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Social Media And The Baby Boomer: What's The Difference Between Following And Stalking?

Social media is growing, and I, ever so slowly, am growing with it. I reluctantly joined Facebook in 2011. 'I have no interest in social media,' I told my friends. Why did I cave? Marketing.
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Woman gossiping online at home
Woman gossiping online at home

Social media is growing, and I, ever so slowly, am growing with it. I reluctantly joined Facebook in 2011. "I have no interest in social media," I told my friends. Why did I cave? Marketing. The writers I met with, and facilitators from seminars I attended, said my book, Poems on Fruits & Odes to Veggies, needed a Facebook presence. Turns out Poems & Odes couldn't have a page unless I had one too. We both got pages, and I soon discovered Facebook was fun; much of it anyway. I reconnected with a few old friends from high school. Most of my cousins were on it too. So while the family doesn't get to see each other as often as we would like, we get to stay connected and hear about proms, graduations, birthdays, and the birth of assorted reptiles. There's a bunch of stuff I don't like too, but isn't that life? I focus on what makes me happy and the other stuff (like 100 pics of someone's vacation or pro-gun cartoons) I ignore.

In 2012 I published my first novel, This Moment on Amazon for Kindle reading. I needed more marketing, so I created a This Moment Facebook page. I went from zero presence to three pages in three years. Man, my social presence was growing fast. Ha! As time progressed I was connecting with authors, publishers and assorted other people in the book industry. I was getting my name out there, building a platform and having some fun.

Then one day a colleague of mine said, "You really need to be tweeting." Really? Tweeting? I didn't know what to tweet or why anyone would be interested. But marketing was a good enough reason to join so I created @judynmclaughlin. I started following others in the book industry and seeing what they tweeted about. It wasn't complicated. Tweets ranged from everything to nothing. I jumped in with my 140 characters.

I try to manage that fine line between annoying self-promoter and glib writer. In my Twitter travels I found two women who tweet beautifully; authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Together they penned among other books, The Nanny Diaries, Dedication and their soon-to-be-released The First Affair. Their handle? @NannyDiaries. I asked @NannyDiaries how they do it. They said, "Honestly, the self-promoting is uncomfortable. It definitely does not come naturally. We try to recommend reads to followers who have read one of our books and might like another. We are so touched to have connected with fans and other writers and try to keep it to what might interest them. It is a challenge to sell yourself, especially true for women. And for writers to do so in under 140 characters in nearly impossible." What a relief to know self-promotion is hard for them too!

With a smile on my face I continued our conversation and asked them what they get out of 140 character interactions. "The absolutely best thing about tweeting has been the opportunity it provides to connect directly with our readers and do so in real time." My friends (and now followers) @NannyDiaries told a story about connecting with a reader who wanted to know what they, the authors, imagined happened to one of their characters at the end of the novel. "It was an awesome conversation," they said. "It makes our day and keeps us writing. It's like right, someone's out there."

That alone sounds like reason enough to tweet, but I still had reservations. Sure I have connected with big-time writers, agents, book reviewers and publishers. In fact, Simon & Schuster under the handle @SimonBooks and I have real Twitter conversations and answer each other's Twitter questions. I like the idea of staying fresh in the minds of those I follow, and learning more about their business, yet I don't want any of these people to think I'm a creepy stalker. And there in lies the question... what is the difference between following and stalking? I often check with one of my teenagers to see if it's okay to reply to a tweet, favorite it, or begin following. "Yes," the McLaughlin girls say.

In my day you didn't let the boy you were crushing know you were following him. Baby Boomers were subtle and stalking was not counted with "likes" or "follows." I need my Generation Y children, those born in the age of social media, to talk me off the ledge. My children promise me, "People want you to follow them." (Then I remember how @howiemandel practically begged for followers when he guest hosted on Kelly and Michael). Getting lots of followers seems to be the goal.

Twitter is about responding, connecting, interacting and, ummmm -- stalking. (To be very clear, I use the term loosely with no malintent surrounding the following, just an innocent gathering of information). Honestly, stalking or following; it still puzzled me. So I reached out for more answers.

Candice Manheimer, twitter handle @csmmom201, is a well-respected book reviewer and blogger. One of the benefits of tweeting, she says, is attracting followers to her blog, Book Queen Reviews. I asked Candice about my "following versus stalking conundrum." She made it simple "The actual purpose of following someone is to see what they want to share with their followers and to communicate with them...that is the reason they are posting." What a relief! They want to share. It was starting to make more sense. She added "Through social media, as in reality, there are boundaries that must be recognized in order to prevent the act of "following" from crossing over to stalking." Again, pretty clear...treat social media like life; everything in moderation. And when I asked @NannyDiaries the same question they said, "I know there are people we love to follow closely -- Lena Dunham, Julie Klausner, Tim Carvell -- we could read their tweets like books. But it is because we love how they see the world, not because we want to lick their shower, or whatever it is stalkers do." I couldn't help but laugh.

Thanks to my Gen Y kids, @NannyDiaries and @csmmom201 for clearing up social media for me; both the benefits and protocol. Did we clear it up for you? Let @judynmclaughlin know. #followingvsstalking.

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