In a flurry of tweets, re-tweets and excited anticipation, we arrived at The Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch last night to attend the Tech Tuesday – Storytellers on Social Media: The Author as Digital Brand, hosted by The London Book Fair. Staff weaved through the crowd with platters of food and as 7.30 drew close, we took our seats to listen to the impressive panel and find out more about the power of social media in the publishing world.
The panel consisted of four authors: CJ Daugherty, James Smythe, Alison Norrington and Sarah Pinborough. The event was chaired by Katie Sadler of Harper Collins, who opened the talk with the question, “Are you a brand?” Each author answered in turn and though the answers were varied, and often contradictory, the issue of real-life persona versus social media persona resonated and resulted in an interesting hour long discussion.
Sarah Pinborough spoke about her social media personality and how she allows her personal issues and experiences to come across on Twitter. Putting herself out there doesn’t, in her experience, provoke a huge amount of negative feedback and from tweeting pictures of herself to updating followers over a cup of tea in the morning, this is a platform that she engages with hugely and enjoys. In terms of branding, it is important to reach out and gather up more followers. Represent yourself on a personal level and being funny can ensure that your followers will then, ideally, become your readers too!
James noted the synchronicity that is evident between publisher and author social media content/trends when that author’s new book is released. This turns authors’ social media persona into a promotional machine and takes away from their relatable existence as a person. People don’t tend to react well to such sales-driven interaction and it is off-putting – maintain your identity if you don’t want to be perceived as an impersonal promotional tool.
As Alison Norrington pointed out, staying anonymous online by giving your fictitious character a Twitter page is a useful way of avoiding the marketing machine stigma while simultaneously promoting your work. Her approach to branding on social media is to avoid the personal aspect and to allow her followers to get to know her characters instead. She sees this as the difference between P.R. and the story. Maybe publishers should encourage authors to breathe life into their characters, to use their fictitious figures to speak in their place.
CJ Daugherty has found particular fame in Spain and Mexico. She has noticed a surge in her Twitter followers in accordance with her book being published and it has made her more aware of what she shares, specifically political opinions. She is careful not to give any feedback to negative comments and not to damage her brand by scaring her followers away. This is the drawback of social media – having to watch what you say in order to represent you and your brand the right way.
Generally, all four authors found that the battle to balance their real personality with their online projection is difficult. Sarah mentioned how she sometimes feels shy when someone tells her they are a Twitter follower; it makes her conscious of the fact that people will expect her to be just like her online identity and she may disappoint. James added to this by expressing his own disappointment at having met people in real life who just didn’t add up to the way they appear on social media platforms.
There is pressure to be who you claim you are via your online activity and presence, and this is a reality for all social media users today. There are certain people you would never approach if you saw them in a bar, yet shielded by the virtual cloak of social media, we are all that bit more outgoing. Is this wrong? Or is it not the point of social media in the first place? It allows us to network without the awkward initial approach of the proffered handshake.
Walking back to the tube, we discussed the pros and cons. Yes, social media allows authors to network with influential figures and progress in their career paths but it is also a minefield of provoked criticism. Striking the balance between who you are and how you want to be perceived is a struggle that existed before social media was born – the difference is that now others can have their say too.