Image: Matthew Loffhagen
I’ve said before that social media can be a huge boon for the modern author. It’s a direct-to-reader form of marketing that allows you to take immediate control of your popularity and turn it into financial and artistic success. Social media is a brand builder and, more importantly, it guarantees that your visibility as a writer will never again be subject to someone else’s efforts and attention.
That said, there comes a point where it stops being about why you should be using social media and starts being about how you can use social media best. More specifically, how you can make social media a manageable part of your schedule. That’s what I’ll be focusing on the most effective ways you can use social media to promote yourself and your brand on a day-to-day basis.
In the interest of providing in-depth advice, I’ll be assuming a moderate amount of experience with popular social media sites and related content creation. If you’re not quite there yet, I recommend The 7 social media rules every author needs to know for some basic but essential tips, and How to get more out of your social media followers for advice on creating and sharing content based on your audience.
Once you’re happy that you understand the basics, it’s time to think about how you can take social media management from a new, complicated system to an everyday task that doesn’t take any more time than absolutely necessary. The answer, strangely enough, is to treat it like cleaning…
Little and often
Social media management is like cleaning in a lot of ways. It is, for instance, a relatively minor set of jobs that some people hate, some people love, and a lot of people struggle to find time for. Also, like cleaning, it stacks up when ignored.
The answer, then, is to do a little bit of social media management every day. Answer some comments, post new content, find interesting topics to adapt or share, assess your analytics; do something to contribute to your social media presence every day. Like dusting when you have a spare moment or washing the dishes after a meal, it might not be something you feel like doing at the time, but it stops lots of small tasks snowballing into something that demands hours upon hours of your time.[bctt tweet=”Do something to contribute to your social media presence every day #productivity #tip”]
Not only is this less taxing than a designated multi-hour social media session once a week (or a mammoth task once a fortnight), but it’s actually a more effective way to utilize social media. Social media is always moving, so visiting more frequently for less time allows you to be present for a wider possible audience and to take advantage of a wider sampling of content.
Take, for instance, the ‘trending’ feature on Twitter. Trending topics are those which many users are talking about at once. They’re powerful, gathering a huge and engaged audience, but they’re also fleeting. Check Twitter on Tuesday and you may find a trending topic that you can use to draw attention to your site, brand or work, but turn up on Saturday and you’ll have missed the boat. Even passing fads like Twitter’s #explainabookplotbadly can draw readers to your profile, and provide the opportunity to be included in the press roundups that curate the results.
Unlike cleaning, however, your social media behavior shouldn’t be reactive. After all, you’re not fixing problems as they appear; you’re building something that visitors will enjoy and feel compelled to engage with, talk about and share. To do that successfully, being productive means being prepared.
Have a plan
I wrote in March about 15 things you need to do after you publish a post. These tips lay out a plan of attack, beginning when you post new content and offering productive things to do in the hours, days and weeks that follow. This is the attitude with which you should approach all your social media.
In terms of your social media behavior, there are many different types of activity, but the essential jobs that help build a vibrant social media presence can be split into three groups.
Group 1: The Content
The first group is all about content. As with any artistic medium, social media success begins with good-quality content. Make your social media pages a reliable place to find engaging content and your audience will build by itself (not fast enough, but we’re going to help it along in a minute).
Unlike with other mediums, content isn’t just about what’s new. The internet is a museum bigger than any person can explore on their own, and so online curation has become an art form in itself. Most social media use is casual – and a growing amount is done in short spurts via mobile devices – so users value a trustworthy curator as much as (and frequently more than) a creator.
Social media swallows more than a quarter of time spent online and a third of all internet usage is now happening via mobile… The average person has five social media accounts and spends around 1 hour and 40 minutes browsing these networks every day, accounting for 28% of the total time spent on the internet.
– The Telegraph
Become a creator and curator rolled into one and you become the best of both worlds. Busy users can rely on you to send them good content, but they also get the ego-boost and personal relationship of following someone who’s doing something original. Later on I’ll talk about the ratio of curated to created content, but for now know that the bulk of your time is going to involve simply finding something that’s worth sharing.
