Communicating with others: Social media and all that stuff

I am now well down the line of being able to realistically think of myself as Geoff Bateson: the writer. As part of that I have a fairly clear idea of why I want to write (not that I have too much choice: I am almost compelled to write); the variety of things I may wish to write about; that writing is intended to be a way of being, an interesting occupation of my time, a productive activity; that generating income isn’t my prime motive but that there is always a hope of at least a small income stream sometime in the near future; and as ‘intended audience’ I have a very rough idea of the kind of people who might be interested in what I might want to write. Not being able to easily let go of forty years as a planner I have an outline development plan for giving Geoff Bateson: the writer a firmer base on which to exist.

There is always the issue of however much I may want to write I also would like people to know it is there and to choose to engage with it or not. Which brings me to the thinking I have been doing about promotion, marketing, communication, use of social media and so on.

Starting where I was, what tools did I already potentially have to hand?

I had four email addresses, each for a quite different purpose. Each email down each of these channels could carry an end signature message, pointing out the places where more information might be found about me as a writer.

I had a ‘work’ website (www.coreskills.co.uk) which will continue to exist until around 2015, acting as a static archive for work-related writings from the past. I also had a separate, more dynamic, blog-based website (www.thewordsthething.org.uk) that  had begun to hold a wide range of articles and links. This would act as a hub around which people get into my written stuff.

Over the past twenty years or so of development work across Birmingham (spilling out into regional work, national developments, and international links) I had built up a loose network of around 300 people whoI had worked with fairly closely and each of whom had a relatively positive feeling about the things we had been involved in together. This set of people would be interested in my transition from the ‘Core Skills Development’ persona to the ‘The Words the Thing’ persona. A number of these people were already asking what was happening to me: Was I retiring? What was happening to the Core Skills development activity? and so on.  Sending out an Update email to this 300 or so key contacts was a good way of publicly bringing the one way of being towards a close and describing my moving on to a different way of being. I saw it as an extended leaving event done virtually. That was its main purpose and on the back of that was the chance to give people the link to the archive web address and to the new, more developmental, www.thewordsthething.org.uk address (and to hesitantly mention the four books already available via the Kindle store). The many responses I got to this email update were very heartwarming: People mentioning particular things from the past or generally agreeing that we had all achieved so much together. There was also a sense that such an update was welcome at a time of organisational change everywhere when so many things were coming to an end and so many people moving on.

I already had a Facebook presence that was essentially Friends and Family and was not the place to mix opening myself up to the world as Geoff Bateson: the writer with status updates from young female relatives describing just how drunk they had been last night. I created a separate page for me as a writer and have yet to really ‘activate’ that as I see it as a place where I can interact with people who have read my stuff when it reaches that point (So not there yet).

One work development I had been involved in expected the use of LinkedIn. I had a minimal presence with a few requests to link to others.  I was connected to around 20-30 people but didn’t really know why.  Most of the activity on LinkedIn appeared to be people connecting with others, but to what end? It felt all about creating a network but having no productive activity across that network. I was not sold on the idea. At the same time the 20-30 people I was connected to had between them more than 4500 onward connections to others. Surely that was something worth pondering.  I already had the Update article that had been emailed out to my 300 key intermediary contacts so, as a minimum, I repeated this as a message to the 20-30 LinkedIn contacts leaving them to decide whether or not it would  be of any interest to their own wider set of contacts.

As part of a conference I had to have a Twitter account but this had lain unused since then. Dusting that off and learning the protocols and mechanisms of Twitter was one of the many new ventures that I set out on. I spent a bit of time looking at advice on how Twitter might/might not be of use, the conflicting approaches to what Twitter was for in terms of marketing/communication, the very different approaches various people used. There was also a degree of simply jumping in and going by trial-and-error for a while until I got the feel of it.

