Apologies for the coarse language, but then again if you’re on the internet for any period of time you’ll find much worse. I use the phrase “Don’t be a dick,” because it was used by a pretty popular geek and internet personality for quite awhile. He even had it on T-Shirts. Turns out, he can be kind of a dick and he lost more than just me as a fan because of it. He forgot something pretty simple, and more important than his catchphrase. People are people.
We tend to group together based on common interests. For good or ill, tribalism is a normal function of humanity. We like being around people who share our interests and ideals. When that goes terribly wrong is when we use tribalism as an excuse to attack people outside our tribe for being different. I know, especially with the speed and volume with which information is passed online, it’s difficult to remember that most people are decent people. They’re just trying to get through life the best way they know how.
Besides, if you looked at a ven diagram of most people’s tribes, and those around them, you’d probably find something that looks similar to a spirograph drawing. Ever met a Catholic Democrat, or Atheist Republican? I have. How about a gay Christian? Guarantee you there’s a lot. A gun-toting, gay libertarian fake country singer tiger dealing felon? Yup, just watched a show about him. Point is, you can’t pin any one person down to any one circle of interest or tribe. Keep that in mind for this post, and for the rest of your creative career.
So, what’s the point of that long introduction? Let’s circle back to our internet celebrity. He forgot all of that and he went off on a group of people, some of whom weren’t very nice to him. Called them names, and was basically a dick. Now, I happened to be part of that ‘tribe’ if you will, and I saw those comments. I was a fan of his. I’d never been mean to anyone online. Harassed anyone or treated anyone poorly. But, he didn’t make that distinction. It wasn’t even that he was being mean to my ‘tribe’ that did it for me. In that moment he cast his own rule in the dirt and became a hypocrite. He continued to be a dick after that, to all sorts of people who didn’t agree with him, or he imagined didn’t agree with him. He forgot that his circles, his tribes, overlapped people of many different interests.
He wasn’t the only one, and I learned a lot over the first couple of years of really paying attention to social media. There were a lot of writers and artists who I found out were just awful people. Really mean-spirited, coarse, unfriendly people who I didn’t want to associate with at all. I dropped a lot of future works from my to-buy list, and cut several comic books from my monthly pick-up. Not from people who I just disagreed with, but from people who were just awful to others on social media. People whose behavior was counter to everything I think a creator should be. So, here’s some things to remember, and not all of it has to do with the rambling above.
Don’t Spam! I don’t know who got it into people’s heads that spamming their book, patreon link, or store links was good marketing. I tend to follow everyone back when they follow me on Twitter, but I look at their timeline first. If all I see is spam of book covers, theirs or others, I’m out. I’ve unfollowed several creators who turned to that, or perhaps only do it for a day a month, but do it all day. I don’t know a single person who wants to see that in their feed.
Treat people like people. The people who come to your social media platform may be fans, they may be ultra-fans, or they may just be curious about who you are before they give you money. They could also be trolls, critics, and haters. You just don’t know. The best course I’ve found is to treat people like people first. Just be normal, natural, and talk to people, or ignore them. Whether your social media platform is an interactive space where you talk to fans, or a place run by a media manager who gives generic responses, be consistent. When you do find someone who is just there to cause trouble, mute them and move on. You’ll find your social media experience is much less stressful, and the people who are there for good content will appreciate the lack of drama. People who are there for the drama can be just as bad as the trolls anyway.
Finally, Don’t Be a Dick! This is a big one, and it’s difficult for some people. Some will tell you to avoid certain topics, politics and religion, on your social media for example. That’s good advice if you have trouble handling disagreement. Sometimes it’s just best to avoid the things people disagree most about. But even then, you’ll always find people who don’t share all of your interests. But, if they’ve come to your page, bought your books, or picked up your art, chances are one of their circles overlaps at least one of yours. If you go off about all Christians being X, or all Democrats being Y, you’re likely to hit one of your readers with that rant. Not everyone thinks of that excuse (and it’s a pathetic one in my opinion), “if you don’t fit this description then I’m not talking about you.” Remember, our tribes are important to us. You go off about all Christians being bad, and that gay devout Christian liberal who reads your book at lunch after church will instantly feel negative about that. Sure, you can say “but I wasn’t talking about you,” but you’ll never be able to take back that initial feeling.
Now, there’s some creators that don’t seem to care about losing readers/fans. I’d be willing to bet if you’re reading this you’re not one of them. If you’re like me, you can’t afford to lose a single reader. Even if I had so many fans that I could pay all my bills and live comfortably on just my writing, I still wouldn’t want to lose a single reader. Besides, how often have we seen writer’s who are vehemently outspoken about certain things, or consider ultra ‘woke’, get set upon by their fans for not being ‘woke’ enough? Or whatever the case may be. Remember, you’ll never please everyone, but it’s almost certain that if you try to please only a few at some point you won’t be pleasing anyone.
Finally, most of us are writing for a reason. Bring a little joy to people’s lives. Tell a story we’ve had locked in our heads. Show a vision of a world that just a little bit better than our own. There’s probably as many reasons as there are creators, but one thing is true about them all, we want to have an effect on people. Otherwise why put it out there? How much of an effect are you really having if you limit your audience to only those who share your same interests and ideals (if any two people can really say they share everything)? If your writing is meant to show people a better world, wouldn’t you want the most opposite people to get that first? Preaching to the choir is great and all, but they just nod their heads the whole time. Don’t you want your writing to make people think? Feel? Maybe change a mind a little bit?