Be advised, though, that curation should be an open process. Social media is a unique space built around sharing, and rules should be observed. Never, for instance, share in a way that makes it unclear where the original content came from. Not only is this unfair, but it will likely come back to bite you.[bctt tweet=”Never share in a way that makes it unclear where the original content came from.”]
Josh Ostrovsky (aka ‘The Fat Jew’) is a famous Twitter personality who gained millions of followers, allegedly using other users’ jokes. While he saw initial success, he’s since been negatively profiled in multiple media outlets, had his book plagiarized and shared online immediately following release and reportedly lost out on TV deals thanks to negative publicity.
Ostrovsky is an extreme example, but ‘content thieves’ are given short shrift on social media sites and many successful content creators routinely search for unfair ‘rip-offs’ of their work. When sharing, remember that you’re working with an artist in a medium built on accessibility. No-one minds if their joke helps you build a following and increase traffic, so long as they get their own credit and exposure. Thankfully, social media sites are constructed to make this the natural way of things – sharing can be done with a few clicks, while stealing takes a little more work.
If sharing is its own art form online then so is scheduling. Casual internet use spikes at certain points in the day and week, with lunchtime midweek being a time when many workers are looking to be distracted. It’s not just what you share but when you share it, both in terms of individual pieces of content and a body of work. Release three great pieces of content over three weeks and you’re reliable, but release them all in one afternoon and you’ll see little return. Not only have you missed the opportunity to build a reputation through repetition, but you’ve asked people looking for a short experience to choose which piece of content gets their time.
You may find that your particular audience is more receptive at certain times, at which point it’s time to start experimenting with your scheduling. I’ll return to this idea when considering the third group of behaviors that make up your social media presence, but first it’s time to think about…
Group 2: The Community
Managing your social media community is one important task made up of many, many micro-actions. Each time you read a comment or answer a tweet, you’re engaging with your community. Keep doing it and you’ll make your visitors feel valued, giving them a reason to choose your content over that of similar creators and curators. There are personalities on Twitter who will always have me as a follower because they took the time to engage or answer a question, and that’s true of a lot of people.
The community can fall by the wayside when planning your social media behavior because they’re so unpredictable and, individually, can seem to require so little input. There’s no way of knowing when comments will crop up, or of appreciating the value of answering someone’s praise with a simple ‘Thanks!’, but taken as a group this kind of behavior really matters. Setting time aside to deal with the community – to engage fans and answer questions – will increase their loyalty and your reach. Not only that, but it gives you the opportunity to steer them towards your personal website or products.
Group 3: The Analysis
The term ‘analysis’ is used to refer to measuring things about your social media content that effect its reach and audience – an excellent example would be analyzing how many people see your content when it’s shared at different times of day, or where people tend to see your content (do they search for the subject matter you cover, or are they seeing it shared by friends?)
Analyzing your social media can seem daunting, but this is an area where technology can do most of the work. I’ll talk a little later on about the types of service that can analyze multiple types of data, and even suggest what you can do to increase your audience, but analysis is actually pretty simple:
- You share content, making considered decisions about a) what you share b) when you share it c) where and how you share it,
- You analyze how well that content did in terms of finding an audience,
- You think about the factors that have influenced the results, drawing on this and earlier analysis (along with feedback from dedicated software and services),
- You start the process over again, trying something new. E.g. sharing somewhere different, sharing at a different time, sharing a particular type of content.
The goal is to learn incrementally, until you know exactly what, when and where to share in order to get the best reaction. Remember, though, that your audience is always growing, and that means they’re also changing. The ideal time to post might shift, and regular analysis will help you shift with it.
I’ll end this article by outlining a plan of attack – a way of streamlining your approach to these three groups so that you’re always being as productive as possible. Before that, though, I want to share a couple of social media tips that should be at the forefront of your mind when drawing up your plan of attack.
