Why Writers Never Fell in Love with Social Media

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Strange looking little girl using her laptop.I took a break from writing my memoir yesterday to check my social media streams. As I clicked the like button and shared friend’s posts on Facebook, retweeted a few writers’ updates on Twitter and plussed a few folks’ content on the big G, the pure ease of it struck me. In most cases, one simple click allowed me to validate somebody’s content and show at the very least that I recognize that they exist.

Or did it?

When I say, “I like what you said” or “I’m going to share what you said with someone else,” what have I really said? And what does it really mean?

It used to be that it required at least minimal effort to build and maintain relationships with friends, business colleagues, other writers. It involved taking the time to let people know what it was about them that we appreciated, to go beyond the superficial, to connect with them in personal ways.

Then along came social media.

It’s easy! It’s quick! A real time saver.

But what were we giving up?

Fade to ‘office scene’

Somewhere in corporate America, the manager of the marketing department of a mid-sized firm has called a department meeting. Staff are seated around a mahogany table in the boardroom. The manager is a 40-ish woman with the annoying habit of constantly pulling a stray strand of hair behind one ear. She taps her pen on her coffee cup to call the meeting to order. The marketing intern sits quietly, eyes darting from face to face.

“We are here to brainstorm the latest ideas for the Flawless Faces campaign. I want your ideas on how best to use our media budget to get a bigger market share for Nielson Cosmetics,” Ms. Marketing Director says.

“Well, how about using real women in the fashion magazine ads?” the second year copywriter says.

“I like that,” the director’s assistant says.

“I like it, too.” says the designer.

“I like it.”

I think I like it, too.”

And around the table we go, until we reach our nervous intern. He jumps up. “I like it so much I’m going to share it!” he says.

The meeting ends with nine likes and three shares, but not much else. This would be a silly way to conduct a business, but it is what we do every day on social media. We sometimes lose sight of the very reason we are on social media: to collaborate and build stronger relationships with our colleagues, to open up dialogue.

But how do we do that?

Specific beats general every time

It starts early. With birthday letters in a first grade classroom even. What kind of birthday greeting does a six-year-old like better?

“Dear Josh, Happy Birthday. I like you.”

Or: “Dear Josh. Happy birthday. I like you because you are funny and you can make a spoon stick to your nose.”

childwriting

If you were Josh, which birthday letter would make you smile more? The first one, of course, is the equivalent to clicking the like button on someone’s Facebook post, or retweeting something they said on Twitter.

The second one? Well, that one is more like sending a handwritten note to someone in the mail. Or talking about one of their blog posts on Facebook and telling what you specifically liked about it. Or just calling them out on Twitter with a reason or two why you think they are brilliant, or funny, even if it’s just because they can make a spoon stick to their nose.

I think that most of us are conflicted with social media not just because it is a time suck. We avoid it because sometimes it can feel superficial to us (especially if we are introverts). We love jumping into topics and going deep.

Most of us are fond of discussing ideas, rather then just “liking” them.

We are the kid who wrote the sticking-a-spoon-to-your-nose birthday letter. We tell stories and know everything there is to know about our characters and we want to know our friends that well, too.

“Liking and “sharing” is just the tip of the iceberg for us.

If you are a writer, do you have a love-hate relationship with social media?

Does it fit your communication style?

Or are you there just because everyone told you that you need to be?

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Comments

  1. says

    This post captures my thoughts so well! Social media cannot replace brain-storming sessions where creativity is contagious. I like time alone to be with my thoughts and to write the stories that have been fermenting in my head, but sometimes I really miss the affirmation of co-workers and teamwork.

    • says

      Linda,

      For a while it was difficult to pinpoint why, besides the time issue, I didn’t always enjoy Facebook and other platforms. I can understand your feeling of isolation from time to time because I experience that, too. It isn’t quite the same jumping on a Skype call with someone, although that is perhaps more fun than typing out one-way messages and updates. I do still love to blog, though, because I find that the conversations go a little deeper than just clicking the “like” button. Thanks for visiting the blog.

  2. says

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Social media is so invasively time-consuming and yet so easy to exchange a ‘Like’ that it leaves our stomachs in a churn–we are overwhelmed by the quantity of communication and drained empty by the lack of real human response. It is definitely a love-hate relationship for me. Each brand of social media has something different to offer. Of all the different ones, I kind of like Pinterest because it allows people to share something real–recipes, travel photos, gardening tips, art, crafts, etc. It doesn’t feel so intrusive and demanding of my time. It feels natural although a lack of easy messaging is a drawback.

    • says

      Linda,

      You know (not that I need yet another platform to distract me!), but Pinterest might be worth a look. I have an account there but have never pinned one single thing. Shame on me. What stopped me was that it seemed like another Facebook (only a visual one) in terms of it being more personal sharing. I have such a time just keeping up with my writer posts and updates. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  3. says

    Oh Judy, you’ve hit such a hot button for me today. I wrote a post today that somewhat speaks to the issue of “where we need to be and why”, but I also had a conversation with a friend about the white noise of it all online.

