Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Buzz kill: social media smoke and mirrors

Social media

Francis Guenette, of Disappearing In Plain Sight, makes an excellent point in a post about blogging and social media: “1000+ Followers. Cause for Celebration? Maybe not.” Those of us busting our humps to build a platform for marketing self-published novels live for stats. We’re worse than baseball fanatics or political consultants. We obsess over our numbers: WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, BlahBlah, BlahBlahBlah. And the thing is? — by and large these numbers are meaningless.

Doing the math so you don’t have to, Francis goes through the totals that make up her 1000+ WordPress followers. They turn out to be an illusion wrapped up in an ethereal topcoat, consisting of hundreds of Twitter and Facebook followers who are mainly other writers doing their bit to support a fellow traveler. In fact, at least one entity (World Literary Cafe) has programs designed to allow writers to follow each other in an ever-expanding fractal of connections (I’ve been participating myself), but these are Potemkin relationships. They aren’t real, nor will they do much for book sales when the time comes.

Even good ol’ WordPress is something of a letdown. Francis reports — as we all have no doubt observed with our own blogs — that the number of engaged readers is far less than the total number of followers on the stats report. She has well over 400 followers; the number of likes per post runs between 12 and 32.

What’s the bottom line? Well, I’ve said before that marketing is hard, and that’s still true. And when I read the wisdom of the “experts”  out there hawking strategies for successful use of social media, damned if they all don’t sound like lightning-eyed coke addicts buzzed on their own awesomeness, listing their litanies of “tools” that will help you to the top and keep you there. I doubt it. Don’t have time for all the tweeting and posting you need to do? Get Hootsuite!

Here’s the thing. What we’re doing — the daily social media dog and pony show — it’s not likely to help much in the end. But here’s the other thing. It’s about all there is we can do.

16 comments on “Buzz kill: social media smoke and mirrors

  1. francisguenette
    July 22, 2013

    Thanks so much, Kevin, for furthering the dialogue through your own brilliant post and I love the photo you chose! Dog and pony show about sums it up, at the same time, what you say is so true – it’s the only game in town. So I’m going to do what I’ve always done when caught inside a somewhat crazy structure – play the game by my own rules and see what happens.

  2. Christopher Lee Deards
    July 22, 2013

    Being somewhat new to platform building I have noticed that most followers are other authors. What I am trying to do is connect with readers and fandom and not so much with other authors. We’re all supportive of each other’s work, but that support isn’t going to result in much exposure. At least, that’s what I think.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 22, 2013

      I wish I knew where to find readers. If you’re too aggressive in their own settings, you’re accused of spamming. Yet the only way to let them know you exist is to announce it. It’s quite a conundrum.

      • Christopher Lee Deards
        July 22, 2013

        Well, I search for review sites and try to become a part of their readership by responding to their reviews of other books.
        On Goodreads, if I have times, I join in discussions about books on fan forums.
        My book isn’t out yet–won’t be for a year–so it’s not as if I have anything to announce anyway.

  3. Dave
    July 22, 2013

    This isn’t really a surprise, I suppose. However, for me, wordpress does what I want by allowing me to connect with other writers. I’ve found many great people out there with blogs that are fun, inspiring and educational. But then, I’m not quite in the same position you are in … but I hope to be fairly soon. So thanks for passing on some very helpful information on the realities of social media and its limitations.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 22, 2013

      The connection with other writers is important. I’m liking that aspect of all this a lot. As I say to Christopher, though, the whole point of a social media marketing strategy is to reach potential readers, and they are tough buggers to snag!

  4. Andra Watkins
    July 22, 2013

    I have always invested a lot in social media. People are overloaded with it now. There’s a ton of noise that did not exist two years ago. I still make connections through it, but all the ‘experts’ who talk about using it to self-publish are likely more than a year behind the times.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 22, 2013

      I think this overloading is quickly becoming the top characteristic of SM (as distinguished from S&M). It’s like rolling the radio knob up and down the dial. Like you said: noise. It’ll be interesting to see how things evolve. Thanks for the comment, Andra.

  5. figuratio
    July 23, 2013

    I’m not sure that’s ‘about all we can do’.

    It seems rather pointless to have other writers as our target demographic. They can hardly be expected to read our work, being busy with writing and marketing their own. And so it’s expected that Twitter won’t be of much help. And Goodreads? Not many literary fiction fans there; but it has always been difficult to ‘sell’ this genre beyond the small and narrow confines of the literary academic elite: that is, to ‘sell’ to the general readership. Some does ‘get through’: Morvern Callar, The Remains of the Day, and so on. And been made into fine movies.

