According to everyone with a keyboard, the secret to author success is a social platform. You build followers, fans, an email database, and then people buy your book. It appears like good advice because those who succeed have often used the formula. Of course, in truth it’s not true. For all the advice on building social platforms, said pundits are missing what really goes on beneath the surface. Six followers, sixty followers, or six thousand followers doesn’t sell books. Great content is critical, but useless if you’re making proclamations instead of creating interactions.
Let me tell you something about your “best” friends and your most intimate relationships. No, I’m not listening to you from the bedroom closet or stalking you like that creepy lady in the Grudge. I don’t need to do any of those things to know what I’m about to tell you. We’re all so certain that we are “special” little individuals that we oft forget humans are more alike in their psychology then they are unique. In psychological terms, it is pretty easy to know why your best friend is your best friend and it’s not because you and your BFF share so much in common.
Friendships or better said, comfortable relationships, are developed not by common interests but by the quality of the interaction. Just because you and I watch the same television shows, like the same color, read the same books, and believe the world would be better without stupid people, doesn’t mean we’re going to be besties.Those common interests need to be shared with similar interaction strategies in order for a relationship to form. The “value” and “comfort” of a relationship is relative to two factors – equal exchange and equal interest.
By nature some people share personal information more freely and frequently than others. Some of us don’t mind communicating details of our personal lives, others are more private. At first glance you might believe that “private” people avoid “sharers” because they are uncomfortable with the exchange. In studies however the opposite is more true. People who openly share grow uncomfortable when the other person remains quiet. In order to build a relationship we need to feel that most of our revelations are balanced by our friend or partner’s revelations. Many divorces have at their core the issue of “my partner never tells me what he/she is feeling.” Your best and closest friends are those people who “feel” they share private or intimate details at or around the same level that you “feel” you share those details.
Equal interest is not about the topic of the conversation, it is about the other person’s thoughts on that topic. Although some people talk more than others, no one, regardless of how much they have to say or not say, wants to be able to say nothing at all. Our best relationships are those where the communication “feels” balanced. It doesn’t matter if that balance is 80-20 because I like to say a lot and you like to listen. It matters that the exchange works for you and for me. My sister never shuts up and although it drives me insane, her closest friends find it amusing and interesting. I talk three times more than my wife, but when she does have something to say I listen. The interaction works because she doesn’t feel left out of the exchange.
Exchange and interest work together. Revelation is necessary to feel a bond with another. When an individual feels uncomfortable with the balance of revelation, they feel uncomfortable with the relationship. When someone reveals to us, there is a socio-biological need to reveal back. If we aren’t given that opportunity the discomfort continues and may lead us to the conclusion that the other person does not have interest in our thoughts or feelings. Ultimately the resolution is to find another to interact with who provides opportunity and has interest in a two-way communication. Which brings me to the social media dilemma.
Authors and bloggers have a lot to say. It’s why we write books and articles. If we’re smart then we are also joining discussions in places like Goodreads. Our goal however shouldn’t be to build a fan base or book sales. Our goal is create interactions and positive relationships “with” people that share common interests. “Drive-by” proclamations do more damage than good. I often see forum post that don’t interact but instead state “I” think this or “I” think that, and then the poster moves on. In my opinion it’s about as effective as “buy my book.”
The negative effect isn’t that the person has said anything wrong or insulting. The effect is purely the readers. Think about a blog you visit for the first time. You read something interesting, you leave a comment and the blogger doesn’t respond. Do you go back to that blog? Well most of us will give it another shot. We understand that technology and time can interfere with responses so we give the blogger the benefit of the doubt. I’m guilty of that on occasion. I often answer comments and text messages in my head and never realize I didn’t type it. My children will remind me I didn’t answer them, but a blog follower will not.
So while I believe every blogger should get a second chance, if it is common practice to ignore comments or to add “drive by” opinions to forums, then the social media benefits are lost. I was following a blogger. She writes smart things that I like to read. I left a comment a few months back – no response. I left another comment a few weeks ago – no response. Okay clearly demonstrating that she is not interested in my joining the one-sided conversation. Also clearly a bad strategy for a small-press author. And clearly someone that I’m no longer following.
I write a blog and I’m on Goodreads because I want to find like minded people to discuss things, to hear their opinions, to learn from their advice. Not to show the world how “smart” I am or “right” I am. The key word in social platform is the word “social.” I believe there are some cardinal sins when it comes to trying to build a platform. Proclamations, “me, me, me,” never asking a question, not having an equal interest in your audience, are all ways that demonstrate that you are a better writer than a listener. If an author or blogger focuses on building good interactions then the worst that will happen is he or she will enrich his or her life with a host of new friends.
I do believe that today’s author has a great tool in social media. A way for people to hear an author’s voice before they plop down a few bucks on the book. But social media is just a tool not a solution. The solution is how we use it and the “how” follows the same rules as any friendship – the more quality in the interaction, the better the relationship. If we’re just making proclamations then we’d be better served and save a lot of time by just buying some Ad space.