I knew that my approach would be:

  • Tweet regularly (or why else do it) but not too often (something different maybe between once and three times a day might feel about right – certainly not the ‘repeat the same tweet every hour’ advice I was given by one source)
  • Treat the 140 character discipline as a new format for writing ie no need for sloppiness, inarticulateness – Clarity and brevity were required
  • Not about drivel. Certainly nothing offensive. Respect for others (and disengaging with those I sense are disrespectful).
  • Not self-promoting or even directly promoting my writing – although the writing may need to show through from time to time
  • Trying to stay human: tweeting the me that is me. So not using any automated tweeting systems. Not formulaic in my use of protocols and devices. Natural or nothing.
  • Hoping to inform, engage curiosity, amuse, intrigue, support, fascinate, perplex, provoke thought etc.
  • Balance spur-of-the-moment thoughts/reactions with postings on a theme that might be touched on again and again, from time to time, from different angles
  • Be more willing to learn via Twitter than to tell via Twitter. Which probable means aiming to follow people from whom I can maybe learn, rather than attempt to get as many followers as possible to whom I can relentlessly shout about how good my last bit of writing may be.

The balance between Following and Followers, and between different types of Following, intrigued me. Twitter was a fast-flowing stream that I wanted to get things out of it, rather than simply cast things into. I would therefore need to limit the number of people I followed, or stayed only with those who were not endlessly cascading tweets my way. How many would be too many? Given the few times I wanted to be on-Twitter each day and the relatively short time I wanted each session to be, even if I only scanned down the tweets very rapidly stopping infrequently to read in more detail or to click through to a link article, I guessed that 100 would be enough to start with and maybe 200 after that.

How were people coping with thousands of people they were following? Did they have a huge sifting device I hadn’t discovered? Did they simply ignore the bulk of what had flowed past them and just focus on what was going on at the here-and-now minute of them logging in? Did they ignore tweets and only interested themselves with direct messages or email alerts of Twitter-mentions? If I ever got myself into that position it would surely feel that I had only become interesed in broadcasting snippets about me and only interested in what a small number of select people were saying: Not a place I would feel comfortable with myself.

From a blank account, you have to start somwhere. I went from initially Following 20 and having 2 Followers (ie a 10% balance), to Following 100 with 50 Followers (50% balance) to Following 216 with 131 Followers (a 60% balance). As I get more adept as using Twitter this might push up to me Following 300 people/organisations and having around just over 200 Followers – a 70% balance, but I can’t imagine beyond that at the moment.

The people following me were mostly writers of various kinds, or people I knew one way and another. For my part I was following a mix of:

  • People who were part of my work network in the past
  • Organisations connected with Birmingham UK
  • Organisations connected with Vancouver (because I have a fascination with the place)
  • Organisations connected with cities, redevelopment, change
  • Organisations bringing news updates from Moscow, from Central Asia, from my home town in Lancashire etc.
  • People who were into social media
  • People who were interested in writing, or were already writers of various kinds
  • Local and national organisations linked to writing

This mix made for an interesting enough flow of topics being tweeted about.

After a couple of weeks I had no problems unfollowing a dozen or so people whose sole use of Twitter had been to endlessly repeat the title of their book, and replace them with a dozen unknowns who looked interesting – which was how I had come to contact so many interesting people in the first place. Every couple of weeks there is likely to be a similar review of people I had opted to follow who turned out to have comments far less interesting than their original profile suggested. These are, if unfollowed, certain to stop following me – I can live with that I think.

Those were the tools I had to hand. One bit of advice that kept being repeated was how simply linking each bit with the others, and letting the same updates appear across each, would create the potential for my every thought to go viral. I didn’t see it that way. ‘Viral’ still had a negative undertone to me – Did I really want people to become readily and heartily sick of me? I also felt that each bit of the ‘infrastructure’ had a slightly different purpose even if they did all loosely connect. The Facebook page (once activated) would be for one purpose and so have a certain relevant kind of posting on it. Twitter was serving a different purpose and would carry different ideas. The emailed Updates served a different purpose. My www.thewordsthething.org.uk website was different again. I was still unsure what LinkedIn was for, but I was sure I would work that out in time.

In all of this there was the dual purpose:

(a) Using the blog-site to make a wide range of interesting stuff freely available to whoever ended up visiting; using Twitter comments sensitively and appropriately to add snippets to the public realm; using emails to update people on things they were already interested in
(b) Putting down pointers, signposts, clues – hints that somewhere there are also some purchasable ebooks (with four there as a group so that anyone looking at one of them might glance across at one or more of the others)

I don’t think this has made me an expert on social marketing. I have learnt a lot and that is always a core part of why I want to do anything. Most importantly, I feel that I have got to an approach that I think will work for me and that fits with the kind of writer (and person) that I want  to be.

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