Supporting Indie Authors

Supporting Indie Authors

Supporting Indie Authors – do you do it?

I am published, and one issue that comes up, time and again, concerns how people can go about supporting indie authors. In particular, friends and family far removed from the business of writing or social media or public relations or marketing or the like still want to help out.

And for the writers, who may feel strange suggesting or requesting such support, I hope this little guide can do just that. Instead of asking, perhaps they can simply point to this blog post.

The #1 Way You Can Support An Independent Author

This one’s easy. Buy their book! Which version? Any version!

However, authors might get better percentages of the take with a particular format. If that is the case, and you don’t mind which format you purchase, you can always ask your friend the writer. While we always want you to buy the book (and a sale beats out no sale), if we have our druthers and it really makes a difference, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

The #2 Way To Support Independent Authors

Supporting Indie Authors
Untrustworthy by JR Gershen-Siegel

So once you’ve bought the book, a fantastic way to help out even more is to provide an honest review. Amazon, Smashwords, and many publisher sites provide a means of reviewing novels and other creative works. Be sure to review where you purchased the book. Why? Because then you can be listed with verified purchase next to your name. This adds considerably more credibility to your review (and some places require it now).

The Sum and Substance of Your Review

What should you say in your review? If you loved the book, say so. If it was a decent read but not your cup of tea, say that as well, as it’s honest, fair, and remains supportive. After all, not everyone loves the same thing. If you’re not in the demographic group the work is aimed at, then no problem. You gave it the old college try and that’s just fantastic. The longer the review then, generally, the better. Specific references to events in the book, without giving away spoilers, really help. E. g. something like: I loved the character of ___. She was believably vulnerable.

Negative Reviews

What if you hated the book? Should you lie? Absolutely not – and, I might add, don’t lie even if the author has specifically asked for positive reviews only (an unethical request, by the way). If the book stinks (I’ve read books that have made me want to burn people’s computers, they were so horrible, so I know exactly where you’re coming from), then you have the following options:

  1. Don’t post the review at all, and say nothing to the author.
  2. Don’t post the review at all, but mention it to the author. However be prepared for, potentially, some negative push-back, in particular if that person specifically requested just positive reviews. You can sweeten the pot by offering some other assistance (see below for other things you can do to help).
  3. Post a short review. Reviews don’t have to be novel-length! You can always write something like Interesting freshman effort from indie author ____ (the writer’s name goes in the blank). There ya go. Short, semi-sweet, and you’re off the hook. Unless the book utterly bored you, the term ‘interesting’ works. If the book was absolutely the most boring thing you have ever read, then you can go with valiant or unique (so long as the work isn’t plagiarized) instead of interesting. Yes, you have just damned with faint praise. But sometimes faint praise is the only kind you can give out.

Really going negative

  1. Post a negative review. However, be prepared for your friendship to, potentially, end. Is that the worst thing, ever? I’m not saying to be mean. Don’t be mean and don’t take potshots at a person’s character or personality. This is about the book and not about your relationship with the person (although it can sometimes turn into that. But keep the review about the creative work only). But if the friendship means more to you, then seriously consider options #1 or #2 instead.

Furthermore, many sites have star systems. Adding stars (even a single star) is helpful as this signals to readers that there is at least some interest in the piece.

The #3 Way to Support an Independent Author

Post and/or share the links to either the creative work or the author’s website, blog, Facebook Author page, or Amazon Author page, onto social media. This method is free and anyone can do it. This means tweets, Facebook shares, Pinterest repinnings, Tumblr rebloggings, clicking ‘like’ on Instagram, voting up a book trailer on YouTube or adding it to a playlist, mentioning the book in your status on LinkedIn, or sharing the details with your circles on Google+, and more. Every time you provide these sorts of social signals to social media sites, the content is delivered to more people. Without spending a dime, and barely lifting a finger, you can provide a great deal of help.

The #4 Way to Support Independent Authors

Be sure to follow your friends’ Amazon Author pages, and their blogs. Hit ‘like’ on their Facebook Author pages and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. There are agents who give more weight to indies who have larger social media followings. You can hate the book but still follow the author.

You can also work some magic in person. Show up to any signings or discussions, even if you just drink coffee and don’t participate. Ask for the book at your local library or bookstore. Read the paper version in public (train stations are really great for that sort of thing). You can also talk to your friends, or email them about the work. Consider your audience, and don’t just spam your friends, but if your writer pal has written, say, a Christian-themed love story, then how about sending the link to your friend who has a son studying to be a pastor?

