Social Media Self-Promotion: The Only Advice You Need

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Dear Anna,

I am troubled. I am an aspiring writer who feels overwhelmed by the amount of information online on how to become successful at this craft. I have been trying to promote my work via Facebook and Twitter, but every time I do so, I feel as if I were trying to sell a kidney to get some attention. What did you do when you were starting? Do you have any advice for people who, like me, really really want to get some exposure without feeling guilty about it?

Do you want to know the secret to successfully promoting yourself on social media? C'mere then. I'll tell you. It's far simpler than the social media "gurus" would have you believe. In order to be successful in social media, you have to care about helping other people. You have to give as much as get. That's it. And I know the Internet is mostly made of cats and repurposed memes from the '80s, but what makes things like Twitter and Facebook meaningful are those glimpses of community, when you can reach out on behalf of someone else and say, this moved me, or made me laugh or think, or ever so briefly feel connected to a greater good. 

Social media at its heart is community, a weird, little incestuous community of people you probably haven't met but might meet someday. What makes it feel less alienating is when you treat it as such, rather than like some awkward third-party platform with a megaphone and a sales pitch. It matters that you comment on people's blogs. That you tweet people back. That you notice and congratulate people who publish a great article or complete a marathon. Does this take a little extra time? Yeah. But not a lot. Certainly it takes far less time than I spent on this Halloween or Brooklyn hipster Tumblr today.

This might seem a tad Kumbaya patchouli potluck at first, but I assure you, sooner or later you'll reap far greater rewards. Telling the world how great you are repeatedly is simply not an effective way to gain followers or promote your work. Imagine if someone approached you on the street and did that. You'd punch them in the face, right? Social media is similar. You can't take the human element away, or it won't work. For more on how to not be "that guy" (applies to girls too), read this great post by Chris Brogan.

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I'd expect this kind of shit from Elmo, but not you, Grover.
We creative types often think, "Well, I've made this great thing. Fantastic. My work is done now." But it's not done. The finished product, song, painting, novel is just the beginning. Ignore any blogs or dead baseball players that tell you simply, "If you build it, they will come." Oh no. You have to keep building it. And sometimes you have to raise the dead yourself. (This metaphor has really gotten away from me.) Long story short, if you don't have a community, seek one out. Find people who care about what you care about. And not just those who have "writer" in their Twitter bio.

People want to share things that have value, either to them personally or their careers or for some greater purpose, like a charity or cause. To that effect, if you're just writing about yourself, this will be harder. Wit and cleverness get you in the door at some places, but helping others succeed provides the most return on your investment. This will also help alleviate the guilt you're feeling for "seeking attention." I know it's weird. Writers tend to be introspective, alcoholic loners. But don't think of self-promotion as, like, frantically waving a "look at me" sign. Think of it as a form of potential connection. You created this great thing. You are sharing it with the world. If you truly believe in yourself and your content, this shouldn't be a problem. However, if you're writing content that you feel has little or no value, then that will show, and it'll affect others' willingness to share it as well. To that end, producing great content is still a vastly important part of social media. The rest is about paying it forward.

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at AskAnnaSF@gmail.com. 

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF or Facebook

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