Facebook Etiquette and Self-Promotion

I am often accused of being too self-promotional, although I don’t send out mass emails about every event that I do, or every poem that comes out in a magazine, or every chapbook of mine that gets published.  Partly I restrain myself because I know how very annoying it is to receive dozens of emails a day promoting books I’m not interested in and poetry readings that are way too far away for me to attend.  Partly I don’t like getting harassed by the dozen or so jerk-offs who harass me whenever I do anything.  And partly, I know that I have a blog, website, and many other vehicles to promote my work that people can choose to go to if they’re interested–I don’t have to force it down their inboxes.

In some ways, my limitation of my self-promotion can be bad.  For instance, I published my own book, so promo work that I do as an editor of that book is necessarily self-promotion and sits at the edge of poor taste.  Now that Outside Voices is publishing its second book (Ric Royer‘s The Weather Not The Weather), I will be able to go all-out with promotion because it’s not my book.  But perhaps Organic Furniture Cellar could have sold better if it were promoted more aggressively, that is, if I had not had to struggle with the problem of “self” in the “promotion.”  For another example, perhaps if I promoted my chapbooks or readings better, more people would support the small presses that publish my chapbooks (this is not so much an issue right now, since the only chapbook that’s still for sale is Shifting Landscapes from above/ground press, but it might be an issue in the near future when my chapbooks are released from Dusie and Dos Press) or better attend the readings I give.  Self-promotion is necessary, and autre-promotion is necessary, because as Shanna Compton once said, “who else is going to do it?”  Even so, there are tasteful and tasteless ways of doing it.

There are forms of other peoples’ self-promotion that I can stand and even like.  I like promotion that happens in one’s own sphere– for instance, ads for a poetry reading at the venue where the reading takes place; blogs and websites that advertise an author’s or press’s work; email lists that I sign up for like the DCPoetry list; emails from close friends that tell me what they’re working on.  I am a pretty smart person and I can be trusted to find out about things on my own.  I do not need emails about poetry readings happening in Calgary when I don’t live in Calgary.  I don’t need emails about every chapbook that comes out, especially when those emails are duplicated because they’ve been sent by both press and author– I’m perfectly capable of finding out about chapbooks from presses and authors I like by browsing the web at my leisure.  I especially don’t need (and this is the very apex of the kind of self-promotion that annoys me) emails about reviews of your work.  I really don’t give a damn who reviewed your work.

Organic Furniture Cellar has its own blog, where I list reviews, upcoming reading dates, and recordings as well as information about where to buy the book.  I think this is a good strategy.  The blog doesn’t get a lot of hits, but I also don’t have to constantly annoy people with every new review or reading that’s related to my work.  I can trust my intelligent readers to find the information themselves.

I think the problem of self-promotion or non-directional promotion (i.e., promotion that is not targeted at a specific audience, like mass emails) has grown exponentially since Facebook became public.  Only a little while ago, Facebook was a student-only site.  Since it became public, more and more poets have joined it.  Perhaps more than any other demographic, poets have descended upon Facebook like locusts, making and joining events, fan pages, groups, etc., and befriending everyone that anyone thinks might be a poet (example: when Imade my romantic relationship public on Facebook, poetry people started sending my boyfriend friend requests– although they’d never met him or heard of him and in fact he isn’t a poet).  It’s a bit mind-boggling how poets have taken advantage of Facebook to promote readings, presses, parties, books, etc.  And to some extent, it’s fine.  There are, however, cases where it is not fine, and I would like to make a rudimentary list of rules for using Facebook in a polite and reasonable manner.

1. Do not befriend people that you don’t know.  You can “know” someone virtually, but if they really have no idea who you are, don’t send them a friend request.  If you still feel compelled to send a friend request, please use the message function to describe who you are and why you want to be friends with them.

2. Do not invite people to events that they can’t attend for obvious reasons.  It takes five minutes to scroll through your list of friends and choose the ones who live near the event.  I probably only attend 1/10 of the events I’m invited to because I’m constantly being invited to events that aren’t anywhere near me.  One way to make this easier on yourself is to subdivide your friends into regional lists (go to Friends–> All Friends–> Make a New List). Then if you’re reading in NYC and you want to make an event invitation, it’s easy to just invite the NYC people.

3. Limit the emails you send from your group or fan page to, at the maximum, one per month.  Please send them less often than that.  I want to join your group or fan page and show you that I support you and your work, but I really don’t need to know every single thing you do.  Presses, especially– please condense this kind of stuff into a monthly newsletter.  And please try to ensure that you don’t send me the same thing more than once.

4. Do not, under any circumstances, post advertisements on your friends’ walls.  If you’re having a wall conversation with a friend and you happen to mention your book, that’s fine.  But don’t post what are essentially just ads on my wall.  I’m not your billboard.  Use your profile to promote your work–don’t use my profile to promote your work.


