Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 25, 2022

5 Secrets for Surviving the Social Media Apocalypse

by Lisa Norman

people staring at falling social media icons

Every day, authors ask me how to survive the current social media meltdown.

The bad news:

Here is some of the bad news authors are focusing on:

  • Twitter laid off 3,700 employees
  • Meta (Facebook) laid off 11,000 employees
  • Amazon is planning to lay off 10,000 employees
  • Alphabet (Google) is discussing layoffs
  • Preliminary statistics for book sales in 2022 are not great unless you are Colleen Hoover

There’s no denying it: these statistics are concerning. If you are an author who has built their entire platform on Twitter or Facebook, you may feel lost as to how to proceed.

There are some statistics out there that make it seem like very few people read anymore.

But there’s hope! Let’s dig just a bit into some options that can break our dependence on specific platforms and empower our marketing at the same time.

The good news:

  • New social media platforms are being created every day
  • Niche forums and interest groups are making a comeback
  • Authors are finding new ways to market and sell books
  • The future is bright for stories

I’m a chronic optimist, and I’ve been teaching authors creative ways of dealing with social media for years now. So, let’s change our focus! Allow me to share some tips to help you weather changes in the social media environment.

Secret #1: Social Media is about being social, not about having the biggest follower count.

Studies show that social media following alone is terrible at driving book sales.

Yes, TikTok is a current exception to that trend. Publishers and authors are rushing to build platforms on TikTok, to move their marketing dollars to TikTok, and to struggle to replicate the success that some authors have had there.

The problem is, they’re missing the point of TikTok and how those successes came about.

I don’t want to say that authors and publishers can’t have a powerful presence on TikTok, because some certainly are doing it. But the big success stories that we see were not driven by the authors! The big successes were driven by fans sharing books that they loved.

There’s a wholesome, grass-roots sort of feel to some of these book recommendations that drives sales in powerful ways.

Now yes, this has become a moneymaking business for some of these TikTok influencers. They’ll feature your book on their platform, for a price. I don’t have a lot of faith that these financial transactions will have as much power as a 16-year-old girl crying over the ending of her favorite book.

The most powerful TikTok sales are driven by fans recommending books they love, not by authors saying “buy my book!” This is the way of social media.

Size doesn't matter as much as we think.

I’m not saying that you can’t sell books through social media. What I am saying, though, is that the size of a person’s following does not translate to number of books sold.

There’s a difference between followers and super-fans.

Super-fans don’t just buy books, they sell them.

Social media is a great place to meet people and get to know them. It is a place to make friends and connections with people you might not meet otherwise. Social media is a place to meet and cultivate new fans.

Followers are just potential fans. Don’t show me your follower numbers. Show me your super-fans, the ones who can’t wait to buy your books and who can’t wait to tell others about them.

Give me 10 super-fans over 10,000 followers any day.

Want to dive deeper into this? Check out my marketing wheel analogy in a previous WITS article.

Secret #2: You can be a big fish in a little pond.

When you are in an enormous space with millions of people vying for attention, it is easy to get lost in the noise. You may be able to buy your way to a bit of notice, but when the money dries up, so does the attention.

Instead, if you find a small space filled with potential super-fans who love topics you are passionate about, you can meet amazing people, form lasting friendships, and make connections that can change a career.

One author I know has a tiny following, but among her devoted followers is an influential blogger in her niche. That one contact could open up connections with other bloggers in her niche and get her book a lot of exposure.

A super-fan with a marketing background contacted another author I know. When the fan realized the publicity challenges authors deal with, they took over marketing the book so the author could focus on writing the sequel. Don’t we all want to have a super-fan like that?

When you are in a small space, you can build connections with people who care about your success and want to help. We call these people our street-team. I’ve worked with marketing pros, and they tell me you can’t buy the power of a committed group of super-fans functioning as your street-team.

Look at any highly productive, successful author. I bet you’ll find a tight-knit group of super-fans.

Secret #3: People love to be around people who are having fun.

If you’re dealing with marketing stress and forcing yourself into a toxic environment that is bad for your mental health, you may be wasting your time.

Here’s what I hear often: “Social media doesn’t work!” and then there’s a sigh... and a pause... and then a confession. “I hate it.”

And we wonder why social media isn’t working for them? Often this is followed by “shoulds” or “have tos” that they’ve heard, often from marketing advice intended for corporations rather than creatives. Here’s the good news: you don’t HAVE to be on any platform you don’t want to be on!

Find a space you love. Go there for the fun. If you need to set a timer and limit your time on social media so that you get your writing done, you’re on the right track.

Secret #4: Build your own space.

I remember a time before social media. Actually, I remember a time before the internet, but we won’t go there. I’ve watched social media platforms rise and fall. I’ve seen massive platforms that I adored (anyone remember Compuserve?) rise and fall.

You don’t want to build your business in someone else’s store.

Social media is great for meeting people, but in the perfect marketing scenario for writers, you’re going to bring them home to a place that you control.

