For the past seven weeks, I’ve been competing in an online writing contest that has ranked readers both on votes and on social media mentions. As a result, I’ve had a crash course in self-promotion and have gained insights worth sharing.
The quickest results I saw tended to come from reaching a lot of people at once, but only if — and this is crucial — that audience was inclined to take action.
Appealing to contacts: Of course the first appeal I made was to my existing contacts via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and Google Plus. Many of those contacts told me that they voted for me soon after I joined the competition. However, the way this contest is structured, the totals are zeroed out at the beginning of each week, meaning that it’s become necessary to appeal to that same group repeatedly in order to get them to act again. Understandably, that has become wearying for both sides, leading me to seek new avenues and to acquire new contacts.
Because I am a writer, I have sought out fellow writers on Twitter and through Facebook pages. I also sent LinkedIn invitations to my contacts from a secondary e-mail address. Some of those new contacts surprised me by being more willing to vote and retweet the link, perhaps because they hadn’t already heard my appeal.
Using social media effectively: Along the way, I’ve seen immediate results whenever I do something right. On Twitter, using appropriate hash tags has led to new people following me and retweeting my post. I did research at Hashtags.org, where you can research hashtag trends. For terms related to my story — about an office worker who finds love because of a magic pendant — I found that #romance and #fiction were popular, but #truelove and #shortstory were not. You can also set up e-mail alerts on Twilert for specific terms.
On Facebook, I’ve learned that making posts interactive helps assure it will receive “likes” or comments. This will, in turn, keep it near the top of friends’ newsfeeds. Instead of simply posting a link, I try to remember to ask a question or say something amusing or noteworthy to prompt responses.
Blogging: I maintain both an author’s blog and a personal blog, and I mentioned the contest in posts on both. Of course, this is a limited number of potential readers, since it tends to include only those who are following me (or who happen across the blog via a search engine). Lately, I’ve been attempting to reach out to other bloggers to do guest blog posts for them on such subjects as writing, with a request that they include a link to my contest entry page. Some bloggers also conduct author interviews.
Press releases/online news items: If you can get a major news organization to carry your press release, your information will appear before thousands of new eyes. In my case, this is more theoretical, since my press releases have not been picked up by any newspaper yet. However, one of the contestants who made it into the semifinals credits her success with a story in her university newspaper.
In addition to sending news releases to local newspapers, I also posted them on a variety of free press release sites, but while my release has appeared around the Web, I have yet to see a resulting bump in my ranking. Clearly, the audience reached by these releases is not inclined to take action.
Link-sharing sites: A host of link-sharing sites such as Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Blink It and News vine allow registered users to add recommendations for links. For short-term purposes, these sites are unlikely to have a significant effect, since many of them rely on users creating networks to share their preferred links. Unless there is a viral appeal to whatever you’re promoting, it’s unlikely to produce immediate results. Sharing sites with more specific requirements include Technorati (For technology links), Fark (For humorous and weird news), DZone (For computer and Web development links), and Netvouz (For sharing bookmarks).
Becoming active on message boards, online communities, and other organizations: While some message board do allow users to create a signature line for their posts, they may or may not approve of sharing a link in such signatures. It’s even less effective to pop onto a message board or online community as a new user and blurt out your appeal. Instead, it’s best to comment on users’ remarks and build relationships. The good news is that, like building contacts through other methods, this technique will increase your network and drive further opportunities. I personally have made connections via the Linked In groups and Livejournal communities, among others.
Continue brainstorming and testing ideas: As I enter this final week of the competition, I continue to generate ideas to get my message out: from creating a viral video to sending news bulletins to the alumni organizations from my high school and college/grad school (Penn State) to writing this article! Regardless of what happens with this competition, I have learned a lot and have made strides towards building my author platform, which is industry speak for increasing my potential reach.