Should You Hire a Social Media Assistant?

From Jane Friedman:

I hate social media. It’s an addictive rabbit-hole.

I just don’t have time. Social media takes away from my precious writing time.

I’m no good at creating those visuals and posts.

I hate all that self-promotion.

I’ve heard many authors—myself included—express frustration and dismay at the expectation that we will not only produce wonderful books, but also carry out what amounts to a second full-time job as our own marketing team. Most of us don’t mind holding events, whether live or virtual, where we get to engage with readers. Nor do we mind interviews, written or recorded, where we can talk about our books and our writing process. But what so many of us do hate is the seemingly bottomless pit of social media engagement.

Facebook, with all those reader and writer groups. Instagram. Twitter. Pinterest.

“Likes” and “follows.” Comments and messages and shares.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone else could do all this for us?

Someone else can—for a price, and with a few caveats.

What is a social media assistant?

Whether they call themselves virtual assistants, social media consultants, or author assistants, these are people who will manage your social media for you. Unlike publicists, who seek media coverage on your behalf, or direct marketers, whom you pay to advertise your book on their sites, such an assistant takes over tasks that you could, if you wanted, do yourself or learn how to do yourself. They may do it more attractively, strategically, or frequently—but they have no special credentials like the high-level media connections of a good publicist, nor any special access to important gatekeepers. What you’re buying, in effect, is time—and the freedom to use that time in other ways.

The questions are: How much is that time worth to you, and are there other benefits, besides freeing up your time, that a virtual assistant can offer?

. . . .

I now understand that social media is a long game, not a quick grab. It’s about the slow, steady development of connection and engagement. Like all relationships, it takes time and commitment. You have to show up every day, not just on birthdays and anniversaries. And that means a hefty investment of energy.

Not everyone wants to do that. After all, there’s no end to what we, as authors, might do to reach out to readers! Another thing I’ve learned is that no one can, or should, do everything. I advise those who ask me: “Just do the stuff that’s fun for you, and outsource—or forget—the rest of it.”

And there’s the heart of the matter: what should we do ourselves, what should we jettison, and what should we outsource?

Sometimes the answer is clear. If you want to pitch to the book review editor at The New York Times, you need a professional publicist to do so on your behalf—and even then, there’s no guarantee. Many authors I know are unhappy at what they now consider to be a poor “return on investment” after hiring a publicist at a cost of anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. They’re wondering if there isn’t a middle ground between spending that kind of money, which most don’t have, and doing it all yourself.

A virtual assistant—someone who can manage author promotion on social media—can seem like an attractive option. At a cost far below that of a publicist, with a direct appeal to readers that can actually be tracked, social media assistance is a rapidly-growing alternative.

. . . .

Below are five composite summaries of the models I encountered—what they offer, how they work, their strengths and drawbacks.  In all cases, it’s important to remember what a virtual assistant cannot do. Since a VA has no access to your phone, she can’t post photos of you doing book-related things. Her posts will, of necessity, have a certain “artistic distance” to them.

VA #1 is a self-published author of several books who has a side-business helping authors with services ranging from proofreading and editing to developing marketing plans, social media coaching, and query critiquing. Her experience and familiarity with the writing world made her an attractive choice. I also liked the fact she offered three options or levels of service, although her prices were at the high end. However, she also had a full-time job and a book of her own launching soon. I wondered if she would really be able to give me the kind of ongoing support I was looking for.

VA #2 is a polished professional, whose website and proposal were evidence of the strong visual style I was looking for. She also provided references so I could see the Instagram accounts of several clients she manages, and the same quality or “flair” was evident there. She offered an expensive prix fixe package, with no flexibility—although her proposal was comprehensive and strategic, and included features like a weekly Instagram Story Reel that other proposals did not. I was hesitant, however, because she had never done social media for an author, and the demographic that her posts seemed to be targeting was not mine. Her work seemed to be geared to a younger, more style-conscious audience, and I wondered if she would know how to target the kind of readers (and book-buyers) I sought to attract.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

As a preliminary opinion, PG thinks social media savvy is more important than book biz savvy in a good social media helper for an author.

