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.