This article, written by Mindy Klasky  is from the September 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 current best practices for five relatively under-utilized social media networks: LinkedIn, Snapchat, TikTok, WeChat, and WhatsApp. (It also includes a brief update about Tumblr.) Last month, we looked at some of the more established players in the field: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Please note, paid advertising on social media platforms is beyond the scope of this article.

Editor’s Note: As of Aug. 6, President Donald Trump issued an executive order which will ban any US companies or citizens from making transactions with ByteDance, the parent company of the video-sharing social networking service TikTok, in 45 days. Trump also issued an order taking similar action against Tencent, the Chinese company that owns WeChat. On Aug. 5, Instagram debuted Reels, its version of TikTok.

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New social media networks seem to pop up every day, and as they do, authors might want to target these apps, even if there is no guarantee they will be around, for these networks attract users who are international and young. Each platform’s unique rules and configurations encourage users to develop new modes of engaging users. As with legacy social media, savvy promoters choose platforms that play to their strengths, keeping abreast of changes at those sites.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn was created specifically to connect business partners (sometimes referred to as building “B2B leads”). According to LinkedIn, the network includes over 660 million users in more than 200 countries. While some authors use LinkedIn as yet another platform to correspond with readers, the network’s strength is in bringing together publishing professionals—authors, book designers, editors, publishers, etc.—to discuss matters specifically related to the publishing business. The following best practices, therefore, focus on that business mission, rather than on socializing with readers.

  1. Optimize your profile. LinkedIn’s algorithms favor profiles that list at least five relevant skills, include a professional profile picture with an appropriate background photo, and are complete with up-to-date information. LinkedIn recently added a “Services” feature helping members highlight their range of services; authors should complete that profile section. Users can endorse the skills of business colleagues, which frequently leads to reciprocal endorsements. They can also request recommendations (personal testimonials).
  2. Be engaged. LinkedIn’s algorithms reward engagement. Therefore, users should be active.  Follow industry influencers, comment, message, add connections, and otherwise interact with other members on the site.
  3. Create long-form content. The most successful content on LinkedIn solves members’ problems by providing specific answers to users’ questions. How-to information and lists result in the most popular posts. Individual entries can run up to 1300 characters; titles of 40-49 characters perform best.
  4. Build real relationships. LinkedIn users tend to be savvy business people who don’t respond well to spam, hard-sell messages, or general posts. But users who focus on building true business relationships through the system see responses. For example, LinkedIn claims that its in-system messages (“InMail”) are 300 times more likely to receive a reply than a standard email.
  5. Observe traditional business hours. Because LinkedIn is primarily a business tool, its users are most active during traditional business hours midweek—from 8 a.m. Tuesday to 4 p.m. Thursday. Users tend to be less responsive on Mondays (when they’re catching up from a weekend off) or on Fridays (when they’re preparing to leave the office for the weekend.)

Snapchat

Snapchat is a social media network with more than 218 million daily users, the majority of whom are under 35. The mobile-phone app allows members to post “snaps”, photos and short videos that can be modified with filters, stickers, and text. Each snap has a timer, limiting how many seconds that snap can be viewed. “Stories” made of multiple snaps persist for 24 hours. (Snaps can also be saved as screenshots.) In 2019, rumors flourished that Snapchat was losing business; however, its parent company set a new record for quarterly revenue in the first quarter of 2020. Therefore, Snapchat seems likely to stick around, at least for a while.

  1. Be original. Snapchat users enjoy access to exclusive material that isn’t available on any other platform. Originality is more important than perfect photo composition, lighting, or other formatting.
  2. Show “behind the scenes” activities. Snapchat users love the impression of participating in everyday moments of one another’s lives. This makes the platform especially useful for teasing not-yet-released books, including pre-orders. Authors can also share live events, writing conferences, or one-off celebrations, such as selling the 10,000th copy of a book.
  3. Be succinct. Snapchat users are looking for fun, quick interactions. Users tend to be distracted easily; therefore, stories should be no longer than two minutes. Strip all unnecessary information from your posts.
  4. Post frequently. Since snaps disappear in 24 hours or less, frequent posting is vital to preserve your Snapchat presence. At a minimum, you should post 1-5 times each day.
  5. Partner with influencers. Like other social media network, Snapchat has established influencers who court numerous followers. Connect with influencers in your genre to spread information about your books.

TikTok

TikTok is a social media network offering short (15 seconds, by default) video content. It boasts 800 million active users, 41% of whom are 16-24 years old. The average user spends almost an hour a day on the mobile phone app. As of Aug. 5, Chinese tech company ByteDance owns TikTok.  Because of alleged national security concerns, some companies and the military have banned employees from putting the app on their phones.

