Thanks to Robert Lee Brewer, a number of us around the world have pushed ourselves into new social media territory. About two-thirds of the way through his Platform Challenge in an April full of daily ones was this: to interview someone and post that interview on our new blog. Jane Friedman may be the foremost authority on social media, so it seemed a natural for me to ask her. I am honored to present her generous responses to my five questions about the fine points of using Facebook as an aspiring author:
1. A number of my fellow Not-Bobber’s have started author pages on Facebook. In your writing, you suggest that the primary reason to use Facebook is to communicate interesting posts to an amplified audience reach. Yet Facebook is primarily a social/visual venue. How does an author who is just starting out – and does not have photos and videos to post, is perhaps an introvert to boot – use and benefit from an author presence with the new timeline format?
First and foremost, realize that no matter what Facebook does with your profile page, or how the Timeline evolves, most people are interacting with your posts in their own newsfeed. Very few people visit your profile unless they have a reason to research you or be curious based on something you’ve posted. That means: Don’t sweat your Timeline too much. Yes, do fill out as much information on the about page that you’re comfortable sharing (especially for the public view), but beyond being clear about who you are, I don’t think the Timeline/profile format is meaningful from a marketing standpoint.
Here are three keys to behavior on Facebook that you need to understand, based on best business practices as well as what I’ve observed and experienced:
- Facebook is a place to be informal, fun, and casual with people who have already expressed some level of interest or affinity for what you’re doing. If people friend you or “like” you, they’ve given you permission to be in touch and offer updates. Such people may not have any other alerts or notices about you except for what appears in their Facebook newsfeed. Remember that and also respect it. You’re creating an impression each time you post—what do those impressions add up to after a week, month, year? Are you conveying a personality, voice, or image you’re comfortable with?
- Most studies show people using Facebook typically dislike too-frequent updates and are afraid of being directly marketed to. BUT: People on Facebook do enjoy being given special access or insight they might not get anywhere else.
- There is no “right” content or updates to post on Facebook. It’s true that photos tend to get a lot of attention on Facebook, and it’s probably a good idea to occasionally post photos—even something as simple as a sunset, your pet, or a meal. But the most important thing is to share things YOU care about, and to express something meaningful rather than dutiful. Never throw up a link or a photo without giving the story behind it, or why it matters to you. People crave meaning. Facebook is an excellent tool for delivering that. It creates a connection.
Also, introversion/extroversion really has nothing to do with your ability to use social media. I think social media is the best thing to ever happen to introverts (and I speak as one of the biggest of all time). Here’s a post where I write more on the introvert issue.
2. I resonate with your ‘Un-Marketing Principles’ for Facebook use: be interesting, be helpful, be open, be personal and be vulnerable. These actually describe my aim for my newly-established author blog. Is there a benefit to having both an author blog and an author Facebook page? How would you clarify a distinction between them in terms of format, content, purpose?
Absolutely, there’s tremendous value in having both. (And let me say, in case there’s any confusion, that I don’t really differentiate, in terms of strategy, between having a personal profile page on Facebook or having an “official” author page. Ultimately, they both serve the same purpose and can be used in exactly the same way. For me, I prefer to stick to my personal profile, encourage people to subscribe, and make 90% of my posts public.)
But back to the question. Consider: Who, upon visiting your blog (especially a new one!), will either (a) bookmark it (2) subscribe to it (3) remember to visit it again? Typically the only people who visit your blog, at first, are your mother and a couple very close friends. It’s not that people don’t care—they care a lot—but you have to remind them to visit when you have specific new content.
A few anecdotes from my experience:
- I can tell from my own website traffic that there are thousands of people every month who rely on seeing my Facebook link as a reminder to read my latest blog post. In fact, the No. 1 referral to my site is Facebook. Many people who subscribe to me on Facebook (as well as my Facebook friends) also share my posts to their Facebook friends, which substantially increases my audience.
- My Significant Other is a HUGE music fan. How does he keep up with his favorite musicians? Facebook news feed. For him, it’s more efficient than following dozens and dozens of different blogs.
- I have a former colleague who started a wonderful personal blog. I didn’t subscribe to it or bookmark it even though I intend to read every post. I wait for him to post updates on Facebook. Unfortunately, he rarely does that, so I have to catch up every couple weeks when I see some reminder of it. He really ought to be posting a link to Facebook every time he updates the blog. No one is going to somehow not like that—especially since each time he does link/post, he gets a string of positive comments/feedback on it.
And that’s key. If you post something that resonates with your audience, you aren’t bugging them. You’re serving, delighting, informing, entertaining. Maybe even thoughtfully provoking.
Finally, I can’t imagine using Facebook as a replacement for a meaningful blog. I don’t mean to say everyone should blog, but a Facebook status update doesn’t have much in common with a great blog. A status update is very limited in its length and formatting. It’s not meant to take more than a few seconds to either read or act on. (And in that, it does have something in common with Twitter!)