If your friend is local, try contacting your local paper and asking if they’d do a profile on the writer. They can always say no, but sometimes reporters are hunting around for short feel-good locally-specific blurbs. It never hurts to ask.

The #5 Way to Support an Independent Author

Here’s where it gets to be a time investment. Help them. A lot of serious authors ask questions about all manner of things, in order to perform proper research. Can you help with that? Do you have personal experience, or are you good at Googling? You can also act as a beta reader. Beta readers read either the entire draft or a portion of it or sometimes just the first chapter or even character bios. Here’s where you can be a lot freer with criticism, as this is all private. Is the mystery too easy to solve? The character names are confusing? The protagonist isn’t described clearly? The scenario is improbable? Then tell the writer. This isn’t correcting their grammar or their spelling (although it sometimes can be). This is giving them valuable feedback which will help them become better.

As always, be kind. This is your friend’s baby, after all. But if you can’t tell the difference between Susan and Suzanne in the story, then other readers probably wouldn’t be able to, either. Better that that is fixed before the book is released, than afterwords.

Final Thoughts on How to Support Independent Authors

The life of a writer can be a rather topsy-turvy one. You’re high on good reviews, and then you get one bad one and it depresses you. You write like the wind for weeks, and then you edit it and it feels like it’s garbage. You get writer’s block, or life gets in the way.

Sometimes the best thing you can do, as a friend, is to just listen, and be there.

… And Facebook for All — All the Rest of It

… And Facebook for All — All the Rest of It

What’s the rest of it? There are really only two areas that I haven’t delved into: Groups and Notes (and keep in mind, FB changes constantly, so these could go away).

Groups

Groups: a lot more self-explanatory than you might expect.

 Rest
Trekkies at Florida Supercon (Photo credit: daspader)

They are, of course, a means for people to gather themselves together. Facebook is enormous and so, instead of looking through several million people to try to find someone who likes, say, Star Trek United, you can hunt for a Star Trek group, join it and, voila! Instant collection of people with an interest similar to your own.

Joining in a group affords few obligations. Get invited to a group event? Well, it’s nice to RSVP, but not necessary. New discussion in the group? Well, it’s nice to participate, but you don’t need to. Add photos? Again, lovely, but no one’s holding a gun to your head.

Group Management

Managing a group differs a tad because it’s good to keep it lively. I’ve already talked a bit about groups before in this series, so I won’t repeat what I’ve said. However, mainly you want to keep discussions going (if any) and interest up. Gathering an enormous number of fans (yes, I know they are called Likes now, but what’s the human term? Likers? That just sounds weird, Facebook) helps with that.

This helps because it’s a somewhat objective means of showing interest in your group or cause or company, but since there’s a proliferation of dual accounts, that’s not necessarily much of an achievement. Plus, since it’s so easy to toss a share or Like button on any site, and Liking is so easy, having a lot of fans often just means you got your group in front of a bunch of people who are fine with clicking on a Like button, and nothing more. A group with 1,000 fans is not necessarily going to be easier to monetize than a group with only 100.

Notes

Notes became yet another means of getting across information. The main difference between them and discussions? The replies seem more like subordinate-appearing comments versus discussion replies.

Huh?

Yeah, it’s a difference without much of a real distinction.

The main usage I’ve seen for Notes consists of old-fashioned “getting to know you” kinds of notes. You know, the kind where you’re asked your favorite ice cream flavor or the name of your childhood pet. I’ve been on the Internet for over a decade and a half and, frankly, I think I’ve seen all of these by now.

The last bit about Facebook is its very ubiquity. One of the reasons why it is so successful is because it’s, well, so successful. E. g., a long time ago, it hit a tipping point and started to become famous for the sake of being famous, and got bigger pretty much just because it was already huge.

It is well-known to be a world-wide phenomenon. Mentioning it is so obvious, so simple and so well-known that it practically isn’t product placement to talk about it any more, much like mentioning a telephone in a movie isn’t really product placement to give a profit to Alexander Graham Bell’s descendants.

See you online. And, yes, I will friend you if you like.

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Podcasting for Fun and Possibly Some Profit

Podcasting

Podcasting can get you to a wider audience. It’s a different medium from what you might be used to. And it offers practice and the opportunity to polish some skills that you, the writer, might not have realized you needed, such as thinking on your feet and being an interview subject.