The 4-1-1 formula
The 4-1-1 formula is a popular social media technique recommended by rFactr’s Julio Viskovich. Viskovich suggests that social media content should be shared at the following ratio:
- 4 curated posts that relate to your field of interest,
- 1 new piece of content you made yourself,
- 1 link to a pre-existing piece of content or site that you own.
Here you can see that ‘new’ content is in the minority. For every new piece of content – and here that applies to everything from extensive blog posts to individual tweets – you should be sharing four pieces of content found elsewhere. The final ‘1’ is for leading followers where you want them to go. This could be to your Amazon listing or personal website.
This is a one-size-fits-all approach, and you may find that your followers respond better to a different ratio. Even if this is the case, the 4-1-1 method is a great place to start, and can only be improved by regular analysis and experimentation. I’d recommend this as a rule of thumb to those just starting out on social media, but I’d also clarify that you shouldn’t go overboard with ‘new’ content. A single engaging tweet is all that’s needed – don’t feel like you have to write one article for every four tweets you share. You should also try to remember that your content is all working towards a single purpose – decide early on what you’re giving your reader. If it’s insight into writing, thoughts on your chosen genre, or just good quality writing then remember that you need to share content that fits this theme. Even the things you share reflect on your brand.
But what about when you want to do something a little bigger – the kind of article, infographic or image that will be shared far and wide? Well, there’s a technique for that too.
The skyscraper technique
‘Skyscraper copy’ is a term coined by Brian Dean, who claims the technique increased his search traffic (the number of people hunting down his content via search engine, rather than seeing it posted by another user) by 110% in only two weeks.
Dean’s theory is that in the same way people only care about the tallest buildings, they only care about the best content. He goes on to argue that content creators should create content in the same way that people build the tallest skyscrapers – find the tallest building in the city and add twenty stories to its height.[bctt tweet=”Content creators should create content in the same way that people build the tallest skyscrapers”]
By this, Dean means that creators should find a piece of content that’s the best in their field of interest and then add to it. He suggests the following ways of doing so:
- Making it longer – Can you turn ‘20 tips for great gothic writing’ into ‘25 tips for great gothic writing’?
- Making it more in-depth – What happens if you take a bullet-point list of great character archetypes and add a few sentences of insight about each one?
- Update it – When was ‘the 10 greatest books on editing’ written, and what books have come out since that you can include in a more up-to-date version?
- Improve the aesthetic – Can a list be made into an infographic, or an article improved through images?
In fact, Dean suggests you beat the old piece of content in every way possible, removing all doubt that your new version is superior. Not included in his list is the ability to take small, specific points and show them in the context of a larger theory or argument. For example, an article about being productive on social media that includes more than one technique.
Dean’s personal brand of skyscraper copy veers dangerously close to Ostrovsky’s alleged content theft. Reading his explanation, it’s easy to come away with the belief that you need to strip previous content for parts and leave older versions in the dust. That’s not true – it’s possible to apply the skyscraper technique to existing copy while still acknowledging and properly representing the content that’s gone before and the people who made it.
Under sufficient scrutiny, the skyscraper technique is actually revealed as simple research. Read up on a subject and you aren’t stealing what other people think, but learning and developing your own viewpoint. When you know enough, you’ll be ready to add something that improves on what’s already out there. Adding to the length, insight, timeliness and aesthetic of a piece isn’t an illusion – it’s just genuinely making something new and better.
With that understood, the skyscraper technique is a great way of contextualizing the type of research you need to do and the value you can add to content in order to draw a crowd. Just be aware that there are a lot of people playing the skyscraper game – your content will only be the best for so long before you have to find a new way to add a few more stories. While this is a challenge, it’s also to your benefit – one piece of content draws a little attention, but updating and presenting the newest version of your thoughts shows you’re someone worth following in the long term.
Your plan of attack
Earlier I identified the three groups into which your social media behavior should fall, and I also promised to streamline the way they can be approached. In basic terms, the idea is to find sites and services that will present you with great, popular content and analyze how you use it.
