Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side

It started so innocently… A fellow author sent me a private message saying, “You should write a blog about people behaving unprofessionally on social media!” And because I have seen more of that than I ever cared to, I thought it’d be a great idea. But I didn’t want to be airing just my own grievances, so I asked for input from my network. Boy, that was one scary can of worms I opened… But it showed me that this is an important topic that no one seems to want to talk about because it might ruffle feathers. Well, I have my feather ruffler in hand and, by George, I am going to talk about this!

*slaps ruler against teacher’s desk*

Everyone back in your seats. That means you, Charlie. And Theresa, put that away; no one wants to see that. Joe, I swear, if you don’t pull your pants back up right now… That’s better. Boys and girls, class is now in session. And yes, all of this will be on the test.

Commence Rant 1 of 2…

 

So here’s the thing. Social media is meant to be social. That means talking to people, sharing however much of your life you’re comfortable sharing. Because writing is such a huge part of our lives, of course it should be part of what we share. But unless you’re doing it on your dedicated business page, it shouldn’t be all you share. And there are a number of unspoken rules most of us learn through breaking them and catching heat for it. Doing these things will not endear you to your contacts, and it most certainly is not the way to properly conduct business. Believe me, we all understand your struggles–because we all have the same. That does not make you an exception to the rule. Some people will probably be nice and let it slide, or politely tell you you shouldn’t be doing this, but quite a few of them have been dealing with this crap for years, and they may not be as kind in their response.

The Golden Rule

In short, everything that follows can be summed up with one sentence:

If you wouldn’t say/do it in person, don’t say/do it on social media.

Simple, right? You’d be surprised how difficult it is for some people to grasp… The Internet is an amazing place, but it gives people a false sense of security, and a mistaken belief that the basic rules don’t apply there. They post things they would never say in real life (sometimes of a very personal, or even criminal nature!) and expect not to have to deal with consequences. The thing is, the Internet sees everything, and it never forgets. And what you post today may get you in a lot of hot water tomorrow, or even years down the line. Just something to keep in mind…

Definite DON’Ts

Things you should never do, under any circumstance:

Guerrilla Marketing. I define this as someone (author, business owner, whoever) who pops out on a random post/thread and comments a sales pitch. They will also post to a person’s wall without asking for permission in an effort to hijack their audience and get more eyes on their ad/post. It could be a book, or a link to their services, but it’s always random, unrelated (or barely related) to the topic or person, and totally brazen. This person will have no interest in any kind of discussion, aside from promoting their own goods and services. If you do this on another author’s page, it’s a massive faux pas. You just don’t do that to someone who is struggling as much as you are to get their own message out there, engage their own audience, and forge real connections. It undermines everything they’re trying to do.

What to do instead: Ask permission to post your link. Post on your own wall and ask your friends to share. If authors post inviting people to share their own work in the comments, by all means, do! But don’t forget to return the favor and post something similar on your own wall.

Coattail Riding/Trashing. Advertising something to the effect of, “If you loved *insert bestseller title*, you will love my book!” Conversely, commenting about another book, “This book was total trash. I do it so much better in mine.” Now, while these statements might or might not be true (I’m leaning toward NOT), it doesn’t change the fact that there are actual written rules in some circles that flat-out prohibit you from doing this. It is literally against their terms of service and can get you into trouble. And even if that weren’t the case, come on. Is name dropping someone else’s book really the best thing you can say about your own?

What to do instead: Talk about your own book as if no other book exists. What are its best features? What’s it about? What did you enjoy writing the most? You know, stuff that actually tells people that you are proud of your own original work, and gets them excited to read it.

Cold Direct Marketing. “Hey, thanks for accepting my Friend Request! I just published my book. Here are all the buy links. Check it out! And don’t forget to share!” Whether in private message or publicly on someone’s wall/profile, this is a massive no-no. I’m happy for your release, really, but I connected with you to befriend you, and instead of shaking my hand, you just slapped me in the face with your book. You’re treating me like a sale, not a person. I am not amused. And it won’t make me likely to check out your book, let alone share it. I’m not your street team, so don’t treat me like I am. Same goes for page likes and group invites.

What to do instead: Connect with people on a personal level before you ask them to help you market your book. Post interesting things, comment and engage others in conversation. Get to know people so that when you say, “Hey, I noticed you post a lot of fantasy stuff. I happen to have a fantasy book release coming up and thought you might be interested” you actually mean it, and it becomes relevant to the person receiving it.

Rules Unclear, But Probably Shouldn’ts

Things that we kinda sorta understand why you’d do, but you probably shouldn’t do them because people don’t like it:

Multitags. “Hey all! I’m having a sale on my book!! *tags 79 people*” Same as guerrilla marketing, this is just an attempt to force more post views. It’s also lazier, because instead of going from profile to profile to post directly, they just tag a bunch of people and have it automatically show up on those profiles. It’s massively rude. It used to be done a lot a few years ago but has thankfully died down quite a bit. Or maybe that’s just me, because I unfriend people who do this. It’s just a personal policy I have. If you want me to share something of yours, there are polite ways to ask me. However, if I don’t know you, I likely won’t. Most other authors I’ve spoken to feel the same.

