I have been social networking for more than ten years now. From chatting about pregnancy and children then, to publicising my debut novel, One Apple Tasted, now, it has been (mostly) a wonderful experience of connection with like-minded people I would never have met in the offline world.
Ten years ago, it wasn't called social networking, it was called 'community' and you were considered semi-mystical if you knew what it meant. At least by some people -- usually marketing folk who had been reading commentary from the US on new channels to market. Some fellow broadsheet and glossy magazine journalists were not keen on, or even interested in, the internet at that point. There was a sense that I was doing something that, if not actively shameful, was somehow third-rate. I decided they were wrong, and carried on regardless. And they weren't the only ones to ignore the power of this audience.
When I was running the lifestyle channels at AOL UK from 2002, I got in touch with all the PRs who had deluged my desk with press releases when I worked at Vogue, Tatler and Country Living. I found myself explaining that I could show the products and services they were publicising to 100,000 plus women. The sensation was of shouting at a whole lot of people with their backs turned and their fingers stuffed in their ears going, 'La, la, la'.
As well as the power of the internet itself from about 1993, I had understood the value of community support very quickly. I really found myself depending on it in 2000 when I was pregnant with my third child. In my forties. I was finding it very tough emotionally, as I knew no one personally in the same position and the NHS doctors tended to emphasise the negative.
Having had an American godfather I adored, I felt very comfortable seeking refuge in US parenting communities, where I found plenty of older mothers just like me -- with two older children and a baby on the way. It was expensive dialling up to be with them, but so worth it. I felt supported in a way I didn't by anything or anyone else and, in turn, offered my support.
Late in the pregnancy, I was recruited to the launch team of www.ivillage.co.uk, and immediately set up the UK's first message board for older mothers to share my own experience locally. It took off like a rocket, and is still going today. I also wrote a diary of my pregnancy -- really my first experience of blogging. Nine years later I still meet people who find it helpful and entertaining. I have been blogging ever since on and off, including at AOL UK where I set up the blogging community.
I've been on Facebook for years, and love it for its personal connections, including with writers I have never met but admire such as Susan Hill. I started tweeting @JosaYoung in 2007 -- or 'micro-blogging' as it was originally called, as it took up less time than proper blogging. It was like the very beginning of a party then, I knew about two people and the conversation was desultory. Then the doors were flung back at the end of 2008, and the guests are still flooding in now.
What I love now about Twitter is making connections with writers, publishers, bloggers, agents and other experts in this new world of books I have entered. What amazed me was how incredibly nice and supportive they were.
I suppose I should not have been surprised. The characteristic of online interaction that has been completely consistent in my experience is the level of support that complete strangers with something in common are prepared to offer to each other. 'Share your support' as we used to say at AOL.
Marika Cobbold, whose massive hit Guppies for Tea was an inspiration to me, tweeted constantly as she read read my book, saying the fate of one character was giving her frown lines. Another of my literary favourites, Elizabeth Buchan, offered to review it she enjoyed it so much. Renowned UK blogger Mrs Trefusis tweeted that the book kept her up until 1am, using her iPhone as a torch so as not to wake her husband.
Other tweeps -- or twits as I like to call them -- seeing these recommendations, and the posted links to reviews, reported immediately hopping onto Amazon and buying. Even more amazing was the publicity director of one of the UK's biggest publishers tweeting recently: 'Happy New Year all! Read several books over the holiday and one of the most enchanting was @JosaYoung's One Apple Tasted. Wonderful escapism'.
The key is balance. We don't like boasting in the UK, so I tweet in a natural way about what I am up to, and join in jokes and threads. And I also post blogs -- like this one of course -- and features. The only problem is that, the amount I tweet, my two new projects won't get written quite so fast as One Apple Tasted. I wrote the first draft in five weeks flat -- in the days before internet.