How not to be a content marketer


How do you decide what to share with your social networks?

Building a social web presence starts with generosity – share what you know, what you learn, what you’ve read. The more you help others by directing them to some ‘gem’ that they might find interesting, useful or entertaining, the more likely you are to get on their radar. The more willing you are to share other people’s updates, questions, news or blog posts, the more chance there is of them reciprocating.

There’s a big caveat here though – only share what you personally enjoy or rate, and don’t expect people to share your own content (ugh – I don’t like the word, same reason as I don’t like the word ‘user’ in relation to things internet, but it’s what it gets called) unless they personally rate it.

The production and sharing of content is ubiquitous and can have the whiff of ‘cynical marketing tactic’ about it. It even has a name – content marketing. Content marketing can be outsourced, automated, strategised, formulaic. But if you keep the element of personal recommendation, you are less likely to be viewed as a content marketer and more as a person people want to connect with and be connected to.

How to come across as someone who shares what they’ve enjoyed or learned from, rather than a content marketer:

Review first before sharing.

It can be tempting to retweet, like or share something that sounds really good, without actually clicking on the link and reading or viewing the actual article. The reasons might be that you don’t have time to read the whole thing now, or you don’t want to miss the moment, or you’re on your phone and the can’t download the full article. And sharing is so quick and easy. It will fill up your timeline and show you’re present. You trust and know the source. What’s the risk?

Whatever it is you’ve shared might not be what you think it is. I often find I’ve been fooled (by a cleverly crafted subject line or tweet) to follow a link to something not very useful or well written. Even if you know and trust the source you might think it’s a safe bet. Not every guest post at Mashable or Huffington Post is great/original/valuable. And even if you’re sharing a link that’s been shared by a friend, they themselves may have shared the link without reviewing first.

If you don’t have time to read something but it looks interesting, favourite the tweet so you don’t lose it, and share it later.

Share calls for help.

Not every ‘share’ necessarily implies endorsement – forwarding news or calls for submissions or requests for help, for example. If you see a call for help, especially if it’s from a newbie or someone with a small following, do them a favour and forward something of theirs, they will be grateful. These are the small acts of kindness that content marketers are unlikely to bother with.

Attach a personal comment.

When you do share something you think your friends and followers should give their hard-earned attention to, adding your own comment or reason for sharing does make a difference. I’ve always found that plain retweets (without editing or commenting) receive fewer shares, comments or favourites than those with a comment from me attached. Easy to do when there’s no character limit, but on Twitter you may need to edit the original tweet to make space for a comment. If you do that, the etiquette is to start with MT @name : (modified tweet) rather than RT @name :

Use automation wisely.

Being able to schedule updates in advance is a real boon. Tools such as Buffer and Hootsuite make it very easy to have your updated appear at any time of day or night and can bring you to the attention of different people. You might just want to vary the wording and not repeat yourself too often – tweeting the same thing every hour (yes! we know the deadline is tonight at midnight, we don’t need a countdown!) is a turn-off. Facebook and social media expert Mari Smith is firm on this:

I would absolutely not post the same thing in a day. I’d watch how your audience is responding and you can reshare it at a later date  (the following week or 10 days later).

When sharing your own writing, make it good.

Your reputation and authority as a writer is on the line, so you might get judged on the odd typo. Don’t obsess over that, but if it bothers you, spellcheck and proof read very carefully before sharing! But the most important thing is this: you want people to read what you’ve written and not think “that’s 5/10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”

We all put out the odd less-than-stunning blog post in a hurry from time to time, but best not to make a habit of it, especially if it’s just to fulfil some rigid blogging schedule. When you’ve earned someone’s attention, the aim is to make them feel it was worth it, and wanting more.

Quality not quantity.

Content marketers look at numbers. Number of pieces of content produced, shared, favourited, liked, clicked on, acted on, and so forth. A change is made, the numbers go up, that means something has worked, so marketers do more of the same. If you’re a content marketer, that’s what you do – plan, implement, test, tweak, implement again.

But if you’re a writer with the goal of establishing a strong author platform, you’re looking to make connections one person at a time. That’s less to do with numbers and more to do with quality of interactions and depth of trust. It’s about listening and conversing, and seeing ‘people’ rather than ‘followers’. Isn’t it better to share one high quality piece of ‘content’ a day, that you know will interest at least some of your contacts, than ten links to run-of-the-mill pieces that others have already shared and may not even be very good?


Twitter Lists – a great (under-utilised) resource for writers


What are Twitter Lists?

Anyone can create a Twitter List, and Lists can be public or private. They are a way of grouping Twitter users, in any way you wish, for example, ‘Poets’, or ‘Literary Agents’ or ‘Workshop Friends’. Think of a list as a segment the people you follow on Twitter.

