In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss ways to use social media to build an online platform that is ethical and honouring to God.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- What the research has to say about how authors and writers can use social media
- A social media strategy you could try
- The spiritual and ethical implications of how we use social media
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, How Does Social Media Work? I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books, blogs, and courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator. I have four young adults in my life and I write romance under the pen name Alison Joy. You can find all my information on my website under alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi everyone, I’m Donita Bundy. For the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my teaching and preaching and more recently, my writing and blogging. You can find out more at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Our topic today, it’s the next one in our Author Platform Series, How Does Social Media Work? We’re going to look at three different elements of that. What the research has to say about how authors and writers can use social media, a social media strategy that you can consider, and the spiritual and ethical implications of how we use social media. Alison, you’ve been looking at some research for us. What have you found? What have you discovered? Are there any tips that stand out to you?
Alison Joy: Yes, there are, Belinda. Thanks. The purpose of social media for an author is threefold. You can use social media to find the community with other writers because as we all know writing’s a very solitary process so it’s a good idea to find another community of writers where you can get encouragement and network with other people. It’s also a way you can grow your author platform because, as we know, unless you’re really famous like J.K. Rowling or whoever, your name is not going to sell a book alone. So, you have to have a presence. You have to be out there and promoting yourself so people can find you and then maybe discover your books.
And obviously, book marketing is another thing but it’s more indirect in this case because you’re building an awareness of yourself and awareness of your work, not actually asking people to buy your book. Although that would be part of it but it’s social media, so you’re being social, that’s the whole idea of it is to be social, interact with other people and to get yourself known, I suppose, so people are aware of what you’re doing.
I think, from what I’ve seen, what I’ve read, it doesn’t really matter what platform you use. I mean, goodness, there’s so many out there that you can choose from. And if you tried to do them all, you’d just go nuts because it’s just not possible. But the thing I found that came through in basically everything I read is that it doesn’t matter so much what social platform you use, it’s just that you feel comfortable with it. Because if you’re not comfortable with it, it’s going to show and it’s going to be a pain and you’re not going to be able to do it because it’s so draining on you.
So, you’ve got to find something, the platforms, whatever it is – Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or whatever it is – you have to find something that you’re comfortable with. And you can start off with maybe one or two and then get the hang of how they work and then maybe add a couple more. You may find you’ve found something and you hate it. Okay, ditch it. Try something else. There’s plenty to choose from out there.
Your readers are probably likely to be on more than one platform in any case. You might find there’s one particular place where your readers seem to hang out more than anywhere else but then you also want to grow your readership, so you have to try other platforms as well.
For me, this is what I’m going to have to do. I’m going to have to be more intentional. Maybe schedule stuff. I know you can get apps and stuff and programs that you can actually subscribe to and schedule stuff and it will automatically post it but I’m not at that stage yet. So, I’ll have to plan it out for myself and I’ll have to go, okay, maybe Monday I’ll do Motivation Monday, or Friyay, or just have a look around social media and see what people are doing on particular days and maybe you can find something.
If you’re going to do something, be intentional and not random. And even if it’s just 5 to 10 minutes a day, just having a look, which is what I’ve started doing. I’m trying to get my head around Twitter at the moment so I’m trying to do 5 or 10 minutes a day just looking around on Twitter and seeing how that works.
And I think the other thing is, you should actually be following people you actually want to follow that might interact with you. Not for just the sake of it. There’s no point following 5,000 people in the hope that some of them will follow you back. You should actually be intentional, again, in who you follow and whether you think there could be a worthwhile interaction there at some point.
Create content that’s sharable and it obviously has to change slightly to suit the different platforms that you’re on but that’s a learning process as with everything we talk about on this program.
Belinda Pollard: I think that’s a really good point, Alison, because we all flounder around when we first go onto a new platform. And it doesn’t mean that the platform’s useless or we’re useless. It’s just normal. Normal to not know what you’re doing in a new space for the first time, and it’ll get better.
Alison Joy: Somebody somewhere along the line just said they had a folder and they called it their Content Bucket and any time they came across anything, they used to put it in that folder, so they had a bank of stuff to build from.
Belinda Pollard: Some good ideas in there, Alison. Thanks for assembling those. Do you have any thoughts about of any of those to add, Donita?
Donita Bundy: No. I just really like Alison’s advice there and the number one word that just kept calling out to me was ‘intent’. Intentionally following people that you wanted to follow and choosing what you do that fits in with the things that you like. And, actually, I picked up some good tips that I think I’m going to follow! So, thanks, Alison, that was awesome. I really appreciate that because I struggle with social media. So, thank you!
Alison Joy: That’s okay. I’ve got lots of tips for myself there so I’m preaching to the choir there.
Belinda Pollard: I think a lot of us struggle a lot of the time and I think that’s fine. I’ve been using social media for about a decade now and initially I was working really hard to try and figure out what on earth these things were because a decade ago a few of them were quite new and quite unfamiliar. And I was trying to work out how I could make them work for me and what on earth I was supposed to be doing. And I was floundering around for quite a long time. It took me quite a while to get traction. Twitter was the first platform on which I got traction.