Now, if we were talking about Google+, we’d have a pretty interesting discussion, because that social network is being used successfully as a blogging tool. But that’s a whole other Q&A!
3. Someone like myself has a business page in part to keep work and private life separate; to have a way to disseminate information and (hopefully, at least!) stimulate exchange. What can you say about the intersection of personal, author and business pages in terms of information-sharing and reach?
There are only two things I’ll say about the personal page vs author/fan page.
- It’s a personal decision, so do what you’re comfortable with and makes sense for your audience. It’s hard to offer general advice because everyone’s overlap/intersection differs.
- Maintaining two pages on Facebook increases your workload. It makes no sense to have an author/fan page unless you have a content strategy for it that you will manage on a near-daily basis.
- Okay, three things. For the love of god, if you’re frequently duplicating posts or content on your personal profile and your author/fan page, YOU HAVE TOTALLY DEFEATED THE PURPOSE OF CREATING SEPARATE PAGES. Yes, I mean that in all caps! Instead, do yourself a favor, and stick to a personal profile, open it up to subscribers, and make some posts public.
4. I gather from your feedback that one answer might be lists – creating and managing groups to separate fans, family and friends; and to channel posts accordingly. Can you offer some specific guidance about best list practices – how to set them up, classify and manage them – based on your extensive experience?
Yes, lists are exceptionally helpful if you’ve decided it’s better to manage everything from one profile. Facebook will help you to some extent by creating automated lists based on people who went to the same school as you, people who live in the same city as you, people who work at the same company as you, etc. Use those!
For example, if you host an event in your current city, use Facebook automated lists to only invite people who could reasonably be expected to make the trip, as well as “close friends”—another automated list from Facebook that you can adjust.
And speaking about that “close friends” list—that’s an important one to closely manage. That way, if you post something quite personal about family, children, or whatever, it’s easy to segment that content off to just your inner circle. You can also designate some content only appear to specific individuals.
(Still, though: Never post anything on Facebook you could regret later. You still have to treat it, to some extent, as a public forum. You never know what friends might do with the content you post.)
I also set up lists for people I consider “distant” connections—people I haven’t met, but who are still important on a professional level. These people don’t have as much access to content I consider personal.
Again, I’ve mentioned this several times already: Take advantage of the subscriber feature. Allow people to “subscribe” to your profile rather than become your friend. Then you can designate certain posts as public, and they’ll appear in your subscribers’ newsfeed. This is so useful—and for most authors, it will be just as effective as having a separate fan page.
As a final note: I know many people enjoy the phenomenon of Facebook birthdays, with all the wall posting jubilee. But if you’re at all concerned about privacy, remove that from your profile. It’s not incredibly safe to have that personal data available, even to an inner circle.
5. Finally, I appreciate your cautions about over-streaming comments, posts and conversations. Facebook is on the receiving end of such streaming; since it’s the more ‘social’ and frequently-used media, most comments and interaction likely occur there rather than, say, on a blog post itself. In other words, it’s a one-way communication. What advice can you offer about the value of attracting blog followers vs. Facebook subscribers? How to keep from needing to carry on the same conversation on multiple sites??
I think there’s value in both. On my own site, I recently changed the sidebar to encourage readers to subscribe to me (and thus my blog posts) on Facebook—more so than my blog’s e-mail/RSS subscription. I’ve had excellent success so far; it just so happens my readers are more likely to be heavy users of Facebook. Also, Facebook subscription is a great alternative to the rather significant commitment of a formal e-mail/RSS subscription to the blog—that’s a huge show of loyalty and fandom if someone does that, and it’s not great for those with casual interest.
So, yes, that does mean conversations happen on both the blog post as well as Facebook. But you can’t control or dictate where people will discuss your content. You go where they go. For me, I’m happy for the conversations to happen in two places, as well as on Twitter. It’s not a burden, and it’s a good “problem” to have. Either way, you need to show you’re active and listening in both places, by responding to questions, liking comments, etc.
That said, if similar questions are being raised in multiple locations, and you’ve already answered in one place, it can be acceptable to say, “That’s a great question, and I answered it at this link.” Or you can just use the good ol’ copy and paste. People appreciate your efforts.
Thanks so much for your time sharing your perspective in response to my questions. If you have any parting thoughts that arose for you during this interview, I would welcome hearing them!
Thanks, Sarah! One of the best set of interview questions I’ve had in a long time. I appreciated the focused nature of it! Best, Jane
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Jane Friedman is the web editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review. Her expertise on technology and publishing has been featured on NPR, PBS, and Publishers Weekly, and her social media presence is often cited as a model to follow in the writing community. In the last year, she has served as a grant panelist in literature for the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the Creative Work Fund in San Francisco. Before joining VQR, Jane was the publisher of Writer’s Digest and spent two years as a full-time professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati. She has a BFA in creative writing from the University of Evansville and an MA in English from Xavier University.