PART 1 – Build your Brand
There is so much to say about this subject that I couldn’t do it justice in a single blog piece, so I decided to break up my points into a series of articles that I will be posting over the months to come. There are literally thousands of useful articles all over the internet on the topic of social media and developing an online presence, so I will mainly tailor this series to the artistic community – writers, media artists and anyone in the arts who is interested in building and/or expanding their artistic platform.
In my mind, there is no better place to start this conversation than at the very beginning – as Maria Von Trapp would say in Do-Re-Mi, it’s a very good place to start. And when it comes to the ABC’s of social media marketing, in my view there is no place better to start than the art of establishing your personal Brand.
Most of you are already familiar with using internet search engines like Google to expand your knowledge and drive your own self-taught process – that’s how you probably stumbled onto my blog. But I write this basic guide for the people I’ve met over the years who, on various author forums, boast with confidence that there’s no need to develop their brand until their books are complete and ready for publication.
“That’s what a publisher and their marketing department are about,” is a phrase I’ve heard over and over. “I’m not going to be one of those shameless self-promoting ‘indie writers’. I want to go the traditional route so that all I concern myself with is my writing – and someone else takes care of everything, i.e. the editorial work, cover design, marketing, building my website, taking care of my press releases and book tours.”
Regardless of whether you plan to publish independently or have secured a trad contract (or are a hybrid author like me) if you still believe that someone else is going to hand you a career simply because you wrote a great book – and that’s earned you a free pass to publishing stardom – you are living in a dream world.
I am here to shatter that myth – both as an independent writer and as someone who was courted by a traditional Big Five publisher. This is not the case. Unless you’re already a bestselling writer, a highly-grossing celebrity or nepotistically connected to a publisher – in which case ghostwriters will actually write your books for you – everybody is expected to perform well past the moment you type “The End” on your manuscript.
In my meetings with the editorial and marketing department heads at Penguin Canada prior to me deciding to self-publish my memoir Race Traitor, the most recurring questions were related to my social media platform. The expectation was that I would bring my own fans and branding to the table – this wasn’t an optional thing. It was a necessity and an expectation.
Their marketing department was going to assist with arranging media interviews and that sort of thing, but they weren’t going to build me a website, a blog or anything like that – in fact, they wanted to make sure I already had those things already in place and ready to go.
So where do you start? Do you have to enroll in a college course on marketing, or hire one of the infinitesimal droves of self-described social media consultants out there in order to develop your presence? As artists, we don’t have the budget for this sort of thing and more importantly, these are skills you’re best to acquire yourself rather than pay others to do for you. Of course there will be a learning curve – isn’t there one in everything? – but the sooner you learn these basic tips, the faster will you be on your way to having your own platform.
The wireless world is expanding at an exponential rate, and whatever has been taught in a social marketing course two years ago is often obsolete or replaced by a hot new medium – Periscope and Snapchat, for instance, are products of the last couple of years. Social media, in general, is all about the next great fad. It’s about buzzwords and ideas, newly revolving angles that give birth to new opportunities.
In other words, social media changes on a daily basis. Everything you knew yesterday is now wrong. That is what’s most exciting about it – having to stay on your toes. So unless you are continually learning and keeping up to date in the field, degrees in social media marketing (which cost thousands of dollars) are going to become useless rather fast.
A 2015 article featured in Business Insider titled “The 10 Most Useless Graduate Degrees” placed marketing at number 2 on their list of the most degrees one can possess. And according to a 2013 Workopolis article that included a segment titled Ten jobs that won’t exist in ten years, ‘ Social Media Expert’ topped the list. Given all the contradictory media coverage of what constitutes an “expert”, it’s easy to see where anyone could grow confused.
There is nothing inherently wrong with hiring a pro if you’re stumped about what to do next – the right publicity expert, strategist and PR firm can be worth its weight in gold. But no matter how you proceed, you owe it to yourself to acquire the basic set of skills that you’re going to need in order to maintain a public image – and this goes far beyond having a Facebook Page and an Twitter account.
You can ask questions and acquire skills just by sitting in on a #hashtag Twitter discussion or participate in a LinkedIn group. You can look up new trends on Reddit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! By doing your research online, you can develop enough expertise to navigate the turbulent waters of the ever-evolving social media world – you may not become an expert, but you can attain many of the skills needed to establish a successful platform on the world wide web.
So where do you start? Simple – buy your own name domain. If you have a common name, put your middle initial in it, or use a diminutive. But no matter what, have your own domain – this is crucial. You don’t have to build a website – but you can point the URL to your own blog, or Facebook page, or wherever you want it to redirect.
If you’re developing a brand along with your name, buy the url for that brand. Don’t just assume that you can wait until you’re ready to build a site, because good domain names are hard to come by, and even if you own a trademark patent on a term, it doesn’t mean someone hasn’t already purchased the domain.
