Thursday, April 16, 2009

Social Networking

Indulge me, Star-crossed fans, with a cross-post from my blog. It took me many many days to compose this (hell, it takes me many many days to compose every blog post--I'm that slow of a writer), and it might just be a topic worthy of discussion.

There's a very hot question making the rounds now, and not just in Romancelandia, or even Author Acres, that oddly-gated subdivision where no one's really sure if the gates are there to keep others out...or to keep the authors in (hey, why are the bars on the insides of the windows? And why are these walls so softly padded? And why are my closets full of sweaters with really really long sleeves? Anyone? Anyone?). But that hot question--besides the obvious ones about whether or not the inmates are running the asylum--is how best to use the Web 2.0 and Social Networking.

There are standing-room-only business seminars going on all over the country about the impact of social networking sites like Twitter, blogs, Facebook, et cetera. These social networking apps are all wildly popular, even crossing the boundaries into realtime discussions on places like NPR and Slate.com where Facebook is cited in the category of tools as ubiquitous as "email and antiperspirant." We all instinctively know that these places are important--important enough to think that surely everyone must be using them. And they are, from Manhattan to Mars. The Phoenix Mars lander (@MarsPhoenix in case you're wondering) live-twittered its landing and subsequent exploratory career, and is still Twittering away. It also follows others' tweets - keeping up with coworkers Spirit and Oppy (@MarsRovers) on March Madness (NASA-style), wondering what got stuck on their shoes, and how their colleague Cassini (@CassiniSaturn) is doing on the quest for a ring.

Friends and families use social networking sites to keep up with each other over long distances and tight schedules. For the regular Joe and Jane, there's little problem with using the sites as they were mainly meant to be used--as collections of daily life--snippets of thoughts, photos, little silly games that can be played in five-minute breaks, and small chats with each other. But how do you navigate something that's the internet-based equivalent of The Great Office Breakroom when you play a public figure?

The first important thing to remember is that the social networking sites on the internet are not the direct correlation to the Breakroom or the Water Cooler. The internet has a memory, and it can be a long one. Also, you are being watched on the internet. By Google and everybody. If you are in the hopefully-enviable position of having someone searching specifically for you, then they will find whatever can be traced to you...whether you want them to, or not. Social networking sites are all *public* spaces, even though they may feel private. There is--or will be--a strategy that needs to be considered when using them, since we are, to some extent, public figures.

I don't think that authors, agents, editors, etc. need to be restricted from Twittering or whatever. But be truly aware that your professional identity will garner you a following for professional reasons, so if you are twittering personal stuff, it's going to be shown in a professional capacity, too. It's fine to Twitter or blog about cats or personal party anecdotes, but be aware that if you're presenting an identity as a professional person (in any sort of capacity, not just publishing) then using your professional contacts or notoriety as a captive audience to your frustrations with the biz may have some unintended consequences.

Social networking also presents the larger body of public opinion with a direct and immediate megaphone. Recently, the Twitter hashtag #amazonfail documented in realtime not only the events surrounding Amazon's de-listing of content identified as "adult" (many times erroneously so, and apparently focused on GLBTQ-oriented publications), but the very real, visceral, and public reaction to the event and the company's subsequent explanations. And on a somewhat more positive note, the meteoric rise at light-speed of an unemployed charity worker auditioning for "Britain's Got Talent" courtesy YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites pushed her from "Local Girl Done Good" to "International Viral Media Hit."

Now on the other, more fun, hand, social networking sites provide an immediacy of contact and a level of suspense that we as authors should appreciate. Approach Twitter with the immediacy for which it was intended. The basic question is simply, "What are you doing now?" and that question can be streamlined into an approach to Twitter that will use that immediacy for unique ways to express yourself. If you have an author presence on Twitter, and have amassed some followers, ask yourself what you would do as an author if you had an immediately responsive audience present in front of you...because on Twitter, you actually do, to an extent.

One more thing to remember about social networking sites is that they have the tools to become interconnected--Twitter feeds can go to Facebook, and Facebook feeds can go to blogs and vice-versa. Linking your feeds can be a real time-saver on a species of internet sites designed to suck the time away.

And finally...remember that in all the neat technology and new ways to reach out and touch someone else's pixels, that first, last, and always, the eternal truth out there is that CONTENT IS KING. Whatever you choose to say...make it matter, and others will listen.

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