Thinking About Your Writer’s Platform? Consider Your Online Reputation First.
by Monica Valentinelli
If you attend as many conventions as I do, you’ve probably heard about the importance of developing a writer’s platform. There are several books and articles on the subject, including this book featured on Writer’s Digest entitled Why All Authors Need A Platform Before you start thinking about your writer’s platform, I recommend considering what your overall online reputation is first.
Through my experiences in online marketing for different companies, one of the most common forms of “discovery” for a person’s name or brand is to simply type it into a search box. (Right now, Google holds the majority of the search engine market share worldwide and in the U.S., but the search engine traffic is constantly changing.) Search engine results pages continually “breathe,” offering different results depending upon a variety of factors.
According to dfylinks.com, search is often referred to as “natural” or “organic” search, and is a key component for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). For any professional, search is extraordinarily important for visibility into your online reputation, for two reasons: One, it’s widely used by many people and two, it’s a “free” way to find information about you. Keep in mind that search engines don’t “care” if you have a writer’s platform or not. In fact, there’s a good chance you already have a reputation on the internet. Do you know what yours is?
Tracking Vs. Managing Your Online Rep
Everyone who has ever posted something online has an online reputation whether they like it or not. Managing a reputation, however, is a different story. Google Alerts are a great way to help you track your current online reputation, but that tool has its limits because it doesn’t tell you a) where you rank for your own name in Google or b) what people are typing in to find you online. You can, through Google Webmaster Central, see some great data not available through Google Analytics. If you haven’t set up Google Webmaster Tools on your website, I highly recommend it.
Tracking your online reputation is only part of the story. Next, you have to figure out how you want to manage and foster it. Take a moment and think about the content you’re posting on various websites and forums. Are you comfortable with complete strangers reading what you’ve posted? What about your employer? Agent?
Online reputation management not only includes monitoring what people say about you, but also your strategy related to what, when and where you post your content.
Your “Content” Comfort Level
For a variety of reasons, I take a pretty careful approach to what I post online. Internet content can be tracked, dissected, read, copied or pasted at any time on any website, regardless of when it was posted. Because of that, I have a broad variety of topics I typically do not discuss online including: personal finances, health problems, politics, religion and family, relationship or job troubles and data related to my book sales or popularity of posts. (Mind you, I’m not perfect.) On occasion I have whined about a bad case of the flu or talked about politics, but for the most part I steer clear of these topics. Why? Here’s my reason once again: at any time, anyone, in any place, can read anything you’ve ever posted. Your “audience” may include complete strangers that live in different countries, but also past, present and future friends, employers, agents, publishers, readers, family members, teachers, colleagues, etc.
When you post content online, it’s important to understand what you’re comfortable with people knowing about you both now, but also in the future.
Tarnished Reps and Their Effects
Unfortunately, there has been a rash of writers that publicly argue with agents, bash reviewers (or delete bad reviews), talk about their “evil day job” or even beg for money. It may take years, if not months, to build an online reputation, but all it takes is one flame war to bring it down into the gutter. (For a funny take on this read my post about How to Ruin Your Online Reputation in Ten Easy Steps.) If the idea of managing your online rep isn’t complicated enough, keep in mind that popular authors may have different methods of managing their online reputation than aspiring writers, simply because the volume and quality of posted content is dramatically different.
People have been sued, accused of plagiarism, lost their jobs or publishing contracts, gotten divorces or have ended long-term relationships over poorly-worded exchanges online. The things that you write not only affect your desired readers, but also the readers you least expect. Sure, you can delete your unwanted activity, but you might find that it’s more difficult than you thought. Twitter, for example, allows you to delete Tweets but they currently still show up in their Twitter search functionality for a period of time. Depending upon when you delete blog posts or other content, it can take up to six months for your content to fall out of a search engine’s index.
With that in mind, do you know what are you comfortable with sharing publicly?
Of course, the question that every author wants to know is whether or not a bad online reputation affects the sale of your book. It’s not uncommon for buyers to research things they want to purchase online before they go to a brick-and-mortar store in their area; no amount of web analytics data will show how many people do just that. While retailers are often obsessed with conversion (e.g. How many people that visit my website buy directly from me?), selling massively-distributed products (like books) online is extraordinarily complicated. Besides a typical buyer’s behavior, there are dozens of factors that may affect online sales including: technology, seasonality, paid advertising, SEO, social media, brand awareness, trends, etc. So the short answer is, “No one knows.”
“You” Or Your Rep?
While I believe you definitely want to be genuine online (especially if you network offline as much as I do), I also think you should define what you’re comfortable sharing for public consumption. Because you don’t have control over your audience, developing your online persona can be pretty difficult. After all, different people will find you interesting for different reasons. Your “reader” could be your editor, your neighbor — even Donald Trump!
So take a minute and search for your name. Seriously. You’ll be glad you did. Ask yourself a few questions to help you make your own decisions about your online reputation. “Am I ranking for what I want to rank for?” “Is my website up-to-date?” “What are people reading about me?” “Are the claims I’m making accurate?” Taking a peek at what content ranks for your name is only one aspect of online reputation management, but it’s a good place to start. (If you have a name that’s pretty common, I recommend adding a keyword like “author” or “writer” after your surname in your content to help your readers find you more easily. Be sure to read up on how to optimize your website for more information.) Remember, the old way of thinking said that if you searched for your own name, you were being vain. The new way? It’s essential to ensure that people not only find “you,” but also that they are left with the impression you want to leave them with.
In the end, remember that the web does not distinguish between your “online” writer’s platform and your online reputation. That’s something you’re going to have to figure out how to do.
About the Author
Monica Valentinelli is the content and web analytics manager for the digital sheet music retailer and publisher Musicnotes.com and the project manager for the horror and dark fantasy webzine Flamesrising.com. Monica is an aspiring novelist working on revisions for her first novel; she has several non-fiction, short fiction and game writing credits to her name including her recent work for APEX MAGAZINE Vol. III, Issue III and FAMILY GAMES: the 100 BEST.
To read more about Monica, visit her blog located at www.mlvwrites.com.