Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 20, 2015

8 Tips to Outsmart Facebook, Dorothy Parker Style

Ellen Meister

Dorothy ParkerChurlish. Mean. Difficult. Insensitive. When I first got the idea to introduce the acid-tongued Dorothy Parker to social media, I had no idea I would soon be using those adjectives to describe Facebook.

It started in early 2011. I was working on a new novel that resurrected the great 1920s literary wit as a fictional character in a contemporary setting, and I thought it might be fun to see if I could connect with a few hundred fellow fans. Four years and over 147,000 followers later, my relationship with Facebook feels less like a love story than Stockholm Syndrome. But I've learned to tame my captor—or at least keep it from hurting me too much—and I'd like to share that knowledge with you, dear writers.

First a little background. For the uninitiated, Dorothy Parker was a poet, theater critic, short story writer, book reviewer and essayist. Most of all, she’s known as the sharpest-tongued wit of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers and other Jazz Era notables who met daily for lunch throughout the 1920s.

Here are some of her famous quotes that my Facebook followers enjoy:

  • “That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say 'No' in any of them.”
  • After seeing a young Katharine Hepburn in a stage performance: “She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.”
  • “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.”
  • On being asked her opinion on the most beautiful words in the English language: “The ones I like are ‘cheque’ and ‘enclosed.’”
  • When challenged to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence: “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”
  • After terminating an unwanted pregnancy: “It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.”
  • "I hate writing, I love having written."

In the beginning, my relationship with Facebook really was a love affair. It was the perfect place to build a following and connect with Dorothy Parker fans, and I can honestly say it was both fun and practical. In addition to enjoying the interactions, I was creating a platform for my books, Farewell, Dorothy Parker and Dorothy Parker Drank Here. These were folks who would be legitimately interested in my subject matter.

But as time went by, Facebook made it harder and harder to connect with the page's fans. They tightened the screws on their delivery algorithm until it was nearly impossible to reach more than a tiny fraction of my own followers "organically." In Facebook lingo, that means "free." So even though these folks had indicated that they wanted to receive daily updates from the page, Facebook wouldn't deliver unless I ponied up some cash. And not a token fee, mind you, but a huge pile of money. Indeed, the fees are so outrageous—so many hundreds of times over what could actually constitute a return on investment—that it's simply impossible.

Fortunately, I've learned some secrets of the delivery algorithm, and they all begin and end with engagement. In other words, the more likes, shares and comments a post generates, the more Facebook delivers it. Consider the following:

Evening is best

It stands to reason that you'll get  the most engagement if you post when the greatest number of followers are on Facebook. I've seen varying statistics on this, but my own experience bears out that evening is the best time to post. For my page, which has followers all over the world but a heavy concentration on the East Coast of the U.S., the sweet spot is 5 pm – 9 pm, Eastern Time.

Elicit comments

The more comments your posts get, the more Facebook will deliver them. So if you include a question or some other request, the responses will help your post get delivered. And don't be shy about putting your own two cents in the comments. Your engagement counts, too, and followers enjoy the give-and-take.

Like your own posts

Your own likes count as engagement, so be sure to like your status right after you post it. And if you have other Facebook pages, switch to those identities to like and share your posts.

Images work better than straight text

Facebook's algorithm is geared toward delivering images more widely than text. So either create an image that includes your message, or post an image and include your message as the description.

Post your image first, then add the description

I think it's always a good idea to include some kind of description with your image. However,  for maximum delivery, I've discovered that it's best to post the image first, and then click "edit" to add your description.

Be cautious with your call to action

I used to routinely include calls to action such as, "Like and share if you agree!" However, Facebook has been upfront about the fact that they consider this gaming the system, and they have rigged their algorithm to watch out for this language—even embedded in images—so they can quash delivery. (In other words, they want to minimize organic reach so that they can charge you their exorbitant fees.) Experiment with your language to see what works and what doesn't.

Share your good news

Facebook's algorithm has a soft spot for good news, so if your followers comment with words like "congratulations" and "great news," your delivery will be greater.

