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What to Do When Trolls Attack

We live in a new era, one in which anyone can say anything online with often without consequences. Heck, even our “Commander in Chief” knows that.

But what do you do if YOU are the subject of an online attack?

I’ve managed social media for many brands, including BinderCon, a literary nonprofit which advocates for women and gender variant writers. Which, as you might have imagined, has brought its share of sticky troll situations.

Women and changemakers are more often the target of trolls because well, these jerks feel threatened by our very existence. As writers, or artists we often create things that challenge people’s preconceptions, values, or ways of life. Naturally, this breeds asinine responses from rage-mongers, perverts, and just plain nasty souls. And the internet provides the veil they need to hide behind in order to feel powerful.

I’m no lawyer, and I don’t have all the answers, but here are some methods I’ve learned for dealing with said asshats. But before we start, let’s define troll. I include the original meaning as well because I think it adds dimension and context.


troll

noun

1 : a lure or line with its lure and hook used in trolling
: a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive behavior


Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s begin.

First, ignore them

Most trolls are just jabbing you to get a reaction (see definition). Many of them aren’t even people, but bots.  The reality is that they are doing what they are doing to get you to engage (and rage).

Think of them as the old school bully, but hiding behind an internet persona.

Tuning them out and refusing to respond often diffuses the situation. But if it doesn’t there are more steps you can take.

Block and report

Inasmuch as you ignore these jerks, block and report them too. Don’t let a fear of being a whiner keep you from handling these jerks like they deserve, in a matter of fact way.

The harder good people make it for trolls to attack, the less there will be.

Every social platform has a method for reporting, just Google it if you need to report someone.

Prepare

Really, this should probably be the first rule but most of us encounter a troll and only then realize we should be better prepared for them.

Preemptively secure your social profiles and websites with complex passwords that are harder to guess or hack. This is a precautionary task designed to help keep a potentially nasty situation from escalating.

Decide ahead of time what kind of content you’ll post about, retweet, share. Sometimes, especially in today’s political climate, it’s tempting to post about things we’re angry about. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t. However, it’s worth asking yourself if the post will really make a difference, if it is in alignment with your brand and what you’re all about.

And then if it passes all those tests, is it something you’re willing to take flack for? If so, go for it. If not, maybe reevaluate.

As annoying as it is, you must decide if what you post is something worth fighting for. If not, if it’s just venting or inflammatory–what’s the point?

Create a reporting plan for situations where you feel it is necessary. It can be difficult to think like a troll, especially when you’re a good natured person who doesn’t appreciate online fights. But creating a few “what if” scenarios can be healthy and help you avoid some painful dealings in the future.

If you decide ahead of time, for instance, that you will report and block sexual harassment type posts, you’ll know what to do when or if that happens. This can take some of the emotional side-effects out of the equation.

This helps make the incident more of an annoying task, rather than a traumatic attack.

Document everything

If someone is repeatedly attacking, or harassing you or your followers (or doing other nasty things), document everything.

Even if you just have a feeling like they might do something nefarious, take screenshots and save it in a folder. You’ll have the info, should you ever need it.

Protect yourself

Make yourself less vulnerable online by using fake information whenever possible. Avoid using your real hometown, phone number, address. Make it harder for jerks to find you IRL.

I recall a nasty troll attack a few years ago where some asshole took a video from a mom-blogger’s site (of her children, mind you) and dubbed over it with horrifying racist material. That’s some next level shit that deserved a lawsuit. It made me realize just how easy it is to access anything you post online–even if you think it’s private.

So as you post, always ask yourself: Is this something I’m okay with being completely public?

Set boundaries for the kinds of content you want to share. Do you really need pictures of your kids online? Does that selfie have any identifying information in the background?

You don’t need to be paranoid but you don’t need to feed the trolls, either.

Don’t disappear (or do)

There’s no need (usually) for you to make your feed private in response to a mild attack. You’re online for goshsakes, it’s all public one way or the other anyway. Plus it makes you look like you have something to hide, which you don’t. This is a tactic many abusers use–making you feel like you’re unsafe in the world. Don’t let them.

