Thanks to the rapid rise of TikTok and Clubhouse, as well as new features on existing platforms like Instagram and Twitter, we often hear from authors wondering how many social media platforms they should be using — and who feel like they can’t keep up.
But authors don’t need a full-fledged presence on every social media platform. In fact, many authors choose one to three platforms on which to focus and grow a following, rather than spreading themselves too thin across a half-dozen or more social media channels.
So the question is: Which social media platforms should you choose to build your author brand?
In this post, we’ll walk through the primary social media platforms authors tend to use most, linking to resources where you can learn more, as well as six tips on how to pick the best fits for you, your books, and your audience. Jump to a section here:
Social media platform overviews
Tips for choosing your social media platforms
- What are your goals?
- Who is your audience?
- Which content formats do you most enjoy creating?
- Which channels are you most comfortable using?
- Where can you spend your time most wisely?
- What boundaries should you set?
What social media platforms are available to authors?
Here’s a list of the biggest platforms authors tend to use.
How authors use Instagram: Authors can use a myriad of features to post updates on Instagram: photos and videos on the main feed, short-form videos via Reels (usually casually produced, using filters and text overlays), recorded or live long-form videos on Instagram TV, and content that disappears within 24 hours on Stories (text, GIFs, photos, videos, polls, etc.). Many authors regularly run giveaways via feed posts and host book launch events using Instagram Live. However, Instagram’s algorithm is notoriously unpredictable, leading to frustration amongst authors who have difficulty reaching their own followers.
Where to learn more:
- Instagram demographics and stats
- The writer’s guide to Instagram
- Tips on using Instagram as an indie author
- Examples of authors using Instagram
- How authors host launch events using Instagram Live
How authors use Facebook: Like Instagram, there’s a variety of features authors often use. Most with active Facebook presences use Pages — separate from their personal accounts — to connect with readers (via photos, videos, text, polls, etc.), host virtual events, and run targeted advertising campaigns. Some authors’ Facebook pages have gone dormant over the years in favor of Instagram (also owned by Facebook), while others still flourish — though its algorithm is also unpredictable. Some authors also use Facebook groups to host street teams or chat with peers in private writing communities.
Where to learn more:
- Facebook demographics and stats
- Examples of authors’ Facebook page cover photos
- Examples of authors using Facebook
- How authors host launch events using Facebook Live
- How authors use Facebook groups
How authors use Twitter: Twitter is a microblogging platform with an active writing community. Authors often tweet book updates and announcements, run giveaways, befriend fellow authors, and connect with readers conversationally. Aspiring authors also frequent Twitter to connect with peers and participate in pitch contests. However, Twitter is infamous for heated discussions and pile-ons, so it’s easy to lose time doom-scrolling here. Authors generally haven’t adopted Twitter’s newest features, including Fleets (comparable to Instagram Stories) and Spaces (comparable to Clubhouse).
Where to learn more:
- Twitter demographics and stats (scroll to Twitter section)
- Examples of authors’ Twitter header images
- Tips on using Twitter to connect with readers and peers
How authors use Pinterest: Pinterest is a virtual pinboard where authors pin images from other sites, linking back to the original source. Other users can re-pin those same images to their boards. Some authors use Pinterest to compile inspiration boards, share fan art, catalog their books and free content, and share reading lists. Its demographics are narrower than some of the other major networks, skewing younger and mostly women, so authors of some genres (e.g. romance or new adult) might find their audiences more easily than others.
Where to learn more:
- Pinterest demographics and stats
- Examples of authors using Pinterest
- Examples of publishers showcasing books on Pinterest
How authors use TikTok: TikTok is a rapidly rising social network some authors have joined to post short-form videos of their books, book recommendations, writing life, pets, pranks, DIY crafts, and more. As with other social networks, a bookish community has formed (under the hashtags #BookTok and #AuthorTok). However, there’s a steep learning curve to creating content on this platform, and it’s extremely unpredictable which videos will successfully garner views. Also, the demographics of TikTok skew young, so authors of some age categories (e.g. young adult and middle grade) might find their audiences more easily than others.
Where to learn more:
- TikTok demographics and stats
- New York Times’ report on how #BookTok is impacting book sales and bestseller lists
- Examples of authors using TikTok here and here (Do you use TikTok? Let us know in the comments below!)
How authors use YouTube: Some authors have created YouTube channels to share tips and their experiences regarding craft, productivity, literary agents, book deals, readership building, publicity strategies, and more. Other authors subscribe to these channels and comment on the videos in this #AuthorTube community, while others focus on sending review copies to members of the book blogging community (#BookTube). While the rewards of creating and growing a successful YouTube channel can be great, it’s a significant time investment, so fewer authors participate than on the other major social networks.
