[Guest blogger Eleanor Lang brings us Part 3 of her four-part series on publicity. Also check out Part 1 and Part 2. Eleanor is a publicity and marketing professional who has worked with interstitial writers for years. Check back next week for the last installment!]
Publicity 101: Things that are not, strictly speaking, publicity, but you should know about anyway.
Fifteen or so years ago, I wrote the first version of Publicity 101 as an internal memo. The start-up game company I worked for lost funding and eliminated all positions and departments that were not essential to the actual design and programming of games, including mine. I’d put a lot of work into creating a PR department and I didn’t want my efforts to go to waste, so I wrote that memo in the hopes that an overworked programmer charged with sending out a release wouldn’t screw it up.
Fifteen years ago, Mosaic was just changing the way we looked at the Web, literally. Social media didn’t exist and blogs were written by a few and not read by many more. Everyone was looking for the next “killer app,” the thing that would drive people to computers and be a game changer just as much as e-mail. The need to communicate is an ancient and basic human need, one that was enhanced by e-mail, and developers and programmers were eager to find any and every possible way to exploit it. E-mail remained the killer app, the one thing that everyone used and was the backbone of the Internet, until social media.
You’re reading this online, and on a site devoted to the arts, so you’re already pretty sophisticated about the ways of the Internet. You know how to go online, use e-mail, do research, use social media and many of you probably maintain blogs. In just a few short years, social media has become so ingrained in the way we interact with one another and gather information about the world that it would seem that there’s little for me to say, except for some seemingly obvious pointers. That’s OK; common sense is a highly underrated commodity. Anyway, there’s a difference between using social media to be, well, social, and using it effectively to increase the profile of your art in general and you as an artist in particular.
There are dozens and dozens of social media sites. Some are enormous and some quite small. Some are very specific for a particular area of interest or geographic community and some aggregate other sites. Unless you have infinite time and love the process, your efforts are mostly likely best focused on the two 800 pound gorillas: Facebook and Twitter. Their relationship is similar to the party games Taboo and 25 Words or Less. In the first instance, you can be as verbose as you like. In the latter case, you have a finite number of words you can use and you get points for being clever and using even fewer than are allowed.
Twitter is excellent for transmitting information quickly and succinctly at fairly low bandwidth, and allows users to search for content with particular hashtags, the # symbol. This is why it’s been an indispensible tool for grassroots movements like Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. However, it’s not an effective tool for dialogue or conversation, and the half-life of a tweet generally ranges from 5-25 minutes, depending on your degree of influence.
Facebook allows you to connect and have conversations (and arguments, if you’re so inclined) in detail, at many words, and with as much embedded media (videos, graphics, and links), as you like per post. You can control the degree of accessibility and posts can and frequently do gain momentum after a half a day, a day or even longer.
A few things to keep in mind:
-You can send tweets to Facebook, but you can’t do it the other way around.
-Whether you prefer social media in long or short form, the basic rules of creating written content still apply; keep it simple and don’t make your audience work to figure out what you’re on about.
-On that subject, if you link to content in Facebook, the article, video or site is clearly obvious, usually with a headline and thumbnail. If you link to content in Twitter, it’s not. If you want people to click on your Twitter links, tell them what the link contains.
-As with everything else in life, balance is everything. You goal is to increase your reputation and the reputation of your work, but the strength of social media is that people feel a personal connection with you. You want to focus on your work and similar subjects/type of work, but you need to intersperse enough of “you.” Look at the people you pay attention to online for guidance, if you’re not sure what’s your best mix.
-Do not endlessly repeat yourself. Sure, if you have a reading or a performance scheduled, you want to mention it a few times, but you don’t want to keep tweeting, for instance “The flying spaghetti monster is a threat to third world countries,” with the same link. People will tune you out like a bad Flash ad. Don’t be like a bad Flash ad.
About Blogs: You don’t have to keep one if you don’t want to. If you do, information about your work, and where to buy it or see it should be easy to find. That information must be updated as frequently as it changes. Actual written content, blog posts, should be updated every other week, at a minimum, if you want to gain and keep momentum. When you update your blog, you can and should post that information, along with the link, to Facebook, Twitter and any and all other social media or appropriate online groups where you have a presence.
All of this leads to branding which sounds highly impersonal or like something you do to cattle, but it’s just about creating a consistent image. As I’ve said before, you don’t want to be known for your shoe collection unless you’re a shoe designer. Similarly, you don’t want people to say “I think she does some sort of writing,” but rather, “She writes complex stories set in a far future in which evolved elephants are the dominant form of life.” Or whatever it is. If you’re writing a blog, use a consistent voice. If you use social media, keep to a tight, core set of subjects, preferably those that relate to your art or major themes. If you have a Web site, a line of merchandise or any other visual material, keep to a consistent design and/or set of colors. You want people to be able to identify you easily. That’s all.
Some people like using promotional items. They can be fun and are especially effective when they relate to the project you’re promoting. They can also be a waste of money. I once worked with a writer who had teabags imprinted with the name of his book, which had nothing to do with tea. On a more positive note, I once sent out bags of catnip imprinted with the name of a cat mystery. They were a hit, and at least one major reviewer called to say that she would have overlooked the book except for the catnip. It’s fine to think outside of the box, but promotional items should somehow be tied to the thing you’re promoting, should create an instant and positive association for the recipient, and should keep the demographic of your audience in mind. One of the best ways to use promotional items is with a contest, which can be simple: the first five people to e-mail you with the name of your novel in the subject, or the first five people to send a tweet with the name of your play. You don’t even need a special promotional item, but can offer a copy of your book, tickets to your play or an invitation to the opening night of your gallery show.
The next and last blog post will recap everything to date, talk about the signal to noise ratio and the rule of six, and discuss how to know when and if you need to hire a pro.
Eleanor Lang is a publicity and marketing professional and much of her experience has been working with writers. She spent many years in (primarily) science fiction publishing, working for Tor, Ace, and Del Rey Books, where, in addition to public relations duties, she founded the Impact line of seminal reprints. She has also worked with technology, games and comic book companies. Lang has worked with several start-ups, including the now defunct Manifesto Games, and in that capacity has worked on business and marketing plans, written web copy and been a liaison with investors. She lives in Brooklyn and is now a freelance writer and PR/media consultant.
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