Social media apps: time stealers or a place for readers, authors and bloggers to meet?
Earlier this month, Meta launched Threads, potentially a rival to Twitter, and another in the portfolio of social media apps clamouring to steal our attention. Social media can drag authors out of their creative worlds and away from their laptops. It distracts readers’ attention when they might otherwise be picking up a book. Why do we do it?
Confession time – I signed up to Threads on day one and spent the next week wondering what I should actually be doing there. I’ve become a bit of an early adopter but do we need to be here, there and everywhere? What works for authors and readers?
Advice from book marketing experts is to choose one or two (three at the most) social platforms that work for you and focus on these. I reckon this is good advice though I’ve ignored it and done the opposite. Having dipped my toe in the water of most of them, I’m no longer waving to my followers but drowning under the sheer volume of time suck these platforms create. In fact, I’m so overwhelmed, I’m currently not very active on social media. The algorithm has forgotten me and follower growth has slowed to a crawl.
Time for a rethink. In this piece I’ll consider the main platforms and what they offer for writers and readers. As ever, all opinions are my own. Feel free to (respectfully) disagree.
We all know Twitter as a platform where users share short messages called tweets and express their thoughts, share news and engage in public conversations. Sadly, debates on Twitter have often turned vitriolic with scant respect for differing points of view. Trolling and attacks on individuals (including authors), who express points of view that others disagree with, has become commonplace. For authors, it’s still possible to stay safe by connecting primarily with readers, publishers and author colleagues, and engaging in respectful conversations. You can block and report any haters you encounter. Authors can share events and book news, and readers can follow their favourite authors to stay updated and take part in bookish chats. Twitter is where book bloggers share their reviews so readers can discover word-of-mouth bestsellers and authors can retweet and gain visibility.
Facebook is now often thought of as being for the older demographic but it still has value for authors and readers. While families and friends use it to share posts and photos and stay in touch, authors can do the same with their community. You can create an author page (a bit like a business page or shop) where readers can follow to hear about upcoming events and new releases. Authors who want to boost their posts or advertise on Facebook must do it through their author page. Too much promotion on your personal timeline risks being put into Facebook jail. If you see ‘sponsored posts’ popping up in your timeline, these are boosted posts or ads. In the crowded marketplace, it’s so difficult to get visibility for our books that it’s worth a try.
You can also join Facebook groups, which offer a space for authors and readers to come together like an online book club. Authors can join or create groups to interact with readers, share updates, and discuss books in a safe, moderated and community-oriented space. If you’re new to Facebook book groups and would like to join one, I recommend the Fiction Café book club.
Instagram is a photo and video-sharing app where users can share images with followers. The visually creative can curate stunning photos of books in arty settings that catch the eye of a reader scrolling through. The less artistically gifted (like me) can use apps such as Canva or BookBrush to help us showcase our novels with inspiring visuals and professional-looking captions. Behind the scenes pictures of author life (for me that will usually be my rescue dog, Homer) and short videos called reels are also popular. Use the hashtag #bookstagram to denote a book-related post. Bookstagrammers and bloggers often share reviews on Instagram and it’s a place where influencers hang out so, if you’re an author, seek them out because some have huge followings.
I always thought video-sharing app TikTok was for children and teens and, although I’d heard of BookTok, assumed there was no point in joining, unless you were writing Middle Grade or Young Adult fiction. It turns out I was wrong. BookTok emerged on this platform as a space where people share the book love through engaging videos. BookTok is credited with making US author, Colleen Hoover’s books into massive international bestsellers. I’ve not read Colleen’s books but I’ve heard they’re emotional, and apparently crying in videos goes down well with the BookTok audience. Who’d have thought it? I love hearing stories of an author’s success so really well done to all who came together to achieve fame for Colleen. I’ve been on TikTok for over a year and, while I can’t credit any measurable uptick in sales to the platform, my occasional videos get plenty of views. Perhaps if I posted more consistently I’d get results. Who knows?
Which brings me to Threads. Similar to Twitter but different. You access Threads via Instagram so if you don’t have an Insta account, you need to set one up. When you download Threads you can invite your existing Insta followers so you have a community of people you’ve chosen. In my case these are other authors, bloggers, reviewers, readers and friends, a ready-made, safe community to interact with. Posts on Threads can be 500 characters long (compared to 280 on Twitter) and you can add photos, links and short videos. The layout looks neat and clean though I’m still getting to grips with its purpose and my early interactions have been of the ‘Good to see you on here’ variety. There are no hashtags to reach out to a wider community and it doesn’t currently work on the desktop. I’ll be sticking with it but it’s currently too early to tell what its value to authors and readers might be.
A brief mention of Mastodon, a decentralized social networking platform similar to Twitter. I tried it in the days of the mass exodus when writers were looking for an alternative to the blue bird. It’s okay but I’ve never really got to grips with it.
Finally, we have Goodreads, which is a bit clunky as it’s been around a long time and doesn’t seem to have been updated much. Readers can create virtual bookshelves, track progress, review and discover new books. Authors create profiles and add their books to connect with readers. Authors beware, if you don’t add your own books others might do it for you. I’ve had books by another author of the same name added to my profile and found it horrendously difficult to get rid of them. Luckily there are lovely people called Goodreads librarians who can help with this but, overall, it’s more of a place for readers than authors to hang out.
I’ll end this piece with a few thoughts about book blogs and author websites. They aren’t traditional social media apps but can be valuable to connect. Many authors and book bloggers use Wordpress or similar platforms. I host my blog on my website so I then have to go out into the social media wilderness to share more widely. Book bloggers post reviews on their blogs, for which I’m deeply grateful and always like, retweet and share their reviews on my other social media platforms. Reviewers’ blogs have a dedicated reading audience. But what do you think about authors’ blogs? Are our insights on writing and themes from our novels worth your time? Is the blog going out of fashion when we have limited energy to engage with written content? I’d love to know your thoughts.
Thanks so much for reading this, whether on my website or in my newsletter. All my novels are available from Amazon. If you haven’t read The Girl in the Van (winner of last year’s suspense and thriller prize in the Pageturner Book Awards), you’ll find it here. Mybook.to/thegirlinthevan