About Jessica Smith

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16 Responses to Facebook Etiquette and Self-Promotion

  1. Matt says:

    I like these guidelines. I’m curious to know how you feel about #1 as it applies to Goodreads. I feel more comfortable (and it seems that others do too) adding total strangers on Goodreads than I do on facebook. Maybe since it’s a books-oriented site, and everyone is there for the purpose of learning about books, it feels more…public, or something. Whereas facebook is more personal, more purely social…

    I do find it odd when strangers, particularly poet-strangers, add me on facebook. At first I was determined to keep my facebook world and my Goodreads world separate. But then poets started adding me on facebook, and I couldn’t figure out why, but, doormat that I am, I’ve been accepting them, and even adding a few myself (but only if I’ve talked to them previously in some fashion). Sigh. Worlds collide. It’s inevitable, I guess.

  2. Patrick says:

    I like to know what’s happening in cities that are beyond my normal reach. Therefore I like to receive invites to those events via Facebook because that is the least intrusive form of spreading word. I like to know who’s reading, how often, etc. Now if Facebook could come up with something more centralized for the dissemination of reports on said readings–and if only more people took the time to compose such reports…One’s ability to keep abreast of any substantial amount of blogging has got to be pretty sporadic, even with an RSS feed (which is how I found this post). Facebook is one alternative. Also one which allows you to weed out those who offend your own sense of etiquette.

  3. mattk says:

    Self promotion is the most difficult half of being an artist. While you spend years in school learning how write/create, what to do with the final product remains a mystery. Everyone does it differently and has opinions about how everyone else does it. I guess that’s true with nearly everything in small communities.

    To make it worse, we all know of people who’ve profited more from their promotional skills than talents, even though its all credited as talent.

    Some people will go through streaks of exposure only to disappear. The goal is to produce a body of work, not be the best promoted poet of fall 2008.

    Best not to take it too seriously.

  4. b-- says:

    At 720someodd friends on Facebook, I’m definitely guilty of having friends I don’t know in-person. (There’s also the fact that I live in the middle of nowhere, and the fact that I like it that way.) A massive chunk of those “friends” are poets, and I think that’s just lovely. The more the merrier. In real-life, I have, like, 3 friends.

    I’ve been sending fewer and fewer friend requests, and when I do, it’s usually because I’ve searched for a poet/editor, and then I always write a message and tell them that I’ve read/liked their work.

    On the flipside, if I get a friend request from a poet whose work I really do not like, or whose reputation for creepiness/jackassery precedes them, I don’t honor the request. And now it’s getting to the point that if a poet hasn’t written a friendly little note, I don’t honor the request. I like to keep things personal when I can. I hate getting the impression that someone wants to be my “friend” on Facebook because we have 125 “friends” in common.

    On the flip-flipside, there are some days when I think, “It’s only a website. Who cares?”

    I, too, have an easier time promoting other poets’ work. And I have no problem promoting the presses and editors that publish my work. I talk about my stuff on my own blog. I wish more poets had blogs. 🙂

  5. kevin says:

    Do not invite people to events that they can’t attend for obvious reasons.

    yes, for example, i live in korea

  6. Sandra says:

    I really appreciated this post–it validates some things I have been feeling for a while. I freely admit that what follows is venting:

    The explosion of Facebook connections–and therefore, Facebook promo clutter–really gets to me. When I first joined, it was A) primarily school friends, and B) only because Facebook had a photo-sharing capacity I couldn’t find elsewhere. Both of those facets have been blunted by the zillions of poets using the system now. Frankly, I don’t really want to offer full access to my personal life in that community.

    There’s also the logistical issue of poets who take to using Facebook for poet-business, editorial dialogues, etc. This is a terrible idea. Why would you want to surrender hosting your own copy of the texts of important exchanges? I use email as a filing system–a searchable one–and I hate having holes in dialogue because someone is determined to manage everything through Facebook.

    I can’t even bear to activate my GoodReads account. That’s too bad because it is more focused and tangibly connected to literature. But I’ve simply reached my saturation point of e-chatter between blogs and Facebook.

  7. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    What’s Facebook?

    A rhetorical question, yes, as I know what it is.

    But I’ve never seen it. there’s a whole other world there, obviously, that I don’t know.

    But I do know that FaceBook is a commercial venture, yes?

    And as a commercial venture, it’s designed to exploit to make money, and so you and everyone else will have to decide at some point whether to play along with that, or not.

    I don’t understand why FaceBook is essential.

    FaceBook maybe is a kind of fad. It’ll last longer than the pet rock or Buffy the Vampire Slayer and will always have its adherents. But ultimately will it remain center stage in people’s “www” lives?

  8. Helen says:

    Ha! You make me feel better about what I thought was churlish, anti-social behaviour on my part – more or less ignoring the ‘friend recommendations’ in a way that would be totally unacceptable at, say, a real-life party when a mutual friend introduced you.

