, people will know. I like blogging. I love Twitter.
    I hate Facebook.
    I guess I prefer the bar to hotel rooms. LOL!
    There IS no magic bullet. None.
    Well, sometimes a good story works.

    Like

    1. Jen the Lee Land,

      People are fascinated by technology. I can put something on the series of tubes, then sit back and wait until magic lightning strikes and Care Bears ride unicorns down a rainbow of money that they hand to me, in my pajamas!

      Except 529 million other people have the same idea. And it doesn’t work.

      How goes your writing of books?

      Like

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