How to Start Building a Social Media Presence: An Interview with Crystal King

crystal-king-2-1Crystal King is a 20-year marketing and communications veteran. Currently she leads social media for Keurig Green Mountain and has directed global social media programs for companies such as CA Technologies and Sybase. Crystal is also a freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet who has recently finished her first novel and is embarking upon her second. She holds an M.A. in Critical & Creative Thinking from UMass Boston and has taught classes in writing, creativity and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art and UMass Boston. Find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/crystallynking, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/crystallyn, Google+ at http://gplus.to/crystallyn or at her website: http://www.crystalking.com.


As writers, many of us feel a certain reluctance about social media, whether it’s the time it takes, putting ourselves out there, or where on earth to start. Crystal King, a social media expert, is an advocate of starting early to build up your following or presence before you publish. I should know. It’s a regular topic of conversation at our writing group meetings. I’m sure there are times when she looks at the three of us and thinks, Come on, people. It’s not that difficult. But with never-ending patience she will explain again and again the point of Tumblr or the use of tools such as bufferapp. She was generous enough to give up some of her time to answer questions for us.

What is the best part of working in social media?

I am constantly learning fascinating things and meeting even more fascinating people.

What is the worst part?

Social media often brings out the worst in people. I’m amazed at the things that some people will type when they are behind their computer screen but likely would never say to another person if they were face to face.

I know you constantly encourage writers to start working social media well before that first book is out there. How should one start?

That’s right. It’s better to build a presence over time than waiting until your book is published. I recommend starting with one channel and doing a little bit every day. The key is consistency. You can’t do a lot one month and then let things languish for two more or you’ll lose followers, regardless of what social media channel you choose.

What are the best social media sites for writers?

These days I recommend Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr. Facebook isn’t as viable as it used to be for small businesses, writers, artists or musicians because their new algorithm essentially requires that you pay for reach (I’ll talk more about that later). Twitter is the easiest to keep updated and to build a following and it is rich with other writers and readers. Google+ has very vibrant writing and reading communities, plus the search benefits of the channel make it worthwhile. Tumblr is a fantastic way to combine both imagery and longer-form writing, and the shelf life of a post is much longer than that of other channels.

How can one use social media without being continuously barraged by it? How do you manage it without being consumed by it?

If you are someone who is easily distracted by all the shiny bits of social media, then set yourself a schedule and goals to accomplish. And if you do end up surfing, set up tools such as bufferapp.com that allow you to quickly and easily share content as you find it while you are browsing. I tend to spend about 15-20 minutes a day on my personal channels overall. Once you get up and running it shouldn’t take more time than that, unless you allow yourself to be distracted.

If you only have time for a certain amount of social media as a writer, what is the best way to concentrate that time both prior to getting your book published and after?

The best way is to schedule yourself the time that you need. Perhaps it’s 20 minutes three times a week on Twitter. Or maybe you commit to writing one blog post or Tumblr post weekly. The key is consistency. You have to take the time to build an audience and that comes only through engaging with others and developing and/or sharing stellar content.

How can a person with a hermit mentality deal comfortably with social media?

The best thing about social media for those a bit more introverted is that you aren’t engaging with people face to face. This gives you time to think about what you want to say and when/where you want to say it. Unfortunately though, in today’s world, one needs to shed that shell and jump into the water. You have two choices—to engage or pay someone to engage for you. I talk more about this in my recent Grub Daily post about tough love. If you are committed to selling your books, then you’ll find a way.

Does it make sense to start a website for my novel when I don’t have a final draft, agent, or publisher? Does it make sense to launch one to drum up interest in the book way ahead of time and build a virtual audience for when it does (hopefully!) come out?

Having a home base is smart. It can be a simple static website or you can use a blog such as WordPress or Blogger as your site. Tumblr can also be a fantastic place to start out. If a full-blown website or blog seems daunting, having a page on http://about.me can help serve as a base of information, aggregating your social channels and contact information in one place. Here’s my page as an example. Having a site in place also shows any potential agent and editor how serious you are about your craft and demonstrates that you are ready to help promote your book.

I have the hardest time with Twitter. It feels like going to a party full of people I don’t know. What’s your advice on the best way to use Twitter? When people follow you should you always follow back?

Twitter is a great place to find potential readers, the latest news and new opportunities for your writing and professional life. Don’t think so much about the people there you don’t know—think about who you would like to know. Follow people you find of interest or who you think might be interested in the things you are writing. And no, you don’t always have to follow back. Be picky to some extent. You’ll find that a lot of your followers are spam accounts or perhaps they have profiles you don’t find of interest. Then don’t follow back. But I do recommend following back the majority of your followers. After all, they took the time to follow you. Plus, you may lose them later when they find you aren’t following back. But best of all, they are giving you great opportunities to engage with them by commenting or sharing the things that they post.

I have a blog on Tumblr. When I post, I share the link on Facebook. I get a good amount of likes on the link, but it isn’t helping me gain actual Tumblr readership. Any advice on how to build your Tumblr readership?

Tumblr is a bit of a different sort of beast than most blogs. It’s fairly impossible to get stats on the things you post (unless you are a brand who plans on pricey advertising). That means that likes in Facebook on your Tumblr post won’t tell you anything. Those individuals may actually be reading your Tumblr post and you won’t know (unless you’ve added a third party tracker, like Google Analytics). Also, if your Tumblr is public and you are sharing links on other social channels, you may be getting readers to the posts, but if they aren’t on Tumblr, they can’t follow you.

If you are obsessed with building a high Tumblr follower count, it takes two things: consistency and tags. Post often, at least once, if not multiple times a day. Use tags liberally so that people searching on a topic can easily find you. Still, as I mentioned a moment ago, remember that followers on Tumblr doesn’t necessarily equate to readers. You can have dozens of people who read your posts from a link on another social site but may never join Tumblr. Instead, just focus on sharing great content there, regularly, and using great tags.

Is Facebook really good for platform building? It feels too personal to use it for business.

It used to be good, and I do think it is a place where authors should have some sort of presence. Unfortunately, though, it’s no longer as viable because of the algorithm changes by Facebook, which now force you to pay for reach. If you are lucky, 12-15% of your followers will see an organic post and the more followers you have, the more than percentage goes down. It’s good to have a page there with regular content in the event someone looks for you there, but I would no longer recommend an author page as a person’s primary social media channel.

How do you promote yourself without all of your friends and family wanting to throw things at you?

I wrote all about this in my last Grub Daily blog post.

If you had to suggest only one way a writer should get themselves out there which way would it be?

It really depends on the writer and what they may feel most comfortable doing. Some people really end up loving Twitter. Others may find that communities in Google+ are what resonate for them, or that Tumblr is so fun that they want to make that their channel. That’s the beauty of it all. There is no one place or way. Each channel takes a little dedication, interesting content and engagement. That’s up to you.

Can you recommend any resources for writers on how to navigate social media?

The Mashable Twitter and Facebook guidebooks are helpful. And while it’s a bit more business focused, SocialMedia Examiner also has a slew of great places to find answers.

 

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