Facebook is now used by more than 500 million people, and the fastest growing demographic is in the 35+ range—which also happens to be a book-buying demographic. (Keep up-to-date on Facebook stats here. )
People, whether they realize it or not, use Facebook as a personalized news stream . That means rather than searching out the news, they let it find them through a circle of people they know and have something in common with.
There are many implications as a result, but briefly:
- Marketers and businesses value Facebook as a marketing tool, for developing relationships with customers. (Extra credit: Slideshow on 8 Success Criteria for Facebook Marketing for an audience of brand managers and businesspeople. )
- You, the writer, have probably heard that Facebook can be used as a marketing tool, but you don’t know what this means in practice.
- It is easy for Facebook to be misused as a marketing bullhorn, and you may feel repulsed when thinking of using Facebook for self-promotion or book marketing. (This is natural and good.)
When it comes to a writer looking to connect with readership, though, ignoring Facebook would be like ignoring your first circle of devoted fans—i.e., friends, family, colleagues, and others who (let’s hope) want you succeed and want to support your work.
No matter where you’re at in your writing career, let’s start with a few principles to set the stage.
Facebook: Basic Principles
1.You should always use Facebook lists to tag or group your family and friends, and maintain those lists carefully, for privacy and message control.
2.What you do on Facebook matters and is part of your visibility and reputation as a writer, whether intentional on your part or not. This includes both your personal profile and any “fan” page.
3.You don’t need a formal fan page (in fact, I think it’s best to stick with your personal profile ), but eventually, as your readership grows, and includes perfect strangers, you should consider it.
Some people have special concerns related to social media, e.g., identity protection or threat of harm. This advice will be difficult to implement for anyone hiding her identity or real name. The more you need to hide yourself from public view, the tougher it will be to develop your readership. For that, I am sorry.
Also, this advice is for authors in the adult market, not children’s. Check with the SCBWI blog and community for advice. 
Okay, so now what? How does a writer use Facebook as a marketing tool?
Stop right there. Let’s not refer to Facebook as your personal marketing tool.
People do not use the site to be marketed to. They use it to socialize, almost like in their own living room. When you visit a friend’s house, do you start marketing to them? No. (If you do, god help your friends.) If you mention, in conversation, what’s happening in your writing career, or with your book, that’s natural. If your friend expresses enthusiasm and support, excellent. If they offer to help, well—wow! That’s nice of them, but not a prerequisite for a continued relationship.
Rather than tell you how to use Facebook as a marketing tool, let me tell you how to use it as an UNmarketing tool.
5 Un-Marketing Principles for Facebook (and Other Social Media)
1.Be interesting. Post updates or links that reflect the unique perspective you have, or that play on themes that fascinate you. Have fun in what you share. See what happens. Experiment. Respond to other people’s stories/updates with your own take (but don’t be an ass or a proselytizer). Also, see Justine Musk’s series on how to be interesting. 
2.Be helpful. If someone asks a question or otherwise is looking for assistance, and you’re in a position to be helpful, earn some good karma. Remember: You get what you give.
3.Be open. It’s probably fine to friend people you don’t know that well, especially friends of friends. Just keep using lists and watch your privacy controls. Go with your gut; if it feels uncomfortable, then don’t do it. (If you have concerns about Facebook and its ever-changing privacy features, then I recommend using ReadWriteWeb as your primary source of news and how-to. )
4.Be a little personal. We all know there’s a line, so don’t cross it. But if you share things that don’t have any impact on you, or don’t touch your life, or that you don’t feel passionately about, then you might be a bore.
5.Be a little vulnerable. It’s much easier to like someone when they have flaws. (Here’s a good example of this when it comes to writing bios!) 
As you might have noticed, I haven’t mentioned anything specific to book marketing or promotion, so it may feel like there’s really nothing to do. In part, that’s correct. But these are the desired effects over the long-term:
Over a period of months and years, you will have interacted hundreds or thousands of times with all kinds of people. Many people may appear silent, but still observing. So, you will become known to people, even if tangentially. You may have experienced this phenomenon if you’ve gone to a writing conference, and someone you haven’t met before says they like the stuff you post on Facebook (or Twitter!). That’s excellent. You’re making an impression. People are remembering who you are.
