3 Myths About Social Media for Authors

by  Tim Grahl
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More advice about social media is swirling around out there than ever before. I read the posts. I watch the videos. I’m constantly looking for that secret that I’m missing and each time I’m reminded of the same thing.

When it comes to selling books, spending a huge amount of time building a social media following is a waste of time.

In this post, I’m going to debunk many of the myths about social media and how it can be used to sell books and then I’m going to share a couple of things you can do to actually take advantage of these platforms.

2 Ideas About Social Media

Tools and Tool Boxes
All of the things we use to build our online platform – blogs, email lists, social media, podcasts, guest posts, etc – are all just tools in a tool box. The focus should never be on the tool. The focus is on what we are trying to build – in this case an author platform.

However, with tools like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn and others, we often lose site of that. We decide we need to use them to sell books then run around trying to figure out the best way to do it. This is the same thing as picking up a hammer from your toolbox and then running around trying to figure out what to build with it.

You should never start with the tools. You start with a plan, then reach in your toolbox and pull out the right tool for the job.

Work vs Pleasure
In Your First 1000 Copies, I talked about how important it is to separate work from pleasure when it comes to evaluating your social media performance. I love using Facebook to keep up with family, friends and colleagues. It’s great to maintain connections with people.

However, I try to be honest with myself about what I’m doing while I spend time on social media. I’m not marketing. I’m not doing something that will actively grow my platform or books sales. I’m doing it for fun. Which is fine. But I’m honest with myself about the effectiveness of what I’m doing.

I use it for pleasure, not work.

Myth #1: Growing your social media following will increase your fame

Take a look at the top 100 people on Twitter by follower count. Now, how many of them are not independently famous outside of Twitter?

Social media is not a way to grow your “fame”, it’s a reflection of your fame. Outside of a few outliers like Shit My Dad Says, your social media following will grow as your popularity grows.

I’m a great example of this.

From June 2012 through May 2013 (the year leading up to my book launch), my Twitter following grew from 1357 to 1432. That’s a growth of 75 followers.

From June 2013 through the present (about six months since my book launch), my Twitter following grew from 1432 to 1789. That’s a growth of 357.

That’s almost 5x more growth in half the time.

This happened with zero promotion and almost zero activity on my Twitter account. Go check it out, you’ll see all I do is respond to people and retweet what people post about me or my book. It’s laughable. So why did my following grow? Because my overall “fame” grew outside of Twitter. Of course, my numbers are pittance compared to many, but this observation scales.

This is the norm, not the exception.

If you’re focusing on growing your social media following, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. It will always grow slowly when you’re running around trying to build your follower and like count.

You should be focusing on your obscurity problem – the fact that not enough people know you exist – and the way to solve that is not social media.

Myth #2: There’s a way to use social media that works, you just haven’t figured it out yet

Honestly, this is how I often feel.

I look around at all the advice and “success stories” and think maybe I’m missing something or just doing it wrong. This may be how you’re feeling too.

It’s not true though.

I’ve gotten the chance to pull the curtain back several times, and the truth is always much more mundane than you think. Here’s the common things I’ve seen in “successful” social media campaigns:

  • It wasn’t actually successful. This is the most common. We see something bouncing around the social mediaverse and assume it must be selling like hotcakes. Once you get a look behind the scenes though, it’s not usually the case.
  • There was something else going on. For the successful campaigns, there was usually something else going on that wasn’t as public. In the book launch examples I give later in this article, I was questioned after the fact by several people who assumed our social media campaign was a big hit. The truth is, most of the book sales came from everything but social media. Social media was just the most public thing so people made assumptions about it’s effectiveness.
  • The scale was enormous. Again, I’ll address this a little further down, but the successes I’ve seen selling things via social media is because the scale was enormous. Your 5k, 10k or 50k followers/fans aren’t going to generate many sales for you. Especially when you look at what’s happening with Facebook and their fan pages – bottom line, you’re going to have to pay for that marketing.

Which leads me to my next myth…

Myth #3: If I get a big enough following, it’ll turn into book sales

I feel like this is the biggest lie out there.

And I’m saying lie, because I’ve seen people who know better actually continue to repeat it. In fact, in a recent interview, Gary Vaynerchuk made the claim that if a fiction writer started up Twitter and/or Instagram accounts for their book’s characters it would be the difference between selling 200 copies of their book and selling 25,000 copies of their book.

This is a lie.

I’ve never heard or seen anything close to this happening and I’d love for someone to show me stats that prove me wrong. I’d be extremely surprised if there was even one person who could show you over 20,000 extra sales by creating Twitter accounts for their book’s characters.

This is the part that makes me angry.

People like Gary, and many others that write about the effectiveness of social media, are either writing from ignorance or greatly inflating the results.

I have personally tested the effectiveness of social media and worked with other authors that have tested it. These aren’t tests on the scale of my Twitter following of sub–2000. These are tests with people who are connected to hundreds of thousands and even millions of people.