Step 1: Find what to talk about
Before you even go looking for content, you need to know the subject matter that will work for you. This partly depends on your personal brand and experience with your audience, but there are sites that can help you turn a basic understanding into something more refined:
A site which analyzes how certain topics are received by readers, allowing you to experiment with intended content or investigate what readers are looking for.
A site which prides itself on spotting trends and popular topics as they develop.
- Social Bakers
A great site for analyzing trends and topics which also offers a wealth of useful resources for social media success.
Once you’ve used these sites to decide on a topic, it’s time to think about content.
Step 2: Find great content
Finding good-quality, relevant content provides you with fantastic shareable material for the 4-1-1 technique, and lets you scope out the best ‘buildings’ for the skyscraper technique. Again, there are hundreds of sites and only experimentation will find the very best one for you.
Remember that content curation sites like this are great, but you should also be actively searching social media sites for relevant content. Follow other creators and curators and this will be presented to you on a daily basis. In terms of productivity, though, the following sites can save you a huge amount of time:
A popular curation site which combines expert curation with its own social media platform.
This site is a great source of curated content, and can also be used to publish original creations.
A premier curator of interesting and engaging content.
A curation site which focuses on offering specific search terms for more productive use.
This site curates via lists, allowing you to find many great content sources all in one place and organize them for later reference.
A useful site for finding specialist content – everything is categorized according to pertinent words and phrases.
Now you know what works and you’ve got great content to share or use when creating your own work.
Step 3: Share and schedule
Where you share is entirely down to your audience, but you should be on Facebook and Twitter at the very least. I also suggest some kind of presence on Pinterest, LinkedIn and perhaps Google+ and Tumblr. These are the sites on which you’ll find the biggest audience.
That’s not to say that you need to visit the sites themselves. Often the most productive way to use social media is to use a service that allows you to operate multiple sites at once. In fact, these sites often include bonus features, such as the ability to schedule social media activity far in advance and analytics packages that can tell you how to find a wider audience. Some of the best are:
The king of the hill. This service deals with a limited number of social media sites, but includes the biggest hitters and has a stellar track record.
Buffer offers control of pretty much every social media site you’ll need. While it’s aimed at business use, it can easily accommodate individuals.
- Sprout Social
A business-focused service that offers a free trial so you can see for yourself.
This is our very own social media scheduling dashboard. You can use it to manage your own social media accounts for free.
Don’t forget that while creating and sharing content can be done in advance, engaging with fans has to be managed in the moment. Social media sites, and the services that allow you to manage them, will flag reader comments for you to action – try to dedicate a small amount of time to this each day to make fans feel heard and valued.
Step 4: Analyze and adapt
Analysis is generally built into the social media management services listed above, but other services may be more to your taste:
- Google Analytics
No-one knows more about search engine analysis than Google.
This service is all about the nitty-gritty, focusing on optimizing and measuring the effectiveness of each individual link you share.
A simple service that communicates via no-frill weekly summaries.
An effective service with a focus on comparing different social media sites to find out where you’re best off concentrating your time.
Another service geared towards professionals. Some might find it overkill, but it’s packing the full range of features.
Dealing only with Facebook and Twitter, this service bills itself as a ‘community manager’ tool that will help you with content and fan interaction.
It may take a little while for you to become comfortable with the sites and techniques outlined above, but it’s nothing compared to the time you’ll save once you get to grips with them. Once you’ve found the sites for you it can take just minutes to choose a week’s worth of great content and schedule a slow, controlled release that will play out at effective times while you’re busy elsewhere. All that’s left to do is to put aside some time to engage with fans, check your analytics and add the occasional piece of new content and you’ll find that a huge social media impact can be achieved with the minimum of effort.
For more on this subject, check out The 7 Social Media Rules Every Author Needs To Know.[bctt tweet=”Want To Be More Productive On Social Media? Here’s How”]