Unlike a hamster in a cage, I believe I can get off the treadmills in my life. And one of the biggest treadmills is the belief that authors have to be active on social media to develop and nurture an audience. Almost every writerly pulpit promotes this view ad nauseum, to the point it’s considered heresy to doubt.
I now doubt the effectiveness of social media on my non-fiction writer platforms.
I note there are as many different opinions about social media as there are experts out there and boy, are we flooded with experts. In a Tech Crunch interview a few years ago, Gary Vaynerchuk said, “99% of social media experts are clowns.” So readers can and should take this post with a grain of salt.
Here’s my take on social media.
- First, I make no claim to be an expert.
- Second, I could probably do much better than I am doing.
- Third, I have no idea why I’d want to given the numbers I’m seeing.
These are the Social Media, Google Analytics numbers for my non-fiction website in October 2016.
Visitors coming from Social Media make up 15% of my traffic.
- Facebook accounts for 35% of social traffic
- Pinterest accounts for 61% of social traffic
- Everything else accounts for the remaining 4%.
If 1000 people come to my site 150 of them are from social media sources. The other 850 people are from other sources.
At first glance, it would appear social media traffic at 15% is worth pursuing.
Let’s look at that data in a different way.
New visitors overwhelmingly find my site via Google Search and not Facebook. Search is the main discovery source in non-fiction.
And Then There’s The Time Visitors Spend On The Site:
The time readers spend on the site depends on where they come from.
- Pinterest is the shortest at 36 seconds.
- Facebook comes next about double that (just over 1 minute)
- Newsletter and other sources range from 2- 3 minutes.
Social media users skim the contents and visit fewer pages (less involvement) while newsletter and search engine visitors spend more time and more pages.
Pinterest users do not sign up for the newsletter as much as Facebook users and these two are far behind Google traffic for newsletter conversion rates.
Getting folks to sign up for or maintain a newsletter subscription is the basic objective for the site as email is the primary method for encouraging sales.
So if social media traffic doesn’t spend as much time on the site nor interact as much, it has less value on the business side of this writing adventure.
Advertising for Conversion
In recent experiments, I got a zero conversion rate to a paid membership site from Facebook advertising.
(As an aside, this doesn’t surprise me, it was a low-cost experiment and confirmed data I’ve seen that advertising for direct sales on Facebook doesn’t work as well as it used to or might have. While the pros might make this work, I won’t advertise for direct sales again.)
For non-selling conversions (or selling free newsletters) there may be a reasonable conversion opportunity. I’ll be experimenting with this but I have no data to share with you now.
How Much Time Do I Spend On Social Media?
I have considered social media “marketing” as part of my marketing activities and these would take 3-5% of my budget (I allocated 2 hours/week) I suspect this is low and until the last month, I likely spent more time than the budgeted 2 hours.
I also note social media traffic is fleeting and ephemeral requiring constant attention to maintain traffic.
In my world view, it’s far better to create something of value that lasts and delivers a steady stream of visitors rather than constantly having to prime a pump at the social level.
If things in the social media world were still the same as they were 3-5 years ago, it might be worth continuing the work but the trends are not encouraging.
What’s The Major Trend To Watch?
Let’s deal with Facebook because it’s the biggest player. A year or so ago, (with just over 5000 likes) if I had a post that went over 4000 views, that was considered excellent. After several “adjustments” on Facebook’s part, I now see anything over 1000 as excellent.
Facebook has decided it “owns” those readers and user feeds should contain posts from their friends. If business wants to get into those personal streams, then advertising is the way Facebook now gives us.
That’s fine with me. As long as we know what the rules are.
But now, having created an audience on Facebook, the social media giant wants me to pay them to reach that audience.
OK, that’s their right. It’s their website.
But My Questions Are
- If I have to pay to reach my audience, why would I go to all the trouble to develop one?
- Why not advertise to the demographic I want, and skip all that developmental work? Facebook gets the same amount of money in either case but I don’t have to do as much work.
- Why not bring that paid traffic to my site, encourage them to sign up for my site’s resources and then they’re my readers?
- Why not work word-of-mouth and the Google search engine to develop free traffic on my website?
The Real Bottom Line Here
Facebook is clear it wants us to pay to contact existing and potential readers. That’s fine and I’ll do this going forward to develop my sites. But I won’t bother deliberately developing an audience on social media separate from my own website.
I’ll take the money I’d spend on services such as Buffer and allocate it to Facebook for marketing. (Sorry Buffer et al!)
I’m not abandoning Facebook and Pinterest but I’m no longer going to be posting several times a day or even every day. Given I’m no longer trying to develop a Facebook fan base, why would I? Why would I spend my time this way?
I’ll pay for Facebook ads to develop new readers on my websites but I won’t pay for ads to my existing readers or those who have liked my Facebook page.
I will post new articles on my Facebook pages but that’s the extent of my involvement there.
I’ll pay that piper but I’ll call the tune.
But What About Developing A New Fiction Readership and Platform
The notes above are based on a non-fiction site so the first thing I had to do was consider it from the point of view of a fiction site.
Nothing has changed at the Facebook end. If I want to develop a reader base there, I still have to pay Facebook to get my notes into the feed.
Treat My Fiction As A Business
The first is that instead of trying to attract attention through social media, I’ll treat my writing as a business and invest in marketing ads on Facebook and Google. I’ll market my website and content to potential readers the same way I used to market any product I sold (in the real world).
While I have an author page, I won’t promote it. Why would I if I have to pay to get its content in front of its fans anyway?
The second is this answers the question about whether a writer requires a platform. If I’m advertising to attract potential readers/buyers, I have to provide them with a central space for discovery and my work at creating a desire for “more”. I can’t advertise for conversion sales of books, so I’m taking an intermediate position and advertising to the platform and its writing samples. This means I have to have a working platform and that’s a subject for another day.
I note a third option is to ignore both social media and author platforms and work the Amazon discovery systems. I’m not quite ready to take that position yet but…
Is This My Final Position on Social Media
Are you kidding? Social media and the Net are like jelly moulds. Fill ‘em up, chill them, and they’ll stay in one quivering place for a while. But let the sun hit them and they melt away to form a new shape. I’m chilled out with social media at the moment but who knows what happens when some new code in the back rooms of Facebook shines a hot light on the info stream.
Is There A Bottom Line In All This?
A summary might read something like:
- I will have a social media presence but…
- I won’t spend a significant amount of time developing a social media platform as a tool for readers to discover my writing.
- I will advertise on Facebook/Google rather than spending time there.
- I will support readers on my website rather than on social media.
- I will continue to become a better writer to earn that interest.