How to Win Fans and Influence Readers: A Guide for Comic Creators on Social Media
Earlier today, we looked at social media and its impact on creators in comics today. As we discovered, social media can be a gift or a curse (or a gift and a curse even), as it can be your best friend or the destroyer of your career. It all depends on you really, and how you approach social media and your interactions with fans, fellow creators, editors and more.
But that can be very difficult, especially considering the fluidity of social. With the rate of change social media is perpetually undertaking, it’s hard to keep up with it all. That’s without even factoring in the workload most creators have on their plate. Even worse, for most it’s like walking around a room with sharp objects completely blindfolded. You don’t know where everything is or what might hurt you, but you have to move to go forward. The option is always there to just stay put, but if you want to utilize social media to cultivate your audience and career, then you’ll have to make the effort. Anything you can do to make it easier on yourself is advisable.
As someone who by day works as a social media expert at an advertising agency, this is what I do and know. That’s why I’ve put together a guide for creators on how to best utilize social media. By no means am I saying that following these steps will make you an overnight success – there’s no recipe to virality, really, save for involving cats whenever you can – but using this guide can help you expand your reach and increase the potential value of social media for you. It’s a mix of general best practices, advice from creators, and more, and if you’re a creator who has seen something in particular work for you, let me know. I’d love to keep adding to this document.
Googling “social media fails” is a hilarious and incredibly fruitful exercise. It’s easy to see why: brands and ordinary people mess up on social about as often as they succeed seemingly, and the former gets a lot more reach than the latter. That’s why the first rule above all is think before posting. Will this harm your career? Will this impact your standing with publishers, creators and potential future collaborators? Those are important things to consider before diving into posting on social media.
Not everyone subscribes to this idea, as you want to stay true to who you are – more on that in a bit – but at the same time, it’s good to take consideration if you want to use social media as a channel to expand your reach.
Jim Zub shared this in the earlier piece, but here’s a great place for another piece of advice: “Always remember that anything you post online is ‘public’ in some manner of speaking. Think of it like a super-charged version of the Golden Rule: ‘Treat others how you would wish to be treated.’ You can’t avoid every negative interaction, but you’ll definitely save yourself a lot of unneeded stress.” You may think of a nasty thing to say or a caustic comment about something, but will it ultimately do you any favors for your career if you post that? Probably not.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is just delete a tweet you’re planning on sending or simply not wade into the fray of the latest discussion on social. As we talked about earlier, hot button topics are uncovered daily in comics, and many people jump in indiscriminately with their hot take cannons blazing. Very few contemplate whether or not they are appropriately armed to partake in the discussion, let alone provide insight.
As Jake Wyatt shared in the earlier piece, “Make sure you’re informed. Listen to what people close to and involved with your subject have to say. Maybe it’s a subject someone else is more qualified to speak to, and sharing someone else’s insight will be more valuable than adding your own.” That can change everything in terms of how you’re perceived on social media, and how successful you are in getting your followers to listen to you.
Comics are a visual medium. The entirety of their existence is built around the marriage of words and pictures, yet when you go through comics social media, a staggering amount of promotional posts lack any sort of visuals. That in itself is weird – visuals are at least half the selling point of your comic, depending on your perspective – but when you dig into the numbers, it’s even stranger.
Studies have shown that images being included are paramount to your social posts performing well. That’s not to say a well written tweet won’t perform, but on average, photos drive up engagement (meaning likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc.), and that’s what you’re really after on social media. Engagement expands the reach of your content, and the more eyes on your work, the more your potential buying audience expands.
It’s even better if you can add videos. Videos perform even better on social than photos do, and that goes doubly for Facebook who has had a borderline insane obsession with video content over the past year or so. That’s why seeing The Wicked + The Divine team putting together a video trailer for their second volume trade’s release was so heartening. That type of outside the box content could pay huge dividends given how video content performs on social.
One thing to remember: if you post a video on Facebook, make sure to upload it to Facebook rather than linking a YouTube video. The house the Zuckerberg built has altered its algorithm to effectively kill the performance of any post linking to a YouTube video. You’d have to have the mother of all Vine compilations to beat their algorithm.
This is the trickiest part for some creators, as many are shy and/or uncomfortable putting themselves out there. That’s totally understandable, especially given how quickly things can go poorly in today’s day and age on social media. That said, if you are going to use social as a way to expand your reach, a major key is to just stay true to you. The word “voice” gets tossed around in social media circles a lot, and the reason why is if you use too branded on social media, people will see right through you and not follow or engage with you. If all you do is sell and hype yourself up (see: Arthur Suydam’s bio for a good example of that), then you’re going to seem insufferable.
But if you establish yourself as a person first and not some sort of personal branding machine, odds are people will respond more strongly to what you have to say. Most people on social are like Joe Keatinge, who shared, “the second people start thinking Twitter as ‘maintaining their brand’ or whatever bullshit, it just destroys it for me.” That’s absolutely true, and there are few things as transparent as disingenuous usage of social media. Keep it real, I say. Of course, if you’re going to be yourself and what you are is a hateful person, no amount of social media advice can help you. So don’t be that person.
A lot of this depends on time, as like I said earlier, not everyone has the bandwidth to deal with constantly tweeting or Facebooking. However, if you want to do social media right, the key above all is to engage with your audience. Engagement has been the hottest buzzword in social media for the past year or two, especially with how Facebook has kiboshed the organic reach of brand page content. Contrary to some hot take headlines, though, engagement isn’t dead. It’s only dead if you don’t do social right.