    I sometimes think Facebook was designed by a bunch of autistic people who would like the rest of us to know what it feels like to have nooooo clue what the rules of social interaction are. I still can’t bring myself to ‘poke’ anyone although I suspect it would be good manners to ‘poke back’ occasionally … sorry Jessica…. Maybe it’s a Limey thing but that word has too many icky little schoolboy connotations for me (as in “she’s a crap teacher but I wouldn’t mind giving her a poke hnahnahna”)

    It’s a good way to keep in touch with family/friends who don’t blog and live far away. All, uh, 37 of them in my case… I guess I need to stay in more…

  9. Gina says:

    You have hit the nail on the head as far as I am concerned re: Facebook. These are all reasons I deleted my Facebook account. Unfortunately now I am getting numerous e-mails/event invitations from Goodreads. . . .

  10. Yeah… I get tons of friend requests on Goodreads, and I’m more likely to confirm them than on FB. Also I’m more likely to confirm on MySpace, which I see as a less personal space (although it’s easier to “personalize”). I don’t use those sites very much.

    Steve, Fbook is like Friendster or MySpace, although each of these sites has a different “feel.”

    Facebook became important to me while it was still a student website, because UVA students are rabid users of it. I made a lot of friends at UVA *because* of Facebook, I think. I know more people on Facebook personally than I do on other websites so it feels like a more personal space to me (thus my feeling more protective of my personal space within it, and less interested in getting mass emails and mass invitations and mass friend confirmations). I feel like the explosion of Fbook since it became a public (non-.edu) website has erased some of the boundaries that I liked.

    @Helen I’ve been thinking about “poking.” I see poking as a way of saying, “I’m thinking about you but I don’t really have anything substantial enough to say to write a wall post.” Except when I poke lovers/ex-lovers, in which case it does have the sexual connotation. I think “poke” is an ambiguous term in American English, unlike, say, the word “tap.”

    @Sandra I hate the Fbook message/Inbox interface!

    I do like Fbook events. It is easy to have all my events planning in one place. I just wish there were a way to filter events so that I could see the ones I said “yes” or “maybe” to but not the ones I said “no” to (aka the ones in Some Other Country or City). I think Fbook events is a really useful tool for poetry promotion.

  11. shanna says:

    you can turn off facebook notifications so they don’t come to your inbox! i have. (see My Account/Settings.) you can also click invitations to “remove from my events” so that way you only see what you’ve said yes or maybe to. 🙂 makes facebook a check-in occasionally thing, and much less messy! i was about to quit completely when i discovered i could make it manageable this way. whew.

    i also block most of the goofy applications. i just don’t have time to tend virtual plants or care who thinks i am cool or hot or whatever.

    group lists are different situation than friends lists. they’re opt-in only, and one can opt out at any time. so, for instance, i send bloof annoucements & events to the bloof group list, but not to my friends list, knowing there’s a ton of overlap and assuming that friends that haven’t signed up for the bloof group do not want to get the bloof news, or that they prefer to see it “passively” on my profile or blog. i think that’s the reason for a lot of doubled-up messages–being on both a friends list and a group list run by the same person. if i get too many duplicate messages, i quit a group and stay the group-owner’s friend. seems less rude. ha ha ha.

    with events, if they are set up as “open,” anyone can invite their own friends, and that probably also results in duplications. i don’t know if having already responded prevents that or not–but it should. get on it, facebook programmers!

    i don’t send many bloof-group messages (i try to do the occasional compilation update, like you’re suggesting), but when i do, they go to the whole membership list because it is *not* possible to sort by geography, as far as i can tell. i do post links to *selected* blog posts, either on my personal profile or to the bloof group home page, but those are “passive” as well.

  12. yesIsaidyesiwillyes says:


    E-mail, great; blogging, of course I know, but “bloof-announcements” and “bloof-group messages”??

    Is it somehow related to credit default swaps

  13. Amish says:


    You know what’s annoying the hell out of me? People I add because they’re poets and I don’t want to be mean or anything, and then all I ever get is requests to add applications or things which they send you just so they get n points and get to move up the next level. I used to be nice and wait through a few of those before removing them, but now I do it after the first one. ARGH!

  14. atom says:

    so lets say you get an invitation to an event and either:
    1 – would love to attend but can’t
    2 – could attend but prefer not to
    what is the etiquette here? if i’d like to attend but can’t, i usually click “attending” to support the event, but remove it from my wall. i think i’d only click “not attending” if i think the event sucks, why bother showing that you wouldnt go?
    so the question is, then, when i post an event, do people who click “not attending” (without “sorry mom’s in town” or etc comment) saying they’d love to but cant, or piss off?

  15. Pingback: Why Facebook’s new profile sucks for social media junkies

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