Getting Started

What do you need for podcasting? This image is a pretty good summary of what you need –

Podcasting
Podcast 1 (Image by user Tim Wilson on Wikimedia Commons). File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The good news is that you have most of this stuff already. In fact, you don’t even need everything that’s in the image.

Computers

It doesn’t seem to matter too much which type of computer you use. You really just need an Internet connection. You will need some speed, so dispense with dial up if you’re still using it (someone out there is, right?). I would, though, recommend using an actual computer as opposed to a phone for podcasting, as the resultant file is going to be huge.

Microphones

The image shows a studio-style mic, but the truth is, you don’t need to get quite so fancy. My own microphone is part of a headset from an outfit called Hama. I know I bought it a few years ago. It works just fine and most importantly, the mouthpiece is adjustable. You want adjustability because, inevitably, you’re going to sneeze or cough, or the phone will ring or whatever.

Software

To be able to talk to your fellow podcasters on your show, or to your guests, you’ll need some software. Essentially what you are looking for is chat. My team and I like to use TeamSpeak. I imagine you could do as well with Yahoo! or Facebook chat. Just make sure that whatever you are using is private. Oh, and turn any sound notifications off.

If you’re going to put your podcast on YouTube (I think this is generally a good idea), you’ll need software for that, too. I use software that comes from my school, Screencast-o-matic. The school also uses TechSmith Relay but I prefer Screencast-o-matic. Either way, you want software which allows you to record a fairly long video.

You may not think that you need any sort of visual art software, but I beg to differ. At minimum, your podcast needs a logo or at least a slide that you can slap onto the front of your YouTube video. Photoshop or Gimp is ideal, but Paint or even Microsoft PowerPoint can do in a pinch.

Image Permissions

If you are going to use an image that you didn’t make, check the license! I like to use Wikimedia Commons as a lot of their images have open licenses or they just require an attribution and nothing more. Remember – just because an image exists online and you can right-click and save it, does not mean that you have permission to use it! When in doubt, use one of your own images. I like to use scenery images if I don’t have a logo. Scenery can even be something really tiny, such as one flower bud.

For sound editing, the beauty of TeamSpeak is that it allows for sound recording. But you will still need to trim something or other. I have Audacity though I admit I don’t use it for much (I don’t do the sound editing for our podcast). But Audacity is otherwise useful.

Practice

You should practice before you try to go anywhere with podcasting. It doesn’t need to be long or involved. Get to know the software. For example, TeamSpeak allows for a push to talk feature. Use it! This will help a lot when you are recording, as you need to consciously press a button for any sound to come out. Practice using this until it’s second nature.

Use Audacity, and record yourself saying something simple and scripted. It can be a nursery rhyme or the like. You don’t want to be doing this for more than a minute or so.

The idea here is to listen to playback. Can you be understood? Are you too breathy? Does your accent push through a bit too much? Do you talk too fast? Every single one of these issues can be fixed, including the accent.

Fix Your Audio

Generally, you will need to slow down and enunciate. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, but at least in the beginning you’ll want to talk more slowly, in particular if you have a thick accent. If you’re too breathy-sounding, try bringing the mic farther away from your mouth. As for outside noises, you’ll need to close windows and doors, put pets outside, and turn off fans and space heaters. Set your phone on mute.

When you work with co-hosts, practice with them at least once. Remember to not talk over them and, if you’re laughing at their jokes, you need assure that even your laughter is being recorded.

Hosts and Guests

Consider your subject and your potential audience. On the G & T Show, we talk about Star Trek and Star Trek Online. This includes the novels and cosplay. We will also branch out to talk about other gaming and other science fiction. Having this broad a topic but with its own limitations makes it fairly easy to come up with show ideas. As for guests, our hosts network at conventions, in the STO game, and on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Cohosts

A co-host is an extremely good idea, as otherwise you’re talking to yourself a lot. While you could carry a show by yourself, it’s a lot easier if you don’t have to. Three hosts tends to be a really good number, particularly if the third is not too active. You’ll quickly find your hosts unconsciously dividing into three groups:

  1. The talker – this person won’t necessarily stay on topic all the time, but they can fill dead air.
  2. The organizer – this person understands creating a theme and keeping the show on target. This person often remembers to thank the guests.
  3. The utility infielder – this person can chime in and also cover if either of the first two cannot podcast. Along with the organizer, this person often performs research and gathers potential podcast material in advance.

Guests

As for guests, consider your circle, both online and off. You can podcast without guests, and you will most likely need to get a few under your belt before anyone will want to visit.

