How to Spot (and Avoid) Social Media Malpractice

As a lifelong educator, I constantly check my audience to make sure that people are engaged with what I am saying. There is a particular quality of attention and excitement that I associate with learning, and my job is to generate the flow of words and concepts that allows the learning process to unfold.

I try to attend other social media and publishing events as much as I can, too. I go there for the content, but I also learn by watching other public speakers in action. And based on a recent experience, I have some advice for judging whether any social media expert is worth listening to.

This particular event was a talk on social media for authors. The presenter was well-prepared with slides and a handout that listed many excellent tools and tactics to use. But as the hour wore on I felt the tension in the room rising uncomfortably. By the end of the presentation the audience was in a palpable state of fear, and those I spoke to afterward said they’d gotten some useful tips but none felt inspired or energized.

You know you have just witnessed social media malpractice when what could have been a great session ends up doing more harm than good. Here are three ways you can tell whether a speaker’s message is worth listening to.

We’re All in This Together

Social media for authors is not a zero sum game. If I have success on Twitter that does not mean there is less success available for you. This presenter’s spoken message was that anyone can succeed if they follow her advice, but the louder subtext was that she had already won and if you weren’t doing everything on her list you had already lost.

This competitive spin is a marketing and sales ploy, and bears little resemblance to the real world of platform building. Authors help each other. They talk together both online and off, share resources and war stories, promote their friends’ projects and support one another on the long road to gaining visibility and building a readership.

If you find yourself in a room where the speaker is saying that everyone needs to be on Twitter, or every book has to have a Facebook page, excuse yourself quietly and go find a better use for your time. Likewise, if anyone tells you that to succeed you must start your own online community (LinkedIn group, Google+ community, etc.) rather than join some of the many vibrant ones that already exist, write it down and then toss the paper in the trash after they leave.

The Best Pace is Your Pace

Social media consultants at their best can be like personal trainers, gradually building your strength and flexibility and making your movements more efficient. They know that not everyone has the stamina of a 30-year-old, and that being in shape means different things to different people.

It takes time to build a platform, and meanwhile everyone has to find the right balance of writing, sleeping, eating, and marketing. To suggest that you will never gain traction unless you can pin, post, blog, and comment all before breakfast is not just incorrect, it’s irresponsible.

As an author, your platform is a direct expression of your life and interests. Get in the best shape you can, find a pace you can sustain, and stick to it. Then be upfront about it with your readers. They will appreciate knowing that you are human, too.

The Goals That Matter are Your Goals

It is impossible in a one or two hour presentation to cover strategies for all niches and genres. But any competent speaker should say right up front that her goals and strategy may not apply to everyone. If you do not hear this disclaimer at least once and preferably more, you are simply not getting good advice.

Or rather, you are getting advice that may not be right for you. Any successful platform begins with knowing where you want to go. Your goal may be to find 50 devoted readers, or 50,000 followers. The consultant who hawks a one-size-fits-all solution for each of these writers should not be listened to.

You can pick up some valuable tips from these presentations, but if you look around the room you won’t see a lot of listening or learning going on. That to me is the biggest crime of all, because without engagement and interaction nothing is very much fun. And since we will be building platforms for years to come, I suggest we focus on enjoying it as much as possible.

Join me for a daylong author platform intensive on Saturday, April 27 in San Francisco!

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