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Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Facebook is an amazing social tool. I know a lot of us love to hate it, and it has its problems, but we don’t leave for a reason, that reason being its extreme usefulness.

Aside from allowing me to stay in some kind of light touch with people who live far away and giving me a curated set of articles to read, Facebook is the single easiest way I’ve found to grow my local social life. You friend someone and then they invite you to their events, and then you meet people at those events and friend them, and they invite you to their events, and your social circle grows with much less effort on your part than back when you had to wait to be on email address exchange terms to get an invitation. (Or phone number exchange terms, heaven forbid!)

Likewise, I’ve found Facebook to be indispensable for dating. Basically, there are two ways most of the single people I know date. One way is to use internet dating sites: OKCupid is super popular among my friends, but there are a whole slew of sites to choose between. You don’t even have to choose! Some people are on a bunch of them all at once.  (And I guess a corollary of this would be speed dating, which I kind of want to do just because then I could write a hilarious blog post about it, and we’d all have fun with that.)

The other way, the Facebook way, works like this: You go to a social event. Any event where there are people will do; parties are perhaps the most common, but this also works with game nights, group dinners, conventions, classes, dances, etc. You meet another single person and spend some time chatting. Maybe a lot of time. Sometimes they then pull out their phones and add you on Facebook on the spot. Other times you friend each other in the next day or two or three. Regardless, now Facebook is your main point of contact.

Photo Credit: Peter Samis via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Peter Samis via Compfight cc

“But Amy,” you say, “surely you could exchange phone numbers or email addresses instead!” Yes, you are right. Surely you could, and occasionally you even do. But I’d say ninety percent of the time, you don’t. You friend each other on Facebook. And then maybe you switch to email or texting after that. Maybe. At some point. Or not.

Anyway, now you’re Facebook friends, and you begin messaging back and forth. There may be some banter. At some point the possibility of hanging out in person is discussed. All of this is very casual. After all, this is the exact same way you might go about creating any new friendship. Occasionally someone is very explicit about asking the other person on a date, but more often than not it’s all unspoken subtext. (I know from my Maybe-Date post we all have lots of opinions about this. Regardless, this is in my experience what tends to happen without making deliberate effort to make it happen differently. Not always, but often.)

I was talking to my friend about hipsters because I find the hipster movement fascinating and slightly confusing, and the conversation turned to hipster dating conventions (of course it did). My friend said that for hipsters, it’s all about plausible deniability and avoiding possible embarrassment. I don’t know if my friend is right, but the relaxed technique of hanging out and testing the waters with potential romantic interests happens all the time. And Facebook forms a cornerstone of this strategy.

(Of course, my friend went on to say, “Limbo can continue for months.” Months! Who has the patience for months? I certainly don’t. I’d simply turn my attention elsewhere. But apparently this too is a thing.)

In any case, I would not want to be dating right now without Facebook. It is simply too ubiquitous and useful. Plus I haven’t done any online dating since January because I was so appalled by Creepy Neighbor Guy (met on OKCupid, for those keeping track) that I just got annoyed with the whole thing. So at this point in time my dating prospects are all people I’m meeting first in person, and Facebook is the easiest way to facilitate that.

Of course, Facebook is a convenient way to encourage new friendships and grow existing friendships in general. Dating is just one facet of that. But it’s definitely an interesting part of the Facebook experience!

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So you’re a writer using social media. Either your agent or publisher has persuaded you to do it, or you’ve heard that new writers should start building a platform even before they have a deal on the table, or you’ve decided to take a greater role in publicity for your creative work. Whatever the initial motivation, a writer on social media has to answer the basic question: what am I going to talk about?

A lot of writers fall back on the obvious answer: well, we’ll talk about writing, of course. After all, that’s why we’re here interacting with strangers in the first place. And that’s what we’re passionate about, and what we think about all the time, and what we are closest to being an expert about. From this thinking arises the bottomless pit of word count stats, updates on the WIP, and pleas revealing writerly insecurities, not to mention the massive sharing of articles about writing.

This may come as a big surprise, but the nitty-gritty details of writing? NOT interesting to the average non-writer person. And guess who you’re trying to connect with via social media? Potential readers, many of whom will hopefully be non-writers. See the problem here?

