Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Uh, It's A Tool: a teeny defense of Social Media

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Uh, It's A Tool: a teeny defense of Social Media

I. Pile On
When I first had the idea to write about social media (SM) for Open Book, I blinked. Do I really want to jump into that pile-on? I do. There’re a lot of writers out there who’ve got a lot of good things to offer about the subject. Social media is not only the new thing for the world; it’s also the new thing for writers. We can use it to lift ourselves from the keyboard, to distract and to promote. And we aren’t the only ones. I confess: I roll my eyes when people (usually my age or older) say either that they don’t understand it or dismiss it as juvenilia. Hogwash!

II. Cake For The Birds
SM-ing is easy. It’s easier than baking a cake (either from a mix or from scratch) and a little more challenging than making peanut butter cookies (from scratch, of course). If you can do either of those things, mix or scratch, SM is a breeze. But like making a cake, you don’t get the cake unless you get in there and stir things up.

SM is only as good as your interaction with it. It’s a tool, not a Messiah. Your Twitter account can’t fly on its own; your tweets give it wings. (Forgive the flying thing, it’s irresistible when writing about Twitter.) If you’re like me, you’ve got better things to do than stay glued to your Twitter feed. Think of that feed like a birdfeeder. Sparrows come and go. Tufted Titmice land, feed and leave. They’re great Tweeters. There are great, free services that allow a Tweeter, like you, to set up tweets in advance. So, for example, when I have a reading coming up (uh, which I do. Shameless plug: Another Story, July 22, 6 pm., 315 Roncesvalles Ave. Wine, cheese, The Drifts, free), I set up a less-than-annoying number of tweets to bring awareness about the event. It’s no marketing secret that, on average, it takes three contacts with a potential client before they even begin to decide to attend, buy or disregard (BTW: I’ll be at the Eaton Centre Indigo signing and greeting at their Local Authors Day Event this Sunday, 1–3 pm.) See how easy that is?

Most of us don’t use SM to make friends; we do use it to influence people. I have made friends online but I don’t believe I’ve ever made a close friend. Maybe one or two — and I’ve been online, as they say, since the mid-90s. I suspect that that might be where the dismissal enters. Ditzy young people make disposable friends while us older, more responsible and substantive people don’t treat friendship so lightly. Malarky!

Balance it. Check in with yourself; you can feel it. If it seems shallow, it is. More on this in a second, but don’t expect SM to be something it’s not. If you need to pick up a phone and hear a human voice, do it. Tweets don’t sound like much.

III. Oranges Or Apples?
You wouldn’t use an orange to make apple juice. So, don’t use SM to develop long and lasting intimacy. I know people are getting up to some business online, if you know what I’m saying, but that’s usually not very long-lasting or intimate. I’ve organized well-attended protests outside of the U.S. Embassy here in TO, booked workshops in Florida and participated in 100s of political actions. That’s what I use it for. Not to mention marketing. Raising awareness is what I use SM for mostly. I use it to spread the word about my work. I like my work. I like my readings. I give great workshops. I want to share them. People can’t support or attend (let alone book me) if they don’t know I, or the work, exist. If I am too shy to tweet about them, then who will? Poor Evan (Munday, Coach House publicist) and Clelia (OB Mastermind) only have so much time, you know. A flyer just doesn’t cut it anymore. I know.

For organizations, senior managers could save themselves a lot of foot-work by making SM part of a staff member’s, or a volunteer’s, job description. SM is no good if you don’t use it. And, trust me, in an organization, especially a non-profit, it will always fall to the side of the road limp and unproductive because there is, it seems always something more pressing to do. That’s not a dig, there is always something more pressing. Handling the SM is a great, meaningful role for a volunteer. Work together to create an online, organizational identity and away you go. Non-profits, especially, get a helluva lot done with very little. We know how to stretch a dollar and an hour. SM let’s us get more done with even less.

In some organizations, and perhaps elsewhere, the subtle smell of dismissal is also tied up with exposure and indiscretion. A little further on, I’ll offer some basic ‘Signs For The Road’ in terms of security. For some, using Twitter or Facebook is too open. Even to the point of being unprofessional. I’ve noticed young, up-and-coming managers naively distancing themselves from the use of SM, on the job, perhaps because they are worried about the optics. Whatever. Get over it. SM isn’t going anywhere and we’d better practice using it right rather than be caught short, enfeebled and cowering in the corner. We control SM, it doesn’t control us. A word about that.

IV. Signs For The Road
Here in TO, a senior manager raked me over the coals for sending an email after work hours to their work email account. My email was in response to their email about a pressing issue under discussion during work hours. This person sent their email quite late in the day. And, even if they didn’t, I still agree with what I am about to say. This person said that my sending the email was inappropriate and a breach of professional etiquette. Trust me, I didn’t send a randy pic, a political action notice or anything unrelated to work. This was an important issue and, conscientiously, I wanted to offer a response as soon as possible. I wanted my response in inboxes when the recipients opened their mail. But, after getting the one-two, to keep my job, I bit my tongue. I did a lot of that, there.

Email, Twitter and Facebook are tools. That’s all. Tools. One of the best qualities about SM is that it isn’t tied to brick & mortar hours. It goes without saying that the content should respect professional etiquette. But another Canadian taught me that just because an email is in your Inbox, doesn’t mean you have to read it.

So, here are some tips to maintain control. If you don’t want email, don’t open it. This isn’t your sender’s responsibility, it’s yours. Period. Personally, I only leave my email program open when I’m doing a back-and-forth trying to set up a booking, an interview or a reading. I get distracted easily. If I’m concentrating, that little email ding announcing a new arrival in my Inbox breaks my concentration. If I’m concentrating, which is often, I open it 3-4X a day. That’s it. For god sakes, I have two phone lines within four feet of me 24/7.

Set up those advance tweets whenever possible. There are a hundred free services that’ll do this for you. Google ‘scheduling tweets’ and enjoy the smorgasbord. Try a couple of them out. Most of these services let us post across platforms. So, one post can land on Twitter, FB, Wordpress, Linked In and so on—with one click of the ‘send’ button. I use Hootsuite — although they seem to have lost my account at the moment.

V. It Can Be Rough Out There
Security. Security. Security. I work with a lot of kids and youth. I wouldn’t want a snap-shot of my four year-old daughter giggling, with her skirt over head in a drama class, cut loose on the Internet. But some people, as we all know, would. Use common sense. Be smart. If it’s not for public view then only post a sensitive pic in password-protected locations. And, even then, know what you’re getting in to. Keep in mind that many people find it fun to hack into accounts, but not so many are pedophiles or identity thieves. Use these tools as tools. Check and maintain your privacy settings. You don't leave your car in the driveway because you might run over somebody. No, you put the beer down. You open your eyes. You put oil under the hood. Don’t expect SM to do your job when it comes to safety and security. SM isn’t so good, either, as a substitute or avenue to intimacy. Nothing will ever replace the sound we make when we open our mouths or share a loving gaze over a bit of Shiraz.

But SM sure is good for a lot of other stuff.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Thom Vernon

Thom Vernon has worked in film, television and theatre since 1989. He has been the Actors’ Gang Youth Education Program director and has worked as an arts educator at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. The Drifts (Coach House Books) is his first novel.

Go to Thom Vernon’s Author Page