A Public List can be seen and subscribed to by anyone, but Private Lists are not visible or searchable by others. You might create Private Lists for research purposes, or if the subject matter of your list is sensitive (for example, competitor activity).

Where to find Twitter Lists

Where to find Twitter Lists from a Profile page

Why you should think ‘List’ first, ‘Follow’ second

When you add someone to a List, they won’t get a notification, so adding someone to a Private List is a way of following someone without their knowing. This is one reason I recommend new Twitter users to get into the habit of adding people to lists.

Let’s say you want to follow Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of The Times. The point at which you click ‘Follow’ may be your one and only chance to get his attention. If he decides to check you out and finds you haven’t tweeted yet and your profile isn’t complete, he probably won’t follow back.

So instead of openly following him, you could add him to a private list of ‘Literary Journalists’ and follow the list. At a later date when your Twitter profile looks more active and you’ve done some interesting tweets, then you can hit the ‘Follow’ button and who knows, you might get a follow back if you’re lucky.

Why follow Lists?

As the number of people you follow grows, it gets harder to see everyone’s tweets, especially those outside your time zone. But a List is a much smaller group, which makes it easier to monitor those people’s tweets.

Lists in Tweetdeck

If you use a social media dashboard like Tweetdeck, you can add your Lists as columns which make them easy to follow, separate from the main Twitter stream

Don’t forget you can also follow other people’s lists, which is much quicker than creating your own from scratch, although you’re not in control of who’s on the list and therefore whose tweets you’re exposed to.

How to find lists

I recommend a multi-pronged approach, the same way that you would search for new (good) people to follow:

1.  Twitter search box – search by key words, names of publications or individuals. Although you can’t actually search for Lists, if you go to a profile page of a relevant individual, then check out the lists they are on, you can strike gold. For example, I searched for ‘literary editors’ and randomly chose Olivia Cole (@OliviaCole1), Literary editor of GQ & Editor of Spectator Life. Turns out she’s on hundreds of lists, from ‘Editors Worth Following’ , a List curated by Vincent Dignan,  to ‘Poets, Writers’ by David-Glen Smith.

2.  People you know – always check out the Lists of people you follow as it may throw up all kinds of great Lists already in existence. And if not, you’ll at least find more of the same kinds of people you want to follow and you can start your own List.

Guardian journalist Nicholas Wroe is on a useful list of Arts/Culture Journalists

By looking at what Lists Guardian journalist Nicholas Wroe is on, I found a useful list of Arts/Culture Journalists

3.  Google Search – in the search box, do a site-wide search of Twitter by typing the following:*/keyword

– replace ‘keyword’ with your search term and Google will find you Twitter Lists with that word in the title.

Search for Twitter lists on Google

A Google search for Twitter Lists which have the word ‘Publishers’ in the title

Some examples of how to use Lists

*       Follow a list of literary magazines and never miss a submissions window or important launch.

*      Seek out conversations around your writing genre/niche and add key participants (readers, reviewers, writers, enthusiasts) to a List. By following their conversations you’ll get to know their likes, tastes, buying habits, events they go to, etc. You might want to make this a Private List and call it ‘prospects’, for example.

*      Make a list of journalists, reviewers, books bloggers and other ‘influencers’ to find out what they are working on and see any relevant calls for contributors, expert quotes or interviews. Again, this could be either Public or Private, it’s up to you.

Your (social media) hub is where the heart is


Everyone needs a home on the social web. Maybe you already have a website, or an author page on Amazon or Goodreads, or a LinkedIn profile. Any of those might be your home base, or hub.

But I’d like to talk you into thinking of your blog as your hub. A blog is different from a plain ol’ website, which is why you see so many authors having a blog alongside, or even a part of, their main promotional website. And that’s not a bad thing, because it kind of separates out the purely promotional stuff from the behind-the-scenes conversation.

An author website can be static – updated only when there’s a new book, a launch or other news. It can be out-and-out promo – find out more about my books and buy them, here’s my media page, tour details, publisher and agent contacts etc. It’s your shop window. It’s where you wear a clean suit and your brightest smile.

Your blog, on the other hand, is far from static. And it might even be a bit scruffy around the edges. You can wear your jim-jams, no-one will mind. It’s the place where you can be as much yourself as you want to be – which doesn’t mean baring all – please!

But it’s a place for conversations (rather than press releases), for confidences (rather than hype) and for giving (rather than selling). Honesty, generosity, listening and sharing – isn’t that the way we make friends in real life? So why would it be different online?

A blog is your own space, for you to define by whatever criteria feel right for you. It’s where you have a genuine voice, unmediated. Over time it grows into an amazing trove of your writing, your thoughts and anything else you want to add to it – whereas a profile page on a social or commercial platform has much less flexibility for expression, plus it could change or even disappear without you being consulted.

Create a blog and make it your home and your hub – it’s where the heart is.