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Privacy Vs. Engagement

Effective Social Media Engagement vs. Privacy

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how everything you put on the Internet lingers there forever. Writers and authors need to be mindful that what they post on blogs and social media may offend someone, damage their reputations, or be used against them in some way further down the road. There’s a conflict, though, between the idea that writers need to engage and “show themselves” in order to generate sales and brand awareness, and the protection of personal privacy.

As a result of that post, a few people asked me for some practical ideas on how to engage on a personal level without being too revealing. While I’m not an expert, what follows are some ideas from my own experience and that of other authors I know.

  1. Use humor. In a stressful world, people enjoy a little humor break. Posting funny comics and memes can be a way to make people laugh.
  2. Post inspiration. As with humor, people enjoy things that are uplifting. Post inspirational quotes, statistics, or images that boost spirits.
  3. Share other people’s content. Sharing is not only a way to save you some time (when you share, you don’t have to spend time creating your own content), it’s also kind to share things that other people post. The things you share can let other people see what interests you or what you find amusing, but without divulging your own personal circumstances.
  4. Use images. You can share pictures that you take (make sure to remove any sensitive information from the background), images that you find around the web (make sure they’re free to distribute and give credit where appropriate) or images that you create using a program like Photoshop. You can share pictures of your writing space, places you go (share after you’re home), pictures of writing tools that you like, quotes placed into an image, books you’re reading, artwork that you create, nature, or anything else that shows your interests. Infographics are another great way to share information. Posts with images tend to be more engaging than those without.
  5. Stick to neutral (but interesting and relevant to you personally) topics. There are tons of things you can talk about and use to connect with others in a genuine and personal way without getting overly personal. Hobbies, music, movies, books, art, food, travel, etc. are all things that people have in common and which can be discussed without raising a firestorm. You can also use common complaints/shared life experiences. (Think things like the car broke down on the way to work, cooking disasters, you need a new roof because you found water pouring into your closet, the cat threw up on the new carpet, etc. They’re mundane and boring, but make readers say, “Been there, done that,” and humanize you without revealing too much. If you can see the humor in the situation, so much the better. Just don’t complain too often.)
  6. Post about potential hot topics, but from a neutral perspective. Example: Let’s say you want to post about a disease that you have in order to bring awareness to the condition. However, you don’t want to admit that you, personally, suffer from the disease because that information could be used against you in hiring decisions. You can post thought-provoking articles from respected publications on the subject, or links to well-known charity drives that support research. Preface the post with a statement like, “Many people underestimate the effect that Disease X has on day to day life. Here’s something to think about if you or a loved one suffer from this disease.” Or you can say, “I’m doing the Disease X 5K this weekend. Won’t you think about joining me?” You can take this approach with many topics to show your interest without getting overly personal.
  7. Post information related to your work. If you write non-fiction, post articles and images related to your topic(s). That alone could likely keep you in posts for a lifetime. If you write fiction, post about topics found in your books. Maybe you wrote a YA novel that features divorce and teen suicide. You could post about those topics. I write about mythology and from time to time post information on various gods, or funny mythology-related cartoons.
  8. Go behind the scenes of your work. People like feeling that they’re getting “insider” or advance information. Maybe you can post excerpts that didn’t make it into the final version, images that inspired certain scenes or characters, how the cover was developed, cover reveals, or sample sections from an upcoming work.

Social Media Dice

  1. Pets and animals! People love animals, so any photos/videos of your pets being cute or silly are sure to be big hits. Even better if you can grab a picture of your cat curled up on your keyboard, or your dog with the remains of your manuscript dangling from its mouth. (Not that I advocate feeding the manuscript to the dog, but there seem to be a lot of dogs out there who like to grab manuscripts off desks and eat them.) Other animals are fair game, too, even bugs.
  2. Have a friendly conversation. You can run events on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ where you can take questions from readers, run a virtual book club, talk about a topic of interest, or just have a meet and greet. These give readers a chance to interact with you personally, but usually never get beyond simple cocktail party chit chat. Readers go away with a feeling of having “met” you but without you having divulged every detail of your life.
  3. Ask questions. People love polls, trivia contests, and questions, so let them participate. Ask about favorite books, foods, theme park rides, or anything else that comes to mind. You can also ask what they like or don’t like about your work, as long as you’re prepared for the criticism. This gets people engaged and gives them an opportunity to feel like you’re interested in their opinions.
  4. Answer questions. Take questions from readers and answer one per week. Pick the ones that don’t require an overly personal answer. (Don’t answer the “Are you married?” or “How many kids do you have?” questions, but do answer the “Where do you get your ideas?” or “What writing program do you recommend?”-type questions) Readers will feel like you’re listening and engaging with them and you get to keep your privacy.
  5. Engage with others. Commenting, liking, re-tweeting, following, participating in groups, etc. are all ways to show interest in your readers, other authors, and clients while also celebrating common ground. Others are looking for engagement just as much as you are, so give it to them. You might get some in return.
  6. Share readers’ photos and content. Have readers send in photos of your books “in the wild,” or of them posing with your books. Have a flash fiction event on your blog and share the entries. If someone submits fan art to you, ask if you can post it. Posting content from your fans saves you time and they love seeing their work on your pages.
  7. Share advice and tips. It can be a short tip about writing, or some advice related to your genre/topics. People love life hacks and tips and they are engaging without being personally revealing. You can do longer posts and videos that are full tutorials if you have a topic that supports such a post.
  8. Start your own thing. I know an author who frequently posts from the perspective of one of her characters. Another has a stuffed animal that frequently posts its thoughts on her social media accounts. Maybe you start an “image of the day,” or “song of the day” kind of post. Things like this give you an opportunity to be a little silly and communicative, while deflecting interest away from you personally. Be creative and find your own hook.

All of these types of posts give readers and fans the sense that you are a real person with expertise to share, interests, hobbies, and passions, but don’t reveal the tiny details of your life that you’d prefer to keep to yourself. The goal of social media engagement isn’t to reveal everything about yourself and leave yourself vulnerable to attack and abuse, but to show readers that you aren’t a robot who just wants to sell books or get clients. There are tons of ways to connect with people without revealing too much or getting into controversial topics. Use your creativity!

(Photo courtesy of KevinKing)

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