    What I do know is this: I frequent the places online where I obtain value, have friendships and colleagues and want to share their words and works, and where I feel a greater sense of community. I certainly can feel the “obligation” of “being there”, but I’m much better at discerning this – what significant beneficial difference will it make to me, my life, my clients and my business by being there…engaging…communicating…following…liking. It’s a never-ending story though. Cheers! Kaarina

    • says

      Kaarina,

      I noticed how eerily similar our two blog posts were today. We were definitely on the same wave length at the same time. The where’s-the-value thing is crucial, isn’t it? I would rather have deeper interactions with fewer people than hundreds of “likes” that are sort of superficial (not that I don’t like to get “likes.”) For example, the kind that happened on Facebook today when you shared my post. A new reader for me (thank you!) and in the process of getting to know each other, I found out that his wife had been a first grade teacher, too. A nice, heartfelt connection. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here.

      • says

        I was so delighted to see Paul’s convo with you online. He and his wife Sue have become dear treasured friends of mine. I know that you will have lots to share with each other. They are, quite simply, salt of the earth lovely!

  4. says

    Judy, Great post, great topic. I do have a love hate thing for social media. Mostly hate. I love and have time for exchanging notes with a few friends but mostly it takes more time than I have and takes me away from things that I’d rather or need to do, like taking a walk, taking time to read a good book, or cooking a spectacular meal. These days I don’t feel as though we’re not supposed to do those other things. They tell me that social media is so important for building a platform that I believe them, I’ll soon starve myself to death and never read again. Or plain go nuts. Thanks for a place to rant about this.

    • says

      Joan, I think we all feel it, the love-hate thing, As writers, we try to protect our time because it takes so much out of us, diving into our stories. So much “creative energy,” as one person put it so well. You speak of the well-roundedness (is that even a word?) and we may be losing that balance when we spend so much time on social media. You just keep on doing all those other things because they enrich you and give you more to bring to your well of writing. Thanks for visiting the blog today.

      • says

        Thanks Judy. Yes, we are losing our balance when we become addicts to things like facebook and twitter. Life is too short to forgo what is beautiful around us in the real world.

  5. says

    This is one of those posts I wish I had written. Facebook and Twitter not only suck the time from me, they require creative energy that I always feel could be put to better use.
    Since the onslaught (for lack of a better word) of these and now Google I’ve tried to make use of them for various reasons – to actually make friends and promote some website or blog at the same time. I can’t get past the big playground phenomenon that I believe is the actual function of this type of social media.
    I have made Twitter friends, people I’ve never met and never will meet. There is something very shallow about that.
    Looking forward to more of your writing. I wish I had discovered you sooner.

    • says

      Hal,

      What you say here is so important. The “creative energy” of which you speak can exhaust us just when we need to be fresh for our writing. I never fully understood this until I started writing my own book. I have not met a lot of my Twitter and Facebook friends but am hoping that I will at the BlogWorld conference in Las Vegas In January. That will be fun! Glad you found the blog and look forward to talking with you more.

  6. says

    And because of that, I wanted to click a Facebook “Like” button on your post but it’s not there. :( As a writer, I love reading too and learning from other strong writers like you. And when I read something from the web, the best way I’ve seen to be able to share it to my friends who I think will be interested in what I read is by clicking the “like” button. It works the same way as the “share” button because my friends can still see it on their news feed. So I still get to network without congesting my profile. So far, I consider this the good part of social media.

  7. says

    Jovell,

    Thanks for sharing one of your strategies here. Since I promote most of my posts on Facebook, I do get “likes” there. But I chose to put the FB share button as one of choices at the top of my posts. You bring up an interesting point, though. I may play around with that a little. It’s always helpful to hear what other people do with their social buttons. Thanks.

  8. says

    I’ve always disliked social media, and in particular hated Twitter. As an introvert, I feel like Twitter is that party everyone has told me I am required to attend. It’s crowded with people I don’t know and noisy, and then everyone spams. It became so much of a time suck just to find conversations amidst all the writing spam that I finally said enough. I still post maybe once a day, but I’m not spending a lot of time on it.

    I think also a message got lost on the way to all the indie authors. The first thing everyone said is that to tell you have to be on every social media outlet so people will know you exist and buy your books. This assumes that everyone who runs across you will be your ideal reader and want to spend money on the book — and that’s an awfully big assumption. On the other hand, if a story of yours appears in a magazine and people read it, they may go look for other things you’ve written. That’s the message that got lost. You have to have a lot of writing out there so people will see your name.

    • says

      Linda,

      Social media definitely works better when you find a platform that is comfortable and enjoyable. Personally, I like Twitter better than Facebook because I can put just a few minutes day into it and it isn’t such a time suck for me. Over the years, I have gotten a little better at deciding who and who not to follow on Twitter. Taking a look at they profile and their stream tells me a lot about them.

      You bring up an important point about social media strategies in general. You certainly want to go where your readers are and it can take a little time to figure that out. Both social media and the more traditional outlets for promoting one’s work can work, if they expose you to the right people. For me right now, those are agents and editors. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  9. says

    I love social media when they use the way that Josh’s second birthday card was written. I love the new people I’ve met online like you and in person, like your hubby. :)

  10. says

    Nathasha,

    The feeling is mutual. Social media can be the superficial “like,” “follow,” or “retweet.” Or it can be a place where we actually connect on deeper levels. I much prefer the second. Glad to count you as one of my online “buddies.” : )

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