However, when you do get guests, the usual details apply, e. g. be polite, give them ample time to plug whatever they want to plug, and prepare questions for them in advance. If your guest writes, for example, you might want to talk about the themes in their book, where they get their inspiration, how long they’ve been writing, and how they first became published. Think outside the box and consider guests a little removed from your basic subject. Hence if your subject is books and writing, why not have a cover artist on as a guest, or a professional editor? Maybe feature a literary agent or a representative from a publishing house.

Extras

At G & T we have a Streaming page and use a minicaster. This also includes a hosted chat room – the show broadcasts live and the audience can listen and follow along in the chat room. This is not necessary, but it’s fun.

Blogging

We also blog about the show, which means that we take notes (in our case, the utility infielder does this). The blog is a great place to get the URLs in that we may have talked about but our audience might not have gotten the first time we mentioned them. With the blog, we can just make clickable outbound links. We also make sure that a player is embedded into the blog, so that a reader can listen to the show if they would prefer that.

Distribution

We always upload our podcast to not only iTunes, but also MixCloud and YouTube. These spread our broadcast even further. We use a regular logo card as the image accompanying our YouTube videos. For special interviews, we make different images, usually with our guest’s provided headshot.

To introduce new segments, we use bumpers. These are just short (less than half a minute long) introductions to various segments (e. g. Star Trek News). Ours consist of our utility infielder’s niece giving the title of the segment and then some introductory music that we have permission to use (always get permission or make sure that music is public domain!). Bumpers help because they provide a smooth transition between segments and they can cover up any ragged transitions. We splice these into the completed file. Our announcer girl has also recorded our intro and our credits portion (with music we can use), so we added these as a part of post-production. Again, these provide recognizable transitions for our audience.

Promotions

We promote our show on social media, with mainly our YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. We also have Tumblr, Google+, and Pinterest accounts but use them less. Our main promotions come from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. We also promote at conventions, including a table at Star Trek Las Vegas for the past few years.

Why Not Podcast?

So what are you waiting for? Why not give podcasting a try?

Janet Gershen-Siegel is freelance social media marketer and a Master’s degree candidate (Interactive Media, ’16) at Quinnipiac University. Her novel, Untrustworthy, was published by Riverdale Avenue Books in 2015 and is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions.

… And Facebook for All

… And Facebook for All

At least, that’s what Mark Zuckerberg would want us all to think, wish and feel. I can understand that, a desire to make a website about as universal as possible. Once the site stopped being exclusive to collegians, the inevitable business model was to universalize it. And Facebook, today (although that will probably change), has about the best chance to become a truly universal web experience as any site.

Universality

Facebook for All
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, are you on Facebook? About 1.6 billion users are, as of this writing. But, wait, not so fast. Is that number truly accurate? Absolutely not. After all (and for different reasons), my husband and I each have more than one account. Do you? Even if you don’t, I bet you’ve got at least one friend who does, and probably lots more.

And that is perfectly all right, and is absolutely permitted by Facebook (although they’d like to change that).

Why Facebook?

Facebook’s main purpose (in case you’re just coming into the light after a few years on a desert island), is to sell advertising. Its offshoot purpose is to connect people, of all stripes, for free. But it’s those connections that sell the advertising.

There’s a lot else to it, at least on a general basis. But it’s still a valuable business tool for any Social Media Marketing Campaign.

The Best Parts of Facebook for Social Media Marketing

Facebook’s main virtues, when it comes to your business, can currently be divided into three basic areas:

  • Personal pages and peripheral connections to same
  • Company pages and groups and peripheral connections thereto, and,
  • Offsite connections back to Facebook

By “peripherals”, I mean all the extra stuff that goes along with Facebook, and not computer hardware peripherals.

Next: Your Facebook Profile Page

Facebook for All

Why use a screen name?

Why use a screen name?

Screen name – good idea, or no?

I was inspired by this post in Angela Connor‘s blog. If you don’t know Angela Connor, I urge you to check her out; her blog is extremely insightful and is one of my favorites.

Her ideas make a great deal of sense, and I think some of this is why the Blizzard forum experiment in real names for users was such an immediate and egregious flop.

Masks

The ‘net, like it or not, is for many people a place of masks. You pretend to be younger and thinner than you are. Or you pretend to be unmarried. You pretend to be a Klingon. Or you’re a teenager and pretend to be an adult. Or you pretend to be another gender or richer or lovelier or more conservative or whatever.