However, don’t be afraid to shut down and go offline. Sometimes there is good reason to just leave the online platform for a while. Your brand will not fall apart if you decide you need a break from the chaos of the internet. You can still communicate in places where you feel safe.

Don’t defend

In most cases you do not need to defend yourself against false claims or aggressive remarks. Listen, we’ve all been there and responded. I know I have. But it’s not worth it. Responding gives credence to their attack. So vent to your friends, report the trolls, block them, whatever, but don’t engage.

If for some reason you truly need to make an official statement on something, do so as an email to your subscribers and maybe as a well crafted closed-ended statement on social. Keep it general and professional, consult a lawyer if it’s a real sticky situation.

Do not make it a part of your profile. It should only be a post. A day is an eternity online so there’s no need to draw attention to a troll’s claims or aggression on your profile, when most people won’t have even noticed.

If you must respond, and especially if you’re angry give it 24 hours. Unless of course you feel like you or someone else is in danger.

If the attack warrants a response (and usually it doesn’t) give yourself some time to cool down. Unless you’re the president of the United States, your Twitter situation is likely not a national emergency. Ahahahahaha, but seriously.

Take it to the authorities

If things are really escalating, or if you ever feel genuinely threatened or in danger, err on the side of caution and get not only the social platform, but the police and legal authorities involved as well.

Remember who you are

Aside from the unfortunate reality of being attacked just for being a woman, or a person of color, or disabled, or liberal or conservative, or however you exist in the world, often if you’re being attacked you’re likely doing something different and worthwhile.

Some of the most hot button issues are things like human rights, equality, racism, climate change, etc. You know this. These issues are important and so they garner a lot of emotion, sometimes rage, and often troll behavior.

Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in your work and your life, and stick to your truth. Be a good person; we sure could use more of them.

And remember the wise words from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down)

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How to Get Readers to Actually Remember You

Being a professional writer is only half about writing that book, or screenplay (or whatever your big project is). The other half is actually getting someone to read your work.

When I first started writing, a friend and I went to a day-long seminar about how to market yourself as a writer. It was a clusterf#$k of information. We were totally intimidated and overwhelmed because all we wanted to do was write well and have said writing get in front of some eyeballs.

We were not ready for the glut of work it actually takes to sell your writing.

Writing and marketing (and branding) are two vastly different skill-sets which require different mindsets.

That’s why I’m going to go ahead and be a jerk here and say the thing that most writer marketing people won’t: if you’re just starting out and you are still just trying to figure out the HOW to write your work effectively, skip this post and go check out some of my other ones like Mind the Gap or Writing Peace. You’ll likely find these much more enjoyable.

I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon here, it’s just a waste of your precious energy to think about marketing stuff until you’re ready. And if you think about marketing too early in the game, your writing may never pass the shitty first drafts phase.

On the other hand, if all you do is think about writing, but not the promotion of it, you’ll likely end up with some beautiful writing that only a handful of people actually read. (Which hey, if that’s what you want, no worries.)

If you’re a writer who’s truly ready to think about marketing–maybe you’ve had a few things published (or are ready to), or maybe you’re even widely published and you just procured an agent, or a book deal, or you’re getting ready to publish a book yourself, or heck if you’ve even published a few books but haven’t built the readership you’re looking for–this post is for you.

Let’s get to the meat of things.

Once upon a time, you could be a nobody and have some good writing, or even just a great idea for a book and get a book deal. This would garner you a suite of promotional support from your publisher. Support in the form of money, paid book tours, marketing, etc.

Those days, for the most part are gone. You’ve likely heard this before.
You’ve probably even heard that you need to publish micro versions of your work as widely as possible and have a platform, in order to get a good book deal and/or appear to build an audience. This is also true.

But let’s talk about the thing that no one seems to be addressing–and that’s the big ol’ WHY.

Why do we think we need 5k followers on Twitter? Why are we plucking segments from our books, or offshoot subject matter and working to get it published? To get a book deal? To build an audience? Will these things actually give us what we want?

