Social media for beginners

My teenagers use computers in the same way as they use every other modern technological miracle they take for granted – TV, cars, flush loos, electric light – without thinking (or tidying up after themselves). Those of us who first met Z80s or BBC Micros or tried “entering data” – how quaint! – on a mainframe at college may reserve a modicum of awe – the same we feel when our car passes it’s MOT. For those of us in FaceBook and Blog-land it can be hard to remember that some, mostly older, friends or family have no idea how useful computers – and the web – can be. They still use paper dictionaries when the entire OED (how many volumes?) is available FREE online with your library card code (try an R on the front if the number doesn’t work alone). They consult out of date encyclopaedias rather than googling or checking Wikipedia. Their circle of writing friends is limited to, well, their local writers’ circle, or people they read in magazines.

Malvern Writers’ Circle have a web page. We have pictures, events, contacts and so on there. It’s a great way for people to find us if they are in the area or new to writing and want to get in touch. But I wish I’d been at the circle meeting held after I created – god forbid! –a FaceBook page for the circle. Apparently there was concern identities were at risk – fears that were soon allayed when the site, and its access, were described.

As people kept asking me about the web I offered to do a workshop on “Social Media for Beginners”. It occurred to me that I could make it an online workshop: a document with links to examples or more information, along with screen shots of sample pages from FB etc. Having shared it with those in MWC who have computers, web access and expressed an interest (but not the one lady on the sign-up sheet who does not have a computer but thought she was signing up for a luncheon) I thought it might be useful to anyone else with friends or family taking the plunge into networking. My step mother borrowed it for her U3A computer group and they gave some very positive feedback (at least according to her). I’d welcome comments – positive or negative: what works; what doesn’t; did you share it? etc.

Here it is (except for the screenshots):

by Myfanwy Fox


Social media allows computer-users to network with other people all over the world. The “world wide web” is how we describe the way that all computers are linked or networked. Information on the web is shown on “pages”.  In this page of information you are reading now some of the words or phrases are “links” to other pages – not written by me – where you can find more information. Any phrases underlined are links to other pages: click on them to see the linked page. (The underlining is web convention.)

Social media are excellent tools for writers and publishers:
Time scale – content instantly available (even overseas) and available 24/7
Meet the author – without the travel/time/expense of staging an event
Cost – free or low compared to printed material
Targeted – by word of mouth (links) so you are read by those who really are interested
Ease – printing requires skilled staff and specialised equipment
Updating – instant; no reprinting
Expectation – some publishers would not consider an author with no web presence.

Liz Thomson, for the London Book Fair website, makes a strong case for social networking.

Wikipedia (WP) has a detailed introduction to the types of social media – blogging, sharing pictures/video (YouTube, MySpace etc), social networking (Facebook, Twitter etc), virtual worlds, game communities, chat/messaging and so on. WP is itself an example of social media: it is created and maintained by anyone willing to add expert content. Despite the “open” creation it compares favourably with traditional encyclopaedias regarding detailed information.

Jonathan Pinnock is one “emerging author” who has made excellent use of social media. His blog/website is always a worthwhile read; he also links to other writers, articles on writing, competitions etc. When his novel Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens was not accepted (prospective publishers felt Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had got there first – “Great minds” and all that) he decided to serialise Mrs Darcy on the web. Mrs Darcy had her own FaceBook fan page and Twitter feed. There are even two delightfully bonkers YouTube trailers (here and here). Because of the energy of Jon’s “buzz” (and because it’s a fine tale!) Mrs Darcy vs The Aliens will be out in print  from Proxima later in 2011; Jon’s use of social media was instrumental in his publishing contract.

Jon integrated several strands of social media into Mrs Darcy’s publicity: his own website; the serialisation (blog) site; Facebook (his page and Mrs Darcy’s fan page); Twitter (again, his own feed and Mrs Darcy’s); YouTube.


Types of Social Media for Authors: Pros and Cons

Pros: can be as simple or complex as the owner wishes; can link to your own online shop for direct sales; relatively easy to DIY with free template software; once designed easy to update; can be seen by anyone
Cons: usually requires some expense (domain name, design tools/designer etc); has to be maintained; broken links, an amateur-looking or out of date site gives a poor impression; have to delete or archive old pages
Tamsyn Murray – children’s author
Malorie Blackman – children’s author
Tips: Keep it simple! often, “less is more” – use “white space” to give viewers’ eyes a break; make sure all links work and all information is accurate

David Mitchell’s website home page [screenshot]

Pros: can be free (eg Blogger or WordPress sites); a great way to “meet” readers and charm them; easy to set-up; allows readers to comment and feedback; great for event-publicity and so on; can be seen by anyone
Cons: MUST be updated regularly; takes (writing!) time; allows “trolls” access (though you can opt to moderate comments received); might make you feel exposed or awkward; you need a good “voice” to maintain the flow of a blog
Neil Gaiman – author of The Sandman comic book series, American Gods, Coraline etc.
Jo Bell – poet, performer, teacher, co-ordinator of National Poetry Day
Jen Daiker – blog addict
Paul McAuley – sci fi author

Snapshot of Paul McAuley’s blog [screenshot]

Pros: free; widely-used; easy to master; allows lengthy conversations; flexible content; great way to find new “friends” worldwide
Cons: default security settings are non-private; addictive; spam bots rife (careful what “apps” you click on); have to be “FB friends” to communicate fully; non-FB members cannot see much content though showcase pages are available, such as Malvern Writers’ Circle.


snapshot of Jo Bell’s FB profile page

Pros: free; very quick reaction time; receive comments from the famous or infamous or on particular issues (eg #twitterjoketrial) instantly; worldwide audience
Cons: security issues; spam or virus links etc; addictive; each “tweet” limited to 140 characters; conversational flow not intuitive to read; works better from a separate software (eg TweetDeck); takes a while to build up followers (feels like shouting into the wilderness meanwhile); feels back to the dark ages with hashtags and @-symbols in a conversation

Snapshot of “Carl Maxim’s” Twitter page

Snapshot of Myfanwy Fox’s TweetDeck


More Interesting Pages

Do fiction readers really read author blogs?” asks Jody Hedlund
Jody blogs about writing. Her blog-followers are mainly fellow writers. But they will “spread the word” about her work – and they are also readers. So blogging benefits her, if not by direct contact with her main market.

Ben Jocock’s article in the Bookseller discusses what authors can achieve – and what they should avoid – on Twitter. And he supplies a ready-made list of publishing tweeters to follow.

On her Scrivengale blog, American author Gale Martin talks about using Twitter to build an audience for her work.

Finally, wince – or giggle – at how not to use social media: FailBookTweeting Too Hard and similar sites give (real!) examples of comments so embarrassing they just have to be shared. The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog has a case study on What to do when social media goes wrong, as well as many other articles on using networking.

Daily Blog Tips is just what it says.

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