Part of being a successful creative person in today’s world is about developing your social network and online presence. Publishers encourage their authors to have blogs, twitter accounts, facebook pages, etc, and to actively use them. Marketing an author’s work is not the sole responsibility of a publisher’s marketing team. Instead it relies heavily on the author’s own network (or musician, filmmaker, artist’s, and so on). But how helpful are these social media tools in reality? The success of them is measured almost solely on numbers – how many ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ you may have.
The false online presence
Building a following online can be hard work. Once you’ve tapped out your organic social network (ie. everyone you actually know), you have to start finding new people to add to your numbers. How do you do this? The most common way to do this on twitter is to follow as many people as possible. A lot of users do this and put something along the lines of ‘I always follow back’ in their profile information. This means that the benefits are mutual – I’ll follow you if you follow me, and we’ll both look better for it. But this economy of followers is false.
Of the people you follow, most of their output will not interest you. Your own twitter feed becomes useless and you can’t use the site as it was intended (unless you are very good at creating relevant lists to sort all the unwanted data). Having a large online following is also supposed to be indicative of the possible numbers of sales your product/novel/album. But if your following is full of people who are only there to bulk up numbers, the majority of them don’t actually care about you or what you are trying to do. As a result, those numbers don’t indicate the real size of your fan base at all. Those of us who do manage to build a ‘real’ following will likely have our numbers written off as meaningless, along with the other false fan economies.
Purchasing a social network
What is worse than the ‘follow back’ mentality on twitter is the ability to ‘buy likes’. There are hundreds of websites providing services to ‘buy likes’ on facebook (such as fanlikes.org, wantfans.com, and swagsocials.com). If you desperately want your numbers to go up, you can pay for them. You can do the same for twitter followers as well, if the ‘follow back’ scheme is working too slowly for you.
All I can really say about this approach is: don’t do it. It is not a good idea, and in reality it doesn’t achieve anything. What really builds momentum is people talking to each other about something they like. Fake ‘likes’ are just that – fakes. They won’t help build ‘buzz’ or get you any more ‘likes’. They will just sit there and mock you. Don’t believe me? See Jon Loomer’s article for more on this.
Building a following
So how do you build a ‘real’ following. This is difficult – the numbers of views for my site have been going up exponentially, but I see little change in my twitter follows or facebook likes, for instance. I work tirelessly at trying to publicize the site – posting links to the site in all relevant communities, tweeting interested parties, sharing links on facebook and LinkedIn. Finding just the right person to re-tweet you can mean the difference between an average day’s view-count and an exceptionally successful day.
The temptation then becomes tailoring your content to what communities are out there or who might share your articles. While you might think, ‘surely they are the subjects that people are interested in, and therefore what you should be writing about?’, this is a false economy as well. Content that you create for your online presence has to be something you believe in.
At the end of the day, you need to want to create this content and to keep doing so. Presumably you would have embarked on this creative road with a mission in mind, be it to write about particular things or to create a certain kind of art. This is what you need to stick to – trying to tailor everything to what others might want will never work. You can never know exactly what will strike a nerve. Also, if you are always chasing trends that already exist, you’ll never start your own.
Stay true to yourself
Of course it is absolutely essential that you do create content that someone wants to consume. There’s no point writing a short story that only five people in the world will want to read. If you create content that you are passionate about, that you love and want to share, it is more than likely that others will think it is worthwhile too. Stick with your passions, work hard at publicizing yourself, and don’t lose heart. Your audience is out there; it just might take them a while to find you.