And the masks can be freeing to many. Perhaps they were freeing when the ancient Greeks donned them while performing “Oedipus Rex” for the first time. I think there is more of a place for them than perhaps we’d all care to admit. Because there seems to be a value to being able to spread war paint (or lamp black) on one’s face, or wear a Halloween costume.

Unreality

screen name
Halloween Costume Close-up (Photo credit: trustella)

And this is not the same as our reality. It is related but not identical. Maybe the librarian who goes out for Halloween dressed as a dance hall girl wants to be known as someone who takes risks (and maybe foolish ones, at that). But when the morning after rolls around, she’s back in the library helping others do research.

Anonymous Commenting

This kind of anonymous commenting allows for something like this. Because the sympathetic guy who’s really seething inside gets to call people out. He gets to be a bully and be an all-around racist jerk (I have worse names, but don’t wish to besmirch my blog). But then he surfs to a different site where he can chat up the ladies with his sensitive New Age guy demeanor. And then when the time to log off comes, he goes home and kisses his wife and plays with his children. And this is all one guy.

Facebook

To comment openly through a full, correct name (usually) medium like Facebook would be to cut off the dance hall girl. And it would stifle the racist jerk, the ladies’ man, and any number of other secret selves in favor of a drab and ordinary world. Even on a news site, which is pretty much the definition of drab unless there’s some sort of a hot story, the jerk, the dancer and the Romeo all want to be free.

Who’s Real?

But we shouldn’t take their opinions as seriously as the real people. Because, even though those personae live in real people’s skins, it’s the real people who vote, marry, pay taxes, work, make the news and are members of our real society.

The trouble is telling them apart and knowing which one is real.

Can you always tell? I bet you can’t. Not always.

screen name

Social Media Continues its Relentless Pace to Try to Make You Stay Put

Social Media Continues its Relentless Pace to Try to Make You Stay Put

It’s a relentless pace out there. And much like the holidays accelerate the end of the year, and we suddenly look up on January 7th or so and wonder just what the hell just happened, social media is continuing to not so much reap the whirlwind as to be the whirlwind. But at the same time, there’s an effort afoot to slow down and control the whirlwind.

Twitter

Social Media Continues its Relentless Pace to Try to Make You Stay Put
English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Case in point: Twitter‘s recent changes are designed to keep people on as long as possible. They do this by embedding media more directly and making it so that you don’t have to leave Twitter’s embrace in order to enjoy a clip or a photograph. So far, so good. But shortened URLs allow for more malware exploits. It’s like one step forward, a step back and another one to the side.

Facebook

Facebook, yet again, looks to change its layout. The profile is going to become richer and provide more information. This may or may not be useful to users but it will certainly keep them on longer. At least, that will happen in the beginning, when it’s a novel concept.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is adding Signal to make it easier to track even more of the social media avalanche – and, of course, to try to keep people on LinkedIn as long as possible.

What these changes have in common, other than, perhaps, novelty for the sake of novelty, is the desire to keep people on site as long as possible. Put some tar down, and have us all stick, at least for a while.

So while the Internet spins ever faster, and social media sites attempt to keep up, their overall strategies seem to try to slow us all down. Will it work? Is it a foolish dream to think you can keep people around with such tricks, such slick bells and whistles?

Lack of Content

What disturbs me is that there’s not a lot of content happening. And it would, could, should make me want to hang around. Instead of hiring writers to improve things, or rewarding good current content providers, each of the big three sites is instead pursuing a software solution. But what’s the sense in hanging around a site if the content isn’t compelling? Or are we, instead, merely getting the sites that we, perhaps, deserve?

Hence here’s what happens if my Facebook friends list is dominated by people I went to High School with over thirty years ago. Their status updates and my wall are dominated by news of their birthdays, their children and their careers. But isn’t that what’s to be expected? And if I instead tip my list in a different direction, and it’s suddenly dominated by the people I work with or diet with or do artwork with, the news is going to be different.

Comparison to Reality TV

One thing about Reality TV is that it’s anything but real if it’s at all successful. Because people just, generally, don’t lead terribly interesting lives (yes, you too, gentle reader). We pick up the dry cleaning. Or we bicker over the remote. We forget to buy sausages and make do with hot dogs. And around and around and around we go. And all three of the big social media sites, when we are not following celebrities and businesses, are really just a big agglomeration of Post-It Notes whereby we tell each other to grab milk on the way home. For “Reality” to be compelling at all, it’s got to be unreal, and scripted. It must be turned into this fight or that rose ceremony or this other weird pancake-making challenge.