So, may I encourage you, I have been using social media in combination with a blog to build a platform which has been career-changing for me. And that was after floundering, wondering, not sure what to do, having trouble finding the time but it has turned into a process that has been career-changing for me. It’s created collaborations and opportunities. A whole lot of things. It helps to keep my books ticking over. I’m the worst in the world for promoting my books but it keeps the sales just gently ticking over so that they don’t disappear from the algorithms altogether. So, these sorts of things have actually been working for me.
I attended a workshop very early in the piece where I was taught by Joanna Penn, who we’ve mentioned before, who’s a bit of a self-publishing guru, saying don’t build your platform on the social media site. Build it on your own website. Use the social media sites to direct traffic back onto your website. The thing that you own.
And I know that we’ve talked about this before but it can’t be said often enough, to tell you the truth, because there was a situation, not long before we recorded this, in Australia, where a lot of people lost many things on Facebook. And some people lost their whole setup on Facebook because of a bit of a battle that was going on in the political realm.
So please be aware, people, that you don’t own that little piece of real estate and work out how to bring people back to the real estate that you do own.
So, I worked out ways to start sharing my blog articles on Twitter. I found a plug-in that shared them in an automated way so that they can be – every 12 or 18 hours – another one of my old blog posts is going out there because I write evergreen blog posts that are relevant over time.
I also try not to be relying on just one social media site because, if one of them goes down, the algorithm changes, people start talking about different things on that site and are no longer interested in what you’re talking about, you’ve still got the others as a backup. I use the multiple social networks in slightly different ways.
So, I tend to post much the same content a lot of the time, although there are differences, but I repurpose it. So, my own original content I repurpose for the different ones. So, the way that I will introduce one of my blog posts on LinkedIn will have a different focus than the way I introduce on Twitter. On LinkedIn, it’ll be about the business aspects and helping other business people think about how they’re running their businesses. Whereas on Twitter if I post one of my blog posts, it will be targeted towards other writers and me, as a fellow writer, and seeing this from that perspective as a writer. So, I use the same stuff, get it spread more widely
I post photographs. I love Instagram. I’ve taken to posting a lot more of my photos on some of the other sites as well. Instagram will automatically post to Facebook for me and then I go and manually post it to Twitter because if you use the automated way to post from Instagram to Twitter, you just get a link, no one sees the photo. So, I go and manually post it, same thing, slightly different caption and off we go.
So, just looking for ways to speed it up. And as you said, Alison, it’s not about sell, sell, sell, it’s about connection. So, even though you might end up selling some of your books to some of the people you connect with on social media, you’re not there to say, “Buy my book, buy my book, buy my book,” you’re there to make friends and connect.
Although we do eventually need to let people know that we do have something they can buy! You can go too far that way and they never know that they could have been reading your writing or buying your course or whatever else it is that you’ve got.
So, they’re just a few of the practical things that I have used and found useful. You might want to do it a different way which is absolutely fine but that is one that’s worked for me.
From an ethical point of view, I have tried and, as you’ve said, Alison, it’s social media. It’s social media. So, I’ve tried to be friendly. So, when people talk to me, I answer them and I try to mirror them to a certain extent. So, if they just give me a one-word comment, I might give them a one-word answer. If they write me a small essay where they’ve shared something personal of themselves, I don’t give them a one-word answer because that would be dismissive.
So, I try and reciprocate. So, it’s kind of a reciprocating of contact and I’ve found that over time I have made genuine friendships with people. People that I then become friends with off social media and in real life and it really does happen. I know people pooh-pooh this, but it really does happen. You can make true friends on social media.
And then I try to be the type of friend I’d like to have. So, I try to help lift other people by commenting on their posts, liking them, retweeting them, sharing them, even if they don’t reciprocate – and some of them don’t but some of them do. I’ve notice that there’s some people who I share their posts and they come back and look for one of mine and share it which is really lovely and kind of them.
I try to listen as much as I talk. Some people treat it a bit like a broadcast instead of a conversation and they just, “barp, barp, barp,” out goes the constant posts and information but they’re not actually listening. They’re not reacting. They’re not looking at what other people have got to say and they’re not reacting to what other people have even said to them.
If you’re J.K. Rowling, you’re not going to reply to all your comments on your post. But I’m not J.K. Rowling and most of us aren’t! So, if you’re not getting 2,000 comments, you can probably reply to them. It’s worth it. Give it a try.
I try to always remember that there’s a human being on the other end, even if I don’t like what they said. I’m trying to remember that they’re a human being, and for us as Christians, they’re a human being made in the image of God. They’re a human being loved by God even if we don’t love what they’ve said. So, I try and keep that in mind, too.
I try to be careful who I follow and what I amplify.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: So, it’s not that easy. Sometimes you can accidently find yourself following a Neo-Nazi and retweeting something of theirs because it was one particularly good tweet and these things can happen. But you can go back and think, “Oh, hang on, what have I done,” and sort that out. But I do try and have a look and see before I retweet anybody’s stuff. I try and have a look and see who they are and what they’re doing. Before I follow them I have a bit of a look and see what they’re producing.
