Why blog? Why tweet?

I’ve been ruminating on why I’m so drawn to social media and on what I hope to get out of using it. We writers are continually being told by those in publishing who know about these things that we should build our “platforms,” cultivate our audience, even before we have a book to sell. Certainly I began using social media with these directives in mind, yet social media is more than marketing for me.

I was first invited to join Facebook six years ago by a friend who lived in another state, as a way for us to keep in touch across the miles, and this keeping in touch with people who are far away continues to be one of the main reasons I maintain a personal profile there. A lot of people, though, use personal profiles for professional or advocacy reasons, so over the years I’ve had to find a way to incorporate those connections without compromising my privacy too much. This has probably been my biggest challenge in using Facebook.

I set up a professional Facebook page, but it’s been difficult to get people to go over there. The things I post on my professional page are directly related to my writing goals and my writing life, whereas what I post on my personal profile are usually things like photos of my kids and silly quizzes and comments about local or personal things that are going on. Continue reading “Why blog? Why tweet?”

Be careful to not create a chain reaction resulting in multiple posts of the same content to the same platform. For example, WordPress gives me the ability to share my posts with Facebook and Twitter. I can also set up Facebook to share updates with Twitter and/or set up Twitter to share tweets with Facebook. I do not want to send my blog posts from WordPress to Facebook and Twitter, and then also share my Facebook updates to Twitter, because this will result in one blog post being sent two times to Twitter, one right after the other. Do people do it? Yes, but it always looks sloppy to me. To avoid this, I set up WordPress to post to Facebook, and I set up Facebook to post to Twitter. This way, a blog post goes out once to Facebook and only once to Twitter, and I don’t annoy anyone.

Push your Facebook updates to Twitter if you must, but please don’t push your Twitter updates to Facebook. Tweets necessarily employ abbreviations, shorthand, lack of punctuation, etc. due to their 140-character limit. Good tweets also employ hashtags. Sometimes they reference others’ Twitter handles. None of these things translate well to Facebook. Plus, people typically tweet much more frequently than they post to Facebook and also typically retweet the same information multiple times in one week or even one day, which is extremely annoying on Facebook.

Bonus tip: If you do link your Twitter account to Facebook, remember that you did so, and keep your Facebook status updates short enough to make sense as Tweets. Long paragraphs do not work well on Twitter. Sometimes a long update from Facebook will be cut off with ellipses, other times only a link will be tweeted without any explanation text. And if the update is coming from a Facebook profile rather than a public page, a reader on Twitter may have to log in to Facebook to even view what you’ve written. He probably won’t bother.

How Facebook Has Helped Me Become A Better Writer

Facebook logoYes, you read that correctly. Facebook–that insidious thief of creative energy–has made me a better writer. I kid you not.

I was invited to join Facebook back in 2009 by a good friend who lives in another state. Cool, I thought, this will help us keep in touch. For a long time, that was the only useful purpose I saw for the site. It gave me a way to share photos with family and friends hundreds of miles a way and a means to update them all at once without having to make numerous phone calls or compose multiple emails.

Then neighbors wanted to friend me. And classmates, once I started grad school. When I began writing and editing, I attracted friend requests from people I only knew online.

I wanted to run and hide under my covers.

See, I’ve always been a very private person. Even when I began writing publicly about personal experiences, I wanted to protect myself from being too well seen via social media. I wanted to erect a barrier between the public me and the private me. And I still think it’s good to have boundaries, only now I recognize that my initial reticence had more to do with fear than privacy.

Deep down I was afraid of allowing so many people to peek inside my life, because what if they saw something they didn’t like? Would I offend or disappoint? How could I control the sides of myself I revealed to each of the people in my life if they all saw the same status updates from me? Of course, I couldn’t, and furthermore, the dilemma eventually opened my eyes to the fact that I was doing a major juggling act with the different facets of my persona.

But, what does this have to do with writing, you might ask? Everything, because in order to write well, one must be vulnerable. Good writers allow themselves to be seen naked on the page. They hold nothing back. They don’t try to construct a persona; they let it all hang out and allow the reader to come to his own understanding without being led there. My desperate desire to hide myself on Facebook was reflected not only in my real life but in my writing as well. I was holding back.

In The Courage to Write, Ralph Keyes say, “The farther writing strays from its deepest sources, the more sterile it becomes . . . Subliminally the reader senses that the writer isn’t saying what he most wants to say.” A reader will not respond to this writer who is playing it safe.

Think about the kind of status updates you’re most likely to respond to on Facebook. When I feel the urge to leave a comment, or just enough impetus to click “like,” it’s when someone’s made me laugh or cry, nod in agreement or shake my head in disbelief. Most of the time, I don’t comment or click “like,” because, let’s face it, the vast majority of Facebook updates are either hum drum or talk about things only the original poster can relate to. It’s the same with anything we write. We must invoke a reaction in our readers by moving them to think or feel something, and we can only do that by allowing our own thoughts and feelings onto the page in a way others can relate to. Readers relate to our writing when they experience something of themselves in it. We must trust that these parts of us we tend to hold closest will be recognized by our readers, that they will respond to our leaving ourselves on the page–just as our friends respond to us on Facebook when we move them in some way with our status updates.

I’ve loosened up quite a bit on Facebook. Now I don’t even panic when I get a friend request from someone whose name I don’t recognize, who only knows of me via another virtual friend. I’ve learned to accept that part of the deal with being a writer is putting myself out there, both in my work and in my life. I have to say, it feels good to live out in the open.

Facebook Timeline Might Be A Good Thing

Since it’s Friday and I’m in the mood to slack off, I took some time today to try out Facebook’s new Timeline feature on my personal profile. I approached the Big Change with fear and trepidation, expecting to be outraged by how much of my life was now available to my (not-always-so-close) friends.

Instead I got a big surprise–I actually like the new Timeline. First of all, there’s nothing on it that wasn’t already available on Facebook by endlessly reading older posts. Facebook still can’t mystically publish information about me that I didn’t put out there myself. If some are horrified by what they read on their own timelines, it’s probably long past time they reconsidered their posting habits.

Second, the algorithm being used to select items for the Timeline isn’t half bad. It seems to choose relevant updates, photos, etc., in a similar fashion to how Facebook presents updates from friends on the home page, which appears to depend on how many people liked them or commented on them. Pretty reasonable. The algorithm also seems to like pictures quite a bit, which is fine by me since they make the timeline visually interesting.

Third, you can choose to feature certain posts, which displays them across the entire screen so they’re more readily noticed. I have a separate page for my professional persona, but many writers I know use their personal profiles to promote their work. For these people–or anyone wishing to promote a product or idea–the ability to feature certain posts on their profiles is going to be a big plus, particularly combined with the ability to hide other less-relevant posts. Sure, it will take some time to get it set up right for all the stuff that’s out there from the past five years or so, but going forward I think the Timeline is going to be a nice marketing tool for writers. (From what I can tell, the Timeline is not available on Facebook pages, which is a bummer.)

Having said all that, I have to add that the Timeline is pretty buggy at the moment. Posts I tried to hide won’t stay hidden, and the timeline itself tends to uncontrollably scroll back up to the top. But I’ve come to expect “enhancements” rolled out without exhaustive testing being done, so I’m not surprised. And I’m sure that these issues will be addressed over time.

In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter much what I or anyone thinks of the Timeline. Facebook plans to convert everyone’s profiles eventually and all the complaining in the world isn’t likely to alter that plan. At least this is one feature I find useful.