Hello Blog Readers: It’s Erika Robuck, and I’m here to introduce Natalia Sylvester‘s incredibly smart and fascinating post about boundaries on social media. Natalia is a copywriter and the founder of @InkyClean. Her debut novel, Chasing the Sun, will be out 5.20.14 from New Harvest. You can learn more about her by visiting her website and following her on Twitter.
If you are a writer with any kind of social media account, I encourage you to read this. It certainly hit home for me.
Too Social for Comfort: How to Build an Online Presence and Stay Safe
A few weeks ago, I attended a brunch hosted by my building so residents could get to know one another. With my breakfast taco in hand, I introduced myself to management and briefly panicked when, wide-eyed and smiling, one of the staffers said, “I know your secret.”
Cue the nervous laugh. “What?” I asked.
“You’re famous! You’re an author!” He explained that since he manages my building’s Facebook page (of which I’m a fan) he’d clicked on my profile, which led him to my website, my blog, my Twitter page, my Pinterest profile, the name of my favorite childhood doll, and a bevy of other information I’ve put out on the buffet table that is my online presence.
Although he was everything an author could hope for in a fan—excited about my book, enthusiastic about sharing the news with others—this unexpected intersection between my “online” life and my “real world” life made me realize how thin the line that separates the two truly is. I may be far from famous, but like many authors hoping to build a platform and promote their work, my information is out there—and I have no idea who’s taking it all in.
Sometimes things start innocently enough. Author A met a woman at a local social event and didn’t think much of it until she started getting repeated invitations for future events via Twitter. Over time, the follower’s Tweets and Direct Messages became increasingly intense and persistent, enough to make Author A consider blocking her.[pullquote]All in all it was a low level of stalking, but it’s amazing the amount of anxiety it produced. I felt so violated, yet I had to keep up my social media presence for the good of my book sales – and my publisher’s impression of me doing my part.”[/pullquote]
“Some of her DMs were very, very creepy. Nothing I could take to the police, really, but overly familiar and clingy.” Hoping to deter her follower, A stopped responding to her tweets, but it took about a year for the woman’s tweets to die down, at which point she blocked her. “All in all it was a low level of stalking, but it’s amazing the amount of anxiety it produced. I felt so violated, yet I had to keep up my social media presence for the good of my book sales – and my publisher’s impression of me doing my part.”
Author B also met a fan in person at local events, but it wasn’t long before this person’s devotion began to make her uncomfortable. Aside from rarely missing a chance to attend B’s events, this superfan began messaging her constantly on Facebook and Twitter, telling B she was a beautiful person, and how much she meant to her. She took offense when B removed her from her personal page and asked that they keep in touch via her author page—it was as if this fan thought she and the author were close friends.
Even Friends Have Boundaries
But in a way, isn’t being friendly the goal of social media? We’re told that being authentic and engaging with readers is key, that’s it’s important to build connections that feel personal so that fans will want to support you. Where do you draw the line between being accessible and giving too much access?
Shennandoah Diaz, a writer and social media coach for authors, advises writers to remember that they’re in charge of how much they put out there. Mind the details: personal contact information, specifics about places you frequent or establishments near your home are things that are often shared online without too much thought. But in the wrong hands, they can be used to track you down.[pullquote]Personal contact information, specifics about places you frequent or establishments near your home are things that are often shared online without too much thought. But in the wrong hands, they can be used to track you down.[/pullquote]
Always check the privacy and location settings on your social accounts—many are set to public or to show where you are by default, but can be adjusted to share as little or as much as you’re comfortable with. When using apps like Foursquare or tweeting about an event, check-in only when you’re leaving or if you plan on having someone with you the whole time.
“Bottom line, marketing you and your work is about building connections, but not about making you a target. Set your boundaries and stick to them, watch what details you share—really they aren’t crucial to your marketing plan anyway,” she says, noting that she’s had to incorporate cybersafety into all of her workshops due to rising instances of cyberstalking, and has even created a Cybersafety Checklist for this purpose.
Help Others, Protect Yourself
Having learned from experience, Author A now feels very leery of connecting with new people outside of publishing. “I have kept what would seem like benign details about my life a secret to avoid the scary nightmare fantasies writers are prone to imagining – coming home from vacation to find her in my wedding dress cooking oatmeal in my kitchen, etc.”
But even connecting with those within the industry can present its share of problems. Contacted through her website by an alumna of her college, Author C agreed to write a blurb for a fellow writer’s book if she found the time, and asked her to send the manuscript to her home. In the weeks after the writer mailed her manuscript to C, she emailed constantly to check on her blurb’s progress, until finally the author wrote back saying she wouldn’t have time for it after all. “I wished her the best of luck,” C says. “Within 24 hours it was clear she was writing bad reviews [of my novel] under cloaked names.” Though the reviews were eventually deleted, the author’s unease remains. “She lives close by and it’s very upsetting. I was only trying to be nice to her and now I feel very threatened.”[pullquote]When someone is making it a point to go online every day and harass you, not only is it against social media rules (and they can have their account banned for life), its also against the law and subject to criminal charges.”[/pullquote]
If you ever feel you’re being cyber-bullied, Diaz recommends getting local law enforcement and even the FBI informed. “When someone is making it a point to go online every day and harass you, not only is it against social media rules (and they can have their account banned for life), its also against the law and subject to criminal charges,” she says.
As for C, she’s sworn to never give out her address again; all requests for book blurbs or any sort of correspondence must go through her literary agent or publisher.
But You and I, We’re Okay, Right?
If you’re reading this and wondering if you’ve ever creeped out an author by reaching out to them, the good news is you probably haven’t. All the authors interviewed for this article agreed that these instances were rare; hearing from friendly readers and fans is one of the most rewarding things about social media.
Still, it’s important to know where to draw the line. Don’t ask an author questions you wouldn’t ask a stranger, and respect their need for privacy and space. Readers often feel like they know an author because they’ve read their work and interviews, but the author doesn’t know them. “It’s disorienting. And a huge adjustment no one talks about,” Author A says. “And we’re not movie stars. I don’t get paid bodyguard employing money. But in the days of selling the author not the book, we’re out there quite a bit and very accessible.”[pullquote]By all means, do email an author to tell them how much you enjoyed their work, but don’t expect to hear back minutes later, or to become lifelong pen pals once you do. Sending messages about their appearance, attractiveness, or why they haven’t written back isn’t likely to foster feelings of buddy-buddiness.[/pullquote]
So what’s a friendly fan to do? By all means, do email an author to tell them how much you enjoyed their work, but don’t expect to hear back minutes later, or to become lifelong pen pals once you do. Sending messages about their appearance, attractiveness, or why they haven’t written back isn’t likely to foster feelings of buddy-buddiness.
Feel free to share details about an author’s events with friends who might be interested, and even post pictures you took with the author on social channels if you’re so inclined. But don’t follow the author to every event of their book tour and expect to have dinner and drinks afterward.
When in doubt, remember that in any interaction, online or in-person, social etiquette and common sense still apply.
Have you ever had a difficult experience with a fan or follower? How do you protect yourself while maintaining an online presence?