The big three social media sites, when you strip away the celebrities and the companies, can be a boatload of errands or a standard-form holiday letter. You know the kind, where you’re told little Suzie has taken up the clarinet. Over and over ad infinitum.

No wonder we need software solutions to keep us there.

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The Best Lengths for Social Media Posts and More

The Best Lengths for Social Media Posts and More

Best Lengths for social posts can seem elusive. What’s right?

The fine folks at Buffer and, in particular, Kevan Lee, have done it again and have everything you always wanted to know about social post lengths but were afraid to ask.

The Best Lengths for Social Media Posts and More
English: Red Pinterest logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my travels online, I have seen blog posts that were under 50 words long. I have seen blog posts that were a good 10,000 words long. Tweets, of course, are limited. But there have been plenty of Pinterest pins with just an image and nothing else. Or they’ve got enough verbiage behind them to seemingly rival War and Peace. So, what’s ideal? Is there any science behind it?

Blogs

How long should blog posts be? Buffer likes blog post titles to be six words long (oops, this blog post’s title is too long). Interestingly enough, the blog post where I got the inspiration for this blog post from also has a title that is too long.

Sometimes, six words is just not long enough.

Thanks to Buffer for this graphic.

The Best Lengths for Social Media Posts and More

Interestingly enough, Buffer says blog posts are best at 1,600 words in length. However, Yoast (the fine makers of an SEO plugin I use for my own blog posting) provides good SEO credit for blog posts that are at least 300 words in length. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but one thing is for sure – those fifty-word blog posts just plain are not long enough.

Facebook

How big should a Facebook post be? Buffer says forty characters. Keep it short, snappy, and to the point. According to Lee, Facebook posts that exceed forty characters degrade in engagement as they get longer. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that 700-word screed you wrote? Better make that a blog post instead and just link to it. But if you put the whole thing on Facebook, people will scroll right on by.

Here’s a trick to get around the forty-character wall – links show the title and some text, and you can always change these. Or add an image with some text. But don’t go nuts! It is very, very easy to hit and exceed critical mass.

Google+

How long should a Google+ post be? Buffer puts the figure at sixty characters. After that, you’re hitting a second line of text. How do you get around it? The idea is similar to Facebook – you have a little room to play with images and even a short subtitle.

LinkedIn

How long should a LinkedIn post be? Buffer clocks in at twenty-five words, based upon clickthrough data.

Pinterest

How large should a Pinterest image be? Buffer’s got you covered – 735px x 1102px. These taller pins seem to stand out more, and are therefore shared more often.

Twitter

How long should an effective Tweet be? Buffer says to limit it to 71 – 100 characters, in order to provide some space for people to comment before sending out a modified tweet (MT). Keep hashtags at six characters for maximal impact. Yes, we all know that people sometimes use hashtags as a bit of wry commentary. Tumblr in particular seems to inspire hashtags like #DudeLooksLikeALady (and not just for fans of Aerosmith). Excessive hashtagging is one of the characteristics of Instagram. But the best length hashtag on Twitter has six characters.

Upshot

TL; DR – Check out the chart, and the cited article, for more information. The research is sound, and fascinating, and the article was a hell of a find.

… And Facebook for All — Your Home Page

… And Facebook for All — Your Home Page

Your Home Page. Log into Facebook, and it’s the first thing you see. It’s your Home Page. Here’s what’s in it.

NOTE: Facebook constantly A/B tests. Features move around, change, are renamed and resized, or disappear all the time. These are rolled out in stages; your neighbor may have a different-looking Home Page from yours. And this is 100% normal.

Column One

First of all, column one (left side, top):

Your Home Page
Facebook (Photo credit: Scott Beale)
  • Groups
  • Pages
  • Friends
  • Create Group
  • A small list of your most recently accessed games

Column Two

And column two (center):

  • Status messages on friends’ pages
  • Other friend activities

Column Three

Then column three (right, top):

  • Events
  • Friends’ Birthdays
  • People You May Know
  • Targeted Advertisements
  • A list of friends available on chat

Let’s start with Column One:

Groups

This is a list of the groups you have joined.

Pages

These are pages you are following.

Friends

So pretty obviously, this is a way to access your entire list of friends.

Create Group

You can create groups for any reason. And this includes to support a beloved entertainment figure, promote your business or just complain about people wearing Crocs. I’ll get into the specifics later in this series.

