Surviving Facebook

Social networking is now touted as one of the best ways for authors to promote themselves, and perhaps it’s true. If most of us primarily sell books to friends, it makes sense, and sometimes even cents, that the more friends we have, the more books we will sell. So we sign up for MySpace and Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook and start collecting friends like so many stamps. If a thousand friends are good, then two thousand are even better. If two thousand are good, then let’s aim for ten thousand.

While frantically collecting friends, we forget two things. First, social networking is about being social. It does no good to have connections if, to them, we are merely a nameless face, or worse, a faceless name. Too many people use their book cover for an icon, though it seems to me it defeats the purpose. How does one make friends with a book cover? You are, or should be, aiming for long-term relationships. You don’t have to waste your time playing games with your connections, but you can comment on their status updates and photos, you can post interesting links and notes on your profile, you can participate in discussions.

Second, we forget that these online sites, especially Facebook and Goodreads, were set up for real-life friends to interact. They were not set up for promotion.

Goodreads automatically limits your activity, so it’s hard to abuse their system, but Facebook is a different matter. Several of my friends have had their Facebook accounts disabled because of “abusive” behavior, though they were doing what we all do — making connections with strangers. I have become good friends with many of the strangers to whom I sent friend requests, so by limiting myself to people I know would have greatly limited my Facebook experience. Still, Facebook says they aspire to be an environment where people can interact safely with their friends and people they know. Accordingly, they expect accounts to reflect mainly “real-world contacts.” They do not endorse contacting strangers through unsolicited friend requests as such requests may be considered annoying or abusive.

To prevent this type of behavior, Facebook has limits in place that restrict the rate at which you can use certain features on the site. Your account can be disabled if Facebook determines that you were going too fast when sending friend requests despite being warned to slow down, or because your friend requests were being rejected at a high rate. Your account can be disabled if you send too many of the same message, post too often to other people’s profile, or indulge in repetitive, promotional activities.

The problem is that Facebook does not tell you ahead of time what their limits are, so it’s a matter of guessing.

So far, I have survived Facebook. I have over 4, 000 friends. I administer one group and co-administer three others. I send weekly group messages informing people of the featured discussion. I have a fan page. I post daily status updates, feed my blog into my profile page, post links to sites where I am a guest.

So, how did I do it?

Every day, I added ten to fifteen friends — no more. When I reached 2500 friends, I stopped sending requests. The rest of the connections came from my accepting others’ requests. At the beginning, I accepted everyone, but now that I am nearing the limit Facebook allows, I am a bit more careful whom I accept. For example, I won’t accept requests from icon-less people unless I know them personally. (Here is the dichotomy of Facebook. You are allowed 5,000 friends, who are supposed to be people you know personally, but who in the offline world has that many friends and connections?)

Although it’s one of the things marketing coaches recommend, I never thanked people for accepting my friend request. Besides emphasizing that you’re not friends, the comment can trigger a warning from Facebook, especially if you post too many similar comments in one day. You can post almost anything you want on your own profile, but you are constrained by Facebook’s unwritten rules as to what you can post on other people’s profiles.

The best thing I can tell you about surviving Facebook is this: if you get a warning, stop. Do not use Facebook for at least a week. If you don’t heed this advice, and you get another warning within that time, your account will be disabled, and all your work will be wasted.

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19 Responses to “Surviving Facebook”

  1. Kat Sheridan Says:

    First, I am in absolute awe at your facility for using social networks. Believe it or not, I ended up here not through FB, but through LinkedIn. And I haven’t a clue how to build that kind of network (I think I only have a couple hundred “friends” on Facebook. What you’ve also done, though, is build content. Your blogs, your points of interest, and only occassionally, conversation about your books. You’ve done great at it.

    And BTW, I miss seeing you more often at the Wombats. Hope all is well with you.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Kat, what lovely things you say! I’m hoping to be around more often next month — I miss my online friends.

      As for my facility with social networks, I hate to say it, but it’s all sleight of hand. WordPress feeds into twitter which feeds into linked in and myspace. I post this blog on linked in, amazon, goodreads, and FB via rss feed. So, see, I’m not as ubiquitous as it seems.

  2. knightofswords Says:

    Wise advice, I’m thinking. To a great extent, I think FB is working both sides of the street. On one side, they’re saying this is a safe, gated community for people who know each other in real life. On the other side, they know that if we really did limit our accounts to relatives, co-workers and people we know around town, FB would be a fraction of its current size and probably less financially viable.

    Malcolm

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You’re right about FB working both sides of the street. If it weren’t a promotional tool, hardly anyone would care. We’d all be connected only to the people we know, and there are other, easier ways to stay connected.

      There is a rumor going around that they are going to start charging $4.99/month, but I’m not sure how accurate that is. I wonder if people will still be struggling to understand these obscure policies if they had to pay for the privilege?

  3. joylene Says:

    This is stuff I think about a lot. And worry over. I still feel strange having so many friends that I really don’t know. I accepted their request and — nothing. It ended there. Or I’m now inundated with emails announcing what they’re up to, what they’ve done, or what they’re about to do. There aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with it. Nor do I expect them to keep up with what I’m doing. But I do want to sell books. And I believe buying a copy of Dead Witness is worth the money. I could write an entire post on how awesome that feels, but I digest. LOL.