    But these works I refer to, have all had the benefit of traditional publishing’s advertising funding. Funding which most self-published authors just don’t have. And only a small fraction of all the literary fiction published will be strenuously promoted in this way. Especially in these times, where it seems more cost-effective to promote famous-name authors, despite the dubious quality of some of their work!

    For non-traditionally published literary fiction, it’s even harder.

    But my idea is to go directly to the reader. Not via bookshops, but by hand-delivering ‘pamphlets’ to letterboxes in areas that I expect my target demographic to live. (Over 40s, affluent, tertiary-educated professionals, English as primary language, and left-of-centre in political outlook.)

    These pamphlets are eighteen-page booklets I have printed at home, and cover a 6,500 word segment of my novel (Tango A Fable); this segment forms an ideal excerpt, being a ‘story within a story’ in the novel (thus serving well as a stand-alone short story).

    I hope people will read their pamphlets just out of sheer curiosity, or leave them lying around in their households for others to see. Maybe some will even click on the Amazon link and read my first chapter as well.

    This ‘pamphleteering’ flies in the face of the digital age. It harks back to the days of the sixteenth century; but then again I’ve always been a tad old-fashioned! Anyway, we’ll see…this social experiment of mine…

    P.S. I haven’t got my WordPress site up to speed yet so no point in going to the figuratiothewriter site. (But you can check out my Amazon site!)

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 23, 2013

      Thanks for this idea! It sounds like a great way to get your name out there among potentially supportive folks: your own neighbors. With any luck they’ll spread the word.

      In a figurative sense, though, I guess blogging is kind of like pamphleteering. It has the advantage of reaching an audience beyond one’s home town, though, so get that site up and running ASAP!

      • figuratiothewriter
        July 23, 2013

        I intend to take my pamphlets beyond my neighbours. They’re definitely not into reading (some probably can’t even read comics), too far left-of-centre, and their university is the local pub (‘bar’ if you’re American)! But I’m not really a snob. I just want to connect ‘firsthand’ with the people most likely to be interested in the things I am.

  6. Phillip McCollum
    July 23, 2013

    I remember the first time I figured out how the ‘Follows’ were calculated and becoming slightly disillusioned. 🙂 But than I figured, I’m just here to write things that I find interesting and hopefully useful to others. My stuff pops up in Google searches, so I’m happy enough with that.

    At least for the moment, I don’t have a book I need to be concerned with pushing. I imagine I’d fret a little bit more if I did.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 23, 2013

      It is kind of hard to separate the motivations of wanting to write interesting things and promoting a book. There’s an easy, affable mood to the former and a nagging drive and intensity to the latter. One is definitely more fun than the other.

      But what I’m learning as I go along here is that I do enjoy the casual writing and the interaction with other readers/writers, so I’d probably keep doing this if I didn’t have books to peddle. I hope to find a good balance at some point!

  7. 1WriteWay
    July 23, 2013

    Great post, Kevin! I’m seeing more people question the commercial value of all this social media. That’s probably why you and I posted about the same time :). Even though I don’t have a book to hawk, I still obsess about my stats (but I’m also a professional data nerd). I try to remind myself that, right now, what I am really here for to engage with a community of writers and readers and learn from them. For promoting one’s book, however, there’s got to be a better way to stand out from all the noise. A pamphlet might be one way: people might be so intrigued by the pamphlet that they’ll buy the book. A friend was asking me how self-published writers get readers when they are not likely to be reviewed in the NY Times. Other than what we already do here, I had no answer for her. Then she wondered how readers sift through all the free and 99-cent ebooks to find ones that they will like. I’m thinking “through reviews” but that takes us back to how do we get readers. Not to be cynical, but I suspect it is much like how Georgia O’Keefe responded when asked about the popularity of her art: She was just in the right place at the right time.

  8. Kevin Brennan
    July 23, 2013

    Thanks, Marie. It is important to value what this stuff is good for: interacting. And it’s reasonable to pursue ways that it can help move books too. The problem is the cacophony of voices all trying to move their own books.

    To me, it seems like word of mouth will be the ultimate benefit of blogging/twitting etc. I know from experience now that people don’t buy books via blogs, but they might become interested in a writer that way. Some of them will buy eventually through Amazon, and some will write decent reviews.

    Vis-a-vis Georgia O’Keeffe, though — it didn’t hurt that she was a protege of Stieglitz. It’s good to have influential mentors.

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2013 by in Social media, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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