This ties into the whole “be yourself” point I made previously, but engaging with fans and showing that you’re not just a marketing bot for your comics is invaluable for your perception on social media. In a previous job, I managed social media for a fairly large telecom company, and you’d be surprised by how impactful just letting people know you’re listening is to creating a loyal audience. The same goes for creators. I’m not saying you have to engage with everyone, but even responding to someone saying something nice with a quick “thanks!” or a favorite of their tweet warms the cockles of their heart and makes them invested in not just your work, but you. Seems weird, I know, but there is some very base level consumer psychology at play. It can make a difference. Going beyond that and having genuine conversations? You might have the new president of your fan club.
Of course, if you are mean to your followers, it can have the opposite effect. Like I shared at the start, think first before responding in a negative way.
This will definitely get some hems and haws from the world of comics, but being positive on social media has lots of benefits and few potential ways to hurt you. I’m not saying you need to be a smiling buffoon on social. But if you can take part in a potentially incendiary topic of discussion without burning bridges or attacking people, things works out better for all involved, particularly yourself. Social media is hardly the land of level headed discussion, but if you can stay above the fray while still conveying your thoughts, you’ll be all the better for it.
Another thing to consider is that as it has grown in prevalence, social media has transitioned from a Wild West of off the cuff conversation to something that each and every employer looks at before they consider hiring someone. Comic publishers are no different. While Marvel talent scout CB Cebulski is the only one who admits it, if you put a beer in the hand of every hiring manager at comic publishers around the world, they might tell you – off the record – that this type of thing factors in to your attractiveness as a potential hire. Like I said before, stay true to who you are, but think about what you’re saying before putting it out there. It can make a world of a difference for you.
If you are going to use social media to develop your audience and sell your work, it’s hugely important to do so with a plan. Not a plan that turns you into just another spambot – like I said earlier, being a person is paramount to your success – but one that makes sure that you’re covering all of your bases and finding a way to excite potential new readers. Entreprenuer.com has a nice write-up on the best practices of selling via social media, and the first thing they talk about is planning. There’s a reason why.
For my clients, I develop content calendars for posting to ensure the approach is diverse, timely and balanced. While that’s not something creators should do – I’d be a little worried if you did – going in with a plan on how to approach your social media efforts is a must. That goes doubly for webcomic creators, creator-owned writers and artists and those who use crowd-sourcing resources like Patreon and Kickstarter. If you’re going to utilize any of those methods for your comics, I would bake into your roll out a social media plan. It could make or break your efforts, truly.
With the infinite amounts of social networks out there seemingly, it’s easy to want to join all of them as they come up. Remember the two days where people desperately wanted to join ello?. It’s understandable, and a feeling many cannot fight off. When it comes to my clients, though, I recommend against that practice. My argument is if you’re going to utilize social media to promote your work/company, do one well instead of doing several poorly. The same goes for you, the comic creator.
If you somehow have the bandwidth to tackle Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr, Google Plus or any number of other networks at the same time as crafting comics, and doing all of it well, congratulations. You are a cyborg who everyone envies because clearly, your machine side has overtaken your human side when it comes to work. But for the time poor creators out there, staying focused on one or two networks can ensure that you develop an audience and leave an impact rather than spout nonsense into the ether on twelve of them. It also prevents you losing your mind trying to manage it all.
Some will hate this advice, but as a creator who is trying to make a career in comics, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t use social media as a method to market and sell your work. Don’t do what I did in the above image, but studies have shown that social media is one of the greatest influencers on purchasing decisions – 71% of consumers are likely to buy something based on social media’s recommendation – and it’s easy to understand why.
Word of mouth is the largest influencer on decisions of all, although its medium changes from time to time. If your friend tells you via text to go check out this new taco stand in town, odds are, you’ll do that. The same concept works for comics, and social media itself is an expansion of word of mouth. Think of social media as the world’s biggest megaphone. It expands the reach of word of mouth to a global scale, potentially. Why not stoke the flames of potential word of mouth by linking to places where people can buy your work on social? There’s almost no harm in it, save for the people who unfollow creators who pitch their work too often, and the benefits can be enormous.
Keep in mind that click-through rates on social – particularly Twitter – can be very, very low, so be realistic with your expectations. Kevin Church of Wander fame shared, “what’s really important to realize for anyone using social media to promote things is how low click-through rates are, overall. Even with images and enticing copy, getting 1% of your audience to see what you’re linking is a victory.” He cited this article by Derek Thompson from The Atlantic as a particularly good read on the subject.
Additionally, and I know most will be grossed out by this but hear me out, a little bit of advertising on social can go a long way. Facebook in particular can be hugely effective, as they have robust targeting tools and no minimum amounts to run ads. You can enormously expand your reach for next to nothing, and if you have a particularly actionable comic – say, a webcomic or a Kickstarter – you’d be crazy not to look into those options.
The thing I always tell people is if you’re going to use social media for your company, you can’t half ass it. It’s true. If you only intermittently post and don’t really put any thought into it, the potential upside is low and the downside is high. It takes a fair amount of effort to succeed on social media, but all it takes is one poorly thought out post to ruin your party forever. So if you do decide to use social media to promote your work in comics, make sure to post consistently otherwise it’s a waste. After all, there’s a reason why posting consistently is the very first thing on Facebook’s own brand best practices page.
When it comes down to it though, if you’re not going to make a consistent effort at using social media, don’t do it. You can still succeed in comics without it, and if you don’t feel comfortable with the experience, don’t force yourself. You’d be doing yourself a disservice both in the short and long term if you did go down that path without the desire to really make it work.
Have feedback or questions? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’m all about expanding this guide to be even more useful for creators.