Case Study: How One Writer Grew an Engaged Social Media Following

Writer Alison Taylor-Brown just reached the milestone of having 6,000 followers on Facebook.

This, in and of itself is not a big deal though. I have seen many people amass a big following, but one that is not engaged. Again and again I will see someone with 10,000 followers or 20,000 followers on Facebook, but with barely any engagement. Every post they share to these 20,000 people gets a total of 2-6 likes, rarely anything more.

But that isn’t the case with Alison. Her posts get hundreds of likes, and dozens of share and comments. Today I want to talk about:

  1. How she got to where she is.
  2. What she shares and why.
  3. The purpose behind why Alison is doing this.
  4. How you can engage people on social media.

Oh, and before we dig in, let me properly introduce Alison:

She writes historical fiction, and runs The Village Writing school. I’ve worked with her for awhile now, and you may remember some other essays I’ve shared where I have featured her work. Here is her Facebook Page, which we will be discussing. You can also find her on and

Alison’s Facebook Growth Strategy

Alison and I did a lot of work on her goals, her messaging, researching her audience, and the marketplace. I won’t go into that here, but I did want to mention that.

Once we had that down, and identified Facebook as a place she wanted to connect with people online, we created a strategy.

We began experimenting with Facebook ads, and as I’ve noticed tends to happen with Facebook, the quirky radically honest ad seemed to work really well. This is the one that seemed to work best:

Notice what she is not doing in this ad. She isn’t trying to sell you on anything. She isn’t promising that you will learn to write a book in a weekend, she isn’t promoting her writing or anything at all. Instead, she is telling you exactly what she is doing, and introducing the characters in her life, which happen to be her mother and her dog.

Nearly two years ago, Alison did move from Arkansas to Italy for the specific purpose of researching and writing her historical fiction novel. It’s actually an inspiring story, I share it here.

The ad clearly lays out the story you will become a part of if you connect with her on Facebook.

She has run that ad consistently, for a very low budget. And over time, one by one, people have liked her page.

Of course, she does other things to share her Facebook page with people, linking to it on her website, telling people about it, and she is very active in helping writers and meeting new people, so they find out about it that way too.

Through her work with the Village Writing School, she organizes dozens of workshops each year, including massive online summits which bring in hundreds of people to each event. I wrote about one of those events with 600 writers here.

Together, these things communicate to people who she is, what she creates, how she does it, and where they can engage with her online.

What Alison Shares and Why

Author Gary Vaynerchuk has this great way of describing what to share on social media: “Document, don’t create.” Meaning: document what is actually happening in your life, don’t create some fake content that keeps people at an arm’s distance. Document why you write. How you write. Who you meet. Your aspirations. Your process. Where you go. Milestones. Setbacks. That sort of thing.

Alison shares plenty about the research and writing she does for her novel, as well as the work she does at the Village Writing School.

But Alison also shares the journey she is on in Europe.

Here are the results on a typical post for her (without boosting it): 1,711 people reached, 662 Likes, 31 shares, and 28 comments.

What was the photo of? A seagull:

Here is a post that reached more than 2,000 people, had 829 Likes, 56 shares and 60 comments:

Oh, and this 18 second video of a dog watching ducks? 2,600 people reached, 825 likes, 91 shares, 83 comments and an astounding 438 minutes of viewing time. That means — somehow — that in total, people spent 7+ hours watching this 18 second video?!

If you are a normal writer, you are likely thinking “Um, Dan? What does any of this have to do with Alison developing an author platform. The kind where people are following her because they will become rabid fans of her historical fiction and other writing?

Well, as I mentioned, Alison does share plenty about her writing process, her research, and the work she does with writers.

But she is also developing something powerful: her voice.

A couple years ago, Alison would not have known how to share a post on Facebook that would get hundreds of people to engage with what feels like a mundane aspect of her life.

But now she does. Alison has developed the craft of observing the world around her and capturing an engaging photo. She has gotten comfortable being in photos herself. She has learned how to translate her humor from real-life to a Facebook post. She has also consistently met person after person who she befriends and then shares on social media.

Here is a book club she met with and featuring on her Facebook page:

Here is her driving instructor:

And those online Summits I mentioned above? She has been consistently reaching out to and interviewing bestselling authors, who may become connected to her on Facebook.

Here she is interviewing authors Hank Phillippi Ryan, Barbara Ross, and Cate Holahan for an upcoming Mystery and Thriller Summit she is running:

Alison’s “Facebook Strategy” is really just her connecting with writers, readers, and regular folks throughout her life.

The purpose behind why Alison is doing this.

Alison is sharing her experiences, her journey, and the small moments of life. People reading this who feel that writers should just write and not worry about engagement… I mean, isn’t that what life is? A series of small moments? A story that unfolds?

She is preparing for how to be public, and how to engage with readers. These are skills many author don’t prepare for until their book launch is upon them, and it is too late to really hone these skills in a meaningful manner. In a panic, they take a few glamour shots of themselves with their book, and then spam social media with subtle variations of “Buy my book!”

But not Alison.

She is testing and learning what engages, and what doesn’t. She is developing her voice, and making real connections with actual people, not just some vague “audience.”

Some writers think that this isn’t what matters, that writers should only write in silence, and let others worry about connecting with readers. Of course, that is their choice. But something I consider is why did the following authors show up to an industry event, give me a free copy of their book, sign it, and chat with me? Here I am doing just that with BrenĂ© Brown, who didn’t just talk to me, but called me back over after I walked away because she thought of something else to tell me:

Amy Tan:

Malachy McCourt:

Mo Willems:

Gretchen Rubin:

These authors didn’t silently sign a book, they told jokes, asked questions, answered questions, and were truly engaged.

Why? Maybe it is good business. Maybe it sells more books. But also: maybe it just feels good. To truly connect with other human beings around your writing, around life, around the moments that fill our days.

How You Can Engage People on Social Media

Some people who read this post will want a simple step-by-step way that they can copy Alison’s success. Here it is:

  1. Create a Facebook Author Page.
  2. Get a dog.
  3. Move to Italy.
  4. If you don’t have a 90+ year old mother who is willing to join you, hire an actor to play the part.
  5. Take out Facebook ads with a quirky photo.
  6. Post updates on this schedule: Monday = garden, Tuesday = sheep, Wednesday = dog, Thursday – writing, Friday = mother.

I’m kidding. Let’s face it, copying Alison won’t work. Why? Because her voice, her goals, her life, her writing, are going to be completely unique to her.

This is also why many people find social media to be difficult. It’s why someone can amass 20,000 followers, but have barely any engagement with any actual people.

Instead, these are the steps I would encourage you to take:

  1. Close your eyes and visualize that your next book becomes a bestseller, and you are having a reading at the big Barnes & Noble in Union Square in New York City. The line is wrapped around the block, and you say to yourself, “I am so grateful, I am going to stay here until I meet ever fan, sign every book.” What do you want those encounters with fans to be like? How will you connect with them on a personal level, even if just for a moment? How do you hope they connect with you? Whatever your answer, make that your reason and strategy for using social media. Prepare for that moment at Barnes & Noble.
  2. Work to understand how to communicate what you write and why, who your ideal readers are, and where you can find them online and off. Honestly, this is exactly what I teach you to do in my book: Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience.
  3. Develop your voice. Share what you create and why, and other areas of your life that you are comfortable sharing.