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How to Build your Online Presence – Introduction

Ever gone searching for something online, and been totally unable to find it, even after searching for hours (more like five minutes, but online it feels like hours, doesn’t it)? – Yes? Me too.

Search giants like Google are great at finding things among the terabytes of data in cyberspace, but if those things aren’t there, or not properly tagged or cross-referenced, they simply can’t be found. That’s common sense, you might say – and quite rightly too. But you’d be surprised how many people have no idea what information about them is online.

Ask a friend if you can Google yourself on their computer, and see what appears. It can be a real eye-opener! Don’t Google yourself now, from your own computer, because your computer knows it’s you who’s searching, and will show you different stuff.

This is why it is so important for writers (and everyone involved in the arts) to carve out their own little piece of online real estate and build a presence to be proud of. Use the same photo, bio and information about yourself on every platform … you need to be consistent, so that you’re easily identifiable, and easily found!

Nowadays, it’s simply not enough to have a personal Facebook page with photos of your last holiday and a half-hearted Twitter account retweeting Stephen Fry. If you’re serious about your writing, you need, at the very least:

1. Twitter account

Please give yourself a sensible Twitter handle that people can find if they search for you. I’m @trishgroves. If you’re Mary Smith, find a way of being Mary Smith, with a recognisable profile picture. If you run with something like @JollyJapesJaney, your childhood pet name, with a photograph of your first puppy as your profile, how will anyone ever know it’s you? Remember to use your new Twitter handle liberally in everything, don’t just say ‘Follow Me On Twitter’, because there are probably thousands of Mary Smiths on Twitter. Even with a photo, it can take ages to search through them all, and people will give up trying to find you. Trust me. Be simple, be searchable, be YOU!

2. Blog

Think of your blog as a free professional website, which you can customise and tweak as much as you wish, whenever you wish, at no cost. Back in Ye Olden Days, before WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr, if you wanted an online presence, you paid a developer to build you a website in raw HTML, and it was really time-consuming (and expensive) to maintain.

Nowadays, there’s no excuse. You can get up and running on any one of dozens of blogging platforms, and purchase a custom domain for less than the cost of a decent lunch for two. If you’re not sure which blogging platform to choose, simply have a look at the blogs you visit the most, and decide which one is more your thing. Don’t read blogs? Then it’s time to have a look and see what’s out there. Google ‘Top 100 blogs’ and take your pick. It’s an educational experience.

I’ve used three different platforms over the years, and here are my thoughts on each of them: Tumblr is more immediate, and great for shorter posts, images and videos; Blogger is owned by Google, so is allegedly more search-engine friendly but is less customisable; I prefer WordPress, the grand-daddy of blogging platforms. WordPress grows as you do, and if you do decide to go completely ‘pro’ with an all-singing and all-dancing website, you can buy a WordPress plugin for your site and transfer your entire blog in one go. What’s not to love?

3. Google+

‘Google Plus’ is something you may not have thought about, but with the full Google suite of apps, you can build a really ‘findable’ online presence, including things like a verified Google Author page, a YouTube channel, and other lovely hidden gems that Google wishes people would use more! There’s less clutter on Google+ too. You can find me on +TrishGroves

4. LinkedIn

You will either love LinkedIn, or hate it. I disliked it so much that when I first set it up in 2009, I deleted it within weeks. The TrishGrovesWriter profile on LinkedIn is my third iteration. Think of it as an online Resume or Curriculum Vitae. You can ‘set it and forget it’, and accept connection requests as and when you want to, or you can dive in and contribute to discussions and industry speak. I visit it occasionally, mostly out of a sense of obligation. There are people who swear by it, though, and you’ll get out of it what you put into it.

5. Independent Writers’ Listing

You may have a local or independent writing forum that you could join. In Ireland, we have writing.ie which is a great resource for writers. It’s in the form of a free online magazine, with articles and information about writing, competitions, etc., and blog posts by many well-known writers. There’s even a free online course in writing. Well worth a visit. I joined as an Author Member and my profile is listed as Trish Groves.

6. Facebook Author Page – my feelings are mixed on this, though. Having spent ages building my own private page, and carefully friending only the people I care about or actually know, the effort of creating a ‘me as an author’ page seems like just so much hard work. I may get around to it, but I may not. I’m probably not the only person who feels peeved when their Facebook friends create new Author Pages (or worse, Book Pages), asking you to Like them, and then posting the same updates on every single page they own, every time. It fills up your feed and feels like spam. I really don’t want to do this to my friends and family, who are the people who are most likely to follow me out of loyalty anyway. Plus, of course, at the time of writing, only about 3% of the people who Like your Page will ever see your updates, unless you pay extra for Sponsored Posts. And yes, the sheer amount of capitalisation necessary when talking about Facebook is also quite annoying!

Phew, that’s a lot!

Yes, six separate online platforms seems a lot, but this will help the search engines to find you, especially if you cross-reference each of them, creating a digital footprint that is yours and yours alone. You need to do this if you want to reach new readers, new publishers, and new audiences. If you’re serious about your writing, you have to be serious about your online presence, and build one you can be proud of.

I’d love to know which online platform you found the most useful!

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