This article, written by Mindy Klasky is from the August 2020 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
Author Note: Social media remain a linchpin for many authors’ promotional efforts. This article outlines five current best practices for five of the oldest, best-established social media networks: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Next month, we’ll look at some newer players in the field, including LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tik-tok, Tumblr, WeChat, and What's App. Please note, paid advertising on social media platforms is beyond the scope of this article.
No author can possibly interact with readers on all social media channels; there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Successful promoters pick and choose among platforms, selecting the ones that play to their strengths (e.g., long and detailed essays, short and witty observations, photos, or video.)
While many services allow authors to create one post and disseminate it across multiple platforms, those distributed posts might not put the author in the best promotional light, because each platform’s users expect interactions consistent with the platform’s design. (For example, Twitter’s 280-character limit means that a long, insightful observation about the publishing industry will be reduced to a hyperlink or Twitter thread many users will never follow.)
The following best practices should help authors identify the social media networks most in line with their skill sets. All facts and figures on social media usage cited below come from the Pew Research Center’s Social Media Fact Sheet, which was last updated June 12, 2019.
Facebook, the second-most-popular social media platform in the United States (after YouTube), counts approximately 69% of US adults as users. Among all Facebook users, 74% visit the site daily, and an additional 17% visit the site weekly.
Facebook applies complicated often-changing algorithms to determine which posts to show to which accounts. While the precise nature of those algorithms is secret, the system favors posts that generate a great deal of interaction (likes, shares, and comments) from users. In recent months, the algorithms seem to favor the distribution of posts from the profiles of family and friends over those of commercial pages.
- Polish your cover photo. (“Cover photo” is Facebook’s term for the banner at the top of a profile, page, or group; it is not the “profile picture,” which is often a user’s portrait.) Your cover photo, which is your first chance to snag a passing user and make them a fan, should reflect your brand, instantly conveying your genre and your specific books. View your cover photo on multiple devices; the entire photo is not visible on mobile devices. As there are still millions of users who access Facebook via computer make sure your cover is optimized for that platform. The new desktop interface places a user’s profile picture in the bottom center of their cover photo (a change from past placement, to the lower left.)
- Engage your followers. Facebook’s algorithms promote posts that receive a lot of engagement. Therefore, authors should post with the specific goal of creating interaction. Consider asking direct questions (especially ones with easy, straightforward answers). Acknowledge responses to your posts by clicking “like,” adding stickers, or making a comment. (Those acknowledgments build a personal bond with your followers. At the same time, they increase your points of contact with your followers for future Facebook algorithms.)
- Use videos and images. According to Social Media Today, more than 8 billion videos are viewed on Facebook every day. Still photos, memes, and other images also catch readers’ eyes as Facebook posts scroll by. Similarly, short text-based posts stand out when accompanied by one of Facebook’s prepared background designs.
- Create groups. While Facebook notoriously limits the visibility of posts to profiles and pages, they give far greater visibility to posts made in groups. Rumors abound that Facebook will start to charge for group; however, no charges are yet in effect. Your groups can be relatively small (e.g., a street team or an ARC team) or quite expansive (e.g., a book club for your genre.) Many authors foster the appearance of exclusivity by making their groups private.
- Avoid hashtags. While Facebook supports hashtags, they are not commonly used on the site. If you do use hashtags, never use more than two in a single post. Multiple hashtags may send a message to Facebook’s algorithms that your post originated on another social media network.
Approximately 37% of US adults use Instagram, with 63% visiting the site daily and another 21% visiting the site weekly.
- Deliver quality posts. Of course, all social media require quality posts—but quality photos really matter for Instagram. Learn your camera’s settings. Consider creating a uniform feel by using the same filter on all your posts or by adopting a color scheme for specific periods of time.
- Use hashtags. Instagram followers respond well to two types of hashtags: A) Long, witty, and entertaining hashtags that may be unique within the Instagram world and B) Precise, common hashtags that link communities of users. Study the hashtags commonly used by authors in your genre and plug into their networks.
- Use stories. Stories are built from images and video, with added text, GIFs, stickers, filters, and polls. They last for 24 hours before disappearing from your feed.
- Run a contest. The best contests are simple ones—ask your followers to comment on one of your posts, then select a winner. You don’t have to give away expensive new technology like a Kindle or an iPad; instead, you can award your own ebooks. If you run a contest, make sure you follow Instagram’s rules.
- Remain social. Perhaps because of the relatively sparse textual interaction on Instagram, many users forget to engage with their followers. Respond to comments, answer questions, and thank people who compliment your posts.