A small list of your most recently accessed games

These will rotate as you access more games, depending upon recency.

Now for Column Two:

Status messages on friends’ pages

This is the actual News Feed itself (also access in Column One). And you can comment on others’ statuses (statii?) or posted links.

Other friend activities

First of all, you are served everyone’s activities. Facebook can be a tsunami of data. However, a lot is aggregated; you are usually shown that six people joined a group, rather than separate messages on all half-dozen.

And Column Three:

Events

A way to see the calendar. So if you’ve got upcoming events and you haven’t RSVP’d, they’ll show up here, but you can jettison them by clicking the x on the right side. Note that you’ll be invited to all sorts of stuff, including sponsored activities and openings by commercial ventures. And RSVP’ing is not strictly necessary. However, as an event organizer, I have to say it’s appreciated so as to at least get a handle on headcount (and know who not to expect). You need not RSVP for commercial store openings or whatnot.

Friends’ Birthdays

Whether they’ve made the year apparent is their own business. But if they’ve got the month and day up on Facebook, birthdays will show up here. And of course you’re under no obligation to wish people a Happy Birthday, but it is kind of nice.

People You May Know

So this is based upon some sort of an algorithm whereby Facebook looks at things like your current friends list, their friends, your location and possibly also your school(s) and workplace(s). However, I don’t believe the latter are included at this time. If you have any mutual friends, Facebook lists them as well. Facebook does not always get this right, or it gets it wrong in interesting ways, e. g. Facebook says I “may know” the spouse of someone I attended High School with. Well, unless I went to High School with the spouse (over 30 years ago), then there isn’t much of a likelihood there.

Targeted Advertisements

Well, they’re as targeted as Facebook can make them. This is apparently based on your click activity, your likes, your friends’ likes and whenever you click on an ad to get rid of it. Again, sometimes Facebook can get this wrong in rather spectacular ways; for example, when I wrote this post originally, it showed me an ad for Toyota. And I have neither owned nor contemplated owning one, ever.

A list of friends available on chat

It should go without saying that you should never click on links from chatters you don’t know well. And you’re under no obligation whatsoever to answer anyone’s instigated chat.

A big part of the Facebook experience is not only playing games but also sharing them with others, or sharing status or links. The way you see and can participate in this sharing is via your Home Page. It is, essentially, a bulletin board between you and your pals.

Next: Your Account Settings

… And Facebook for All Your Account Settings

… And Facebook for All – Your Account Settings Explained

… And Facebook for All – Your Account Settings – in Facebook, how to do you change your account settings? When you pull down on the Account section of Facebook, you currently see a few choices:

Your Account Settings
Your Account Settings

Edit Friends

First of all, you get a list of your friends. And if you have separate friend lists (say, for work or school), those lists are on the left. Facebook does move these sorts of settings around. By the time you read this blog post, this feature could potentially have been moved.

You can add friends to various lists, remove them, or delete them from your list altogether. There are also suggested names to be added to various lists (assuming you’ve selected a list, versus all of your friends). The default here is not only to show the entire list of friends, but to put the ones you’ve interacted with most recently up at the top.

Manage Pages

If you manage pages — and you may very well have that as a task if you are using Facebook for your business — here is a link straight to each page and how to change it. Simply click “Go to Page” and you are transported to the correct page in question. I’ll get into the specifics of what you can do from there later in this series.

Account Settings

This is a part of Facebook that always seems to be changing. It is entirely possible that, by the time you read this blog post, these instructions will be obsolete. I’ll keep everything at a high level and won’t get into too many specifics. It is divided as follows:

  • Settings
  • Networks
  • Notifications
  • Mobile
  • Language
  • Payments

Settings

This section is currently divided as follows:

  • Name – your real name
  • Username
  • Email – self-explanatory
  • Password – self-explanatory
  • Linked Accounts – you can put more than one account together
  • Security Question – self-explanatory
  • Privacy – control the information you put out there. But do keep in mind: if something is truly personal, the Internet is an awfully foolish place to put it in.
  • Account Security – you can add some form of extra protection
  • Download Your Information – save your photos, etc. to a ZIP file
  • Deactivate Account – self-explanatory

Networks

You can join networks, such as identifying yourself with an employer or a school you’ve attended.

Notifications

Control settings for notifications such as when someone tags you in a photo. I think that the default settings are pretty excessive. I like to know if someone wants to add me as a friend, and when I’ve been tagged in a photograph. Other than that, I’ll just check when I’m online. Obviously, my preferences need not be identical to yours.

