5 ways your social media platform might be turning toxic

Email abstractAt least twice in just the past week I have acquired new Twitter followers who themselves boast over 10,000 followers.  Imagine that!  10,000+ followers!  I always surf over to see the profiles of my new followers and never cease to be astounded by these huge numbers.  But before I click to “follow” back, I always hesitate in these instances.  I always seem to have the same question for myself: “Why in the world would I want to follow someone (or some organization) with that many followers unless I’m looking for their information.  They certainly won’t be interested in anything I have to say.  Dear god, they’ll never be able to find it!”  And I’m left wondering how anyone can possibly be in a balanced give-and-take situation when there are so many hangers-on involved.

In my day job, I’m a university professor.  To be more precise, I teach in a communication studies department with a focus on public relations and corporate communication. Throughout my long career in the real world and in academia, I’ve specialized in two areas, one of which is strategy.  In that capacity, I’ve helped hundreds of students develop successful promotional plans for non-profits and small businesses, and was an early adopter of social media, teaching our first undergraduate course in the new applications some years ago.  It’s funny now that I’m looking at my own promotional work, I’m struck by a number of oddities in the world of social media – and authors.

My last post found me wondering if publishers really care about a writer’s life on Twitter, and thinking about that led me to contemplate the problems of social media ‘platforms’ in general.  So, at the risk of alienating all of those authors and wannabe authors that I might be connected to online, here goes.

A social media platform no doubt supports sales of independently published books.  Okay, I’ll buy that – but with a few caveats, the most important of which is that there needs to be some recognition of the point of diminishing returns.

I submit that a there is a point at which a writer’s online, social media presence morphs from supportive and beneficial to toxic.  So here are some symptoms of toxicity that I’ve observed.  You might be developing social media toxicity…

  1. When you find yourself falling victim to group-think.  It’s so easy to retweet mindlessly, to find yourself nodding in support of ideas that you hadn’t really given enough time to figure out on your own. I’ve noticed that except for the odd outlier, most reply tweets are supportive, and I even find myself falling into this trap, ignoring the tweets that I think are just plain stupid.  And note that on Facebook and even Linkedin there is no “dislike” button.
  2. When you have an over-inflated notion of how many books you should be selling based on your number of followers, friends etc.  I have to hearken back to my last blog post where I began to find research to support the notion that online ‘likes’ don’t translate into behavior.
  3. When you fall victim to that co-dependency problem.  Codependency is known in mental health circles as a relationship addiction, excessive social or emotional reliance on another person who often has a problem.  I’m suggesting that writers who toil in isolation often look for support among other writers who understand them, and this begins the cycle.  Over-dependence can become toxic leading to inertia and the next symptom of toxicity…
  4. When your social media activities become a major time suck.  This can happen so easily.  It’s like several of my students suggested the other day in class: they find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time on assignments as a result of keeping their electronics devices at their elbow and responding to every ‘ping’ as texts and tweets arrive. My advice: just turn them off!
  5. And finally, when your admiration is seriously misplaced.  I’m talking about the odd phenomenon of actual best-selling writers like Sheila O’Flanagan having fewer than 5,000 Twitter followers (and wisely following far fewer yet selling books in millions) while some indie authors who have sold a few thousand books having tens of thousands of followers.  It might be worth the unknown writer’s (like me) time to follow the ones who have been on the real best-seller lists.  Maybe we could learn a thing or two.

So, you might conclude that I’m just sour because I have a very few Twitter followers.  But I’m not.  I might have at one time when I thought that those followers might actually buy and retweet to actual buyers about my work.  But that rarely happens in reality.  It’s a bit like viral video: You can’t plan to use one for promotional and marketing because you have no way of knowing if a video you produce will catch fire or not.

I’m going to spend less time on my social media presence and more time on my writing.  At least for now.

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