Help! I Fell Off the Social Media Craze and Can’t Get Up. Harnessing social media to influence people.

People continually advise authors, along with realtors, inventors, political strategists, and salespeople, to harness the power of social media to reach out to the public. All well and good, but the methods to achieve this are sorely limited, partly by their very numbers and variety and the amount of time required to become skilled at using them. The basics are to create a web page, initiate a blog, tell everyone you know how to get on them, jump on Facebook and Twitter, add a newsletter and other outlets as you’re able. But the strategies to accomplish this successfully are a mystery to me as dark and deep as the methods to build the Egyptian pyramids.

I went online with the publication of my second novel, about 5 years ago. Despite regular postings (all right, perhaps not as regular as they should have been), sign-ups have never shown a dramatic increase, nor have sales of books. I usually feel as if I’m talking to myself, okay in my case, for I mine the postings for nuggets I can use for my syndicated features and other freelance work. I tell myself that someday I’ll pull items together to publish a collection of think pieces. Sure. Just like someday I’ll lose those final 15 excess pounds. Nagging at the back of my mind is a sneaking suspicions I’m wasting my time.

I’ve tried to initiate a social media wave or trend on behalf of other, non-writing activities, to promote a conference or advertise a holiday festival. I’ve posted myself and begged others to do the same. To no impact. Still it’s tempting to think, “If I could reach out to five people, and they could reach out to five, and those could reach out to five, I’d soon reach a mob.” Doesn’t seem to work for me.

I’d still be a skeptic except for the coincidence of my witnessing an actual social media blitz which I initiated without intention. Some time ago I became aware of a great, free, online movie service marketed through libraries. Kanopy offers movies at no charge to library card holders of participating libraries. These aren’t usually brand new, big ticket, glitzy movies. They tend to be “artsy,” foreign and classic movies that appeal to smaller audiences. But they’re great. I’ve caught up on a number of favorites and ordered kids’ movies for my grandson. I’m currently watching Frank and Robot, a near-future fantasy with Frank Langella.

I happened to mention Kanopy to several friends at lunch. One went home and posted a remark on her Facebook account. Overnight several of her contacts talked about how great the service is. Shortly after more people contacted her with raving positive reviews. With one contact, I’d estimate at least ten people reacted initially, and who knows how many have praised and advertised Kanopy since then?

So I witnessed a social media trend right in front of me. Why was the Kanopy item so popular? Ideas: Everyone likes movies of some sort or another. Everyone likes free services. Everyone likes to share information that shows them to be early adapters or in the know.

Now if I could just apply these lessons to selling my books, I might have a chance of building a base for my own writing. I’m still struggling with that. The real challenge.

Why the internet may just be what saves humanity

There are many things I despise about the internet: the addiction to its use that seems to be spreading like a virus; the disregard of writing and editing standards in its content*, the lowest common denominator tenor of most messages, which cater to puerile, malevolent gossip; its reliance on mass popularity to evaluate worth and value; its emphasis on the herd perspective.

Yet the internet is the great leveler, which can be good. Accessible worldwide, even under despotic governments with enough planning, wriggling, and techie knowledge, people are figuring out how to connect with others.  Yes, a number of governments censor use and content, but they’re in roughly the same situation as the little Dutch boy trying to hold back the ocean at the dike. Smart phones leapfrog the purchase of expensive computers, plus they spread real-time images nearly instantaneously. News circulates in the same fashion, and the emotional temperature of a group be captured and distributed to observers around the globe.

Of course there’s the potential for hideous abuses, given the lynch mob mentality that can hold sway. The very rapidity of communications eliminates that period in which thought can amend activity. Arguments extend indefinitely with more strength than face-to-face encounters.

