There are dozens of social media sites on the internet, and I am certainly no expert on all of them. The big three--the ones most often used-- are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. They serve different purposes, and I've been surprised to see how different their audiences are. I'll try to show you how I use each one to promote my work, and you can apply the same lessons to another site if you like.
Let's start with Facebook, which now advertises that it has 500 million users. You probably even know a few of those yourself! I have no intention of telling you how to use Facebook. As I write, the powers behind the scenes are still re-organizing and tweaking what materials you can see, and what others can see about you. If you're going to use Facebook, that's the first thing you'll have to get used to. it changes. Sometimes it changes several times a day.
On my own Facebook account I have discovered close to 400 "friends." They include a few family members; a neighbor or two (although that strikes me as silly); some long-lost high-school classmates; several former students, some dating back over twenty years; and a fairly large contingent of academics--mostly medievalists. The rest are members of Lions Clubs, both locally and around the world. What can they possibly have in common? I know them. I'd recognize them on the street. I'd probably hug most of them. They are all people with whom I have common interests and common experiences. We've worked together, struggled with the same problems, and shared our ideals and goals. I care about them and how they are doing, and I hope they care about me.
When it comes to posting my status on Facebook, I try not to be boring or irritate friends unduly with efforts to sell my latest book. But if I've t had a wonderful day -- or a miserable one -- these are the people with whom I can share it. I post pictures here, both of myself ( so they can watch me age) and of my current activities. So it is on Facebook that I am most open about my personal activities and opinions. What good does that do for business, you may wonder? Many of them will buy my books; even more will be tickled for me when I win an award. I benefit when they talk about me or leave a congratulatory note on my wall. Facebook friends can form a virtual cheering section in your life.
There's another side to Facebook, too, one that is still evolving too rapidly to lay down strict guidelines here. Anyone with a personal Facebook account ought also to be aware that it is possible to build extra Facebook pages that advertise your business, or your favorite non-profit, or your club. On those pages, you can reach beyond your personal circle of friends to tap into those mysterious 500 million users who are reportedly out there. If you're new at the game, develop your personal page first, and then think about expanding to these "fan pages."
My second social media outlet is Linked In. As I indicated earlier, this site is much more business-like than Facebook. I have close to 300 connections on Linked-In, and almost none of them are cross-overs to my list of Facebook Friends. I know less than half of them personally. My LinkedIn connections are the power-brokers in my world. There are a few former students, but they are not the ones who just want to reminisce about college life. There are graduate students, or lawyers, or business people who are making a difference in their world. They've sought connections to bolster their resumes. Many of my connections are members of Lions Clubs International, but, again, they are the leaders in that organization--former international officers, staff members, or CEOs of Lions-associated non-profit organizations. They are people I can turn to when I need business-type advice. The rest are business figures with whom I have had some contact, and media and public relations people.
How can they help build my publishing platform? Well, my financial advisor, my lawyer, and my accountant are on that list, along with public figures who can orchestrate newspaper or TV coverage when I have an announcement of a new book or an award. They are the people who can help set up book signings or public speaking engagements. They are great contacts because they have their own contacts. I try not to bury them beneath my sales pitches, and I don't overtly try to sell them anything, but I can trust them to help me make my name better known. Name recognition is a vitally important resource offered by LinkedIn. Another great advantage of LinkedIn is that it lets people with common interests form discussion lists, where they can connect with people who have similar interests or who are facing similar problems. I currently participate in several writers' groups, as well as one that discusses fund-raising ideas for non-profits.
And then there is Twitter. What can you possibly accomplish with 140 spaces? The easy answer, of course, it that it teaches you to cram a lot of information into the smallest possible space. Brevity is good. But beyond that, I see Twitter as a conduit -- the vital link between me and the huge world of the internet. At the moment I have around 800 followers on Twitter, and I'll be the first to admit that I don't know many of them. We are strangers who have made a brief connection because of a third party who knows us both, or a shared common involvement. They are simply people who have indicated an interest in what i might have to say. When they follow me, anything I post will automatically appear on each of their Twitter feeds. They may, or may not ever see it. But when they do, they each have the option of passing it on to their own followers, giving my message access to untold numbers of readers. Twitter also has the ability to post automatic messages for me, and to re-post my messages to my other social media outlets.
Here's how it works. Suppose I've just finished a blog post announcing the publication of a new book and including a link to the book's order page. I send a tweet giving its URL to my 800 followers, and Twitter also posts it on my Facebook page (+400 readers) and my LinkedIn profile (+300 readers.) Then a dear fellow writer in England retweets it to her whole list (+1000 readers), the president of a writers' society to which I belong retweets it to her list (+1500), and three faithful blog followers in Missouri, Califormia, and Colorado send it to all their followers (+1700 total). That one personal message reaches over 5000 people within minutes. That's the best, and easiest, advertising I know.
So there's an easy breakdown for you. Use Facebook to maintain your real friendships. Let LinkedIn represent you in your most professional roles. And use Twitter to make pithy comments to the world at large. Each part of your social Media network plays a vital role in building your publishing platform.