Content is king

This is probably obvious, but it 's important to remember that the more engaging your posts are, the more likes, shares and comments you'll receive.

One final note about building your following. It's fine to ask your friends to like your page, but don't consider that your end goal. You want to broaden your reach to find the kind of followers who enjoy your content. So keep it lively. Post often and vary your updates. And from time to time, point people right back to your page, so that if they're reading the post via a share, they are encouraged to give the page a "like." Click here to see an example of how I handle that.

I hope you found this information useful. If you have any of your own Facebook tips, feel free to share them in the comments. In the meantime, I leave you with a final Dorothy Parker quote to ponder ...

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

Good luck friends!

Are you a Dorothy Parker fan? What is your favorite Parker quote? What Facebook tricks have you learned? Please share in the comments! 

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Ellen

Ellen MeisterEllen Meister is a writer, reader, teacher, mother, wife, and Dorothy Parker fan. Her six-word memoir is "Not as blond as I look."

She is also the author of DOROTHY PARKER DRANK HERE (Putnam 2015), FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER (Putnam 2013), THE OTHER LIFE (Putnam 2011), THE SMART ONE (HarperCollins 2008) and SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA (HarperCollins 2006), as well as numerous essays and short stories.

Ellen teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, mentors emerging authors, lectures on Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, and does public speaking about her books and other writing-related topics. Ellen is the voice of Dorothy Parker on her hugely popular Facebook page.

64 comments on “8 Tips to Outsmart Facebook, Dorothy Parker Style”

  1. I love Dorothy Parker! Well, I love her witticisms. I'd be intimidated if I'd ever met her in person. 🙂 Thanks for such an interesting and helpful post.

    I do have a DP question for you. Absinthe has always fascinated me. Didn't Parker and other members of the roundtable indulge in this drink?

    1. Hi, Deb. Dorothy Parker's favorite drink was scotch. I haven't come across many references to Absinthe, though I imagine she drank it when in Paris. There's a great little book by Kevin Fitzpatrick called The Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide. You might find some answers there.

  2. Ellen, thanks for the great post! I'm printing it out, and will follow your tips.
    Except for posting at night. I'm brain dead by 5, and asleep before 9!

    1. Hi, Laura. You can actually schedule your Facebook page posts now. When you post a status update, you'll note a down arrow in the blue box next to "post." Click that pull down menu and you'll see an option to schedule your post. Note that his is only available on Pages, not on regular Profiles. Hope this helps!

  3. My idol, Dorothy Parker...I wish such witticisms came out of my mouth! Loved your advice can't wait to try a few of your suggestions with my FB posts.
    Since you're looking for quotes, In my book "The Hourglass," my cynical hero (a frustrated writer, of course), has reason to quote Ms. Parker with this little tidbit: ‘Four be the things I am wiser to know: idleness, sorrow, a friend and a foe. Four be the things I’d been better without: love, curiosity, freckles and doubt.’
    Your books sound wonderful and I'm running over to check them out!

    1. Sharon, that's a great poem! I'll share the rest of it in case anyone else is interested:


      Four be the things I am wiser to know:
      Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
      Four be the things I'd been better without:
      Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
      Three be the things I shall never attain:
      Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
      Three be the things I shall have till I die:
      Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

      Thanks so much for the kind words!

  4. Hadn't heard some of these Dorothy Parker remarks, but they're awesome! God, I'd would've loved to have met her.

    Dee Willson
    Author of A Keeper's Truth and GOT

  5. This is a terrific post, Ellen--I didn't know most of these things, so it's all useful info. Don't you wonder what our pal Dorothy would have done if she'd had Twitter? Oh my. What fun she would have had!

  6. This is a confirmation of something I'd noticed - my new book release and great news posts have more traction on Facebook. I've made a note of your other tips. Thanks for sharing this information!

    1. Yes, Facebook is programmed to distribute those more widely. You'll probably notice that when friends post good news, their posts will appear at the top of your news feed, too. I suspect the algorithm also responds to words like "so cute," because adorable babies and animals seem to get very wide distribution. Not relevant to Dorothy Parker, of course!