Wait, do we even know what we truly want?

Which brings me to this: We’re caring about the WRONG THINGS. That shit really doesn’t matter. I recently saw the badass Nicole Walters speak and here’s a shot of one of her slides. It’s a little blurry (my bad), but it says this:

#TruthMoment: You Care About the Wrong Things

and then under that are three words are crossed out: Traffic, Followers, Subscribers

[to be clear she’s not saying you shouldn’t care about your followers or subscribers–rather you shouldn’t care about the number of them]

I’m going to tell you something you likely already know, deep down. But that hardly anyone is saying.

Just because you got published in the NY Times doesn’t mean you have a real audience. Just because you have a ton of Twitter followers will not guarantee that they’ll buy your book. Think about it. Even if hundreds of thousands of people read your work–which is amazing by the way, I am not knocking it at all and I want this too–when it comes down to it, will they remember you?

What percentage of those readers will actually remember your name in the future? And of those, what percentage will buy your book when it comes out? What percentage of your Twitter or Facebook followers will even see your book announcements in their feed?

Did you know that most Facebook users have about 1,500 news feed items backlogged every time they login?  Chances are your followers will only see about 1-2% of what you post.

Not to mention that you’re also competing with your friends’ cute puppy and kitty pictures, and political posts.

I don’t know about you, but I may read an essay, even an excellent one, then save it and share it around, but unless I already know the writer personally, I usually forget who the hell they are as time passes.

Here’s the thing that even many publishers haven’t fully caught on to yet: building your author/writer brand–and not just marketing for one book, will not only yield you more sales up front, but repeat customers in the long run.

I hear your gears turning and maybe you’re thinking, but Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t have to do that, Stephen King didn’t either.

Statistically, most of us will not have the kind of ginormous success that they have. And besides, they are not coming up right now in this vastly changed landscape. Even so, we can still be successful even if we’re not at JK Rowling status. But while there is much to learn from mega-writers, when it comes to how to market ourselves, chances are we’ll need to work harder and have a different approach.

The publishing industry has changed both a lot and not enough in the past couple decades. It has not caught up with the changes in our society, nor how people buy, nor what contributes to long-term viability.

I see that as an opportunity! It is an opportunity for a savvy writer like YOU to utilize skills from the entrepreneurial world to make bank despite the weird limbo that New York publishers are in.

Two things you can do today to build a bigger, better audience for the long run:

1. Think like an info-preneur and create a good content strategy.

Publishing work that is in line with your brand may sound like a no-brainer, but start thinking about what kind of brand kingdom you’re looking to build and make the dang blueprints to build it.

I know that’s easier said than done, heck I even struggle with this myself. But here’s an example of mismatched blueprints and construction, to illustrate my point:

Imagine you want to be known for your western mystery thrillers. Maybe that article you’re writing about the trend in bra membership sites isn’t a good match for your brand.

Maybe you’re thinking, but Andrea I have to make a living! I get it. As a single mama, more than most.

So let’s get real about what you need to do now to keep moving toward what you want, while also paying the bills. Maybe that means taking a different job, maybe that’s writing about bras for now, but having a plan for moving toward what you really want. You are the only one who can decide.

And then once you have decided, you can still create a content marketing strategy. Make a list of pieces you can write that build the brand you really want to build. Decide which will be posts on your blog, or email newsletter, and which will be pitched to publications. Then gets ta writin’.

The more volume of quality on-brand material you have, the better chance you have of getting in front of those eyeballs.

2. Enlist some easy, tangible ways to bring readers back to you.

Whenever possible on your posts or published pieces, include a link to your writer website (or at least the website spelled out if they won’t link to it). Don’t have a website? Get one! You need it! Even if it’s a one-pager, that’s okay.

But don’t stop there. The entire reason you want them to go to your website is to provide value and make contact. Have at least two ways to connect with you: an email list sign up, and an email address where they can contact you.

The goal here is to collect info. We know that social media is flooded, so while it’s great if they follow you on Instagram, it’s much better if they give you their email address. This allows you to keep in touch down the road, when you publish stories, or articles, or essays, or your book comes out.

