Friday, January 3, 2014

Behind the Social Network

When I was seven years old there was a moment that I was waiting for that felt like it would never come.  There was a corner, a quiet, dark, and forbidden corner of my classroom where no child was allowed to go without the strictest of permissions.  There was a list, and you had to wait your turn, and considering that my surname starts with an M, I was somewhere in the middle of the list.  I will estimate that the class was about 26 children strong, so in order of the register I was about half way through.

So what was it tucked into the corner of the room?  The door to Narnia? The door to the playground and imminent escape?  No.  It was The Computer.

That's right.  I might only be thirty two, and I'll tell you now that I really do not feel old, but I am from the generation who went to school before computers were as common as desks.  Being half way through the register in a class of about 26 children meant that my 'lucky' week must have been week thirteen.  I got Chicken Pox in week twelve and my trip to the computer never happened and had to wait another two years before I got my hands on one.

Nowadays however computers form an integral backbone of our daily lives.  From the Smartphone/iPhone, the PC I am typing on now, the laptop in the next room, the ultrasound system which I use to scan patients, and the server's that deliver my books and television, I use computers for everything.  From the days of learning how to type the right code to, wait for it, draw a straight line, to the fact that I now talk to people all over the world through social media, how we use computer's has changed a lot.  Now they are accessible and fairly easy to use.  Even my dad uses a computer for complex tasks, and made a call to me a few months ago to check I was defragging my system on a regular basis.  But as an author, and somebody who relies on using an online presence to sell books, should the way we use computers be under a degree of scrutiny?

We have all read or heard of the celebrities who post a twitter rant only to delete it thirty minutes later.  Haven't we all got one friend who makes inappropriate comments or posts annoying status updates on Facebook?  As an author I use Facebook as an important way of interacting with readers, but it seems that some of those readers are actually turning away from using the site and using other social networks instead.  The Global Social Media Impact Study found that older teenagers not only think that Facebook is on the slide, but basically dead and buried (source: Inquisitr). Instead they are turning to applications like WhatsApp, Twitter, and Snapchat, an instantaneous messaging service that deletes all the messages automatically, to communicate.  But sometimes communicating on Twitter just feels like shouting at a bunch of strangers at a cocktail party; nobody is really listening.  And as for the others, these aren't going to help me sell any books.

Novelist Kathryn Craft suggests that what readers are really looking for is to be entertained, and importantly by somebody who is real.  Readers want to hear about the life of the writer behind the words and book covers.  Facebook seems like a great place to do this, but with ever growing concerns regarding privacy, is it really the best place to hang out?  Only yesterday I considered adding my blog directly into my Facebook fan page, only to find every App wanted permissions that I wasn't prepared to grant, namely permissions to see my friends lists and their email addresses.  Handing those out doesn't seem like a great way to craft a good relationship with my readers.  It's like being back in that classroom staring at the BBC computer all over again, because neither of those permissions have or will ever be granted.

So is there any one place that as writer's we are certain is the best place for social networking.  Personally, I think it's important to adopt an integrated approach, and the advice of Kathryn Craft is a really useful motto to take forward.  Readers want to see a real person behind social media, and just like your real life friends have different demands on your time and friendship, an integrated use of social media, through a combined use of different networks is the best way to communicate with your readers and grow your personality behind the book covers.  Or behind the smiley ;-)


  1. I've been using Twitter, Facebook, A Blog, and Google +, with success. Before embarking upon the cyber society I read a lot of advice from professional blogging authors et al.
    Standing on a cyber corner with a placard and screaming loudly will get you nowhere. Take it slow and don't advertise yourself. Make thoughtful and meaningful posts for a week or so before ever posting a blog link.

  2. What an interesting post. I think people really want to see a real person behind the social front. I tweet a lot but you're quite right - it's pretty much a one-way conversation. Quite an important thing is, I think, to respond to others' posts as well as just interacting about your own.

  3. I think you are both right. Julian, I noticed one of your FB comments also today that was about the internet being a pretty much unregulated forum. It is true, and what with the demands on time there is always the risk of pinging off a link/tweet/FB comment without due care. I am guilty of it too, I'm sure. But there has to be a predominant two way approach, and it is certainly true Ernesto that you certainly have to give more than you take from groups and different forums like twitter and G+. I have found twitter to be a very useful site, and I try to regularly retweet other artists work which I find interesting and can only do this with the use of lists because my feed is so full. Great comments from both of you with some food for thought.