Mobile

Activate a phone and register for Facebook text messages here.

Language

Set a primary language or translate Facebook into other languages from here. There’s currently a rather extensive list, including some languages not written with a Western alphabet.

Payments

Track your credits balance, credits purchase history, payment methods and preferred currency here.

Privacy Settings

Control some aspects of the sharing experience here, including who can see your photographs, religious and political views, etc.

Help Center

This area is undoubtedly going to continue to evolve as questions come up and the increasingly complicated Facebook system breaks in all sorts of interesting and as-yet unexpected ways. You can even ask a question, and the most common questions are listed. Unsurprisingly, these include topics such as how to delete your account or change your name.

Log Out

Pretty self-explanatory. Click here and you’ll be logged out of Facebook.

Next: Company Pages

Your Account Settings

… And Facebook for All — Your Profile Page, Part II

… And Facebook for All — Your Profile Page, Part II

Your Profile Page, Part II.

First of all, Facebook members have seen it dozens, if not hundreds, of times – your Profile Page.

... And Facebook for All -- Your Profile Page, Part II

Let’s talk some more about your Profile. Here’s mine.

In addition to the basic tabs at the top, it also contains:

  • A space for your profile picture
  • Information on any mutual friends you might share with anyone peeking at your profile
  • A small subgroup of your friends
  • Your Likes
  • and Your Photos
  • Your Links
  • A share button, and,
  • On the right side, there are advertisements

NOTE: Facebook continually A/B tests, and so buttons and features move, change, are resized, added, or can disappear altogether. Your neighbor can sometimes see a rather different version of Facebook versus yours. And this is normal.

Let’s look at these in order.

A space for your profile picture

No one is stopping you from putting up a picture that is not, actually, of you. And I’ve seen dogs on Facebook, scenery, people’s children and cartoon characters. Hence it’s a place to be somewhat expressive. However, recognize that, if you’re using Facebook at all for your business (or if you’re simply looking for work), you’ll need to tone this down. If you want to go fairly conservative (which I personally think is best but opinions differ), go with a headshot or a head and shoulders shot that’s fairly recent. And, do make sure you’re smiling.

Mutual Friends

If someone surfs in and finds your Profile Page, they’ll probably be drawn to whether you’re really the person they’re looking for, and whether you have any acquaintances in common. If you’ve got a somewhat common name (e. g. Gregory Cole), then it’s really going to help out people if they see anyone who you know is in common with whoever they know.

One way I’ve used this information has been in locating High School friends, as we tend to have the same mutual friends. If I see that Jane Smith is also friends with John Jones and Dave Brown (names are made up, of course), then I realize, aha! Chances are good that Jane and I attended High School together. However, sometimes it just means that Jane is a local (if John and Dave stayed in the area after graduation). Or it might mean she’s a younger or older sibling of my classmates. Hence it’s an imperfect system.

A small subgroup of friends

So this is six friends (fewer, if you have fewer than six friends, of course). And it used to be you had control over this, but not anymore.

Your Likes

Whenever you click “Like” on a group or page, it can show up here. A few show up at a time, and they rotate. To take something out of rotation, un-“Like” it. Much older and inactive pages and groups show up less, as Facebook follows social signals in this area, too. E. g. pages and groups that appear inactive or even downright abandoned will lose precious visibility time and space to groups and pages that are up to date and lively.

Your Photos

So note here is where your profile picture shows up in all its glory, and bigger than on your Home Page. Therefore, make sure it looks good here as well as on your Home Page. If you’re going to use Facebook for business (or if you’re looking for work), make sure this is a flattering photograph that clearly shows your face. It need not be full-length (and, if it is, it’ll be smaller on the Home Page, but here it’s all visible) and, for God’s sake, smile!

Plus, photographs also show up on your wall if you upload them and agree to publish them to your wall.

And Your Links

So put a link in your status, or post it to your wall, and it will convert to something clickable. And if it comes from Youtube, it’ll even embed the video. And like most things on Facebook, any link can get comments or “Likes”.

A Share Button

Actually, there are several of these. Pretty much everything on Facebook can be shared in one manner or another, and even off Facebook.

Bottom line: your Profile Page is your face to the world. It is clickable, shareable and somewhat searchable. Don’t want people to know something about you? Don’t put it on your Profile Page.

Next: Your Home Page

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