Where to learn more:
- YouTube demographics and stats
- Examples of authors with YouTube channels
- How authors host launch events using YouTube Live
- A curated list of BookTube channels
How authors use Clubhouse: Clubhouse is a new social network where users gather in virtual audio chat rooms, similar to an audio-only Zoom webinar. Some authors and publishing professionals have started hosting panels on craft, book promotion, connecting with booksellers and librarians, and more. Anyone can listen and even chime in if the moderators allow for audience participation, but you must listen live; unlike podcasts, there are no recordings to listen to later. Until recently, Clubhouse was exclusive to iPhone, though they’ve recently started rolling out to Android users; however, it’s still notorious for its lack of accessibility features.
Where to learn more:
How authors use Reddit: Some authors have hosted a Reddit AMA, or “Ask Me Anything,” to connect with readers. The format is simple — each author writes an introductory post, then answers questions on their thread as they come in throughout the day. Popular subreddits like r/books are moderated and high-demand, and may require pitching ahead of time. Some traditionally published authors have coordinated these opportunities with their publicists.
Where to learn more:
How authors use them: Slack and Discord are group chatting platforms that many businesses and gaming communities, respectively, have used for daily communication for years. And some authors have also started using these platforms to host their street teams or reader groups, or to host author groups, networking with peers and participating in writing sprints.
Where to learn more:
Some other notable social networks that have become less popular over time (or never became popular amongst authors) include Tumblr, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. This list also does not include book discovery platforms such as BookBub, Goodreads, or Storygraph.
How should you choose your social media platforms?
Now that you know what the main players are, how should you choose where to spend your time? We recommend asking yourself the following questions before diving in:
What are you hoping to achieve on social media? Drive sales? Personally connect with readers? Foster relationships with booksellers and librarians? Befriend fellow authors? Setting clear goals can help you whittle down your options.
Rather than spreading herself thin on multiple platforms, Christina McDonald, a USA Today bestselling thriller author, chose to focus the majority of her social media efforts on Facebook because she can target specific people with her ad campaigns on the platform: those interested in books and the genre she writes, thrillers. “Facebook’s targeting options mean that when I run ads,” she says, “I know exactly who I’m targeting, so my marketing time and budget isn’t wasted. From there, I’ve built up a community feel around my Facebook author page, making it a place where readers can get to know me as a person, as well as an author and a brand, and that builds a stronger bond. To me, connecting with my readers is the most important thing about marketing because connection equals trust, and readers buy from those they trust. Creating a deeper connection is how you convert followers into long-term readers.”
Author M. J. Kuhn’s debut novel, Among Thieves, is coming out later in 2021, and two of her primary goals on social media are to sell books and connect with a fun community. So when she saw a New York Times article touting TikTok as a platform that garners book sales, she decided to experiment with the platform. “I consider myself fairly tech-savvy,” she says, “but I’ve never felt as clueless as I did making my first video on the app. In my opinion, there’s a lot about the interface that isn’t super intuitive. But after a bit, you get the hang of it! The algorithm can be tricky, but I think it’s best to find a niche. For example, my most popular videos are all part of a series where I recommend books based on video games. It’s a fun way to connect with casual readers in the gaming community, as well as the usual BookTokers who also happen to like games! All in all, I’d recommend testing it out if you’re an author. Best case scenario, you go viral and sell tons of books. Worst case, you join a huge online community filled with fun nerds.”
Before diving into a social network headfirst, determine who your target audience is and where they’re already hanging out online. That means doing some research! The time investment now will pay for itself in time you won’t waste later on platforms on which your audience isn’t particularly active.
Above, we’ve linked to demographics and stats for most of the social media platforms so you can review the data and see which might best help you reach your unique audience with your brand and books. We also recommend searching for comparable authors on each network and reviewing what kinds of posts they publish and how much engagement they garner. This can help give you a sense not only for which networks are worth your time, but what kind of content might work best for you on each one, too.
Even if a certain platform caters to your target audience, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best fit for you. “Know where your target audience hangs out,” says Intisar Khanani, a traditionally and independently published author, “and then decide if that is both a healthy place for you and a place you can genuinely interact. It’s okay if the answer is no. For example, TikTok may be where young people are at, but video is exhausting for me. I opted for Instagram instead, a close second.”
Since authors already put so much work into their writing and dependable, ROI-positive marketing activities, many try to think of social media as a recreational activity. Enjoy honing your photography skills? Instagram might bring you joy. Love chatting casually with readers? Twitter can be great for that. Get a kick out of being silly on camera? Give TikTok a whirl.
Author Katie Zhao recommends choosing the platforms you’d most enjoy. “With social media,” she says, “I only use the platforms that I find most fun, because I’m firmly of the belief that author promotion on social media should be enjoyable! Interacting with readers is the best part of being an author. I concentrate my social media efforts on TikTok and Instagram, because I’ve found I like those platforms the best. People can tell if you’re being genuine or if you’re just trying to sell them a product, so if you don’t enjoy a platform, there’s no point in using it just for the sake of promotion.”