  7. These were great tips. I had wondered if I should like from my personal page. 🙂
    Your posts appeal to everyone since Dorothy Parker was a hoot and her quotes are hilarious! I checked out your page and can see where I could post my own quotes or share posts of other "Wild Riders" since I'm only promoting my blog at this point. Once my book series is out, I'll start another page.
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Good for you Ellen! Facebook can drive us nuts with all their restrictions. You are on your toes girl. How very Dorothy Parker of you! I really appreciate your suggestions and shared your post. Thank you so much! 🙂

  9. Love this post! I love scotch. Me and Dorothy Parker, drinking buddies, who knew?
    But seriously, great post. Great wisdom. Great info. Thanks so much.

  10. Awesome. Posting in the evening sometimes seems to work better than actually paying FB! Also, including pictures of very cute dogs, such as Yorkies, is always worthwhile in my book, thought it can dilute your message . . .

    Just kidding. Sort of. Seriously, Ellen, thanks for these ideas.

  11. Thank you so much for being a guest on WITS, Ellen. I love this post. Almost as much as I loved that first Dorothy Parker book. Waiting for number 2! 🙂

    Will be implementing some changes on how I use FB, especially for WFWA threads.

  12. Parker's primary strength was her wit had truth in it.

    "Razors pain you,
    Rivers are damp,
    Acids stain you,
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren't lawful,
    Nooses give,
    Gas smells awful.
    You might as well live."

    "Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
    Love, the reeling midnight through,
    For tomorrow we shall die!
    (But, alas, we never do.)"

  13. Wonderful advice and I shall carry on doing most of the above which I seem to have found I do naturally, and try the others asap. I love Dorothy Parker too. Makes me laugh out loud. Thanks for your generosity in sharing this. Wishing you much success. 🙂

  14. Thanks, Ellen. These tips are so timely for me. I want to open a page since I can't have two FB accounts. I'll keep this and use all your great tips.

    Love that Dorothy Parker has become your alter-ego. Your talents are equal to your enthusiasm and that is saying much 🙂

  15. Thank you for sharing these tips, Ellen. I have so many favorite quotes but for today.."There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.” Because it was that kind of a day.

  16. Thanks for the FB tips. They're very helpful. I wasn't aware of most of them, so I appreciate your sharing them, Ellen. And thanks for sharing the quotes from Dorothy. Keep up the great work!

  17. A great article. I love the Dorothy Parker quotes. I'm in the process of marketing my fan page, your advice is very timely. I Had not realized that FB was making it difficult to connect.

    1. Hi, Susan. Sadly, they really throw obstacles in your way. And when it comes to their fees, they don't seem to have any understanding of ROI, at least as it relates to the economics of publishing. Good luck to you!

  18. I've not seen evidence that Facebook has really helped me personally.

    I think I'm just being annoying by posting blurbs that I believe are cleverly disguised, but others clearly see them as shameless self-promotion.

  19. Thanks for the tips. Aside from asking friends to like my page (I've exceeded my quota I'm sure) and sharing posts via other social media, how exactly do you get new page likes/interaction from those not already connected to your other fans without paying to promote?

    1. Roanne, the best way to get new followers is to post content that your existing followers will share. This can really mushroom when their friends and followers share. Before you know it, your post is seen far and wide. The real trick is finding content that's engaging enough to go viral. I know how hard that is, but if you keep at every day you'll see your following grow. Good luck!

  20. Excellent post. I am gradually realising how crafty Facebook are with sending out (or not should I say!) my posts to my followers. Unfortunately to make it worse, I created a business page rather than a fan page and it is even harder to gain likes.

  21. Thanks for the article Ellen--I've heard a few of these before(like always put a pic in!) but also learned some new tweaks...AND I saw a very good friend's name by your facebook example--NOW I know how she got those great Dorothy Parker quotes!

  22. What a great post - I used to sit near a group of kids that worked the facebook algorithms and learned a lot too. Some of this is new to me. Is this specifically for your facebook author page, or for your regular FB page? As the two are different in their algorithms. Thoughts on that?

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