And of course, you’re going to be a good steward and only send them good info, right? Don’t just drone on about how cool you and your book are. Provide some dang value!

You’ll also get a lot more people to sign up for your email list if you give them something in exchange for their email address. It could be the first chapter of your new book, a list of your favorite indie bookstores online, a quiz about your genre–you get the idea. Be creative, offer real value, and begin building an audience you can actually speak to.

You can do this.

I know it can be daunting to think about marketing yourself, or building your writer brand. I’ve totally been there. After that seminar I told you about, I wanted to lock myself in my room and never think about marketing myself again.

The good news is that you don’t need to have it all figured out. It’s just like writing the freakin’ book in the first place. Break it down into bite-sized pieces and do what you can do now.

Awareness with action is better than knowing everything and being paralyzed. Click To Tweet

Now, go get your email list sign up set up  if you don’t have one already (it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes), and just jot down ten quick ideas you could write about to build your brand. Then put them into your calendar so you actually pitch, write and post them.

And sign up for my email list below–see what I did there–to get first notice when my new Content Marketing course comes out! I’ll be walking you through each step to make a killer plan.


Want more help? Here are three ways I can help you now:

Enroll in my personal branding course, book a one-on-one branding consultation with me, or sign up for my weekly email newsletter.


Feature image by Zack Sheppard from San Francisco, CA (Waiting for Harry Potter at Borders) via Wikimedia Commons

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How to Set Up an Email Sign Up on Your Website

For personal brands, I usually recommend either of these two email marketing service providers: ConvertKit and MailChimp.

They each have their strengths and only you can choose the right one for your needs. Both email marketing providers have been selected for their ease-of-use, affordability, and flexibility. Below my Pros and Cons for each, are specific instructions on how to set up an email sign up form on your website, based on your type of website.

ConvertKit

I’m a bit newer to this provider, but I LOVE it’s capabilities for advanced marketing methods along with simplicity. I’m also a big fan of their company in general. Good people run this thing.

They say ConvertKit has the “power of Infusionsoft, but easier to use than MailChimp.” So far in my experience, that seems valid.
setup Convertkit on your site

Pros:

  • Easier to segment your list based on a subscriber’s actions, preferences, and purchases, so you can give people more of what they want (or need) and less of what they don’t
  • Super easy to sign up and implement
  • Great for automations–i.e. someone signs up for a freebie and then gets a series of useful emails after.
  • Reasonable price
  • Lots of integrations
  • They have a wealth of knowledge on what actually works in email marketing and are proactive about helping you build your list.

Cons:

  • They don’t have as many design options, and there’s no drag-and-drop layout designer
  • There’s no free to start option

Now, if you are going with ConvertKit, here are instructions for how to set it up on your own site:


MailChimp

I switched to MailChimp from Constant Contact a few years ago when I felt like Constant Contact was trying to have too many bells and whistles while also becoming more corporate. Anywho, I really do like MailChimp’s drag-and-drop design, but there are a few things I don’t like so much–which may not matter to you when you’re just starting out. I recently began my migration from MailChimp to ConvertKit because I wanted to have a more complex way of catering to my subscribers needs.

Pros:

  • Design options galore! Easy to do, too.
  • Clean, modern user interface
  • Easily integrated with many types of sites and platforms
  • Good if you’re just starting out. Free to start and begin collecting email addresses
  • I think they’re pretty cool people too–they loyally sponsored BinderCon

Cons:

  • The user interface, while lovely is often counter intuitive. There’s definitely a big learning curve to understanding lists versus segments, versus groups or doing any kind of more advanced list segmenting.
  • You cannot send your email to more than one list at a time.
  • You can end up paying for duplicate subscribers (billing is based on number of subscribers) if you use more than one list, as they count them separately.

Now, if you are going with MailChimp, here are instructions for how to set it up on your own site:

 

 


Full disclosure: I am an affiliate for ConvertKit so I get a tiny commission if you purchase. (Thanks for your support). I currently use both email marketing platforms, but am migrating over to ConvertKit.