Beliefnet
O Me of Little Faith

The year 2009, it seems, has already been declared the Year of Twitter., where about half the people you run into claim to be something called a “Social Media Expert.” Everyone’s on Facebook, too, other than my wife. This fact is to the great dismay of most of our friends, but is something I appreciate about her (I love my women rebellious and counter-cultural — besides, now there’s proof that being on Facebook makes you dumber).

So I thought it might be a good time to list out the ways I use social media and get your thoughts on it, too.

First, the primary thing you need to know, by way of confession: Most of my social networking is done in service to my writing career. With a couple of exceptions, I use all this stuff to connect with present and future readers of my books, to maintain a platform, and to force myself to write on a regular basis for different media (i.e. blogs and Twitter). If I were not a (sorta) public figure trying to maintain a public platform, I wouldn’t do half this stuff. I’d rather read books and do non-digital things, other than playing Scrabble on my daughter’s DS. I’m just sayin.’

1. Public Blogging: That’s what you’re reading here. Since my first book came out in 2003, I’d been told that I should be blogging, but I resisted that sultry siren call for a long time. Who has time to write stuff every day for free? Not me, I said, to no one in particular. Then, when I signed the contract some eighteen months ago for the upcoming Pocket Guide books, I decided that I needed to take things like “platform” seriously. What’s a platform? It’s the combination of all the ways I am publicly visible, and it includes everything from my books and magazine articles to speaking engagements and appearances on the History Channel. When it comes to selling a book proposal, platform means a great deal. It means you have an audience of people who know you and are willing to buy your books. I decided that the primary place I would communicate with my readers and develop a platform was here, at my blog. This is home base. Everything I do, social-media-wise, points here.

The above paragraph sounds kinda curmudgeonly and clinical — this blog exists only to gain potential readers! Sorry about that. What I discovered, of course, is that 1) I like writing blog posts, and 2) I like the people who read my blog. I’ve met some great online friends as a result, and I appreciate everyone who comments, lurks, and links to this blog. You’re not just a bunch of numbers to me. Unless you don’t ever comment or introduce yourself. In which case, you ARE, in fact, an unknown number. Fix that. Go here and introduce yourself.

2. Private Blogging. I also keep a family blog that’s not exactly private — you could probably find it if you Googled hard enough — but it’s not something I promote too much. I do it because, as the father of young kids, I want to remember as much of our family life as possible. So several times a week I post the things we do, with pictures and video and descriptions. It’s a digital scrapbook of our lives, and in ten years when one of us says “Remember when you almost stepped on that rattlesnake? When was that?” I’ll be able to pull up the blog and find a recap and photographs of that very event. Handy. It’s like data storage for your memories. I think every family should keep a blog for this very reason, whether anyone ever reads it or not.

3. Facebook. Honestly, I could give or take Facebook. I check it maybe once a week, and that’s just so the friend requests don’t pile up. It has been great for reconnecting with old friends from high school, but I don’t use it for much more than that. I don’t update my status very often (when I do, it’s just to point to a blog post). I never open any gifts or send flair or do any of that stuff because it’s just not important to me. I rarely write on anyone’s wall. I’ll only respond to mail in Facebook with annoyance, because why don’t you just email me like a normal person? I don’t post photos other than publicity photos. I accept pretty much every friend request, even if you only know me through my books and I don’t know you at all. I am a self-admitted Facebook bore, and I don’t care. I’m on Facebook because, as a writer, I need to be. And because I like to see what my high school friends are doing. (And because, secretly, I hope to turn my high school friends into my readers.) Oops. Secret’s out.

4. Twitter. I really like Twitter, as I’ve shared here before. I would probably use Twitter even if I wasn’t worried about platform and readers and all that stuff, just because it’s fun and creative and interesting. I’m fairly consistent with it, using it to interact with others, post links (sometimes to my blog posts but often to unrelated stuff), and stretch my writing skillz (saying something interesting in 140 characters is harder than you’d think). But it must be said that Twitter is a great platform-builder for writers, and any writer trying to gain readers needs to be using it. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s not terribly time-consuming, and it’s a good way to meet people while sharpening your writing.

Clearly, then, it will jump the shark before the year is up. Maybe it already has.

5. LinkedIn. I probably don’t use this tool as well as I should, but it’s a great place for business professionals to network with others for jobs, connections, etc. It’s useful to me as a freelance copywriter. I don’t accept every invitation to connect on LinkedIn — I have to actually know you and have worked with you — and I haven’t really tried to, you know, “get work” with it. But I know it’s there, and I keep my profile updated. It’s an excellent way to maintain some professional visibility online, and Guy Kawasaki agrees with me. If you are a professional of any sort, you should be on LinkedIn.

6. Other media. I also have a public video account on YouTube — usually for when I post a video to the blog here, which is rarely. I use Vimeo for stuff on my family blog. We store our photos online at SmugMug, which I like better than Flickr. I’m also on Plaxo but never do anything with it. Same with Naymz. I haven’t visited MySpace since early 2008 (seriously, who uses MySpace anymore?). And there are probably some other places I’ve created an account for but which I can’t remembe
r. And which I wouldn’t have time to use anyway.

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What about you? What kind of presence do you have online? Why do you do it? In what ways do you use social media? Are you mad at me because I won’t accept your Facebook flair?

If you want, this is an OK time to share your website or blog in a comment. We won’t think you’re being too self-promotional. (Especially not me, as I’ve just revealed how I put waaaay too much thought into self-promotion. Sheesh.)

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