Social Media – The Double Edged Sword

Social Media provides new and interesting ways for humans to connect with each other. People across the globe can see and respond to what you post. The power of this tool cannot be underestimated. But if you’re a published author, the danger cannot be understated either. I learned this the hard way.

I had a social media presence before I became a published author. I used it to further the causes and viewpoints about which I’m passionate. My friends/followers on social media cheered that I helped champion the beliefs we mutually held in common. The trolls and other detractors used my posts to trash me and my beliefs in public forums to help them feel better about themselves. It was all grand fun… or so I thought.

When I released my first book, I discovered the inherent danger of social media. Through my past postings on social media, I had created an image of myself which, right or wrong, stood out very strongly in the minds of friends and foes alike. As I began promoting my book, I realized that people on social media could not distinguish between me and my book. My book was being judged by peoples’ opinion of me as a person, not of me as an author. People offended by my past social media posts, who might have enjoyed my books, were not only determine to not read my books, they went out of their way to see to it that no one else read my books either.

I was stunned by this, and it took a while to decide what to do about it. Eventually, I took down my social media accounts and recreated them under my professional/author name. I determined that my posts would only include things about my books, books in general, publishing, and humorous items that would engage with my friends/followers and my potential readers. I decided that the only current events I would post about were things that related directly to topics covered in my books, and even then I agonized about sharing those posts out of concern for crossing a line that would reflect badly on my books. I had to reinvent myself on social media to keep people from judging my books harshly because of something that I may have done to offend them personally.

Over the years since I made this change to my social media presence, the trolls, for the most part, have gone away. I still use social media to interact with like-minded people who share my causes and beliefs, but I interact with them in private forums where the trolls cannot see what I post. I rarely post about my personal life because I want my posts to advance my books, not me as a person. In fact, I don’t really want people on social media knowing much about me as a person because my social media presence is not about me; it’s about my books. Other authors use (quite successfully, I might add) posts about themselves and their family members to advance their book marketing, but given the nature of what I write about, I have found that it doesn’t work for me. Each author has to decide how much of his or her personal self to reveal, but I suggest that any and all posts made on social media be viewed critically for their potential to advance your book readership – or at least not to detract from your potential book readership.

As published authors, we have the herculean task of tirelessly promoting our books so that potential readers will find, purchase, and enjoy the fruits of our labors. The market is exhaustingly competitive; over a million new titles are released every year, thanks to self-publishing. Our books have to stand out among that flood of new titles. Social media used properly can help get the word out about our books, but used badly can also give potential readers an excuse to ignore our books and purchase someone else’s instead.

Just as you don’t want to offend your publisher, who is responsible for preparing your manuscript for publication and helping you market your work, you don’t want to turn away potential buyers of your work by posting material on social media that they might find offensive. The old adage that “Any publicity is good publicity,” or “Controversy sells,” is bunk! There is too much competition for readers out there, and they’re not going to spend their limited dollars supporting an author who they find offensive in some way. Using an example of politics, which has become so polarized in recent years, it is a sad truth that conservatives rarely purchase books by liberal authors, and liberals rarely purchase books by conservative authors. If you have written a book that could appeal to anyone regardless of political leanings, can you really risk alienating half of your potential readers by using social media to make posts that might offend them? I think not.

I’m not suggesting that being a published author requires us to change our belief system, but I am saying that being a published author should impel us to be very cautious about how we share our beliefs through social media. Most of us joined social media sites to interact with like-minded people. But with the exception of a very few authors who write in specific niches, our books have a potential audience that’s much larger than just people who share our beliefs. I personally have very strong political beliefs, but my books appeal to an audience that has a wide range of political beliefs. Do I want to alienate potential readers because my posts on social media offend their beliefs? Absolutely not!

For published authors, social media is first and foremost a marketing tool. Once you make your book available to the general public, everything you do in public forums will reflect on your book. Anything you post that caters to your like-minded friends/followers has the potential to alienate a much larger potential audience for your book, hurting your marketing and sales efforts. It’s an awful risk to take if your goal is to be a successful published author (instead of the millions of unsuccessful published authors that come and go every year). The image you portray on social media should be tailored to what best promotes your book, not the various personal causes and beliefs that you champion.

Every author must decide how to best use social medial to market and sell his or her books. My suggestion is to be very cautious about posting anything that could turn away a potential reader. Use social media to create a positive impression of your books, not a negative one. To paraphrase a question used by one of those pyramid sales schemes, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be successful?” If your goal is to be a successful author, don’t risk offending potential readers of your books by posting things on social media that offend, inflame, or infuriate people who might otherwise enjoy or benefit from what you have written.

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About wbspeirjr

Author of "Muzzle-Loading Artillery for Reenactors," the 8-book "Knights of the Saltier Series," four award-winning historical novels ("King's Ransom," "The Saga of Asbjorn Thorleikson," "Nicaea - The Rise of the Imperial Church," "Arthur, King"), the award-winning sci fi novel "The Olympium of Bacchus 12," and the fantasy novel "The Kingstone of Airmid."
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