I first have to admit that I'm over 50. That likely predisposes me, much as I hate to admit it, to some natural reticence about social media. I still write thank-you notes, with a pen. I make phone calls. I send cards. While I’m not hesitant to admit my age, I don’t like to admit my reticence. I like to think of myself as progressive, embracing of new ideas, and an ever growing, evolving type. But the whole Facebook, Twitter thing--from the outside looking in, anyway--just seemed a silly time-suck to me and likely the stuff for tweens and teens; a modern equivalent of passing notes in class and writing in slam books. To say nothing of the fact that as both a therapist and a natural introvert, the "over-sharing" TMI kind of stuff people often display on these media just, well, bugged me. I mean do I really need to read about people's flu symptoms? Their cat's digestive problems? What they just bought at Pottery Barn? The short answer for me is a resounding NO! And sorry if I offend anybody, but when I watched adult friends of mine buying Farmville silos and worrying about their virtual artichoke crops, I knew the social media thing was just beyond me. I didn't get the appeal.
To top it off, whenever I heard about these sites, it seemed that when people weren’t swirling in the time-sucking virtual vortex, they were just hawking their wares all the time. I left the Girl Scouts because I didn't want to sell the cookies and vowed never in my life to have a profession where I was trying to sell stuff to friends and family. I was disgusted by the insecurity of it all. Like me. Follow me. Endorse me. Puh-lease. It just seemed so needy and pathetic. I already have friends . . . real ones! Besides, I had a book to finish and an agent to find. I had no time for such nonsense.
Then along came Goodreads. I'm not sure how it happened; likely someone I trust sent me an invitation. But when I first saw Goodreads in August of 2008 I thought, "Finally, a site for book-reading grown-ups! I could get into this." With no idea that I was actually developing a network or laying the very first boards of my future author platform, I joined. "Good way to keep track of the books I've read," I said to myself. I didn't even use my last name in my profile. (P.S. I only discovered that leftover tidbit today and corrected it). I thought that I'd invite a few of my book-loving buddies to join me so I could see what they were reading. Kinda fun. And confessedly, I didn't even think of it as a social media network. Just a secret little site for book lovers. Like a first purchase from a dealer, it seemed innocent enough and I was at no risk for the harder stuff.
Now, the next years are a blur as far as the progression goes. But as a writer aspiring to publish--likely an indie author at that--I could no longer ignore that writerly friends whom I admire were using social media, and not just for selling their books. They were learning about resources and events, tools of our craft, and connecting to other writers and their readers, too. They were sending and receiving real information. Real inspiration. They started talking about connecting to authors they admired and having meaningful exchanges, then actually meeting one another at writers’ conferences and such. I felt just a teeny bit left out.
I started getting invitations to join LinkedIn. Friend requests . . . from actual friends. What’s the harm? So I made my first unsure and uninformed steps into creating sites for myself. They were clumsy. Kind of useless, really, and unattended for so long that I'd regularly forget passwords and user names. I certainly wasn’t aggressive about soliciting for members, friends, likes, or endorsements. I refused to use the word “friend” as a verb, as in “I friended you on Facebook.” My pages and sites sat dormant for much of the next 3 years. Oh, I’d accept the occasional request. I’d poke around on someone’s wall if something intriguing crossed my path. I even dipped my toe into commenting on people’s posts, though I couldn’t yet determine the value of “liking” someone. Still too pathetic.
I started to meet non-writers who were using Facebook and other sites to make real and meaningful connections to real and meaningful people. I met an amazing, inspiring transplant nurse, Charles Reardon, who had been part of transporting the first-ever infant heart cross-country for successful implantation in another infant. In the ensuing years that infant had grown up and was having a baby of her own, also a first. They “met” on Facebook, started an exchange, and have since formed a relationship that is soul-filling for them and their families as well. You could friend Charles and read all about it. Take that, skeptical Betsy!
This inspired me. I started to put a little muscle into hosting my sites. Talked with more tech-savvy buddies. Got a little help in making things look better and operate in a meaningful way. I heard a tip during a seminar from Frances Caballo, the author of Social Media Just for Writers, who said that only 20% of what you post on any social media should be about promoting your work. The other 80% should be for providing information, inspiration, or promoting the ideas and works of others. This appealed to me. (And hey, did you notice me promoting someone else’s work here?) Maybe if I’m providing something useful, people won’t mind if I promote my book and events now and then. If they like it, all of my "friends" will pass the word and I won't be the one having to do all of the book hawking. At a recent book launch of a friend, I met author Atta Arghandiwal. Lovely man who has written Lost Decency: The Untold Afghan Story. He spoke with me about Twitter--an unlikely topic, I would have thought. Now if you saw this guy--smart, worldly, thoughtful, literary--you’d understand why I didn’t instantly connect him with my demeaning and completely ignorant assumptions that Twitter is just for people literally twiddling their thumbs with comments while watching The Real Housewives. On the contrary. Atta talked to me about how Twitter has acquainted him with people all over the world and ideas he’d never before encountered. Not only that, he credits Twitter and the “real” relationships he’s formed through this medium for much of the sales success of his book. I bought a copy and am reading it now. Beautiful. You could go onto Goodreads and see my post.
I’m also learning about ways to reduce what annoys me most in social media. I discovered that you can use Facebook settings so that those who habitually post inanity and TMI won’t appear on your wall, and you don’t have to “unfriend” them--something I could not bring myself to do. I’m still swimming in the shallow end of all of the tools, widgets, and apps (many of them still a mystery, I admit), but I’m learning ways to make social media work for me. I limit my time so that I’m not sucked into the vortex. I have had lovely exchanges with other writers, reconnected with old friends, and have learned about events that I’d never have heard of had I not been “following” someone on Twitter. I’ve researched the new novel I’m writing by talking with people who live in the places I’m writing about or who have experienced the ails of my characters. I’ve been sent quotes, photographs, and inspirations that I’d have encountered no other way but for social media. I’m still not planting any virtual artichokes. Won’t do it.
Suffice it to say that while much of the flotsam and jetsam of social media (still don’t want to know about your cat’s digestive problems) remains of little interest to me, I have now begun to see the true, deeper value of connecting via these modern day communication vehicles. Sure, there’s junk out there. But I’m sure not every letter sent by stagecoach was deep and meaningful either.
So what’s the end to the arc of my own social media story? You can find me under my name, Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, at Goodreads, Linkedin, Facebook, and, of course, She Writes.
Some of the work is still under construction and I’ve got help to make it work better. Linkedin is overdue for major renovation. But whatever their condition, I look forward to the surprising connections to be made with these modern day conversation opportunities. Hope to meet some of you there and perhaps, become friends.