Many of you are members of more than one writers’ group on Facebook, and I wanted to point out some features about how these groups work so that a) you don’t get disappointed when all the members in the group don’t rush out and buy your book and b) you can use the information to your advantage in developing a fanbase for your work.
Firstly, it’s very important to remember that Facebook, along with many other forms of social media, is, as the name ‘social media’ suggests, a place for socialising. There are more than 2.41 billion users of Facebook across the planet, with 1.59 billion logging on daily. But of this huge number of people, only a tiny number signed up to go shopping — by far the bulk of them are there to look, to browse, to chat, to be entertained and to engage with others. Personally, apart from my activities around the Inner Circle Writers’ Group, I have used Facebook over the last decade to contact and stay in touch with family members, old school and university friends, current friends and a whole host of other people. I have been entertained, enlightened and engrossed by thousands of posts from people I’ve never met, all over the world. The fundamental reason why Facebook is so successful is because it permits and encourages this light level of engagement amongst human beings.
Of course, where there are that many people, there are also businesses — people who are trying to interact with those crowds in order to sell a product or service. Facebook encourages this too, and, approached properly, it can assist the growth and development of a business. But one of the early rules that business people learned as Facebook grew into the behemoth it is today is still valid: Facebook isn’t primarily a shopping venue — it’s a socialising venue. It’s a like a giant café in a mall: people chat casually with each other, popping in and out as they please and only occasionally buying something that they see there.
In a group set up around a particular topic, like writing in the case of the Inner Circle Writers’ Group, this same socialising factor is paramount. In the case of writers, such a group is also ‘haunted’ to some degree by the fact that many of its members have products that they are often desperate to sell. Some writers’ groups get drowned by this desperation and become nothing but interactive sales billboards. Statistics suggest that very few — probably less than 1% — of such ‘salesy’ activity is effective in any way. Like other Facebook users, writing group members are there primarily to chat, to lightly interact, and perhaps to offer an opinion now and again; a significant proportion are far more interested in gaining attention for their latest piece of work than they are in paying out attention to others, let alone cash.
It’s possible to loosely divide a writing group membership into various levels. In Part Two we will see that the Inner Circle Writers’ Group differs slightly from these broad strata, but here are the tiers of an average writing group as observed over the last two years:
1. The Inactive Member
In many writers’ groups, this forms the bulk of the group membership. Writers signed up on an impulse, stuck around for a short while, and then moved on, rarely to return. No matter what happens in the group, these people will probably never be heard from again.
2. The Occasional Visitor
Another large category in most groups, this writer dips into activity perhaps once or twice a month, if that. Perhaps they have adopted a new social media strategy of their own and have decided to be more active, but something in their lives drags them away pretty swiftly and so all we see of them is that one comment or post, before they vanish to rejoin the first category above.
3. The Seasonal Visitor
Here’s the next sub-group — if we visit the group more frequently than most, some of these are names that we will probably recognise. This is the person who, for one reason or another, engages with the group for a time, posting, commenting, offering advice, trying to sell members something, and then disappears for a while, to return perhaps a few weeks later to follow the same pattern, more or less. Their lives are not built around social media: perhaps family pressures, work, illness, seasonal routines or whatever mean that they do not linger for long. But they are around for long enough for most of us to have some kind of relationship with them: we remember, if not their faces, then perhaps their work, their sense of humour, their proclivities.
4. The Regular
You’ll know this person’s name; they pop in probably every day and leave comments, sometimes posting something. In a group of, say, 1,000 people, there will probably be around 100 regulars. Because they visit so frequently, you may well get to know them as a person — they may even get added to your Friends list. You’ll also become familiar with whatever it is they are working on or perhaps have already published. If they are writers whose work matches your own tastes, then they may move forward into the next, much narrower category.
5. The Member Whose Work You Have Purchased
Usually the pattern is that, as a regular in a group yourself, you get to see what’s on offer and something catches your eye. You chat, you joke, you comment and then you think ‘I might actually like that book’, and you make a purchase. This writer then enters the hallowed halls of Those Whose Books You Have Bought. The number of members in this sub-group is possibly quite tiny — for a start, you cannot afford to buy everyone’s books, and secondly, not everyone’s books are to your taste. So in a group of 1,000 members, you might only have felt like buying two or three books. Then comes the next sub-group…
6. The Members Whose Books You’ve Bought — and Liked!
Now we’re usually down to less than a handful of names. You got to know their work through light engagement over time in the group; you thought you might like to read a book or two; and then you actually overcame Life’s obstacles and read it or them through to the end. What’s more, you enjoyed the experience! Now comes the time for you to respond to that author with a review or other positive comment. You’ve become a ‘fan’. That doesn’t mean that you have either the time or the money to rush out and buy everything that person has written, but, from their point of view, you have become the precious commodity known as The Admiring Reader.
7. Those Who Run The Group
Right at the top is that small selected number of people who set up the group in the first place, often, but not exclusively, to sell their own stuff. In some groups, even in some well-known and very large groups, these people are invisible or rarely seen: they don’t monitor the group’s activities and tend to allow members to do more or less as they please. In other groups, like the Inner Circle Writers’ Group, there is a tighter control and a definite daily presence of the admin.
These are the broad strata of any writing group. What can you do with this information?
Stay tuned for Part Two.