If you are bringing your ideal fans back to your special space, it doesn’t matter when the platform you met on goes away. You can stay in touch via your email list!

Some authors are even building special gathering spaces for their fans. I was in a discussion recently with a group of authors who were wondering if maybe private forums were going to make a comeback.

I don’t know, but it is interesting.

Secret #5: Readers are hungrier than ever for stories.

Yes, the economy is looking pretty bleak. The BookScan (official sales) statistics for most genres these days are concerning. Note: books sold through author websites don’t show up on BookScan. Neither do ePub sales. Neither do library sales. There are vast swaths of the industry that are not always reflected in statistics.

Digital reading is growing!

Some people are even cutting down on their doom-scrolling through social media platforms and replacing that time with digital story reading. Much better for mental health.

In the past, I’ve mentioned the warning given by an Ingram representative to a group of publishers back in 2021. He warned that digital reading was a trend the industry must pay attention to. We don’t want to miss the trend towards transmedia-centered, fandom-centered, online digital reading.

Venues like:

... and many other fiction platforms are seeing growth.

People still want stories, but they aren’t always consuming them the way they used to.

We talk about the way people skim when reading these days. Especially, young professionals in our modern world want content that is available to them whenever they have a moment.

In the past, you would read a book and turn the last page and feel sad. You wanted the book to go on. Maybe you’d reach out to that author, try to find more books. But we accepted that losing the story world was a part of reading the book.

That is not how modern readers want to experience a story. They want to turn that last page and then have discussions with others who have read the book. They want to delve deeper into the characters and the topics of the book. Give them an opportunity to engage with the author and the story world, and they become devoted super-fans.

As we go into 2023, it looks like budgets may be tight. People may not be going on fancy vacations or spending money on expensive physical books as much as they have at other times, especially not with the increase in printing costs. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for adventure and escape! People need an escape from the everyday onslaught of bad news.

What better way to escape than with a story?

cat saying Please give me money
Image by Nnie - Buy Nnie a Ko-fi

Ah, but many of these newer venues don’t pay authors very well. Many super-fans are deeply aware of this problem, and they are happy to support their favorite authors. Fans are supporting their favorite authors through platforms like Patreon, Ko-Fi, and Kickstarter in exchange for stories.

In a discussion on Discord, an artist made this cat picture as a joke because I'd said that cat pictures rule the internet and we were talking about learning to ask fans for support. If you like it, maybe go throw a dollar at Nnie. Because that's how creatives stick together! That's how Ko-fi works.

Authors who have learned to embrace their super-fans, cultivate them, give them what they want, are seeing potential new opportunities where others are seeing disaster. I’m a big believer in author experimentation. It can be all too easy to do things “the way they have always been done.” But we often forget that even those ways were experimental at one time.

I grew up before social media. I remember a time before the internet. Go back into history and think about the revolution caused by the printing press. Look at the way committing stories to paper changed the forms storytellers used to craft stories.

Story is vital to human life. Story isn’t going away. But there are shifts in how people are choosing to interact with those stories.

As authors, we are especially prone to losing our creative energy when surrounded by negativity. Let’s share some positivity!

What are your secrets for success in the current social media environment?

* * * * * *

About Lisa

head shot of smiling Lisa Norman

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that she wrote her first novel on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, you can find her wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, LLC, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.

Interested in learning more from Lisa? Sign up for her newsletter to see upcoming classes!

Top Image by Deleyna via Midjourney

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24 comments on “5 Secrets for Surviving the Social Media Apocalypse”

  1. As my Twitter follower numbers have been falling, I've been telling myself that a culled group is a good thing. Like tightening up a story--keeping only the best words makes a stronger narrative. I still may jump ship on principle, but thank you Lisa for validating my thinking and giving me hope!

  2. I'm a dinosaur, I admit it. Like you, been around way before social media. I don't necessarily hate SM, but I do find it exhausting to always have to look for "engaging, original, content." And consistently. I'm also not technical, and that doesn't help matters either. I would like to cultivate "superfans" though. Do you think the best way to achieve that is through attracting fans via newsletters/giveaways?

    1. Be very careful with giveaways, Ellen. As popular as they are, they tend to attract a less involved, less passionate individual.

      It is less about the technology than it is about that content.

      I want to encourage you to try and separate the technology stress from the content question. As authors, we naturally create content (ie stories). Often when I see someone struggling with content, it comes from combining the how (technology) with the what.

      Get a list of fun ideas together. What would you really enjoy doing if technology wasn't an issue?

      Then tackle the technology aspect in the easiest way. Often, blogging and newsletters can be simplified (or combined!) to make it not much harder than sending an email or posting a comment.

      Steer away from guidance that says it is so hard you need to buy x to make it simple. Look for things you already feel comfortable with.

      You may find you are better at this than you imagine!

