by Amy Sundberg
There have been a lot of shifts in social media in the last few months. Google+ has entered the field and become known for its Hangouts (which can now even be broadcasted), its conversations, and its potential for collaboration. Facebook launches the rest of its redesign on or around September 30, including Timeline (the scrapbooking and record-keeping replacement of the profile and wall) and deep integration with applications, most notably media applications (music, movies, TV, news and articles, etc.).
First, a few more details about Facebook’s newest features. Its application integration will make it easy to automatically share information on the internet, from what article you’re reading to what recipe you’re cooking to what song you’re listening to. Once you give a certain app–whether that be Spotify, the Washington Post, or Hulu–permission to share your activities (you only need to give this permission one time ever per app), it will stream all your behavior directly to Facebook without you having to make additional clicks for each item you’re sharing. The idea is that this will make it easier for people to serendipitously discover media based on what their friends are doing, and there are already discussions about how this could be revolutionary for the music industry in particular (not to mention a possible savior of the faltering print news organizations). All of these application updates will be shown in the scrolling ticker box on the righthand side of your screen, as well as being recorded on your Timeline. (I’ve also already seen some of them creeping into the News Feed.) And speaking of the Timeline, you (and your friends) will be able to see anything and everything you’ve ever put up on Facebook.
What I’m interested in is how these changes will affect possible social media strategies for writers (although much of what I’m thinking may affect other creatives as well). First, Facebook. Honestly, it is difficult (although not impossible) to avoid strategies that don’t incorporate Facebook in some way, either through a personal account or through Facebook Pages, at least not for writers who have at least one novel published. Once you have fans, Facebook becomes logical since it has the largest user base, therefore making it much more convenient as a way for people to find you. The less of a niche market you’re targeting, the more important Facebook becomes. Having an author website and/or blog is great, but following a blog, whether through RSS, bookmarks, or email subscription, takes a greater level of engagement and commitment than simply liking an author page, and therefore Facebook gives writers a greater reach, allowing them to keep a larger fan base updated as to their activities and upcoming releases.
Once the changes to the Open Graph (aka the applications) roll out, Facebook offers even more advantages to the established writer. While I didn’t see Amazon, B&N, or Goodreads on Facebook’s truncated graphic of partners, that graphic by no means represents their complete list of media partners. Rest assured that one way or another, you’ll be able to share the books you’re reading through this system sometime in the not-so-distant future. Factor in the burgeoning e-book market, and it doesn’t take a social media expert to figure out that Facebook will play an even larger role in book marketing. The ticker feed, through which uses will share without even having to remember to do so beyond granting the initial permissions, has huge potential for increasing word-of-mouth on books people are reading, and word-of-mouth is among the very best of marketing that a book or business can receive. This is a big deal, dear writers, not just for the music and newspaper industries but also for the publishing industry. And hopefully you are beginning to see why I think refusing to be on Facebook as a writer carries a hefty cost. Granted, you’ll receive the ticker word-of-mouth regardless of whether you have an account, but how much better if a user finds you via Facebook and is then able to Like your page?
However, I do have serious concerns about the privacy implications of these new features, which seem to me to be ultimately much more about what’s good for Facebook and advertisers than what’s good for the users. Of course, this is all very new and not even rolled out for most users, but I’ve already had a friend who accidentally shared that he had read an article on a controversial subject. Not a great sign, and obviously Facebook users will have to stay really on top of their sharing. Plus there have recently been allegations that Facebook monitors everywhere you visit through your browser, even if you are logged out (through cookies, for those of you technically cognizant people), which means you could be sharing an awful lot of information with them (often without even realizing it). If this is true (it is certainly technically possible), there are measures that can be taken to minimize this while still using Facebook, like denying all apps access to your account, using an incognito window of the Chrome browser for Facebook and not opening any other tabs in that window, or using a dedicated browser for just Facebook (ex. if you use Firefox for your normal internet usage, you can download Chrome and use it for only Facebook). But I worry that these potential security problems and accompanying measures might be too confusing for many writers to understand and implement.
My other concern has to do with noise. If everyone on Facebook is sharing all their daily activities with everyone else, literally every movie, song, TV show, hike, meal, book, article, run, sleep cycle, etc., how effective will this be as a marketing strategy? Will significant numbers of people actually discover new authors and books through their tickers, or will any such discovery be drowned out by the sheer overwhelming volume of information? We will have to wait and see how sophisticated Facebook’s ranking abilities are–will they be able to skillfully filter and show users information that is actually of interest? Will they be able to choose your friends who have a similar taste in books to you? Possibly, but right now it’s anybody’s guess.
At the present moment, Facebook is a powerful tool enabling writers to reach their readers. I plan to continue to use it, while staying very aware of what’s going on with my privacy and taking measures to alleviate Facebook’s intrusion into my life. As skeptical as I am that I will find enjoyment hearing every detail about what my many Facebook friends are liking/reading/watching/eating/listening to, I am sure I can survive at least five to ten minutes per week to keep up a minimal presence on the site. However, I can’t find fault with those writers who are concerned enough about their privacy to opt out of using Facebook.
So where does that leave Google+? Stay tuned. In my next post, I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.
Amy Sundberg is a musician and a science fiction, fantasy, and YA writer. Her stories have been published in Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, and Crossed Genres. She loves musical theater, ice cream, traveling, and learning about neuroscience, and she lives in California with her physicist-engineer husband and their little dog. You can find her at her blog, The Practical Free Spirit, where this post first appeared, or on Google+.