You already know social media can drive traffic to your books. In theory. Maybe. I mean, other authors seem to be having some success doing it, right?
The trouble many authors have with social media marketing is that they don’t approach it with a systematic, tactical, and goal-oriented approach. They just post, share, and converse on the interwebs and hope for the best. That’s great for catching up with old classmates and giving that one aunt who lives in Paris the occasional bit of love, but it’s not a working approach for spreading the word about your writing.
When I say systematic, tactical, and goal-oriented, I mean the following:
- Systematic: you post regularly, according to a plan
- Tactical: you post with the purpose of improving your book sales
- Goal-Oriented: you set goals about posting and results, and work to meet them
One of the best tools for keeping your social media running well on all three of those tracks is to have a social media calendar. Today, we’ll talk about what that is, why you want it, and some of its most important key practices.
Ready? Good. Let’s get started.
What is a Social Media Calendar?
A social media calendar is a document where you plan your social media posts in advance. It might look like a date book, or a spreadsheet, or one of several commercial options. The form it takes doesn’t matter (as long as it’s a form you can easily use). What matters is you planning your social media posts.
Our good friend Jason Brick has a spreadsheet. In one column is the date (he does two posts each day). In the next column is the type of post (more on that later). The third column is the theme or idea for the post. The fourth contains the actual text for the post, and the fifth is where he puts links to the images.
Once a month, he sits down and fills out the spreadsheet for a 30-day period. Every week, he follows the instructions in that calendar and pre-loads his social media for the coming week.
What Are the Benefits of a Social Media Calendar?
You might be thinking a social media calendar sounds like work. You’re right, but that work is worth it. Here’s why.
Creates a System
Remember how we said successful social media is systematic? By filling out a calendar and following it via posts, you create a system for putting the word out about your writing. A system is simply a series of steps you follow consistently in order to achieve your goals. The calendar is a system, so you become systematic automatically.
Encourages Tactical Thought
One issue with just winging it in your social media content is that you spend all of your time at ground level. You don’t have the perspective to think about your overall social media strategy, or the tactics you can put toward executing it. Your social media calendar, and the time you spend on it, solves this problem by pulling you out of the post-by-post, comment-by-comment headspace and making you look at the big picture.
Tracks Goals Automatically
When you print out a blank social media calendar, or look at it on your screen, you are looking at a series of goals: a set number of social media posts you need to put out into the world. As you fill in the blanks, you are achieving some of your goals. As you post them, you are achieving them further. As the calendar fills in, you can observe your progress point by point. It’s actually quite satisfying, watching it fill in. Jason uses a highlighter on any given line once it’s been posted, which he says feels really good.
Helps With Productivity
You know how sometimes you sit down to post something and have no idea what you’re going to post? Your hour of social media time for the day gets half taken up just by thinking about what you’re going to say on that particular day. Using your social media calendar eliminates that problem. When you sit down to post, you already know what you’ll post. You just have to post it.
Saves Time in the Long Run
It’s a known factor of productivity science that you get things done faster if you group similar tasks. For example, if you write your fiction for half an hour, then answer email for half an hour, then work on your finances for half an hour, and do that sequence twice…you’ll get less done in each than if you wrote for an hour, answered email for an hour, and spent an hour doing your finances.
A social media calendar helps you do the same with your online marketing. You don’t spend ten minutes each day on the various aspects of social media posting. You instead spend a chunk of time planning, a chunk of time gathering images, a chunk of time writing, and a chunk of time posting. Overall, it means you get more done with your social media time, leaving more time for writing.
How to Create a Social Media Calendar
It’s pretty simple, all things considered.
Step One: Decide on Your Pace
Identify how many social media platforms you want to use, and how many posts per day you want to put into your book marketing. How many is up to you, just keep it consistent and reasonable.
On the topic of reasonableness, we strongly recommend choosing two platforms and doing them well, rather than spreading yourself too thin across multiple platforms. Likewise, we’ve found you get less “bang for your buck” if you post more than twice a day.
Step Two: Make Your Matrix
Build a form, or buy one, to fill out with your content plan. Use the format that works best for you, but it should include the following for each day:
- The date
- Blanks for each post where you list the kind of post (more on that in a minute)
- Blanks for general notes on each post
- Blanks for details on each post, including specific text
- Space to make notes about graphics
- Space for any other notes, like hashtags or who you might tag or call out
Step Three: Print It (Or Not)
We find that the creative part of brainstorming content to fill in your calendar’s blanks works best with pen and paper, so we like to print out our content calendars. If your experience is different, then you should do you. Keep it all on screen.
Social Media Calendar Best Practices
You’ve got the basics. Below are a few of the best tips, tricks, habits, and hacks we recommend when filling out your social media calendar.