How and when to work the social media platforms is ideally instinctive and intuitive for a helper. Mixing in the book stuff is probably not hard to do for a good social media jockey.

Social media is about grabbing a few seconds of favorable attention and maybe a click-through. If the helper can do that for the author or the author’s book, PG suggests he/she has done the job.

Perhaps careful crafting and curation could improve click-through on a post a bit, but PG suggests that three good-enough posts -not dumb or clumsy-looking – will provide more benefits than one expensive and time-consuming-to-create post. Once a post is up, its sell-by date is probably measured in hours, a couple of days at most.

For PG, social media posts are analogous to a quip. Make one good quip, get a bit of positive attention, then make another quip.

PG suggests that if you want to dip a toe into the social media assistant water, you may want to hire someone on a temporary freelance basis.

If PG wanted to grow larger in social media (he doesn’t), he would contact a friend who teaches digital marketing at a local university and ask the friend to suggest a couple of smart first or second year students who might want to earn some money on the side and create some examples of their work for their portfolio when they are looking for a real job around graduation. Such a student might write a case study or two based on what he/she did on social media for PG.

While most of the visitors to The Passive Voice are not likely to have a professor friend who teaches digital marketing, at least some live within a reasonable distance of a community college or other higher educational institution. PG doesn’t know whether any high schools (public or private) teach this sort of thing, but that’s another place where some talented social media devotees may be found.

If an author were to pursue this path she/he would want to see some examples of the prospective helper’s work and check out the helper’s social media accounts to see their content plus how many followers, likes, comments, etc., the prospective helper had accrued.

If a potential helper was located, the author would likely want to review each potential post prior to it going online to determine whether it looked like something likely to help sell books, gain followers, etc.

Posting something someone else has created to a social media platform is a task even the majorly technophobic can likely learn with the tiniest bit of practice or guidance.

PG thinks it’s also a good idea for the author to “own” their social media accounts – their name and contact info on the account shows they’re the owner, they know the ID/PW for the social media account, etc. When one social media assistant goes on to bigger things, the author changes the password and hires a replacement.

One nice element that comes with a social media helper is that geography means almost nothing. She can leave the big city for small town life and still do everything she did for the author via the Net. A block away or halfway around the world, the working relationship can continue if both parties want it to.

PG admits that some of his attitude concerning the importance of social media knowledge vs. book domain knowledge comes as a result of working with a very large advertising agency in ancient times. (Printed advertising fliers were the latest thing and calligraphers were on their way out).

Advertising professionals often work on more than one account – insurance plus dog food was one of PG’s combos.

Agencies are also prone to move their employees to different accounts when it benefits the agency’s overall financial performance. Client A needs more agency resources, so creative, research, etc., professionals will be assigned spend time on Client A because Clients B and C shouldn’t need a lot of attention for awhile.

An advertising pro can figure out how to sell anything.

3 thoughts on “Should You Hire a Social Media Assistant?”

  1. An advertising pro can figure out how to sell anything.

    An advertising pro can figure out how to sell advertisements for anything.

    The long, long history of products and services that fail miserably in the marketplace shows that these advertisements do not necessarily work. Alas, businesses that want to sell are considerably more gullible than consumers who do not want to buy.

  2. Virtual assistants only want to do the easy stuff, like tweeting. No accountability. They want their money without making things any better for you.

    I want someone to do the parts I can’t do or don’t want to have to do, such as advertising. Writing I can handle. My own social media presence I can handle. Marketing is something I have little interest in, limited skills for, and find incredibly boring.

    So far there are plenty of people who want to teach me how to market, and none with a viable plan who are willing to DO it for me.

    • Key word: viable.
      There’s plenty willing to take your money but none willing to stand behind their promises.
      In many cases the most effective promotion is simply to write more.

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