Blog. Website. Facebook. Twitter. G+. Goodreads. LinkedIN. Klout. Pinterest. Yelp. YouTube.

Social networking is ever-present for most of us. Finding a balance can be difficult.

The modern writer is encouraged to cultivate an online presence (a “platform”, if you will) but the distractions of the digital age can sap our energy and time, leaving us without creative zeal for the real work of our writing life.

Because I am active in several of the social media circles, I’ve been asked on several occasions how I do it. Most recently, I was asked a specific question: How do you prioritize among all of the available social media?

Let me attempt to break down my online life in an attempt to answer that question.

Priorities

As a writer, the primary focus of social networking is to build a “platform” or a way to reach readers and other writers. This is important in the digital age for two primary reasons: book sales and community.

As a fledgling writer, the concept of book sales is really “future book sales” and connecting readers to my stories when they are published online. Ideally, when a book publication comes along, I’ll already have a core group of readers who can serve as a keystone for building a larger group. The idea of community–having other writers to talk to, learn from, and learn with–is another primary reason for being engaged.

With the idea of “platform building” in mind, I divide up the time I can spend on social media among the various outlets. Some weeks, there is more time allotted than others, but the general rule remains the same: Do the ongoing things that best build the platform. Here’s the breakdown, for me:

  1. Blog – Yes, this blog, right here. This is where a vast majority of my time online is spent: writing these blog posts and responding to readers. I focus my blog on writing and literature-related topics, and it has been the point of entry for many new readers and online friends. I try to write three to five posts each week, and whenever possible, I do my blog writing on Monday, scheduling posts to appear throughout the week. When a blog post publishes, it automatically gets copied to the next two most important, and dynamic, venues. (Twitter and Facebook) I answer all blog comments (and the emails that come in with additional questions) and I read the blogs of others, commenting when appropriate. My blog is the most representative on-line portal into who I am as a writer and teacher. It is dynamic and chocked full of information. Because of that, it is the place where I will focus the largest share of my social media energy.
  2. Twitter – To be successful with Twitter (and, as I’ve written before, Twitter has been a great resource for me in building a community of fellow writers) you have to do more than ONLY self-promote. There are plenty of great tutorials out there, but the simple version is this: Your efforts at self-promotion (“Here’s my blog!” “Here’s my website!” “Here’s my book!”) cannot be the majority of your Twitter activity. I engage with other writers and literature-types in many ways, including Tweet chats and re-Tweeting their posts and having conversations about things that interest me. When I have social media properly balanced, I check in on Twitter a couple of times during the work day, and then more so at night while watching TV. I have to be careful (this is true of all social media interaction) to try to schedule time on Twitter, and not be constantly alert to what is happening there.
  3. Facebook – I have four main areas of Facebook: a personal page, an artist/business page, the Queens University MFA alumni page, and a smaller writer’s group page. I post my blog posts to my artist/business page, but I don’t post them to my personal page (or the two writer’s group pages) on a regular basis. Most of my personal friends aren’t interested in endless postings about writing. Hopefully, if they are interested in my writing posts, they’ve already followed my artist/business page. The same rule applies for Facebook as it does Twitter: It can’t all be self-promotion. I try to find ways to interact with people, listen to what they have going on, comment when appropriate, and be a giving member of the larger community. I make choices about what I post to my personal page compared to what I post in other places. My personal Facebook is filled with friends and family and long-lost school pals and people I’ve never met. On the personal side, I try to be engaged and active like a friend would be. On the other parts of Facebook, I try to focus on the most-appropriate information and activity for the given audience. One area of focus, for me, is making the artist/business page more active and community-focused.
  4. G+ – I manually post links to my blog on G+, mostly because WordPress doesn’t seem to have an automatic way to do this. The reality of G+ is, I don’t have a big writing-centered community there. I monitor my G+ feed, like I do Facebook, but I find much fewer opportunities there to interact.
  5. Website – My website is focused on creative writing instruction, and my online resume and publications. It is less dynamic, but I try to update it with information whenever possible. Ideally, the website is a way for people to find me and engage with me. I’ve had it running for over a year, but only recently have I begun to promote it, and, for that matter, ME. As my post-MFA years progress, the website will be a more important component of building a network.
  6. YouTube – I use YouTube to host the video blog segments, but I don’t go out actively looking for connections via YouTube. There just isn’t usually time for that, at this point.
  7. LinkedIN – I have LinkedIn set up to repeat my Twitter feed, and I do use it to recommend and stay connected with business contacts. I do not check it on a regular basis, though, if the truth be told.

In all of these areas, I’m looking for connections: new people who interest me and who I can learn something from. While these tools can become distracting, I can’t emphasize how important they have become in both finding new friends and keeping in touch with old ones. I’ve benefitted greatly from the new writers I’ve met (virtually, and physically) and interacted with. My personal writing community has improved dramatically because of fellow writers I’ve met online.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor would I pretend that my way should be considered prescriptive. I do hope, however, that by examining my process, you can begin to prioritize and make best use of your time spent on-line.

Finally, on-line trends are constantly changing. What is important today may be tomorrow’s AOL or MySpace. In our fast-paced, digital world, priorities are always changing.

The Noise, The Noise: Social Media and the Productive Writer
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  • Thank you, Eric. Since we share the same vocation and have similar professional needs, it’s really helpful to get a practical perspective on the potentially confusing—and very often overwhelming—social media issue. I have a website, a blog, personal Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile, and I’ve recently joined the Twitter fraternity. I don’t yet have an artist/business Facebook page, but I’m also not convinced it would be a sensible step, because I’ve strategically populated my Facebook community with not only friends and family but also people with whom I share interests close to my heart, i.e. writers, personal coaches, and expatriates (not only South Africans but emigrants all over the world—I strive to champion a global view on life). These are the topics I blog about and they’re also the three types of professional connections I’ve established, and continue to make, on LinkedIn and Twitter. In addition, on Facebook and LinkedIn, I re-post my blogs to the same types of professional groups with the purpose of generating focused discussions.

    It might’ve been wise to set up different personal and professional Facebook pages from the start, but now I try and honor that early decision by making sure to be responsive to the diverse conversations generated by my collective community. So far it seems to work; I guess all of us have become adept at sorting through the overload of information for the stuff we relate to. Sharing all my stuff to mixed groups on the various platforms often deliver surprisingly kind responses that lead to unexpected alliances; likewise, some close friends and peers to whom I respond regularly often neglect to pay me the same courtesy. But that’s life and much has been blogged about the givers and takers of this world.

    As you so rightly say, no one person has all the answers and trends are forever changing, so it serves us to remain flexible. What is beyond dispute, though, is that networking helps us all to stay abreast of developments in this tumultuous world. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge.