Friends or Fans? Social Networking Basics for Authors

one of my friends

one of my friends

Social Media for Book Promotion, Part III

People new to social media often get confused when it comes to what the internet means by “friend.” In the following post, I help explain the basics of how to establish a thriving network of friends and other contacts on the internet.

Anyone who uses social media to keep track of friends and colleagues in the same way they used an address book, are pretty much missing out on web 2.0 — and they are making a mistake similar to the kind made by those who shy away from using a word processor when writing books, or from emails when they are penning letters.

Friends in social media websites are the backbone of the networking potential unleashed by the web, and the “tail that wags the dog” of the new media. Making good use of effective social networking makes sense, especially for anyone with something to promote.

Buzz Builder

But celebrities and authors have another challenge, one of harnessing their fans as a “word of mouth” resource.

Getting Started

When you first sign up for sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, you will quickly discover that you need to figure out this “friending” thing. After you have created a profile, with some relevant information about yourself, you can select other users of the same site to be your “friend,” if you want to have a connection. The rationale for asking for and accepting someone as a friend/connection can range from a weak shared interest, to intimate bonds of trust, but one thing that you need to remember is that it will be fairly public.

Whom should I add as a friend?

Friends and family of course, for starters. But other kinds of people can and should be your friends on social media sites. What other type of person you want as a friend may well vary from site to site.

Freud Friend

Freud Friend

On a site like Linked In, where the emphasis is on connections in the professional arena, you will want to be sure to add friends who are from your professional life. For authors, that means publishers, agents, reviewers, distributors, book sellers, publicists and such. But it helps if the people you add in a site like that are well connected in the industry.

An author may well choose to use a site like Facebook and/or MySpace to inexpensively and easily keep in frequent contact with fans, or even with readers with similar tastes, who may well become fans of your book sometime well after they become fans or followers of you. And this may be a good place to stay in touch with your peers as well.

On still other sites, such as Digg or StumbleUpon, friendship means something else, or at least it serves a different additional purpose. On social news sites and similar venues that recommend things of interest – a funny video, a thoughtful commentary, a useful website, a great tutorial, a pithy blog comment –for these sites, friends are primarily useful as collaborators. It’s a culture of “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” If you plan to use these sights to champion anything you wish to promote or “shout out,” then you need reliable and persistent friends who will help you get your impact.

Can I really ask a stranger to be a friend?

Most certainly, some people prefer to have only close friends and maybe family as their social networks, and yet others want literally 1000’s. Some choose to have one site which they use for closer relationships, and then use Facebook to reach out to the universe. It’s partly a matter of style, temperament, and what you’re looking for. But if you are planning on using the web to advance your career, or publicize your novel launch, or promote your blog, you will want to start connecting to a wider group of people.

Here are some basic steps to get you started adding friends you know:

1. Invite your email list address book (yahoo or gmail, etc.) to become a friend. Most of the major sites will make this easy for you if you feel comfortable letting them have your password.
2. Put a link to your profile on your website or blog, if you have one, inviting people to friend you.
3. In many sites you can search classmates, people at places you have worked, or people from your hometown, to see if there are any familiar faces.
4. Put a link to your socail media site or sites in the signature of your email.
5. Join and participate in some groups, at each of oru sites; you will make friends.
6. Once you have a few friends, you can look at their profile. In most cases you can see who their friends are as well, and some of them are often people you know in common.
7. Accept the friend requests that come your way. If the new friend turns out to be selling something you wouldn’t dream of owning, you can simply remove them as your friend.

How About Approaching People I Do Not Know?

If you have carefully read a site’s spam policy, (so you don’t misuse these ideas), it is perfectly all right, in fact it is standard in social media sites, to befriend people whom you do not know. It is always polite to include a small note saying what prompted your friend request, but this is a matter of etiquette and not a requirement. Usually you ask someone to be your friend because they are a friend of a friend, and/or something about their profile interests you, or because you share a professional or personal interest, entertainment taste, or common goals, values or ideas.

How does an author connect to his or her fans?

In addition to the standard friendship steps, authors may want to attract their fans. You can advertise or promote in order to do that, but I suggest you save your money. If you already have 50,000 readers, you can expect at least 5,000 of them already are, or soon will be, on sites like Facebook or MySpace. You can locate them by searching their profiles. Most people list the kinds of books they like to read, and also cite specific author or book favorites.