What to do instead: Just skip the tags. Whether in the post, or in the comments. Your post will show up in your friends’ newsfeeds and if they’re interested, they will engage. If not, you need to work on your presentation.

Like and Review Swaps. “Hey, I liked your page! Can you like mine back? Here’s the link!” Look, I understand that increasing your followers is the way to go to increase visibility on Facebook. But expecting reciprocal likes is not “cool” anymore. I don’t want dead numbers on my page; I want people who are actually interested in what I post, and want to engage with me on those posts. So your Like did nothing for me. But thanks, anyway. “Hey, do you want to swap books for review? I only do 5-stars.” Yeah, no. That’s actually tantamount to fraud. Some authors will be nice and say, “Sure, I’ll read your book, but I’ll review honestly and give it as many stars as I think it deserves.” Take it or leave it, but don’t threaten that nice author with 1-star reviews because they won’t give you what you want. Yes, that’s happened.

What to do instead: If you want to review books, make it known that you do review books. Don’t ask for payment or reciprocity. If you want your book reviewed, make it known you’re looking for reviews and will happily send a free copy in exchange for an honest one. That’s all you need to do. Reviews are for readers, who want to know what you really thought of the book. Not for authors to fluff their egos.

Thunderclap and GoFundMe. Again, some people will be nice and participate to help you out. It is not guaranteed, and you should not threaten, coerce, or otherwise try to force people to do it, or “get back at them” for not doing it. Thunderclap campaigns basically require an outside program access to your personal account so it can post as you on the designated date and time with a promo post for the person who set it up. Not everyone is comfortable with that, and given how much personal stuff we share and store on our social media, that is totally understandable. GoFundMe to finance your book, while not “wrong” in the strictest sense of the word, is kind of in poor taste. You essentially ask someone to pay you to write a book. Umm… what makes you so special? Authors get paid after the book is done and published.

What to do instead: Invite thunderclap participants if you want, but don’t force the issue. If someone doesn’t reply on your public post, sending them private messages won’t help. They’re just not interested. Let it go. If you can’t afford to publish your book, the more acceptable thing to do (instead of a GoFundMe campaign) is to hold off and save up for it. It will garner you a lot less ill will in the author community, most of whom work day jobs, support families, and scrounge pennies to be able to do this without crowdfunding.

Forced Sympathy Marketing. The thing people do when things don’t go their way and they want to rake up pity sales. It can be anything from “someone left me a horrible review!” to “I am so deep in the hole I can’t afford to keep writing anymore. I’m giving it up and getting a full time job.” This used to be a good tactic to get engagement and sales, but people are starting to catch on and see this for what it is, and more often than not now it breeds ill will toward the complainer. No one ever said this was easy, or cheap. This is business, and it will require a lot of time and money. You can’t go into it expecting to strike it rich. If you can’t deal with the hardships, maybe you should get (or keep) your day job. Plenty of authors do, and they still manage to write on the side.

What to do instead: We all get down every once in a while and need to vent. But if you really, truly, honestly can’t handle a bad review, or a bad sales month, or what have you, then this business is not for you. Consider taking a break, or reexamine your strategies and see where you can improve.

Social Media Crowdsourcing. Any time someone posts a question on social media that they can (and should) research themselves. This is just lazy. I’m not talking about, “Help me name a character and get a shoutout in acknowledgments!” I’m talking about “Hey FB! Anyone among my friends have medical knowledge and can tell me what the procedure is for when a person goes to the ER with abdominal pains and ends up having their appendix removed?”

What to do instead: Do your own research. It’s your book. Seriously. Google is your friend in all things, and if that doesn’t work, you can go to a library or even interview people who work in the field you want to write about. If one of your friends on FB does have this knowledge, however, it’s perfectly okay to ask them. But ask in private and don’t make them write your book for you. Proper way to determine if a good source is in your network: “Hey, anyone among my friends have some ER experience? I’d love to interview you for my fiction book about some procedural stuff. PM me if you’re interested. Shoutout in acknowledgments will be given!”

Lack of Personal Responsibility. This is a sore point with many seasoned writers and they don’t take kindly to it. It’s basically anyone whose philosophy amounts to “it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission,” but they forget the beg forgiveness part. It’s anyone whose sense of entitlement is so advanced they believe they are exempt from the rules that govern the rest of us. These authors will willfully put out an unedited book and then get mad when people post bad reviews complaining about errors. They will publish a book that clearly violates their chosen platform’s terms of service, and get mad when the book is pulled and their accounts are frozen. They’ll do something else that’s really crappy and expect people to “get over it,” or act surprised that they got into trouble for it. They’ll play the victim (even though they’re not) and use the excuse that they’re just writing for themselves, for the love of stories (even though they’re charging money). Don’t be that person.

What to do instead: Do your homework, put some effort into your product, and take personal responsibility for your actions. Yes, it’s hard work, but remember that no one forced you into it. You chose to be a writer, so act like it actually means something to you.

Do you have bad experiences with something I haven’t covered here?
Share (politely) in the comments below.

My next post will be “Social Media Etiquette 102: The Personal Side

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