I’m not saying we can never talk about our writing. Indeed, part of why social media is effective is because we can use it to promote our work, whether that be our latest book, short story, or blog post. We can also become more active in a writer community, through which we can learn information about craft and business and be supported by like-minded writers. This is all fabulous and useful. But we also want to be building a network of readers, people who theoretically might be willing to spend money to read our work, and if all we do is post how many words we’ve written today or that we’ve had a good or a bad writing day, these potential readers might get bored.

However, fear not. We are writers, and we are capable of writing engaging content, even if we secretly fear that we are boring. All we need to do is think about our audience (those potential readers I keep talking about), think about ourselves and our interests, and find a place where those two groups intersect. Easy, right?

I’ll use science fiction and fantasy as an example since those are the genres and audience most familiar to me. (YA, unfortunately, is a bit trickier, since the audience and the purchasers are not necessarily the same people.) Subjects to consider discussing via social media if you write sf/f include: books, movies, comics, etc. in the genre (or even outside of it); politics (after all, Lois Bujold says that speculative fiction novels are fantasies of agency, but be aware that discussing politics on the internet has its perils); history (esp. for writers of historical fantasy and alternative history); technology; futurism; science and advances in science; folklore; anthropology; geek culture; gaming (board gaming, RPGing, etc.); costuming; philosophy. The list goes on and on. Not that every writer should talk about every subject mentioned here; we each get to choose subjects that we like and feel comfortable talking about.

So in between posting about your newest story coming out and sharing a great article your friend wrote about writing, you can ALSO muse about some interesting strategy ideas you had during your latest game of Dominion and share an article about a recent awesomesauce scientific discovery or some recent photos from the Mars Rover. And if you’re being especially organized, you can share that great writing article with only your writer friends via your Writers circle on Google+ or your Writers list on Facebook.

And if you want to talk more accessibly about writing, think about what aspects are most intriguing to non-writers. However irritating you might find the oft-asked question about where your ideas come from, the reason that question pops up again and again is because people find it interesting. Think of the more “glamorous” aspects of a writer’s life and write about them: where ideas come from; strange facts you discovered while researching; travel due to conventions, conferences, and book tours. You can also take problems you’ve faced while writing and universalize them to apply to other creative disciplines or develop them into general life lessons.

Finally, the use of key words are essential. People find writers on the internet in a variety of ways, and perhaps the strongest of these is the network effect (aka word of mouth). But there are other ways to connect online. Let’s say I’m obsessed with Dominion and post about it once a week. And let’s say a reader who also happens to be obsessed with Dominion searches for it on Google+ and finds my posts. The reader might start following me not because I’m a writer but because they like to talk to me about Dominion. And then, months later, when I announce my next book is coming out, this Dominion friend of mine might decide to check it out. Why? Because now she knows me and wants to support me. Or she finds me interesting and thinks she might like the book. But this reader would never have found me if I didn’t make myself easy to find by using key words. If you’re talking about something related to psychology, make sure to use the word psychology somewhere in your post. If you’re talking about the Mars Rover, perhaps you can slip in the words “space exploration” into your post. Help people find you.

The community of writers needs its wonderful specialist blogs on the craft and business of writing, and the writers involved in these blogs are providing an invaluable service. Writers also need ways to communicate with and support each other, and networking with industry professionals can provide us with opportunities and expert insight. But when we think of the bigger picture of social media, we need to remember the non-writers too. Think of each social media platform as a cocktail party. We want to be witty, well spoken, and concise. We don’t want to be the prima donna who simply talks about herself all the time or the bore who drones on and on and on; instead we want to ask questions and discuss subjects that are interesting to more than just ourselves.

So ask yourself these questions: what am I interested in besides writing? what do I enjoy talking about? who is my audience? what do we have in common? (The most obvious answer here is, of course, a love of BOOKS. But then dig deeper.) We don’t have to be perfect on social media, and we can’t always be interesting to everybody, but a little bit of effort can make a huge difference.

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Earlier this week we covered Facebook’s new direction, including both the potential large upside for writers and the accompanying privacy concerns. But what about Google+? Where does it fit into this picture? (Disclaimer: my husband, you may remember, works on Google+, so I’m not an uninterested party here. Apparently I also need to tell you explicitly that these are my opinions and not his. So yes, all mine. Especially the brilliant parts.)