So, I went through a phase in my early time on Twitter of trying to increase my follower count because this was a thing a lot of people were doing back in the early 2010s. So, I was doing various things. Finding new people to follow and doing all this stuff and increasing my follower count. But one of the things that I found when the algorithms changed, was the interaction went way down. So now I’m not even bothering trying to increase my follower count. I’ve stayed at around 10,000, whereas some of the people I was with back then are now up to 70, 80, 90,000, but I’ve found smaller can actually be greater quality of interaction.
I’m focusing on quality of interaction over the number of followers and I’m starting to get a lot more satisfaction out of it. Quite aside from the point whether, does it sell more books, can I work out the maths of this? No, it’s nurturing me a lot more to be able to interact with these people so that’s the way I’m handling it now.
Donita, spiritual and ethical implications of this stuff. There’s lots of them. Can you get us started, please, on thinking about those?
Donita Bundy: Thanks, Belinda. As we’ve been saying, social media is social, and we’ve been getting that message loud and clear. Essentially it was designed, and still is, a place for people to get together online and share. And as Belinda’s just told us, a place we can actually make genuine relationships. As is the way of our world, social media can be used to encourage, build up and connect genuine connections but it can also be used to attack, destroy, and disengage and we would all have real-life examples of both of these extremes.
It’s critical for us to know that whatever goes out on social media stays out there for good. Even if you delete a post, you can’t really retract it. There are ways that people can find things that you’ve put up in the past. So, whatever goes out there, whatever you put out there, stays out there forever. And please, don’t think anything is private. Even if you’re in a private group, what you say will be found and can be found by people who know how to look for it. So, there is no such thing as privacy on the internet, so we need to be aware of that.
But before we tie ourselves into knots we also need to remember that we will not please all the people all the time. It’s impossible. Jesus didn’t do it. We can’t do it.
So, the first thing we need to do is pray if we’re in doubt. If we’re not in doubt. If we’re somewhere in the spectrum between, we pray. We can never pray too much.
The next thing we need to do is think, regardless of what capacity we’re sharing on social media, whether it’s personal or professional, we seriously need to consider what we are posting or re-posting or responding to, like Belinda said. (1) is it edifying, (2) is it necessary, (3) does it represent who you are as a Christian, and (4) does it glorify God.
It’s irrelevant whether we are wordsmiths for a Christian audience or a non-Christian audience, integrity is key. It only takes one poorly placed post or even a ‘like’ or a ‘comment’ on someone else’s feed for us to lose our platform or lose the ground that we’ve been gaining in building community. Because everything we do on the net is open to scrutiny.
But we don’t live in fear. We don’t have to be scared of social media. Be careful, yes, but fearful, no. The experts say, and as Alison’s been telling us, if we want to be wordsmiths, we need a platform. And part of building that platform is building community and social media is a great way to do that. And, Belinda, you’ve shared some great ideas and experiences with that.
We have potential to reach and connect with people from all over the world. I mean, if we think about that, we have potential to meet with, form relationships and connections and, in the long-term possibly, or even the short-term, have our gracenotes consumed by people from all over the world. So, we don’t want to jeopardise that open door.
If we’ve been putting the hard yards into gaining that ground and building community, establishing ourselves, we want to protect that because it’s our brand. Our brand represents not only our work but ourselves as well. And we will lose audience over time. That’s just going to happen. But when that happens, let it be for honouring God and not for disrespect.
This morning I was reading 1 Peter, chapter 2, and a couple of verses jumped out and I was just wanting to share them with you because I thought it was really apt for today’s topic. In verse 11, Peter is addressing living Godly lives in a pagan society and he begins:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul.1 Peter 2:11 NIV
One desire we war with is melting into and belonging to the world much like the Old Testament Israelites did when they entered the Promised Land. It got to a point where there was no difference between God’s people and the locals. So God sent them into exile. And like the Old Testament Israelites, we are tempted to want to fit in and belong because it’s easier and it draws less attack.
So, the things that we’re liking or responding to and things that we’re posting, we might do that because it might seem the thing to do, but this is one sinful desire we need to war against. Daily, we need to choose whom we align ourselves with: God or the world? And one way we demonstrate this is the choice on how we interact on social media.
In verse 12, Peter continues:
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong (or not fitting in) they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.1 Peter 2:12 NIV
Here Peter’s talking about the day Christ returns. But could this also mean when Christ interrupts someone’s life and disrupts their norm with His challenge and invitation? People have seen our good deeds and our choices so they may glorify Him.
As Gracewriters let us not be guilty of living in hiding or causing others to disrespect God from our choices especially through how we interact on social media.
Belinda Pollard: Those are great, Donita. You’ve given me such a lot to think about there. I love that ‘melting into the world’. Dear Lord, may I stop melting into the world.
How about I pray for the Gracewriters before we finish.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the possibilities that social media present to us and that you can use for your purposes. Please guide us and show us how you want to speak through us, and in us, and to us on these various platforms. Please take away our fear and give us possibilities. Help us to be your people in every situation and to stop melting into the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you so much. And next week we will be troubleshooting our social media platforms so that should be fun too. Thank you, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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