Romantic Comedy

Romantic Comedy

Start by searching for your own name, in quotes, or one of your more popular books. So for example, Romantic Comedy author Charlotte Hughes should search for “Charlotte Hughes” (the quotes are important, don’t leave them out), as well as some recent books like “What Looks Like Crazy” and “Nutcase.” You will get a list of everybody on the site who said she was their favorite author, or who has mentioned those books as favorites in their profile.

Next, to broaden the net you cast, you can search for your genre. In the above example, Charlotte would certainly want to see who said they liked romances, and also do a separate search for potential friends who like comedy. Since “What Looks Like Crazy” was sold on the mystery shelves, she would also want to search for mystery. Problem is, each of these genre searches will give you way too many potential friends, and you might want to narrow it down. You could require, in the search, for example, that they have mentioned that genre and be from your home state. More practically, why not become friends with people who share your genre, and who live in the cities where you plan to have your next book tour?

Try Joining and Participating in Some Interest Groups

One other obvious source of new friends is from the various interest groups that form on the sites you join. If you have a dachshund or two, and love them, there is a good chance you will make a few new friends, among the 5000+ people who belong to the Facebook Dachshund Lovers group. Authors might enjoy, and make new friends in the various groups that are focused on writing, or their genres, or related areas such as book publicity or publishing.

Once you have over a hundred or so fans, you can relax a bit, because, if you are a good writer, and people enjoy your book, you will start to also get friend requests, especially on Facebook, where they give you friend recommendations of people whom “you might know.” There is a good chance you will have a lot of “friends in common” with people who share your interests, so you will be suggested by the site to others over and over again, or people will read about your activities on their friend’s site.

How Many is Too Many?

There is some research that shows most people do best when their network of friends is no more than 150. If your goal is to become closely interconnected, 150 is a good target, if that is your style, and you will actively network with these friends. But if you plan instead to gather your fans or readers there, then there is an upper limit (several thousand) to the number of friends you can have on some of the sites. There are ways around that problem and we will be touching on that again in later posts.

How Can Friends Create The Buzz to Sell a Book?

Now that you have a ton of friends, how will that help you sell any books? The next several posts will introduce you to five important sites on the social media web where you should begin; we will touch on how to make use of what each has to offer if you are producing something of value, like maybe a book that you feel deserves to be a best seller. Then after we have grounding in the basics, we will move on to a more advanced understanding of how social media connections drive the new media.

For other artcles in the series:
Part I: Overview of Social Media: New Opportunities for Book Promotion
Part II: Five Best Sites for Your Book Promotion

The smell of fear is real, claim scientists

The smell of fear is real, according to a recent account of an experiment, but the finding that fear is contagious because of smell, may lead to weapons of mass disgust. The study, funded by the US Defence Department, might eventually have implications for military and crowd control applications.

Research of this type looks at pheremones, defined by Wikipedia as a “chemical that triggers a natural behavioral response” in others. The assumption is that we emit telltale chemical signals in our aroma and that others sense it and act accordingly.

In addition to fear pheromones, other scents that cue our behavior are far more prevalent than we believe. Recent studies suggest that our nose gives us all kinds of “social” cues, and we follow them without realizing it. For one thing, women who share the same residence may be prone to synchronize their menstrual cycles, and the cues they are using are likely olfactory. Also, mothers can recognize their child by their unique smell (without realizing they rely on it) and there is evidence that there is real chemistry in our decisions about who we think is “hot.”

In the most recent and very interesting DARPA funded research on pheromones is about the smell of fear. Researchers at Stony Brook University have found that when we sweat, while we are in a state of fear, then those within a wiffing range of us can pick up on our fear.

In a study of 40 newbie sky divers, their underarm sweat later triggered, in a second group, a reaction in the area of the brain associated with fear. While they were not aware of being afraid, such a lack of awareness, while raising questions about what really happened, proves little, while raising some questions.

People rarely report any awareness of the effects of pheromones. For example, in another study by Denise Chen, subjects reacted to fear pheromones behaviorally, but again without actual awareness.

I have to say I am spooked by the fact that the defense department is getting a leg up (so to speak) on us, trying to learn how to control us with smells we don’t know are impacting us. At least with WMD, we can imagine we could see it coming.