I am new to the world of writing, and was initially surprised to read on some publishing advice website (eek) that authors should use social media to interact with readers and promote their books. How does this really play out in practice? Do publishers see more potential in you if you maintain a blog or have an active online presence? Is this essential for success?
It varies. Some publishers really require you to be "social". Some don't.
But having social presence helps. It attracts a specific audience that may or may not be reachable through traditional means. It also garners feedback that usually is absent in traditional one-way communication.
But for certain categories, not being "social" kills sales. It doesn't take too much energy and time to be "social" unless you have thousands of views and if you reach those numbers - you could probably contract someone to handle the social presence.
I suggest that writers create a Facebook page (or a Linked In article, depending on the published material), and share it with friends and family. If you have an accessible marketing team with a publisher, they might share some of the book's graphics to be used on the Facebook page (else get ahold of some local graphics designer). Either build a story line in the posts or parallel-plot. Engage the visitors with comments or online events.
It takes a bit of time. Alternately, outsourcing it to a local social media expert saves time. (P.S. Facebook is just an example here.)
I'd say that it's in your best interests to be social. If you're writing for a niche, then find where this niche hang out and observe. If the opportunity arises (or you can encourage it to), hold a Q&A session. Any fan likes a little attention.
Failing that, use Twitter to monitor people discussing you or your work. Get involved in conversations. Don't argue, be decent and take feedback on the chin.
Social media is a powerful weapon when yielded correctly. From monitoring trends to creating a network of potential readers, it is truly a necessary evil.
Introverts and creatives may find it difficult or nonsensical to utilize social media. It is my belief that it should be utilized whether or not your publisher requires or recommends.