  1. Complete your profile. At the moment, only select users are allowed to add a website link to their bio; however, all users can add Instagram and YouTube profiles to their TikTok profiles. (TikTok and Instagram seem to have a substantial affinity for identical or similar content; however, the feed post dimensions differ.  Instragram feed posts are 4:5; TikTok videos are 16:9.)
  2. Follow the trends. Music and dance are hugely popular, with many videos earning “copycat” viral spread. Other popular trends include lip syncs, fitness workouts, pranks, and a wide range of challenges.
  3. Make videos fun. Keep your posts humorous, and don’t attempt to engage in serious communication. TikTok’s short videos are intended to be “snacks,” not rigorous nutrition.
  4. Create unique content. TikTok users expect unique content, created and distributed within the app. Repurposed content is typically ignored; some users will call out repurposing and urge others to mock it.
  5. Unclear algorithms. TikTok is so new that no industry leaders have fully parsed its algorithms. Nevertheless, it seems as if those algorithms begin by spreading videos based on similar geo-locations. Using trending hashtags and sounds seems to boost discoverability as well. Videos (even older ones) can go viral in a flash, often because a hashtag or a sound spikes in popularity.

Tumblr

Tumblr is included on this list of  social media platforms, but its network has largely fallen into disuse. Extensive research on best practices revealed no articles more recent than 2018, with most of the articles substantially predating that. Current user data was virtually non-existent from any credible source. Therefore, authors are likely better served to focus on other platforms.

WeChat

WeChat is a social media network based in China. Its “Moments” platform allows users to post images, text, and short videos. Moments can be linked to Facebook and Twitter accounts. WeChat’s more than one billion monthly users are regularly tracked by Chinese authorities. The service censors topics it believes Chinese authorities will consider politically sensitive. At present, very little content at WeChat goes viral.

  1. Target Chinese citizens living overseas. Many Chinese citizens live abroad as students or as residents. They’re prime contacts for this evolving social media network.
  2. KOL v. KOC. WeChat doesn’t have “influencers” like those found on US-based sites. Rather, there are Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) and Key Opinion Consumers (KOC). KOLs build up large numbers of followers, and they accept money to promote goods or services. They don’t, however, yet have the social legitimacy to make posts go viral. Instead, KOCs are perceived by many users to be less cynical and less likely to have their opinions purchased by outsiders. Even though KOCs have smaller groups of followers than KOLs, they might actually have greater influence. Focus on finding KOCs who communicate with people likely to read your books.
  3. Follow the format. WeChat posts resemble blog posts. When crafting posts, maintain user interest by getting to your main point quickly. Finish strongly, in hopes of getting users to click the “Wow” button.
  4. Hone content. WeChat posts aren’t likely to be seen by a large community of users. Therefore, it’s very important to have a specific goal for each post—provide book launch information, inform readers about sales, etc.
  5. Harness in-app search. WeChat has an internal search feature designed to help users find specific content amid the huge number of posts made on the platform. Standard SEO practices (e.g., including strong keywords in titles and headings) is important to make the best use of this feature.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is a social media network with two billion users located primarily in India, Brazil, and other non-US countries. (WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in 2014, but it has been maintained as a separate platform.) While it began as a messaging service, allowing users to send text messages to other users’ telephone numbers, it now permits users to share media. Its simplicity, encryption of files, and refusal to share information with third parties have proven attractive to younger users. Users have a median age of 36, and 71% of all users are in the age bracket 18-44.

  1. Get permission. WhatsApp terms of service prohibit you from searching for or buying contacts. Instead, you must ask users to share their phone numbers with you or to message you first. This restriction results in an audience that is highly motivated to hear what you have to say.
  2. Engage with your contacts. WhatsApp messages enjoy extremely high engagement rates. According to HootSuite, 98% of WhatsApp mobile messages are opened and read, and 90% of those messages receive a response within three seconds of receipt. Harness this engagement by actively communicating with your WhatsApp contacts.
  3. Keep it short. One marketing firm found that its WhatsApp messages enjoyed the most engagement when they were 15 words or shorter.
  4. Do not share newsletters. Mass-mailing users is strictly forbidden by WhatsApp’s terms of service. The app reserves the right to sue any user who distributes newsletters or similar communications through the service.
  5. Consider doing consumer research. WhatsApp Business (a separate, pay-to-play service that runs on the WhatsApp platform) provides many tools for consumer research. Business users can ask direct questions, send surveys and polls, and respond to individual queries, such as customer-service complaints.

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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.

Laura Resnick

Laura Resnick is the author of the popular Esther Diamond urban fantasy series. A monthly columnist for Nink, she is also a past president of Ninc.