The whole realm of social media baffles me. More precisely, I’m struggling to figure out communicating about my writing via social media – especially Twitter – and feeling forced to “pick a lane” on the information superhighway.
Am I a Catholic writer? Or am I a “mental health activist,” as someone recently labeled me?
I’d like to be a Catholic man with clinical depression who sometimes writes about spiritual subjects and sometimes writes about mental illness and sometimes writes simply about life. I think there’s enough to satisfy folks who are interested in one, the other or both.
Like just about every writer, I want people to read my efforts. If I wanted to write solely for myself, I could do that. But I write monthly for the St. Louis Review newspaper/website, I contribute frequently to several Catholic websites, and I write for my personal site. When I was a sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I didn’t bother with trying to attract readers. I wrote, someone else at the newspaper advertised and marketed, and if people wanted to read about my subject, they would do that.
For the Post, I was in a select group of experts on my writing subjects: Cardinals baseball, St. Louis University basketball, St. Louis high school sports, whatever. That’s not the case in cyberspace. There is so much out there on essentially any subject a person could imagine. Knowing my subject and writing well – those aren’t enough if people aren’t aware that, first, I have written something and, second, it’s something they might want to read.
So the product is, at most, half the necessary work. It also happens to be the only half in which I have training (journalism degree) and experience (23 years as a professional newspaper writer, eight as a blogger).
Facebook makes sense to me, though that doesn’t mean I have mastered its use. My personal FB page has nearly 1,500 “friends.” I am the first to acknowledge that I haven’t personally met a good portion of those people. Although I do know more than half, many in that group are people who have read something I wrote and wanted to stay informed about future blog posts. Some appreciated my thoughts on mental illness, others are Catholics who found my spiritual writing resonating with them.
I let people on Facebook know when I have written something new. Even then, the reports I receive tell me actual readership is a relatively small percentage of my “friends.” I’m willing to accept the low readership numbers are in large part a reflection on my work, upon which I will improve. I have a hunch improved marketing could help, though, and I have the evidence of vastly increased numbers when I have taken advantage of paid Facebook advertising a few times.
Twitter is a newer arena for me, and I have found it to be more challenging. It is much more difficult to attract Twitter followers than Facebook friends. But there is a pattern to those followers that intrigues me – and makes me wonder how to respond:
When I write something about my Catholic faith or the spiritual life and tweet about it, I pick up several new Twitter followers. Their profiles usually indicate faith in Jesus, often including the #Catholic hashtag. I also lose several followers, presumably because they don’t want to read something about the spiritual life.
When I write something about my depression or mental illness and tweet about it, I pick up other new followers. The profiles of those people almost always indicate an interest in mental illness, with hashtags such as #sicknotweak, #imnotashamed, #depression or #bipolar. After a few blog posts like that, a few followers drop away as well.
The editor of the St. Louis Review once wrote a column about this kind of phenomenon. His tweets might relate to content in the Review, weekly publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, or they might be personal tweets about his family and his love of the outdoors and hunting. The number of his followers tends to ebb and flow, similar to mine – although the amount of followers for @mikeeisenbath pales in comparison to the number of folks who follow @TeakPhillips!
So what’s a writer and tweeter to do?
Do I focus on writing about just one subject? I’m considering it. Do I open an additional Twitter account, then use one for spiritual posts and the other for those about mental illness?
I really would welcome feedback.