Jane Friedman: Authors on Facebook

photo credit: Chris Talamo

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

*  *  *
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.

56 thoughts on “Jane Friedman: Authors on Facebook

  1. I’m just about to start on Facebook and I found your post through Jane Friedman’s blog. Great questions! Have you done a post on Facebook since then? I remember hearing some things have changed recently.

    • I post to FB frequently – not quite sure what info you are looking for. But go for it! Just pay attention to your privacy settings and you should be good to go. And thanks for stopping by.

  2. Jane’s experience is incredibly helpful for those of us still floundering! Now just need to set up FB page! Thank you Sarah for hosting and sharing this and thank you Jane.

    • You know, Phillippa, I have come to realize in the year since I undertook that interview (HUGE risk, thanks to Robert Lee Brewer’s challenge – and it worked!!) that Jane is one of the most knowledgeable sources out there for social media learning. Have you checked out her own blog? Very worthwhile. Thanks for visiting!!

  3. I absolutely love your website.. Excellent colors & theme.

    Did you make this website yourself? Please reply
    back as I’m looking to create my very own blog and would like to learn where you got this from or just what the theme is named. Appreciate it!

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  10. Very well focussed questions, and comprehensive answers. Thank you. All that remains is to absorb and apply! I wonder whether anyone else shares my sinking feeling that I will never manage, not for want of clarity in advice ( it couldn’t be clearer) but deep down the question ‘who am I to drive custom, link, and share, except spontaneously because of interests and responses?’ For all that it was a very generous post. Sort of driving the horse to water…

    • Thanks, Phillippa, for your comments. This virtual world challenges those of us still walking with horses, doesn’t it?! And yet . . . even a toe dipped in offers tremendous potential rewards. As we are both learning!

  11. Sarah
    Thank you for your comments. Come on over and I will buy you the point and click camera that can take decent photos and short videos. I have an Iphone and took my first photo with it after having it for 2 years. My teens use Instagram (they are always on top of stock picks and everything ahead of the wave). I was thinking it might allow me to share images and edit them at the moment I click. Why? you ask… because I want to make my writing inviting. When you start being creative in all aspects of you life you might find you can bake a rainbow cake, repair your car or whatever floats your boat. This kind of sharing resonates. It brings virtual friends who become readers for life. Really come on over… email me

  12. Thanks so much, ladies. This is incredibly helpful. I can’t wait to make some changes on Facebook now. Thanks!

  13. Sarah,
    Thank you so much for this post! I’m glad you interviewed Jane Friedman, who always offers wonderful advice. It was all very informative. I’ve been trying to keep a separation between my author page and my personal profile, and this post helped me sort through the intricacies of Facebook.

  14. Sarah:
    In reference to my prior comments, here’s a talk on TED regarding some of my misgivings about privacy while online:

    FaceBook strikes me as a big offender here.
    Jus’Sayin’ 🙂

  15. I interact with people in my interest groups on LinkedIn. With LI, personal information policies are clearer and more professional. I distrust FaceBook, and that is based on how it is being run and the way its privacy policies have changed, sometimes without notice.

    When it comes down to it, I have only so much time to interact and promote, so I have chosen LinkedIn to do that. I have a friend who promotes her profession on FaceBook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as maintain her web site. She is happy to spend 16 hours a day doing this. Me, I like to find a moment to read part of a book each day. For me as a writer, that is required for my work. There is only so much time…

    • I hear you, Ronald! Days aren’t getting any longer just because social media options keep proliferating like fruitflies. Selectivity is certainly the key. I appreciate your reference to Linked-In. Since my own business is small and local, I haven’t fully explored all LI might offer, though it is clear it has distinct and valuable features. Thanks for visiting and for your observations!

  16. Great interview, Sarah. And, as a social media consultant who’s worked with a few authors, I concur with most of what Jane Friedman has shared. I think the most critical one is “be yourself” in your posts. It’s about engagement. If you build a Facebook Page and no one comes does it really exist? 🙂 Rule of thumb that many are finding helpful is about 1-2 posts per day is effective enough to get seen on the News Feed. Remember, Jane is correct…hardly anyone will decide that today they are going to your Profile Page (or your personal page for that matter). Social Media is very narcissistic. The more you can truly engage people, share things that are interesting to THEM, comment on their pages, thanking them for engaging with you, buying your books, etc., the more they will engage with you AND making it more likely they will see your posts on their news feeds (Facebook uses an algorithm called Edge Rank where you see content in your news feed from those that you are more likely to engage with based on past engagement).

