Friday, April 6, 2012

#Twitter 102: The Zen of Social Media

This series is 'The Zen of Twitter'. It's not 'The Zen of Facebook' (or LinkedIn or Pinterest or Reddit, etc.), because the essence of those services at least seems straightforward to the average user. But Twitter's stark simplicity makes its purpose elusive, and its governing rules aren't self-evident.

In approaching these social platforms, I ask the same basic question you probably do: How can this help me achieve my goal?

I'm an author. The average author defines his (or her) goal as selling books. Therefore, the purpose of Twitter, to someone like me, is to sell books. Therefore, Twitter is for sending Tweet after Tweet about one's books.

Yet we can sense right away that this approach is, at best, limited. At worst, it's repellant. I've been in chat rooms full of authors who complain how sick they are of seeing endless sales Tweets, then turn around and crank out their daily quota. And when sales flag, they're likely to Tweet even harder.

Selling books - selling anything, really - is like making a butterfly land on your finger. Which is to say: You can't. You can only create an optimal situation for the butterfly to choose to land on your finger.

An artist should intuitively understand that concept, since creating worthwhile art is pretty much the same elusive process. The fact that so many fail to grasp this suggests that their work lacks this same ephemeral but vital quality.

For many users, social-media tools become a trap. The numbers these things measure can easily become the goal of using these platforms. Which, obviously, they should not be. In fact, so compelling does this stuff become that these tool providers encourage their users to broadcast these numbers, despite the fact that they are, in themselves, relatively meaningless noise. (Which many readers could merely wind up resenting.)

We've all encountered the SEO hucksters offering to 'sweeten' our Facebook 'likes', or our blog traffic, Twitter followers, etc., for a few bucks. That's very tempting to those of us who aren't celebrities (i.e., most of us) and subsist at the low end of the social totem pole.

Here's where this path leads, though. Recently I encountered a young, media-savvy author (I won't name him, no point calling him out) whose indie YA sci-fi book was selling well. He had a respectable number of Amazon reviews, plenty of 'likes' on his book's Facebook page, and tens of thousands of Twitter followers. It certainly looked as if his book was ripe to spill onto the laps of a much larger audience.

But when I checked his blog, I noticed very few comments on the posts. When I checked his Tweets, I saw that he was offering his followers rote cut-and-paste rote responses. (It was certainly not a newsfeed I'd sign up for, and the guy was no celebrity, so what was the appeal?) Also, he had no personal FB page, only a page for his book. Digging further into his website, I saw the remnants of SEO gaming (if you're savvy enough, you can spot at least some of them).

In theater parlance, this guy had 'papered the house'.

It's understandable to want to attract a crowd to one's business. But it's all-too-common to mistake a large number of 'followers' for a meaningful achievement. Twitter's not an end - it's a means to an end.

But what is that end for an author, if not to sell books? If we accept the premise that tweeting won't make that butterfly land on your finger, what is an achievable social-media goal? And if it's not earning income, why bother?

Speaking for myself: My goal is to elicit a core 'social behavior' from the social platforms I use. Achieving this goes beyond the usual rules, tricks, metrics, wiseguy-workarounds, 'helper' apps and other ephemera that are the red meat of most 'how-to' posts you'll find. To me, this is the Zen of Social Media.

Like a garden, social media must be cultivated. There is no better (i.e., faster) approach to what I, at least, consider its successful and proper implementation. In the next installment, I'll describe recent happy instances of the 'social behavior' that I've seen in my own little tended garden.

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