Google+ has only been public for a little more than a week, and has only been live at all for the past three months. So we’re still in the very early days, which means there is still a lot of room for conjecture. First, let’s talk about a few differences between Facebook and Google+ (although with all of FB’s recent changes, there are less of them than there were). I was happy to have independent verification that Google+ is not doing the creepy cookie thing that makes me so concerned about Facebook and its privacy. There’s also less chance of accidentally posting information you don’t want posted, which is always nice. With its recent integration of Hangouts (group video chat) with new tools, especially Google Docs and screen views, Google+ lends itself well to collaboration in creative, business, and educational fields (and even recreational). The Google+ stream is not filtered the way Facebook is; you see all the posts being shared with you, although not in straight reverse chronological order as sometimes new comments will make an old post jump back higher in your stream. Google+ has garnered a reputation for hosting more in-depth discussions and conversations and for being a great platform for meeting new people.

I’m reluctant to talk about Google+’s real names policy because I know that many people feel passionately about it and I don’t want this conversation to center only on that. Regarding writers, I will say that I don’t think it’s Google’s aim to penalize those of us who write under pseudonyms. I personally expect that once Google+ has matured a bit more, this policy will lose its relevance, if for no other reason than that Google will find it impossible to enforce such a policy. For writers in particular, as long as your pseudonym looks like a standard American name (ie first and last), the odds are that you won’t have problems. But it is a concern that Google needs to address in some way so that users feel completely comfortable investing in the site.

A baby hedgehog with a lot of potential… (Okay, you’ve got me, I just wanted to include a hedgehog photo.)

Why might writers consider being on Google+ right now?

1. Hatred of Facebook. It happens, and now there’s an alternative for having an online presence that is more conducive for conversation with fans and communities. Twitter can also do this, but it feels more ephemeral in time and is difficult for communicating more complicated ideas or sharing links (since they are truncated and therefore very mysterious). So this may partly depend on your style of communication, and of course, carries the downside of not having the sheer number of users as Facebook.

2. Early adopter status. One of the main benefits of this is getting a head start. Users who are early adopters tend to have large follower counts, both because they’ve been doing it longer and because they are present at the beginning when more people are looking for interesting content for their streams. For example, I have well over 1000 people following me on Google+ after three months, whereas I have friends in the three hundreds on both Facebook and Twitter.

3. If you are an sf/f writer, being active on Google+ right now is a no brainer, because guess what? Your fans make up a large portion of the current user base. Google+ is known to be particularly popular with the high-tech crowd, many of whom enjoy science fiction and fantasy. So the potential for building your fan base is very good. Not to mention that the artist communities (comic book artists, photographers, and writers in particular) are well represented as well–hence why Google+ is great for collaboration and networking.

4. Positioning. Writers want to be in the best place to take advantage of whatever changes may benefit them. Keeping up to date with what’s going on with these social platforms and understanding the basics of how they work means greater speed in adapting and leveraging them to work for you.

What I am most excited about, though, is the huge future potential of Google+. Remember how I said that it is becoming known as a great place to meet new people? Well, guess what the point of having a social media strategy is in the first place. Yes, that’s right: meeting new people in order to build a fan base. On Facebook, the vast majority of my friends are people I’ve met in real life. On Twitter, the vast majority of my followers are newer writers like myself, indie writers, and social media professionals who use words like SEO in their personal descriptions. I certainly have a fair number of writers following me on Google+ as well, but I’m also being followed by lots of..wait for it… normal people! I know, right? Who knew that could happen? And these people are all potential readers who might like my work. Plus, for an added bonus, they’re really interesting to talk to. So while I stand by my assertion that Facebook is great for more established writers due to its larger reach, Google+ is great for writers actively trying to build a fan base before they even have a publishing track record. If you read a lot about social media and writers, you have doubtless read how we’re all supposed to start building a “platform” a few years before our first novel hits the presses. Google+ seems positioned to be a powerful tool to do just that.

