BWS 11.05.22 report: “Social Media 101 for Authors” with Caroline from ECW Press

Caroline from ECW Press is a marketing manager, graphic designer, and photographer. She currently works at ECW Press in Toronto.

Social media can definitely be daunting for all of us (even me!), but it can be a great tool for connecting your work with a much larger audience. It has made our worlds much bigger than most of us had ever imagined— in an instant, you can click “post” and your writing is sent to people millions of miles away. With so many outlets, it can be hard to know where to start and what to do. It takes a while to adjust to any new environment but, rest assured, you’ll get your sea legs soon.

An Overview of the Most Popular Social Media Platforms

Let’s start by going over the main social media platforms, what they’re typically used for, and how you might use them as writer. This talk is about day-to-day posting on social media so I’m going to skip talking about Instagram Lives, IGTVs, and Facebook Lives but if you’re into doing talks or long-form videos, those are great for you to look into.

First up, there’s Twitter. Twitter is a great platform for writers because it’s primarily text-based. You can also share photos and videos, but those 280-character-or-less Tweets are the bread and butter of the website. As a writer, you might use Twitter for two things: sharing short jokes/thoughts/commentary or promoting your work and events. If you’re a poet, maybe you’ll tweet out a couple lines of poetry. If you’re writing a novel, you can chime in when you see people talking about something related to the subject matter. Twitter is about connecting with other people in a massive conversation about timely topics. Some of our best performing tweets have been ones that commented on worldwide events (like the time a bunch of social media networks went down at once). And Twitter has a reputation as a news-sharing website so if you have updates (such as event updates or media coverage of your writing), this is a great place to share them.

Next there’s Instagram. Instagram used to be primarily a photo-sharing app but now it’s also begun promoting short videos as well, Instagram Reels. Instagram is a lot more polished than Twitter because posts are easily visible on your profile for much longer so people usually put more thought into them before posting. When you see people say that social media only shows people on their best day, they’re talking about Instagram. As a writer, this is a great place to connect with your readers because the book community is huge here (a.k.a. bookstagram). If you’re a poet, images of poems are also really popular here — Rupi Kaur’s work first took off on Instagram. If you need a way to turn quotes from your work into pretty graphics, Canva is a free, easy-to-use website for beginner designers.

TikTok is the newest of the popular social media platforms and it’s entirely video based. It really took off during the pandemic— which is when Instagram revealed their rival update, Instagram Reels. As of March 2022, TikTok videos can be a maximum of 10 minutes long but most of the popular videos on the app are shorter, from 15 seconds to 1 minute long. They’re often set to music or sound clips from popular movies, tv shows, or other videos. Tok is a super creative platform so you’ll want to spend a while watching videos before you try making your own. As a writer, this is a good place to connect with fellow writers and with readers who are looking for book recommendations using the hashtags #BookTok and #AuthorsOfTikTok.

On Facebook you can post longer passages of text, photos, or videos, but the website has been weaning in popularity, especially with the younger crowd. It’s still a good place to set up event pages so you can have all your event info in one place and you can share the event with others, update them if any of the details change, and get a sense of how many people are coming.

LinkedIn is mostly a business networking site for people looking to get jobs and connect with others in their industry for work-related opportunities. Unless your writing is related to that sort of subject, you can skip this one, at least when it comes to book promotion.

Tips, Advice, and ECW Press’s Approach to Social Media

Now that you have an overview of the main platforms and how they’re used from a writer’s point of view, I’m going to give you some tips that I put to use when I’m doing ECW Press’s social media.

How Often Should You Post? What Should You Post?

My biggest piece of advice is that you should use social media for fun, not just for self promotion. At ECW, I knew that we didn’t have the privilege of being followed just because of our name, like Penguin Random House is. I needed to give people a good reason to follow us so I started being funnier on Twitter and offering people jokes about books, publishing, and our co-workers. Sometimes I gather photos of Ben Affleck and compare his outfits to our different book covers. Sometimes I post memes based on whatever’s popular at the moment (last year it was Squid Game). It has worked really well— people are engaging with our posts more than ever— and now when I have information to share about our books, events, and authors, our audience is more inclined to listen to us. And— this is pretty important— our posts are more likely to be seen by our followers because they’ve interacted with our previous posts. Social media websites use algorithms that determine what posts they prioritize showing each person on the website. If you interact with a lot of book-related Instagram posts, it will start to show you more.

For all of these reasons, you don’t want to be posting constant self-promotion. Think about the content you enjoy seeing and what it brings to your day. Try to offer the same to your followers. Getting personal is always what gets the most engagement— show people the person behind the writing. Show them a photo of your writing desk, tell them a funny behind-the-scenes story about a character or piece you worked on, talk about the other writers whose work you love. The goal is to connect with other people— not just by clicking “connect,” but by being truly relatable. If you approach social media with the goal of creating interesting content and talking to other people in the writing community, you’ll have a lot more success than if you go into it only with the goal of showing off your own work. If you give people a reason to want to get to know you, you’ll be giving them a reason to read your writing.

With all of that said, only take on the amount of apps you can handle. If you’re awful at taking photos, then just skip Instagram and focus on Twitter. If you love making videos, try TikTok and Instagram. It’s great if you’re able to use them all but don’t put so much pressure on yourself that it feels like work. It should ultimately be fun and another creative outlet for you to enjoy.

Hashtags

There’s often a lot of confusion for those new to social media about how hashtags work but it’s very simple! On Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook, putting a # before a phrase or word creates a hashtag. Make sure you don’t accidentally break the hashtag by using punctuation or spaces. When you click on that hashtag or search for it in the search bar, it will show you all of the posts that use that hashtag. If you see a trending hashtag (like #BookLook, where people do their makeup to match a book cover) and you’d like to participate, add the hashtag to your post so people can find it.

Think of it as keyword that makes searching for information easier. They’re also used to let the algorithm (especially on Instagram and TikTok) know what your post is about and whether to recommend it to others. If you watch a lot of videos with the hashtag #TimotheeChalamet, Instagram will start recommending you more videos that use this hashtag. I know this from experience.

You don’t want to just turn random phrases into hashtags (like #HavingAGreatDayTodayYay) because no one else is using them so they won’t help you. You also want to avoid using too many super vague hashtags (like #summer or #books) because there are so many

posts associated with such general hashtags that your post is likely to get lost among the rest. A good way to find hashtags to look for big accounts with a similar focus to yours and see what hashtags they’ve used on their posts.

Remember, hashtags aren’t just for fun, they have a use: searchability and increasing views on your posts. Keep that in mind when you use them!

Accessibility

Finally, I just want to give a few notes on accessibility so you can make your posts enjoyable to as big an audience as possible. Firstly, if you’re ever doing a video, either use auto-captioning or type out what you’ve said. It’s super easy to implement this and it helps people who are deaf or hard of hearing. It also helps people who can’t turn their sound on at the moment, for whatever reason. There’s really no downside to doing this!

And if you are posting photos anywhere, there is usually an option to add Alt Text (a.k.a. Alternative Text). You can read more about it online and find guidelines on best practices, but basically Alt Text is meant to describe an image to someone who can’t see it. It is not the same as a caption, which is used to complement an image. Alt Text is played out loud to people who use screen readers when browsing social media and it is also displayed if the image fails to load. Be specific and brief when writing Alt Text, and I really recommend reading a quick article to get an idea of how to best write it.

Social media is whatever you make of it so don’t be afraid to experiment with different platforms and types of posts. You’ll eventually get the hang of things! This is, hopefully, a good starting point so you can figure out where social media fits into your life as a writer.

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