If you’re an author or aspiring author, you probably hear more often than not that you need to have a presence on social media. It’s how you can connect with your readers and fans and it’s how you can market your work. Having a social media presence has become so important that many celebrities and politicians hire people to handle it for them. Even if you write those tweets yourself, though, how careful do you need to be?
On a recent episode of The Empowered Author Podcast, we spoke about this issue with Morgan Gray. As a consumer of society, culture, and sports podcasts and a pop culture enthusiast, Morgan has some great examples of what authors should regard as cautionary tales for social media.
Morgan Gray is a regular guy, radical Toronto Raptors basketball fan, and overall sports enthusiast. He’s a consumer of society, culture and sports podcasts, and occasionally has broader insights that offer us a different window into how we interact with the world. (And, full disclosure! Morgan is my son!)
Don’t miss our podcast interview with Morgan. Take a listen below, and as always, please rate, review and share!
Cautionary tale from the sports world
As a big Toronto Raptors fan, Morgan’s first cautionary tale involves the basketball team’s former general manager, Bryan Colangelo. After the Toronto Raptors, Colangelo moved to the Philadelphia 76ers. Here, he had his carefully crafted official Twitter account. However, as sports and pop culture site The Ringer discovered, Colangelo also had several secret Twitter accounts. He used these to disparage his predecessor and some players and say what he truly thought about certain transactions in the world of the NBA. This was a problem because what he said about players could affect their future contract negotiations. So, Colangelo had to resign from his job.
Cautionary tale from the world of business and politics
A more chilling cautionary tale is that of Eric Coomer. Coomer was the security director at Dominion Voting Systems, a company that makes electronic voting machines used in elections in the United States and Canada. On his private Facebook page, Coomer made disparaging comments about then-President Donald Trump. Then, in a podcast by Joseph Oltmann, the conservative activist claimed Coomer was connected to Antifa and had said that he’d made sure of Trump having no chance of being re-elected.
Before long, other conservative media and personalities added their own claims, leading to conspiracy theories involving Dominion Voting Systems and election fraud. For Coomer personally, the fallout included that he received death threats, his family was harassed, and he had to resign from his job and go into hiding.
The ramifications have gone beyond Coomer and his former employer, though: the idea that the 2020 presidential election in the United States was rigged led to Trump supporters storming the Capitol to try and overturn the election results. There were several deaths. It has also called into question the integrity of subsequent elections and all across the country, states have created new voting legislation in the name of election security that could have a tremendous impact on the fairness of future elections.
Cautionary tales from the publishing world
Authors have not been immune to their comments on social media having negative consequences for their careers. A recent example has been the case of Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling. Having always been open about her left-leaning political views, she shocked many of her fans when, in 2019 and 2020, she started tweeting comments that were deemed transphobic. Most of the principal cast members of the Harry Potter movies criticized Rowling’s posts, as did advocacy groups like GLAAD.
While Rowling received support from several corners, the backlash meant that sales of her books slowed down compared to others in the market, even if they were still bestsellers. For much of her fan base, she has become the face of trans-exclusionary radical feminists–or TERFs–and her reputation has suffered.
Even if you don’t think your comments on social media could be politically controversial, they can land you in hot water. In 2019, Natasha Tynes tweeted about an employee of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority eating on a train: something that was against the rules. However, she soon found herself the target of bigotry accusations and, being spiteful for reporting the employee in this way. The result was that she lost her deal with the publishing house that was going to publish her next novel.
So what does all of this mean for you as an author?
If you want to remain active on social media as an author–or aspiring author–you need to think carefully about every tweet, Facebook or Instagram post or comment you put out there. Once it’s out, you can delete it, but you can never take it back: screenshots are forever.
Of course, you want your social media to still be engaging enough so that people will follow you. Nobody wants to only ever see you post about your book and how people should buy it. So how do you navigate the social media minefield?
- Engage with your followers and listen to what they say without getting into fights. Find out what they like and dislike. Retweet them or share their posts occasionally. They will start seeing you as the person behind the books and you will find out more about how to target your readers.
- Be interesting but neutral. One way to do this is by posting photographs, since they tend to elicit much more response than text alone. However, be sure to use pictures that tell a story. Fantasy author Neil Gaiman once posted on his Facebook page that, as a young boy, one of his favourite books was about a boy who would climb drainpipes. He accompanied the comment with a quirky picture of himself as a young boy… climbing a drainpipe.
- Remember what your followers would expect. Post about events or issues related to your book–or books–rather than something that is opposite to the brand you want to build.
- Know which followers you are prepared to lose. Stephen King is not afraid to wear his political heart on his sleeve, even if it could cost him some readers. Then again, Stephen King sells so many books overall that he probably wouldn’t even notice if he lost some fans. Could you say the same?
One final thing: authenticity vs transparency
And finally, Morgan says that when we look at the stories involving Bryan Colangelo and Kevin Durant, we need to realize that these are people who know they can’t be 100 percent transparent on social media and have millions of reasons to not be. But they still feel the need to interact authentically with people on social media.
It’s a balancing act we all need to strike. You want to be authentic, because when you’re not, it shines through and affects your credibility. But authenticity does not mean transparency. You get to decide what and how much you share — but everything you do share you want to be truly YOU.