It’s not necessary to buy every url extension you can – but if at all possible, buy the .com. Let’s face it, .com is where it’s at – it’s the oldest and most recognized domain extension you can have. I strongly encourage you to also buy your own country’s extension – for instance, as a Canadian I own both the .com and the .ca to both my name AND my blog, as well as publishing company. Why your own country extension? Well, it wouldn’t really matter to me if there was an Incognito Press in Australia, would it? But I certainly wouldn’t want to compete with another Canadian company by the same name – this could lead to my own brand’s dilution and confusion among clients.
The first step I took before I started this blog was to make sure that incognitopress.com was available for purchase. It was only after I had purchased the domain that I began to develop my blog and brand identity. I own a couple of dozen domains – both for my real name and my pseudonyms, and various businesses. It might cost me a couple hundred dollars a year, but it’s a business tax write-off and a vital part of my brand development.
Few things are more heartbreaking than to have spent years building up a brand, put in the hours to write blog posts, form connections on social media platforms, and then realize that you didn’t pony up the $10 or less to register your brand name url. Sadly, this sort of thing has been overlooked even by people with degrees in social media marketing.
I’ve seen this type of situation happen over and over – with business owners having to fork over thousands of dollars to a cybersquatter and/or lawyer in order to recover their brand. However, if you haven’t patented/trademarked a title and you are not a well-known brand (i.e. your name isn’t Disney, Coca-Cola, Michael Jordan or Kevin Spacey – who incidentally spent over $30,000 to get the rights to kevinspacey.com back) you might be out of luck.
So to sum up:
1. Educate yourself online. Make sure you have a Facebook account, a public Facebook Page (these two are actually different things, don’t confuse them), a LinkedIn profile and a Twitter account. For people trying to build a professional brand, these four things are no longer optional. Remember that most sites have built-in tutorials and Help sections, so if you can’t figure out how YouTube, Reddit, Pintrest or Instagram work, they make it easy for you.
2. Start a blog if you can. My favourite platform is WordPress, but Blogger is very reliable as well. I’ve used both, and each has a plethora of customizable templates to choose from. I’ve heard good things about Tumblr.
3. Start a website. The most idiot-proof platform I’ve found to create a speedy website – even if you haven’t a clue what HTML is – is weebly.com. I’ll discuss it at length in a future post, but suffice it to say it’s a beautiful and very affordable drag-and-drop web-builder system that will have you online in no time.
4. Buy a) your name domain, and b) your business name domain. Either of these will help people reach you. You can point them to your blog or weebly website.
5. Make your business name easy to remember – that means NO dashes. People won’t remember if you tell them “my website is Elisa-dash-the-dash-writer-dot-com”.
6. Don’t make your domain name too long or confusing to spell.
7. If people constantly misspell your domain, consider buying the misspelled domain as well. (For example, if your surname is MacDonald vs McDonald). In my case, the Romanian form of my first name is Eliza. When Romanians google my name or enter the url (I get a sizeable amount of traffic from Romania), they often type “elizahategan.com”. So guess what? I bought that url and now point it to my current website. No more confusion – and no other Eliza can steal away my name domain!
8. Don’t let your domain ownership expire! There are lots of people who wait for domains to expire and buy them up, only to resell them at outrageous prices back to business owners desperate to get their branding back. Do you really want to be at the mercy of this new owner? Worse yet, what if they take your domain name and point it to an x-rated site? What if it’s a competitor who works in the same field as you?
9. Your social media skillset should not consist of merely posting to Facebook or Tweeting about your weekend. Nor should it take the form of constant self-promotions. When all I see in my feed is an author screaming ‘BUY MY BOOK! ON SALE TODAY ONLY’ ad nauseam, I either mute them or unfollow them. Some self-promotion is obviously okay, but why should I buy your book if you’re not interested in getting to know me and my own work? We’re all trying to establish a significant presence in our field, and there are good AND bad ways of going about it. Do not risk alienating potential friends and readers by badgering them with non-stop advertising. It’s transparent, it doesn’t work, and it actually hurts your brand’s self-respect.
10. Not all marketing takes place online! Old-fashioned human interaction is still one of the best ways to sell yourself and your work. Look up your local writing circles and artist networking groups. Read the flyers pinned to billboards at hipster hangouts, go and attend poetry reading nights, have fun at street fair events.
11. But before you go to all those conventions and register for those free talks, you’ve gotta have yourself some cool merch – i.e business cards or any kind of stuff to hand out so that people remember you. And for business cards, it’s Vistaprint all the way, baby! I’m one of their early adopters. Ten years ago I started buying business cards for practically nothing – just the cost of shipping. The quality and price are unbeatable – I’ve used them for business cards, postcards of my book covers, holiday cards and everything in between.
12. If there’s nothing in your area, start your own group! When I first joined Facebook, I didn’t see any GLBT writers groups present in my area (Toronto) so I started my own group, GLBT Writers in Toronto. Now we have about 200 members, and some of us have actually met offline!
So ultimately, remember that it takes a lot of time and effort to be an ‘overnight’ success. Here are some of my social media profiles, if you want to check them out for reference – and if you are active on any of these platforms, I would love to connect with you 🙂
READ PART TWO: Crowdfunding Your Project
READ PART THREE: The Importance of Blogging
READ PART FOUR: The Author’s 10-Step Guide to Creating a Media Kit
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