With its new search feature that came out last week, Google+ became a tool for discovery. I can now search for posts about subjects I care about on Google+, which is a great way to meet people. With its release of shared circles, in which users can take a screenshot of a current circle and share it with their followers, we’ve been given the means to share groups of people who we know are interested in photography, or current events, or reading, or whatever topic we want, which will also facilitate discovery. My hope is that Google will continue to pursue this line of development and begin to offer more advanced and refined methods of finding other users with similar interests.

Next week I’m planning to discuss ways for writers (or anyone else) to be interesting and discoverable on social media. And then maybe I’ll be able to tear myself away from this topic for long enough to talk about something else.

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There have been a lot of shifts in social media in the last few months. Google+ has entered the field and become known for its Hangouts (which can now even be broadcasted), its conversations, and its potential for collaboration. Facebook launches the rest of its redesign on or around September 30, including Timeline (the scrapbooking and record-keeping replacement of the profile and wall) and deep integration with applications, most notably media applications (music, movies, TV, news and articles, etc.).

First, a few more details about Facebook’s newest features. Its application integration will make it easy to automatically share information on the internet, from what article you’re reading to what recipe you’re cooking to what song you’re listening to. Once you give a certain app–whether that be Spotify, the Washington Post, or Hulu–permission to share your activities (you only need to give this permission one time ever per app), it will stream all your behavior directly to Facebook without you having to make additional clicks for each item you’re sharing. The idea is that this will make it easier for people to serendipitously discover media based on what their friends are doing, and there are already discussions about how this could be revolutionary for the music industry in particular (not to mention a possible savior of the faltering print news organizations). All of these application updates will be shown in the scrolling ticker box on the righthand side of your screen, as well as being recorded on your Timeline. (I’ve also already seen some of them creeping into the News Feed.) And speaking of the Timeline, you (and your friends) will be able to see anything and everything you’ve ever put up on Facebook.

What I’m interested in is how these changes will affect possible social media strategies for writers (although much of what I’m thinking may affect other creatives as well). First, Facebook. Honestly, it is difficult (although not impossible) to avoid strategies that don’t incorporate Facebook in some way, either through a personal account or through Facebook Pages, at least not for writers who have at least one novel published. Once you have fans, Facebook becomes logical since it has the largest user base, therefore making it much more convenient as a way for people to find you. The less of a niche market you’re targeting, the more important Facebook becomes. Having an author website and/or blog is great, but following a blog, whether through RSS, bookmarks, or email subscription, takes a greater level of engagement and commitment than simply liking an author page, and therefore Facebook gives writers a greater reach, allowing them to keep a larger fan base updated as to their activities and upcoming releases.

Once the changes to the Open Graph (aka the applications) roll out, Facebook offers even more advantages to the established writer. While I didn’t see Amazon, B&N, or Goodreads on Facebook’s truncated graphic of partners, that graphic by no means represents their complete list of media partners. Rest assured that one way or another, you’ll be able to share the books you’re reading through this system sometime in the not-so-distant future. Factor in the burgeoning e-book market, and it doesn’t take a social media expert to figure out that Facebook will play an even larger role in book marketing. The ticker feed, through which uses will share without even having to remember to do so beyond granting the initial permissions, has huge potential for increasing word-of-mouth on books people are reading, and word-of-mouth is among the very best of marketing that a book or business can receive. This is a big deal, dear writers, not just for the music and newspaper industries but also for the publishing industry. And hopefully you are beginning to see why I think refusing to be on Facebook as a writer carries a hefty cost. Granted, you’ll receive the ticker word-of-mouth regardless of whether you have an account, but how much better if a user finds you via Facebook and is then able to Like your page?

However, I do have serious concerns about the privacy implications of these new features, which seem to me to be ultimately much more about what’s good for Facebook and advertisers than what’s good for the users. Of course, this is all very new and not even rolled out for most users, but I’ve already had a friend who accidentally shared that he had read an article on a controversial subject. Not a great sign, and obviously Facebook users will have to stay really on top of their sharing. Plus there have recently been allegations that Facebook monitors everywhere you visit through your browser, even if you are logged out (through cookies, for those of you technically cognizant people), which means you could be sharing an awful lot of information with them (often without even realizing it). If this is true (it is certainly technically possible), there are measures that can be taken to minimize this while still using Facebook, like denying all apps access to your account, using an incognito window of the Chrome browser for Facebook and not opening any other tabs in that window, or using a dedicated browser for just Facebook (ex. if you use Firefox for your normal internet usage, you can download Chrome and use it for only Facebook). But I worry that these potential security problems and accompanying measures might be too confusing for many writers to understand and implement.