    Good post, Pat. You always manage to touch on stuff that fascinates me. And that’s not easy to do because most days I’d rather lay on the couch and watch reruns of Veronica Mars.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Joylene, I sent you an email about your comment — you said you could write an entire post about how awesome it feels having written a good book, and I’m hoping you will write it and let me post it here on my blog. It’s time you were a guest!!!

  4. Pat Bertram Says:

    Most of that information about facebook policies in the article came from a letter a fellow author got when they kicked her off, so it’s straight from the horse’s mouth. I don’t know why they can’t say up front what the deal is, but at least now we know.

  5. Sheila Deeth Says:

    I’m pretty new to facebook and still trying to work out what to do, but this article really helps. Thank you.

  6. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    Since I haven’t a published book to promote yet I’ve kept a very low profile on Facebook. Originally I only joined at the prompting of my family and I still haven’t attempted to build a following. There are just a few writing friends sprinkled among my family members.

    Facebook’s many “eccentricities” annoy me so I’m not sure I’ll ever use it to its full potential as an author’s networking tool.

    It seems to me that when people are Googling for an author or book title, a website or blog provides most of the information they might be looking for so I try to keep mine updated and answer comments promptly. Fans who like to interact in real time with an author on Facebook or Twitter demand so much more time — time that I’m not prepared to give at this point. I’d rather spend the extra time on my writing. I’m in awe of you… that you can participate on so many different platforms!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      A website is good when someone googles me specifically, but my problem is how to get people who don’t know me interested in me and my books. To a certain extent, that comes from facebook. I met many of my blog readers through that site. I know what you mean about interacting in real time, though. I don’t do as much interacting on facebook as I should.

  7. JaxPop Says:

    Facebook is more of a distraction than anything so far as I can tell. I typically don’t accept friend requests unless I know the person or have at least communicated through blog links (I think I only have about 50 friends). I won’t accept anyone from where I work or family members, other than my boys.
    Book-related social sites is another annoyance. You join up thinking you can do some decent promotion but get friend requests from crazies & pervs.
    I’ll stick to the decent, informative & entertaining blogs & author sites where the back & forth dialogue is worthwhile.
    Time is always tight – gotta invest wisely.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      This is a bit ironic — your mentioning that you stick to blogs where you can find back and forth dialogue, yet it took me four days to respond!! I enjoy Facebook, mostly because I stick to the groups I run and the friends I have made. At least I used to enjoy it. Now I’ve got people posting all sorts of ridiculous stuff on my profile, but that should soon be nipped. I spent my first few months on facebook friending people, now I spend most of my time there unfriending the people who annoy me with senseless frivolity.

  8. John Soares Says:

    I need to have some connection with a person before I accept a friend request. Usually that means we actually know each other. Sometimes it can be we have a strong common interest.

  9. James Rafferty Says:

    Hi Pat,

    Great post. Among the authors I know, you’ve done more diverse social networking than just about anyone. I have a couple hundred Facebook friends, but have not been methodical about adding to the list. If I had a book to sell, I’d be more motivated. Nonetheless, most of my Facebook use is to promote blog posts or something like that. It’s a tool, but one that is easy to abuse. Thanks for the hints about what behavior FB considers off limits. It is weird to have this virtual kingdom with unwritten rules that so many participate in. I’d like to see the FBs of the world be much more transparent.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I wanted to try as much as I could, sort of be a guinea pig so I could help other authors learn about promotion, but unfortunately, I have learned very little worth passing on.

      I was very assiduous about adding friends when I first signed up for facebook, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do there, but now I’m gradually deleting the people whose activities add nothing to the experience. I still don’t understand the point of sending a thousand strangers a virtual gift. What, am I supposed to be touched by their thoughtfulness/thoughtlessness?

  10. Kathy Says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with FB. I’ve decided it’s best for people who know each other to keep in touch with each other. I hide or delete writers who just promote themselves – who speak to me as if I’m their fan – instead of a fellow writer trying to offer support and connect – especially if they never bother to offer me support. It often feels like the choir preaching to (selling to) the choir and that gets annoying. I’m busy writing my own books. I’m not there to be promoted to. I think it’s a terrible place for promotion – twitter, too. Everybody talking about themselves, trying to sell themselves. Who is really listening? It makes me wonder – who’s reading anymore – it seems like everybody is writing. 🙂

    Great post!

  11. Bill Smith Says:

    Pat,

    I’ve been watching your posts on the Independent Publishers page… impressed by the way you have such frequent useful information. Today, I’ve been reading your website, blog, publisher sites, etc. My debut novel will be out shortly, and I am looking for good persons to ask to do a review. Do you have a review policy? I’d love to hear back from you. Thanks, Bill 😉

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Bill, I have no review policy for the simple reason that I never get around to reviewing the books. I read them if they are sent to me, and I mention them in a blog, but I’ve never got the hang of writing a good review, so I don’t.

      Best of luck with your book, and good luck with finding reviewers.


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