But there are benefits, too. Still since the 2016 national election, the internet has become a source of solace to me. I had real fears that our country had embarked on a period of political suppression and confusion, in which every belief I held dear was to be ignored, even violated. But as the weeks and months passed, people made their contradictory and outspoken voices heard. For every claim, there has been a counterclaim. The confusion remains, but if you’re determined, you can uncover facts, rational discussions, pros and cons on issues, topical developments in news and development.

This hasn’t happened before. Think of Armenian genocide in Turkey and Hitler’s Kristallnacht. If the internet had existed, perhaps more people would have responded to save Armenians or anticipated the Nazi horrors.

Or perhaps not. Starvation, internecine violence, persecution of ethnic groups, and other major issues still surface, indeed, appear to be proliferating. Still, they can’t be hidden any longer. People can reach out to inform one another,organize for improvement and change.

if we could just get people to use rational thought and good will to evaluate their actions before they take steps, we just might be on the path to improve human life as well as preserve the planet.

*People ignore the real need that rules of grammar fill to insure a reader’s comprehension. Yes, they’re arbitrary and nonsensical. But they also provide an agreement on the use of language, so you can tell what the speaker or writer means. Failure to comply not only leads to misunderstandings but also indicates a lack of education in the user. On an official website for a woman’s magazine, I recently read a person described as a “business magnet” rather than a “business magnate,” quite a difference. If a magazine written, edited and produced by professionals can’t maintain clear writing, why should I buy the publication?

Keeping pace with social change: Women accept a brave new world, while writers of women’s fiction wonder how to make headway

summer of loveOur great-grandmothers would be shaking their heads in dismay if they could visit our times. Internet, Twitter, Pinterest, smart phones, text messages, they wouldn’t know where to begin to stay in touch with their families and friends, let alone how to use these tools. Change has become so constant and so fast, even people on the shady side of forty can lose their balance in the net.

No one in restaurants, stores, or theaters is minus a device over which they bend their heads and wave their fingers. Married couples spend more time online than they do in bed with one another. I can barely go shopping without some seller urging me to download a new app.

However, women’s fiction by and large hasn’t adapted to this transformation, at least not to the extent I see in real life every day. Novels still focus on characters, plot, description. Although mobile phones now appear in fiction, and a woman in danger turns immediately to a cell, few heroines or heroes spend the amount of time online that occurs in daily life. Human interaction requires face-to-face contact, if not body-to-body; and text messages or Tweets are used, if at all, as quirky plot developments..

The array of communications methods mirrors what seems to be occurring in women’s personal lives. If experts, along with films, television, and songs, are to be believed, women are leaping in and out of bed (or in cars or on tables or outdoors) with enthusiasm and are increasingly casual in their sexual encounters, if not outright promiscuous.

Why then do novels continue to advocate stable, monogamous relationships? While wedding rings may be far fewer in stories than in the 20th century, the preponderance of women’s fiction has the heroine and hero in a happy clinch by the end, not a clutch of partners.

So how can the poor writer decide how to publish a story and what equipment to feature? Should we write in 148 character series, as one novel I read did in an introduction to each section? Are young readers going to dump fiction unless it’s available on phones? The phenomenon in Japan is the cell phone novel with chapters of less than 200 words. Are our characters moving toward no physical contact, just phone sex?

One thing’s for sure. In fiction, the chaste (and chased) virgin of fifty years ago, frequently a nurse, secretary, or teacher, is far outnumbered by her more adventuresome sisters. They may not be “loose women,” but they’ve been around the block. Plots are reflecting reality, as studies and surveys show attitudes toward casual sex and multiple partners continue to become more liberal.

And yet. . .and yet. At the conclusion of the adventure, whether the novel is a sweet romance, erotic, historical, sci fi, literary, steamy or whatever, everyone’s still just looking for love. Real love. True love. Which continues to mean one partner, even if he’s a vampire.

Something to Think About

What’s going on with readers today? A Goodreads member survey has surprising insights into reading habits. Social media isn’t as influential as thought; readers frequently look for works by favored authors; many read books on smart phones.