My other concern has to do with noise. If everyone on Facebook is sharing all their daily activities with everyone else, literally every movie, song, TV show, hike, meal, book, article, run, sleep cycle, etc., how effective will this be as a marketing strategy? Will significant numbers of people actually discover new authors and books through their tickers, or will any such discovery be drowned out by the sheer overwhelming volume of information? We will have to wait and see how sophisticated Facebook’s ranking abilities are–will they be able to skillfully filter and show users information that is actually of interest? Will they be able to choose your friends who have a similar taste in books to you? Possibly, but right now it’s anybody’s guess.

At the present moment, Facebook is a powerful tool enabling writers to reach their readers. I plan to continue to use it, while staying very aware of what’s going on with my privacy and taking measures to alleviate Facebook’s intrusion into my life. As skeptical as I am that I will find enjoyment hearing every detail about what my many Facebook friends are liking/reading/watching/eating/listening to, I am sure I can survive at least five to ten minutes per week to keep up a minimal presence on the site. However, I can’t find fault with those writers who are concerned enough about their privacy to opt out of using Facebook.

So where does that leave Google+? Tune in on Thursday and I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.

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“Loneliness is the endemic disease of our time.”

My husband broke out this sentence last weekend, and of course, my response was, “Where’s my laptop? I need to write that down.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence: at its most basic, the state of being lonely and all it entails, the idea of loneliness as a disease (and a widespread systemic one at that), and whether loneliness is more prevalent now than it has been in the past.

And once I add in the context of the conversation, which was about social media, there’s even more to think about. How does social media (Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere, forums, online dating, etc.) affect loneliness? Does it make us feel more connected and satisfied on the whole, or does it, by diluting our pool of friends and sometimes encouraging quantity over quality and surface over depth, make us feel even more lonely?

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. Even if I examine my own personal experience, I’ve had both positive and negative reactions to social media.

The Bad:

1. Hearing about a party that all your friends went to, to which you were not invited, is not so fun. On the plus side, this means that when the party comes up later in in-person conversation (which it inevitably will), at least you’re not blindsided and can respond with the appropriate blasé remark.
2. Reading the never-ending stream of advice and opinions about writing and the publishing industry can be draining and kill my own inspiration and ability to work. I imagine this is true in other fields as well.
3. Time sink. Enough said.
4. Having a lot of Facebook friends is not the same as having friends who form my support network, with whom I have a private and personal relationship. And yet, sometimes Facebook distracts from the need to maintain those deeper relationships.
5. Friends’ internet time is not equal, so I will end up with more interaction with those friends who check their social networks frequently, as opposed to those friends with whom I have the closest in-person connections.
6. Social media makes me feel like I know what’s going on for people, and it makes people feel like they know what’s going on for me. Which is great, until I start to think about all the things I never say because they are too private for public consumption.

The Good:

1. One of the reasons I love blogging so much is because it allows me to use social media in a very content-heavy way, helping me balance the whole breadth vs. depth issue. Plus it gives me the chance to be a conversation-starter or to respond in depth to interesting conversations begun by others.
2. I am able to keep myself very informed and up-to-date on any of my interests or career concerns.
3. Social media makes it easier to reach out and create or find a community of like-minded individuals.
4. I can stay in at least nominal touch with a lot more people than I could have even ten years ago. Contacting someone out of the blue is also a lot less weird than it used to be.
5. Getting multiple birthday wishes (and having an easier time remembering and acknowledging others’ birthdays) makes me happy. Yes, I love birthdays.
6. Sometimes social media is great entertainment, pure and simple. And I love the way it lets people share content.

On the whole, social media makes me feel more connected, as long as I remember that it’s not a substitute for in-person time (or e-mail for those of my friends who aren’t local). What has your experience been with different forms of social media? Does it make you feel more or less isolated?

On Thursday, I’ll be exploring the idea of how loneliness fits into modern American society, and why it might be on the rise.

UPDATE: An interesting recent article on how Facebook helps people overcome shyness. It ends with the insight that some users become more lonely because of Facebook.

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