Writers have been learning the importance of “shameless self-promotion” for over a decade, but it’s still more comfortable for many of us to promote other people than to toot our own horns.
Oh, we’re learning – but that doesn’t make it “comfortable.” It’s not really our “happy place.” Most authors would prefer to have a small army of publicists – employed by a well-known publisher – to tout their literary virtues. As we discover the benefits of small press and self-publishing, we also learn that we must have an entire new wardrobe of interchangeable hats: author, editor, book designer, illustrator, marketing pro, speaker, blogger, social media maven – in addition to whatever hats we wear in other careers and our personal lives. One of my favorite, well-worn hats: Exhausted Reader Curled Up Under the Covers.
In addition to buying our books, readers can help their favorite authors and other bloggers by being part of our volunteer PR corps. One of the easiest things to do is to share entertaining or informative blog posts.
Making It Easy to Share
What are some of the biggest reasons readers don’t share posts?
They didn’t see the post. This is where “shameless self-promotion” is a must. If you throw a party but don’t send out any invitations, what’s going to happen? Bloggers and writers need to get over their squeamishness when it comes to self-promotion. I’ve rarely heard anyone complain about my advertising my blog or my books; more often than not, someone I’ve known a long time will say, “Wait, you’re a writer? These are your books? Wow, I had no idea. I’m impressed.” That’s often followed by, “How can I buy a copy of your book?” and a fresh new order placed on Amazon.com.
They didn’t see sharing buttons or any “call to action.” Sometimes, you need to ask. “Please, if you like this post (or any of the others on my blog), share it widely and often!” And sometimes, you just need to make the means to share it much more obvious. To that end, I’ve installed the Add-to-Any plug-in. Add-to-Any is a popular plug-in with over 300,000 installions. It is arguably the most popular sharing plug-in for WordPress, and now features on of those “crawlers” up the left side of your screen, making the sharing buttons almost impossible to miss. But in case my readers do miss them as the buttons slide up and down while scrolling through a post, there’s another set of buttons at the bottom, just above the comments section.
They didn’t know if it was okay to share. Sometimes, we can come across as real sticklers for copyright, and need to make it clear that we really do want people to share, just not to copy, paste, and call our work their own! We need to get them to think of it as “tipping the waiter” at their favorite restaurant – provided he didn’t spill soup on their laps!
They didn’t like the post or think anyone in their social circles would find it interesting. You win some, you lose some. Just as not every reader likes every book an author ever wrote, not every reader will think every post is worth sharing. But most readers don’t realize that comments and sharing are worth more than a quick “Like” here or on Facebook. It’s not like stamp collecting – to be perfectly blunt, all writers want more readers, not more stars, thumbs’ ups, or hearts.
It took too much effort. Do you call your customers – your readers – “lazy,” or do you examine your user interface with a gimlet eye and unflinching critical analysis, and think, “How can I make it hard not to share this?” The Add-to-Any plug-in certainly helps! I would never call my readers “lazy,” but I’ve just made it hard to pretend they couldn’t find the sharing buttons! And it’s just a click or two and they’re done. This blog is a brief line or two about why you think your friends will also like the post helps to catch their eye, as well.
Installing Plug-ins in WordPress (Self-Hosted)
From the Dashboard menu, select Plugins > Add New:
On the Add New Plugins page, there is a search box. Enter the sort of plug-in you’re looking for; in this case, sharing or sharing buttons.
Look for plug-ins that have many users and are highly rated. Newer, little known plugins may be excellent, too, but be sure to carefully read the reviews. In this case, I read the 1-star reviews and based my decision on the prompt, courteous responses from the plug-in’s authors. Any product will have its detractors, but not all bad ratings and reviews are fair or accurate in placing the blame on a particular thing. An engaged plug-in author who expresses an interest in learning more about their users’ problems gives me much more confidence than an author who doesn’t respond quickly or responds to criticism with defensiveness or disinterest. I’ve also used this plug-in in the past, many years ago – it’s been around a long time and has gained credibility through widespread use and my own personal experience.
Keep in mind that few plug-ins are perfect; you may have conflicts between plugins, forcing you to turn all of them off, then back on one-by-one until the problem recurs, then you’ll have to make hard choices as to which to keep and which to get rid of. When a thing is free, I try not to complain too much!
Did you think I’d leave you non-WordPress readers out in the cold, here? Add-to-Any is available for all the following platforms:
I’m still using JetPack Publicize to automate sharing of posts to my blog’s Facebook page, my personal Google+ site, Twitter, and Tumblr. But I have turned off the Publicize sharing buttons, since Add-to-Any offers more of them, and they are more visually appealing, as well. No need to have multiple sets of similar sharing buttons – though I’ve seen this on other blogs. It gets confusing and may actually discourage readers from sharing, as they wonder “Which buttons am I supposed to use?”
Design Considerations: Bright, Obvious, but Not Tacky
Speaking of “visually appealing,” you want to make sure that the plugins you install function flawlessly, enhance your readers’ experience, make it easy for readers to do what you want them to do (share! share! share some more!), and don’t get in the way or look ugly. I’d tried out various plug-ins, over the years, to implement that sharing button “crawler” up the side. Some were huge! Garishly ugly. Some followed you around like an eager puppy, bouncing up and down as they did so. The thing I hated about most of them was their use of differently sized site icons.
Call me nit-picky, but having buttons of varying heights and widths – some with and without share stats counters – was distracting and off-putting. I figured, if it bothered me, it would bother readers, too. So this is the first one I’ve found that didn’t annoy me.
I chose not to share it unless the screen resolution or window width was over 900 pixels, so the sidebar “crawler” may not be visible on mobile devices or on all displays, and that’s okay. You can see how this works by narrowing your current browser window to about a third of the width of your screen, if you’re on a PC, or by viewing the site on a mobile phone. Have you ever visited a site where that sharing button bar covered over half the content that you were interested in reading in the first place? That shouldn’t happen here. Though you may not see the “crawler,” the buttons at the bottom of each post still show up, and there are more options than there were before.
Conclusion & Call to Action
To encourage readers to join the “PR Corps,” make it easy to share your posts, your social media links, your book launch news, or your Amazon Author Page – or better yet, make it hard not to share. Toward that end, I installed the Add-to-Any plugin. Ultimately, it’s a design decision and you may find one you like even better; when I searched for sharing plug-ins, I found 2,635 results for self-hosted WordPress, alone. Blogger users can easily implement Add-to-Any, but there are other choices – perhaps the built-in options will suit you just as well. Word of mouth – or click of the finger – is still the best advertising. Whatever you do, don’t make readers jump through flaming hoops to help you get the word out.
Finally, will you help me to get the word out? Try those Add-to-Any sharing buttons – either the ones at the bottom of this post, or the ones that hang out on the left side of your screen – and share this post with your friends on any of the social media networks shown.
I haven’t played an April Fool’s Day prank on anyone since that time I tied dental floss around the kitchen sink sprayer and stood behind my husband while he turned the water on full blast – the hose rose up a foot and sprayed me in the face. At least I got points for trying. Anyway, I’m not going to pull any pranks on you, but Google probably will – go see what they’re up to this year. For a taste of past years’ shenanigans, take a look at this list of Google April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Did you know that GMail, itself, was one of the first?
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