I’ve spent seriously WEEKS fussing over how to kick off 2017 with blog posts. There’s lots of ideas I want to share, points to comment on. Nothing seemed to quite fit, however. And then I realized that, ultimately, the most apropos post could only be a big “Thank you” to social media. Which is, I admit, a bit weird. Let me explain.
A little more than a year ago, my wife helped me set up social media for myself. I mean, let’s be clear, I work with a bunch of computer programmers. I’ve got a graduate degree in a STEM field; I’m not unfamiliar with computers. Heck, I was on Facebook back when it was the cool college-kids-only platform.
And yet… Twitter? Still, my wife helped me (she definitely didn’t snicker as I swore trying to figure out how to update a profile, and she really didn’t snicker when I had to ask how to add pictures to blog posts). And so, a little more than a year ago, I entered the world of social media.
By the book, Buy My book
I found myself armed with a Twitter and a blog. And yet. I had these tools, and I understood the principles of a blog, but what about tweets? What do you DO with tweets? I therefore, like any logical person committed to general-principles made a spreadsheet rating articles on using social media resources.
After many resources and collated references, I grabbed the rules that seemed consistent from the multiple articles. Rule #1: follow back. Many articles stressed how important it was to follow back, so I did. Rule #2: Look for people with lots of followers, and follow them. I did (and hey, they followed back, it was working!) I found Twitter Dashboards to maximize follower counts, I spent time trying to hunt up pictures to attach to my Tweets (I saw through my Dashboards that pictures of my cat got much higher activity). The one rule that appeared consistently that I decided not to use was tweets exclusively for thanking people for following me. Oh, and I resolved never-ever to send DMs promoting myself.
Armed with these rules, I dutifully logged into my Twitter to pay my social media dues and… well…
It was just awful.
I sat there looking at my feed and it was so lifeless. There was dozens of retweets of retweets of self published authors promoting this or that latest book, this or that “Amazon #1 best seller”, scourges of DMs telling me about the latest book. There wasn’t one specific tipping point. Maybe it was the crappy Photoshop cover-art spammed, maybe it was the people who had bots set up to tweet dozens of times a day with meaningless “Buy my Book” posts. Maybe it was the person who appended a link to their book in EVERY TWEET, regardless of content. I finally got so frustrated I tossed out my spreadsheet and said screw it. Screw the rules, fuck this, this is not how I want to use Twitter.
It’s About People
I tossed the spreadsheet, and I tossed the rules. I suppose, on the one hand, the rulse did work – I got a LOT of followers pretty easily. But I didn’t care about the quantity of followers, I cared about the quality of my feed.
One MASSIVE follower purge later, I suddenly had a feed full of people again. I realized Twitter is kind of a big open cafeteria. You weren’t sure what you would overhear, but you could just pop in on any conversation and add your two cents, and you could interact with interesting and neat people.
And holy cow, did I meet some interesting and neat people. I’ve gotten to connect with some AMAZING authors. I’ve gotten to see wonderful recommendations for books I would never of heard of, like this one, this one, this one, or this kickass short story. I’ve been able to reach out and beta for other authors; I’ve gotten to interview fantastic people like this. I even learned about how scammers are gaming Kindle Unlimited. I got to ask another math nerd about MATH BOOKS. I got to interact with people that I met at cons. Once, I got to go on a Tweetstorm that helped me through a terrible migraine.
My feed was full of people again, and I realized THAT was why I was on this platform.
It’s About Passion
I can’t really avoid the orange toupee in the room either. A lot of writers I respect and admire came out after the election in a surge of activism to talk about what people can do to be politically active and to be part of the process. I got to listen to the conversation as these authors came under fire, being asked to “not get political” (that, in and of itself, is another huge conversation and a large can of worms that I will get down the road for another day. But the short version: nothing is a-political, especially silence).
And it’s not just about the spray-tan in chief. I saw thoughtful conversations about race, representation, about ablest standards, about sexism. I followed passionate people with passionate and informed opinions. I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot. And you’ll never know what you will encounter there, but I’ve had people make me smile, I’ve met people that I now call friends, and I’ve gotten to cheer and root for so many wonderful wonderful people.
These people have opinions about important things to our society, and I’ve gotten to learn from them. I can think of no other platform that allows such open access.
It’s Not Perfect
I am a straight white male on the internet who generally doesn’t attract the attention of the masses. It’s unlikely that I will wind up targeted by a mass series of trolls a la Gamergate. I have, in fact, brushed across that only once. I commented on a post of someone who is orders of magnitude more popular than I was, and my comment was early enough it drew lots of responses.
The trolls descended. Lots of them. And honestly I was lucky – I had no rape threats, no doxing. I was beneath their notice save for a good 50 comments or so arguing with me and telling me how stupid I was. I was fortunate in that I was able to ignore them and, in my case, they went away.
That’s not true for everyone. Harassment is very real, and I’ve had friends who have had their feeds flooded by white supremacists, who have been buried in vitriol, or who have had to turn off their account because it has been over-run by rape threats.
Does this concern me? Absolutely. People I care about and people I cheer for face some incredible levels of harassment, and it is harassment specifically intended to silence them. And while Twitter has done a lot for me personally this past year, I refuse to not acknowledge that dark side to these medium (see again: silence is a-political).
You folks on Twitter, you’ve made my feed a wonderful place where I can learn and laugh. I’ve got a lot of folks that I call friends, even if we’ve never met. I really hope I can meet more of you at conventions and say hello!
Writing can be a lonely task. You all have helped me find a community. And that community has just burned brighter and more magnificent than I could have ever imagined. Thank you.
P.S. Omigosh you all are so cool, I’d like to hangout sometime if it isn’t weird (it might be weird).