  3. In-person social interactions and social media have always been difficult for introvert me. I can hold my own in small groups, but big groups or crowds--eeek! As a result my social media following is fairly small. However, I am learning to be more flexible and social online and in-person. The thing I try to keep in mind is that it's not about me or my "following." Yes, I share about my life but I react and respond to others in what I hope are supportive and inspirational ways.

    1. Lynette, you're good at this stuff!

      I feel you about being uncomfortable in person. A friend once told me that just because I'm an introvert doesn't mean I can't do these things, but it does mean that I need solitude afterwards to recover. Lots of it.

      Many many writers are introverts.

      You are one of the people I admire in marketing. I do see you doing everything right and well. I don't know your numbers, but I'd guess you have a steady growth pattern going.

      You're building true fans who love your stories. And your books are wonderful!

  4. I think the hard part is finding where those few superfans are so that you can engage with them--at least that's been my pain point when it comes to building a fan base.

      1. That's the hardest part, because how you find them is unique to each author.

        I can give you some generalizations. Start by imagining one person who will love everything you write. Get very specific. Use your writer skills and come up with a unique character. Get detailed. What else do they love? How old are they? This person should be as unique as any main character in your stories. Look for things you have in common.

        Then search for that one person.

        The two biggest mistakes I see authors make:
        1) being too general, everyone will like my book...
        2) expecting to just drop an ad someplace and run.

        It takes time, but it should also be fun. If it isn't fun, then it is time to try something else.

        I've seen many authors make these connections. But it is rarely easy or fast.

    1. 100% Sylvie! Some people are lucky enough to stumble on their ideal fans right away. Those are often people writing to trope who can target another author's existing fan base.

      For others, it is just harder.

      I heard a talk (World Anvil) where the speaker pointed out that there are billions of people in the world, and we only need 5000 true fans to be wildly famous.

      You might want to find other authors in your genre and think of ways to team up so everyone wins.

      Whatever you do, I encourage you to be creative. Look for free ways to find and engage. Don't look for hundreds. Look for one at a time. Just one person. Make that person feel seen and appreciated, because they are valuable and special! Don't see reach for hundreds. Then continue to engage that one as you reach for another. The wheel does start turning eventually.

  5. Hello Lisa!
    Thank you for your dose of positivity through technology.

    Your tip about using social media to have fun truly is what works for me. When I am stuck on the writing world, my sand box is the marketing and interaction I have with readers and fans on social media.

    Thanks for your insights!

  6. Fantastic insights, Lisa, Thank you!

    I received some great advice. "Be as helpful as you can."

    Give and take is a good thing. Your secret #3 is an awesome one. People want to hang out with happy folks, in person as well as online. So true.

    I'm wondering about some of the alternatives, like Mastodon.

    1. There are so many new platforms. Those are great for creating those smaller ponds, however I do want to wait a bit and see which ones "stick". Mastadon is looking interesting. Stimulus.com amuses me (no endorsement yet, but a nice twist to the "we're all here for a reason" algorithm transparency...). There are some others that I see that are more complicated to sign up for, so I'm watching those because they may filter out non-technical users. There are also interest-centric new ones popping up, so reader-centered ones (think Goodreads, but less controlled) may show up. I'm sure people could make some good suggestions here of their favorites! (BookBub is building something, for example)

      https://www.lifewire.com/great-book-social-networks-3486556

      I know there are some newer ones that I can't remember right now off the top of my head. Hopefully some others will chime in with them.

      There are SO MANY new social media platforms in development! I think there is fascinating energy in this space right now and it is worth keeping an eye on.

      Keep your super-fans close (on your email list) and then you can explore and find (or build) new spaces! Which is not to say that I think the big platforms are totally going to fold. I do think they need to re-invent themselves.

      This upset reminds me of the road construction going on in a local small town. They're ripping up huge sections of the main thoroughfare. Eventually, there will be roundabouts there. But now, there's just detours and a mess.

      Hopefully, the end result in these social media platforms will be long-overdue improvements. Change is hard, but I've watched how some of these have developed, and real life usage has caused huge challenges the developers didn't anticipate. Fixing those issues takes a big restructuring, and is taking far too long for them to do. So upending everything and rebuilding may be the fastest way to something even better.

      We'll see!

      And yes: that golden rule of being relentlessly helpful (thanks to Tim Grahl for that) is critical to success.

  7. This is a super-fun read for me. I do so much social media for clients that I really try not to spend time there for myself. I'm sick of it already by the time the work is done. I need to find a place for fun so I can reverse that trend. 🙂

    1. You know I feel you on that one, Jenny. Those of us who live surrounded by it tend to have more strict limitations on what we do for ourselves!

      I recently DID find that online fun space, and you've seen how dramatically I've been rearranging my life so that I can indulge. LOL

      Healthy, fun spaces are precious.

    1. YAY! That's great news! I think when we look back on this, I don't think it'll have been as devastating as many think it could be. This type of upset is more common in the tech world than a lot of us realize...

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