- As your relationships develop (whether through Facebook or other means), opportunities will open up to you. These may be interviews, guest blogging posts, speaking/teaching gigs, consulting, etc. As people come to know who you are and what you stand for, they’ll remember that when faced with an issue or opportunity that fits you. And vice versa. You may uncover people you want to offer an opportunity to.
- When you actually have a book coming out, you can share any calls to action that might interest your first circle of fans. E.g., if you have an Amazon pre-order day campaign, you can let people know about it. Or, if you’re trying to find people to interview on a specific topic, you can put out a call.
However, this is where we get into some tricky territory, because it involves some form of hard or soft marketing, which most people really botch up on Facebook.
Marketing Tactics to Avoid on Facebook
1. Do not send a blanket invite to “events” that aren’t really events.
We’ve all been invited to participate in some “event” that didn’t even have a physical location, and was a thinly veiled “Buy my book!” blast. Don’t do that.
You should also avoid sending invites to people who wouldn’t in a million years attend your event because of location/geography/investment. In short, do NOT misuse the event functionality as a pure marketing play.
2. Do not invite your existing Facebook friends to be a “fan” of your page.
I have no problem with writers creating fan pages to keep their “personal” page more “personal.” But if someone is already a “friend” to you, they shouldn’t have to be badgered to be your “fan.” I say: Let those friends find it on their own, or allow them to ignore it.
You can read more of my thoughts on the issue here , but in general, if you need to have a personal page AND a fan page, then don’t solicit one group to join the other group. You don’t need to reach them in BOTH places. (If so, I venture to say you’re using Facebook too much like a hard marketer.)
Think about it: What do you really gain by having your personal friends also “fan” you—because if your personal page holds any meaning at all, then your real friends/family probably don’t need to get the fan treatment. (I can already hear your arguments about creating unwanted “writer noise” for your family/friends. If that concerns you, that’s what lists are for: filtering updates upfront, when needed.)
If you’re sure that a fan page is the right approach for you, grow it gradually, over time, by promoting it on your own website or blog, on Twitter, or through forums that you participate in.
Also: On that fan page, you should be consistently posting valuable and meaningful stuff. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you build the page, have a content or entertainment strategy.
The same goes for any Facebook groups you create.
3. Do not post a promotion for yourself on other people’s personal profile walls.
I hate this. You’ll get de-friended or shunned for this type of behavior over time.
Also, do not “tag” someone merely to get their attention for something that’s not actually related to them. That’s the same behavior as posting a promotion of yourself on their Wall.
If you really want to bring someone’s attention to something important, then do it in a private message or via e-mail. If that feels disruptive or spammy, or too much like an intrusion, then it is—don’t do it.
4. Do not send a private message to your friends, groups, or fans asking them to market or promote your stuff, unless it’s something VERY easy they can do (like take 2 seconds to vote for you in a contest).
There are exceptions to this, but for the most part, be extremely cautious. Read about The Most Important Marketing Acronym  for more.
I’ll end with this piece of advice from the Twist Image blog:
Most people are lazy. They’re busy with their day-to-day lives, and they think that the easiest way to get things done is by blasting everyone they know … They’re wrong … and it’s lazy. Even taking the extra time to personalize each email with a name and a sincere note will make all of the difference in the world. Marketing a message should not be an act of laziness, but an act of care and sincerity. Those that take the time to care and are sincere about it are usually the ones that are successful.
Okay, now it’s your turn. In the comments of this post, please share (1) any authors or organizations who you think use Facebook in a meaningful way, and can serve as models for writers to follow, and (2) what things people do on Facebook that turn you off and make you less interested.
For further reading and resources:
- Figuring Out Your Facebook Strategy: 3 Essential Tips  — one of my first bits of advice on this topic
- How a Journalist Engages Fans (on Facebook)  — good model to follow
- 10 Reasons You Are Hated on Facebook  — list of things to avoid
- Create a Writer’s Profile in Facebook  — excellent 101 if you’re new to Facebook
- Facebook World vs. Real Web World  — insight into how/why people use Facebook
- Concerned About Facebook Privacy?  — career-based insight from the Brazen Careerist
- Mashable’s Facebook Guide Book  — comprehensive tips on every aspect of Facebook
- Take a peek at the future of social media, a place where we can have multiple personalities and more highly controlled sharing of information .