Here are few examples:

  • In a book launch last year, a Twitter following of well into six figures resulted in a couple hundred book sales.
  • A few months ago, a friend had someone with well over 1 million Twitter followers promote his book at a great time of day and it resulted in no noticeable bump in book sales.
  • In multiple tests across many social media accounts, it’s a normal thing to get well under 1% – more like 0.25% – of your followers or fans to take action on a given update. This is just clicking on a link, much less converting to a sale. (Try it yourself with the service bit.ly to see how many people click on your links.)

Also, not to continue picking on Gary Vaynerchuk, but his newest book is all about social media strategy. Here’s a few of his social media numbers as of this writing:

  • Twitter – 1,016,311
  • Facebook – 147,604
  • Instagram – 34,563
  • LinkedIn – 152,735
  • Pinterest – 15,778

Through those five platforms, that’s 1,366,991 connections.

Stop and think about the daunting task of building that kind of following on social media.

Now consider this: in the first week of sales for his latest book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, Gary sold about 25,000 copies (according to Nielson BookScan). If you take out all the other promotion he did – the dozens of interviews, the appearances on NPR, CNN, Huffington Post, etc – and assume all the book sales came through social media, that’s still only a 1.82% conversion rate.

That means for every one book sale, he needed 55 connections on social media (again, assuming every single sale came through social media).

Now consider your own social media. Think through how much time you’re spending on it in hopes that it turns into book sales and do the math to see how many book sales are going to result.


At this point, I’ve spent a good bit of time pointing out the myths of social media when it comes to marketing. My hope is that it will save you a lot of time and frustration and help you see through a lot of the misinformation that is swirling around out there.

But I don’t want to just leave you with the myths. I want to share with you how you can effectively use social media.

Social media is just another tool in your toolbox. When people try to use it like the above, it’s the equivalent of grabbing a hammer to get a screw into a board. It’ll work a bit, but will mostly waste time and frustrate you.

What I want to show you now is the right way to use social media to build your platform.

Here are some truths about social media.

Truth #1: It’s a great way to connect with individuals

When I talk about Outreach and connecting with influencers, it’s often hard to make that first connection. Either the person doesn’t respond to your email, or you’re not even sure what to email them.

This is where social media can be very effective. Even influencers who have teams of people who maintain their email inbox are often maintaining their Twitter account themselves. It can be a great way to get past the gatekeepers and introduce yourself for the first time.

This has worked for me several times. I’ve wanted to connect with someone. I emailed them and never heard back, so I reached out with social media and got a response. Then I was able to follow-up with email and got a response.

Social media is not a mass strategy. It’s a 1-to–1 strategy.

Experiment with thinking of social media more as a 1-to–1 tool instead of a way to communicate with a mass of people. You’ll start to see the effectiveness go up, your time wasted go down and your frustration be set free.

As you build your platform, the number of people you are connected to will continue to grow. When you first get started, it’ll seem pretty easy to keep track of everyone. But as the numbers grow and you meet more people, it’s going to be harder to stay connected to everyone.

This is where social media can be extremely helpful.

I’ve been able to stay connected to people who I’ve met at conferences, have emailed me about my book or met in some other way. This is fun on a personal level, but also extremely helpful for building my platform.

Truth #2: It’s easier to leverage other people’s followings than to build your own

Eleven people shared my blog post from last week on Twitter. If you add up those eleven people’s follower counts, it comes to 17,901. You know how much time and effort it would take me to grow a following of 17,901 on Twitter?

By inviting people to share your content on social media, you’ll be able to reach many, many more people than you could with much less time and effort than building your own following.

Here’s the other thing to consider…

Most people don’t have email lists. Most people don’t have a blog. Most people don’t guest contribute to other blogs. The typical person that waits tables or does data input only has one way to share content online… social media. By inviting people to share your content on social media, it allows them to be involved with what you’re doing and help spread the word in the only way they can.

While Myth #3 above still holds true, making your content easy to share and inviting people to do so is a great way to spread your message.

Using the right tools

When you’re engaging with social media, it’s important to remember your goals. Are you using it for fun and to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues? Then it’s great. If you’re hoping to build a huge following that will turn into big book sales down the road. You’re going to find yourself frustrated with a lot of wasted time behind you.

Also, more importantly, be suspect of advice you read online – even this article. Judge it against what you’ve experienced and make sure people are backing their advice up with real world experience instead of anecdotal conjecture.

With all the ideas, tools and tips I share, my goal is to help you get the most impact out of everything you do. You can dig a hole with a spoon, but it’s a lot easier with a shovel. The same goes for social media. Yes, it can have impact on your platform. Yes, it can help you sell books. But if you try to use it for something it’s not built for, you’ll find yourself digging a hole with a spoon.

Oh right… and make sure you click those buttons below to share this to your Facebook friends and Twitter followers :)


Tim GrahlTim Grahl is the founder and president of Out:think, a firm that helps authors build their platforms, connect with readers and sell more books.


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