By Amber Hall
Originally published in Write On! Magazine, issue 15
Do you remember a time before the Internet? Before our thinking was shaped by social media? In the early days, we had Bebo and then Facebook. We tended to our pages nightly, racking up follower counts through increasingly tenuous connections.
I think that’s where our preoccupation with numbers began; when the follows and likes in the digital world changed how we saw ourselves in the real one. Now, when we use social platforms to showcase our creative work, these numbers are viewed as a measure of its worth.
Today, those numbers do have real consequences for creatives. If you’re looking to get published, you’ll benefit from a healthy follower count and lots of likes. “An engaged, thriving social media profile acts as another tick in the box for literary agents and publishers, because they want a product that will sell,” says Write On! Deputy Editor Claire Buss. But should we really expect writers and other creatives to build a following from scratch? If so, how realistic is this – given how time-consuming the process can be?
I’ve always felt that creativity – whether channelled through writing, music or visual art – is fundamentally at odds with the algorithmic nature of social media. Writing is rooted in truth: through it, we reveal ourselves as we are, not as we’d like to be seen. I’m only satisfied with my own work when it’s unfiltered. Authenticity makes us better writers, I think. To connect to our readers we must explore the messiness behind our highlights reels!
It doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t harness our authenticity to connect with our followers in a genuine way. The brilliant thing about social media is that it can build communities (there’s an incredible network of writers on X (formerly Twitter), for example, but it does require a modicum of self-awareness. We need to think about what we’re posting, and whether it bears any relevance to our work. We also need to spend a bit of time reaching out and reacting to followers. Write On! regular Michelle Sutton says this is key: “Interact, interact, interact. It’s not always about promoting yourself or your product.” But I also think it’s important to recognise that we’re not, in fact, at the mercy of these platforms; we do have control over the ways in which we interact with them. If that means taking breaks from social media, then so be it.
Because the fact is, it can be incredibly draining. It can also be terrifying. For a long time, I didn’t want to make myself visible online. It’s taken years to get comfortable with my work being out there for all to see. We shouldn’t underestimate how scary it is, taking up space like that. It’s discouraging when you don’t get the response you’d like; when you’re posting, liking and following, and getting nowhere. But unfortunately, there’s no easy way to attract followers who are really going to champion you overnight. You just have to keep posting content that speaks to you, in the hope that it’ll speak to someone else – which it will do, in time.
Incidentally, I’ve worked in content marketing for my entire career. I realise it’s taken me several paragraphs to state what seems like a key point but, to me, it’s a different thing entirely. I’ve developed social strategies for global brands and thought nothing of it. Having a name to hide behind takes the pressure off. There’s no big reveal – you’re just selling leggings or a bit of moisturiser.
But as a freelance writer, I realise I need to recalibrate my attitude. Even if I’m not selling books yet, I’d like to one day. This means that I need to see social media for what it is: a tool to get me to where I want to be (or at least a little bit closer to it).
The best way to do this is to stop using it as a social platform (I recognise the irony in this). So no cat memes (unless it’s a quippy remark about procrastinating or something, I guess) or checking in on your ex (not that I’ve done that…ahem). Claire Buss, social media maven that she is, recommends “setting aside specific time slots to post and engage, and using software like Later to schedule things.” She also has a separate Facebook page to her personal one and two Instagram accounts because, “it’s worth separating the platforms you use personally all the time so you can complain about life or even post drunk photos, without marring your writer image.” But since I’m an infrequent poster, I figure I can get away with it. The last thing I posted on Instagram was a picture of Little Richard after he died, and frankly I’m OK with my musical sensibilities seeping into my literary persona. There’s my authenticity; do with it what you will!
Obviously, there’s a lot more I could say. The topic warrants essays spanning thousands of words. It’s changed the way we live and, as creatives, the industries we’re involved in. And I know that, though all this soul-baring still makes me uneasy, I’ll have to get used to it. I’ll probably write about it again – this journey towards digital enlightenment. Give me a follow if you’re interested!
Connect with Amber on Instagram: @amber.marie.123 and X (formerly Twitter): @amber_marie_123
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I’ve always felt that creativity – whether channelled through writing, music or visual art – is fundamentally at odds with the algorithmic nature of social media.