    There are pros and cons with having a personal and Page profile. Most of that will be decided by each individual. If much of your life as an author reflects your personal life, I think sharing your authoring travails on your personal profile work fine. If you have multiple roles in life, one of which is as an author, I would suggest you create an author page and use that to discuss your authoring, book progress, etc. You can cross promote on your personal page periodically, just don’t abuse that “separation” you’re trying to create. But, the initial list of LIKES to your Author Page will likely be a list of your friends. They won’t mind getting asked to LIKE your Author Page ONCE or maybe TWICE. Then, leave it up to them to opt in via seeing your Page on news feeds. And, don’t forget the power of Facebook Ads periodically to generate interest. Book Giveaways, announcements of book signings, pre-release notifications are all good events to “showcase” via periodic Facebook Ads that allow you to target groups of people…YOUR target very easily by state, city, gender, age, interests, etc. A powerful tool to help you in your Facebook adventure.

    There are a number of strategies available to determine where should you post and drive people to engagement. But, no matter how you do it, don’t just repeat things on every channel. Put some thought behind what you will share where, i.e., create a blog post–>share a key sentence on FB (either your Author page or personal profile) and also post a link to the blog via Twitter. On the Facebook share you will want to maybe add a question related to the blog entry to spark engagement on Facebook in addition to the comments you hope to get on your blog. And, make sure you use good images on both your blog posts and FB entry. Just some things to think about. Again, this was a great interview. Thanks for putting it together.

    P.S. I write a dad blog so though I don’t author books, I write via a blog so I try to put my writer’s hat on when I dig into my social media workload.

    • Wow,Jeff. This is the most informative/educational/inspiring comment I’ve ever seen!! An interview all its own – huge thanks for that. You have helped me immensely with one of my remaining concerns: the duplication of content. What you suggest makes all the sense in the world. Provide it in different size chunks; let the reader decide how much/when/whether to pursue. Also, by posting manually via FB, you have more control over things like whether an image shows up or not. I’m learning that FB is ‘picky’ about what images it passes along from the blog. All in all, fabulous input, thanks so very much! I’ll be by to read your blog. Do you also read Robert Lee Brewer’s blog posts? He poems a lot about his many children – so great to have dad voices in the mix.

      • Robert has two blogs – Poetic Asides and My Name is Not Bob – both of them linked from my blog. BTW, I had a reader ask for an interview about LI comparable to the one we did with FB. Are you or do you know someone with that depth of knowledge/perspective/experience with LI potentially willing to do so??? Happy weekending to you as well.

      • Thanks, Jeff. Your site is packed full of information – it’s going to take some time to work my way through it all!!

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    • Great question, Nora! Let me find a LinkedIn guru as Jane is to Facebook. Check back in a few weeks – or follow me and you’ll see it when it posts!!! Thanks for the suggestion.

    • You and a lot of us, Nathan. I think it’s only gotten more complex as new capabilities get added across the board. It was so simple when FB was purely a social gathering place for college students!!! Thanks for stopping by and weighing in!

  18. Well done Sarah, this is a great interview

    I’m just now starting to push my Facebook page. It’s going to be exclusively for my writing, but I’m still deciding on some definite ideas/ I’m thinking:

    – Regular Editing/Writing updates
    – Book Cover Polls
    – Random pictures of me writing
    – A bio of all the places I write (coffee shops, library, etc)
    – and to keep everything exclusive to Facebook. Not on my Blog, or Twitter etc

    Like I say, I’m still deciding, but I like the idea of using Facebook as my writing hub. For those who want to interact with my writing, rather than my consultancy work

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    • Thanks for your comments and ideas, Matthew. Isn’t the challenge creating our niche (“brand”) in an abundance of possibility? Good luck – your FB idea sounds so inviting!

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  20. Nice interview. I had wondered about the author page and thought I was being “bad” for not setting one up, but after reading this, I think I’m okay. Thanks to you and Jane!

    • Thanks, Lynn, for stopping by and for your kind words. I was likewise relieved by Jane’s words of advice. Sometimes less is indeed more, yes?!!!!

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  22. Great interview, Sarah! I wish I’d read this before I went to the trouble of setting up a separate writer page on Facebook. The most helpful suggestion for me was what Jane said about not duplicating posts. That’s something I’m guilty of, in the interest of “spreading the word” re a new blog post, for example. Janet’s right; these were super-focused questions that led to really informative answers. I have an interview scheduled. I’ll take my cues from you.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Gerry. She definitely helped clear up my own confusion on these questions. So glad you got something useful from it as well.

  23. Yes, i highly prefer “subscribing” to a post than going through FB; that just adds to my tension, and I am friendly, outgoing, have 700 or more intimate friends on FB; sounds bragadoccio; not so; just means, i have lived in other countries, belonged to groups, am old enough to collect a few rings around my psyche, and I love people, and I love to connect.

    • Thanks for those words, Esther. So reassuring, and helpful. Do you ‘subscribe’ to others on FB, too? Somehow it seems that might lead to the same sorting dilemma all over again!!!! BTW I love ‘rings around my psyche.’ Thanks for stopping by.

      • I do; i can’t help it, it’s part of the encouragement and share with others gene which rattles around in the warehouse of my mind; but i need more balance; i spend too much time on computer housekeeping; but then, that said, grumble, i stumble across enchanting writing – so it’s chop wood, carry water, read verse

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