Alexa Donne chose YouTube as her primary social media channel both because she prefers long-form video creation and the cadence of viewer engagement. “First,” she says, “I genuinely enjoy making videos and long-form media content, a must for YouTube. It’s a labor of love. YouTube is the ultimate place to create a parasocial relationship, for better or for worse. That said, it is truly a long game with no guarantees in terms of return on investment. Personally, after four years on the platform, it does feel like my channel actively sells books. I’m able to interact with viewers in comments, via the community tab, and on live streams, but it isn’t constant. It never feels like ‘noise’ the way real-time platforms can feel. That said, YouTube is siloed in such a way that as an author in that space, you will primarily reach aspiring writers rather than a pure readership.”
Setting boundaries is important to many authors; some want to choose the platforms where they can be their most authentic selves and engage with their audience organically, while others choose channels and post formats that more easily allow them to control the narrative. This takes a bit of introspection and will be unique to each author. Does editing videos feel like a chore? You don’t need to be on TikTok. Don’t love being on camera? There’s no requirement to post selfies to Instagram. Does engaging in literary discourse exacerbate your anxiety? It’s okay to leave Twitter.
Author and literary agent Eric Smith recommends using the social media tools you’re most comfortable with. “I get it,” he said here on the BookBub Partners Blog, “it can be a lot to manage a presence on multiple channels, like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat… and not all of them might be for you. My Facebook fan page for my author life gets so little love, because I know that’s not where my strength lies. After fiddling around with some of these social media tools, determine what works best for you. If you just can’t bring yourself to use one organically, it’s okay to let it go… It’s okay to focus on your strengths, both in your writing and in your digital platform tools of choice.”
But the more comfortable you are on a channel, the more organic your interactions with your audience, the better your engagement metrics will be. As debut author J. Elle recently pointed out, “Aside from its relational benefits, the algorithms on Twitter and Instagram seem to give engaged users more visibility. And this definitely has a threshold difference depending on how many followers you have. But it’s decently safe to assume if you rarely show up to post, comment, like, and share others’ posts, your posts won’t get much traction. You’re effectively talking at people. Do you like being talked at? Most of us don’t. You’ll notice the more you engage (and use hashtags where appropriate), the more your posts will gather visibility and your network will grow.”
And while some authors feel that their publishers expect them to be on every social platform, that’s not necessarily true. Publishers want their authors to thrive wherever they feel most comfortable. “Work on the platform you feel most passionate and comfortable with,” says Felicity Vallence, Associate Director of Digital Marketing at Penguin Young Readers. “Social media promotion can be a time-consuming and delicate balance, and will only feel difficult and draining if you’re not enjoying it. As you develop your output — daily, every three or four days, weekly — you’ll begin to understand what content does and doesn’t work for that platform. This will help you get a sense of what content to create, but also if you’re comfortable doing more and looking at other platforms. The key is consistency and conversation; if you rush onto a platform and only shout about your books for two weeks before release day and then disappear, you’ll find limited results from your efforts. Show your process as an author from start to finish: research trip, messy desks, late-night deadline crunches, first pass pages, final edits, books in store, and more. Never underestimate how interesting it is to be an author.”
While the audiences on each platform may prefer different content, consider how you might be able to repurpose content on multiple channels. Here are just a few examples:
- You can fairly easily repurpose videos from Instagram Reels to TikTok by exporting the Reel in edit mode (before publishing, sans sound), uploading that video to TikTok, and finding the same music track, if you used one. (You can technically cross-post from TikTok to Reels, but Instagram’s algorithm penalizes videos with the TikTok logo.)
- Graphic design sites like Canva make it easy to create graphics in multiple dimensions suited for each social network, with ready-to-go templates.
- Using the app IFTTT (If This Then That) lets you install recipes to automatically post content from one channel to another, e.g. tweeting your Instagram pictures.
Finding these opportunities takes some practice and experimentation, but can let you reach a wider audience with little extra time investment. Katie Zhao often cross-posts content to save time. “Due to time constraints,” she says, “I typically schedule one day every one or two weeks to film a bunch of fun content for TikTok. Then, I’ll post one or two a day until my next filming day. I repurpose my TikTok videos by reuploading to Instagram Reels, usually around the same time. I highly recommend this strategy, because often a video will flop on one platform and take off on the other depending on random algorithmic factors. So my advice for authors looking for maximum engagement on these platforms is to cross-post and hope for the best. Even if the videos don’t do well (which, quite honestly, mine often flop, especially on TikTok), that’s okay. I’m still having fun, and that’s the most important part!”
Since social media can be such a time suck, many authors restrict their overall social media usage, no matter which platforms they choose. As indie author Nana Malone advises, “Spend your time where you won’t feel drained after engaging. And no matter where you choose, remember to limit your time so you don’t spend time you should be writing or doing business things getting lost on your platform of choice.”
There are time-management apps that can help, as Intisar Khanani recommends. “I use an app called StayFocused,” she says, “to force a limit on how much time I spend on social media so it doesn’t take over my writing time or my creative energy.”
It’s also typical for authors to take a hiatus from social media while on a tight deadline, or even for a mental health break. But when it comes to social media, most authors seem to agree: make sure you’re having fun!
Which social media platforms have you decided to invest the most time in? Let us know in the comments below!
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