Approximately 28% of US adults use Pinterest. Statistics about daily and weekly visits are not readily available.
- Pin fresh content. Fresh content goes beyond merely adding new pins. Rather, Pinterest wants to encourage the addition of pins that aren’t available anywhere else on its site. If your pin isn’t unique, consider adding unique (but relevant) titles, using a different font in the text overlay, and using different graphics, patterns, or colors. (Generally, it’s not sufficient to use only one of those methods to create content considered “fresh” by the Pinterest algorithms.)
- Pin the most important items first. The first five pins you post each day will get more engagement than the rest of your board, no matter what time of day you make those pins. Consider which items are most important and pin them first.
- Emphasize quality over volume. Pinterest finds more value in quality pins (fresh content, quality images, etc.) than in the number of pins you make. Use your limited social media time to create consistently good pins, rather than a multitude of mediocre ones.
- Use keywords. Keywords increase the value of your pins to Pinterest users. Use keywords in descriptions, focusing on the terms a user is most likely to type when trying to find content like yours. When possible, include relevant keywords in your profile and board descriptions.
- Limit use of group boards. Pinterest created group boards to allow communication about specific, limited content. Over time, those group boards became ways for authors and others to cross promote. Pinterest has now indicated that it will provide greater distribution of relevant individual boards, rather than group boards.
Approximately 22% of US adults use Twitter, with 42% visiting the site daily and another 29% visiting the site weekly.
- Optimize your profile. Make sure your handle is short and simple, without extra characters. (Consider creating a new account if your handle is hard to use and remember.) Review your bio, the first thing on your profile that most people will see when they consider following you. Don’t forget to use relevant hashtags to integrate your profile into existing Twitter communities.
- Pin a tweet. Create your very best content, and then pin it to the top of your feed. Along with your bio, a pinned tweet is your “first impression” to newcomers. Consistently put your best foot forward, including when you change your pinned tweet when launching a new book or series.
- Build relevant followers. Early marketing efforts on Twitter emphasized increasing the number of followers and harvesting contacts without regard to how relevant those accounts were to yours. Contemporary best practices emphasize building relevant followers—authors, readers, agents, editors, etc. Consider trimming your list of followers so that you’re only broadcasting to people who are interested in you, your books, and your genre.
- Engage your followers. As with most forms of social media, followers want to communicate with the genuine “you” (or, at least, your genuine author persona); they aren’t looking for sales pitches and endless promotion. The oft-cited 80/20 rule remains a useful guideline—spend 80% of your time engaging with your followers and only 20% selling to them. (Engagement includes responding to your followers’ tweets, retweeting, and @mentioning others. You might also ask relevant questions, conduct polls, and tweet about trending news. Humorous accounts tend to thrive on Twitter—possibly as an antidote to the flamewars that tend to rage on the platform.)
- Use visuals. As with other social media, visuals are increasingly important. Followers engage more with photos, videos, and other media than they do with long strings of hashtags.
YouTube, unlike other social media, functions as a search engine, allowing users to initiate research queries. Arguably, this “search engine” function exists separately from the site’s “social media” function. Nevertheless, approximately 51% of US adults visit YouTube daily and another 32% visit weekly, making YouTube the most popular social media site in the country.
- Create quality content. YouTube’s primary goal is keeping viewers watching. Therefore, the site’s algorithms heavily favor “sticky” videos, so create your videos with that goal. Eliminate fluff from your introductions, and get to the meat quickly. Script your videos so you don’t have dull moments where a viewer might exit. Provide interesting visuals, like graphics, animations, and changing backgrounds to break up your speaking.
- Optimize your title. You want viewers to choose your video over all the others reported following a search. To maintain energy, keep your titles short, use relevant keywords, and keep in mind the words and phrases people are likely to use when searching for videos like yours
- Use compelling thumbnails. Most of your viewers are going to see your thumbnail at a tiny size. Therefore, use bright, contrasting colors (ideally not red, white, or black, because those are the colors YouTube uses for its own design.)
- Create playlists. Remember—YouTube wants to keep people on its platform. Playlists make that easy, by presenting viewers with jumping off points for their next video. Create playlists for your videos and display them on your channel page.
- Recruit subscribers. Once you’ve invested time and energy in getting people to watch a video, you want them to watch all your future videos. Encourage them to subscribe to your channel. Add a Subscribe button to every end screen, to capture people before they leave the “territory” that you control.
USA Today bestselling author Mindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere through stories. As a writer, Mindy has traveled through various genres, including romantic comedy, hot contemporary romance, and traditional fantasy. In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her to-be-read shelf.