Rotate Through Several Types of Post
We’ve mentioned this a couple of times. It’s best to have a variety of post types in your social media mojo. If your feed consists solely of pictures of your cat, you won’t grab as many potential readers as compared to what you’d get by posting some cute kitty pics, and some news articles, and a book photo, and other tidbits.
We recommend you rotate through 7-14 different types of social media posts, so your variety casts a wider net in the audience ocean. Some good post types for writers include:
- Funny memes about what you write
- Pictures from your life as a writer
- Reviews of books by other people
- Links to articles about the industry
- Links to pages about authors you respect
- News about your writing life
- Announcements about your work
- Invitations to look at your other content, like your blog, social media, or newsletter
- Photos of books
- Photos of passages from books, or from your work in progress
- Cute pictures of your pets
- Commentary about things happening in the industry, or in the world
- News articles about real-life things that intersect with what you write
- Questions you think fans and potential fans will have strong opinions about
- Inspirational quotes
Track Results and Refine
Every social media platform operating today provides several metrics you can use to judge the effectiveness of a post. On Facebook, for example, you can tell a post with 50 likes and 10 shares did better than one with 5 likes and no shares. Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and all the others have similar.
On your social media calendar, note how the posts do. If you have the time, you can track metrics for every post. If not, just look for the outstandingly high and low performance posts. When you have five or more of each, look to see what they have in common. Common elements the high-performing posts share, you should do more of. Things the low-performing posts share, you should change. This way, you can more narrowly focus what you post, to get the best possible results.
Pro Tip: if you sign up for a business page or account on many platforms, they will provide detailed reports on multiple performance metrics.
Plan at Once, Post at Once
We mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating. Plan your content out in one session, then post in another session. We find that the two tasks require different kinds of brain power, and bouncing between the two slows you down. Instead, block out a chunk of time to plan for weeks or a month at a time, then post in a later session.
Always Follow Up
The disadvantage of a content calendar is that you can sometimes fall into a “fire and forget” mindset about your posts. Avoid this trap.
The power of social media is in forging relationships and being responsive. If all you do is post, without ever following up on what people say about your posts, you are wasting the lion’s share of your effort.
Schedule time to plan once a month or so. Schedule time to load in posts every week or two weeks. Schedule time every day to look at what’s happening with your posts, and to respond to what people are saying about them. That’s the way you turn strangers into fans using social media.
Use Observance Calendars
Comb through lists of observance weeks, days, and months for inspiration in your posting. No matter how obscure your topic, there will be a surprising number of observances your audience will relate to. Plan to post on that day along the lines of the observance theme. Use hashtags and link to news articles. You’ll be surprised how well this works. (We just happen to have a full collection of observances that we keep up to date here on the site!)
Immerse Yourself in Your Genre
Pay attention to events and happenings in your genre or topic. When are major books or movies related to what you write coming out? When is the annual award ceremony and who won? Are there birthdays of major contributors to the field coming up? What hashtags consistently perform well? All of these can give you inspiration to fill in your content calendar and fill your feeds with information your potential fans will appreciate, engage with, and grow closer to you conversing about.
Observe the 10% Rule
Nobody likes that feed where the only thing they post is about how you should buy what they’re selling. Don’t be that feed. For every one thing you post that directly asks people to buy your book, sign up for your newsletter, leave a review, etc., post nine things that are useful, memorable, interesting, or funny to people who might like your books. That’s how you get the engagement and attention of people who aren’t already fans. Remember: nobody cares about what you know until they know how much you care. Show that you care about your genre and people who like to read it, and their interest will grow to include you and your work.
Tag Heroes and Fans
Every day, tag one or two of your heroes in your genre. Their attention on your feed will draw the attention of their fans, some of whom will become curious about you and then be your fans as well. Every day, tag three to five of your fans. Imagine how you would feel if your favorite writer mentioned you directly on social media. There are people today who feel that way about you. Give them that feeling, and they’ll become your fans for life.
Use Lots of Graphics
Images outperform text-only posts by a factor of 7 to 10 depending on the audience. Video outperformed images by similar margins. We know it’s extra work, but it’s worth the investment. Social media is a visual channel, and the better your visuals, the better you will do.
But…This Doesn’t Sound Like Fun
One issue with a social media calendar is that it makes engaging on social media feel like work. That’s okay — it is work. Remember: your goal of becoming a full-time online author will only happen if you treat it like a job. That said, you should also feel free to have recreational time online.
Here’s what I do.
I schedule a set amount of time for my business social media: 20 minutes, three times a day, plus an hour once a week for planning and posting. Any time outside of those windows is for the social part of my social media: chatting with friends, arguing with family, that sort of thing. It’s all about balance, and social media calendars even help with that. Having those tactical, systematic goals tells you when you’re done with your social media work…which means you know when it’s time to play.