The Business Rusch: Social Media (Discoverability Part 10)
As I got deep into this discoverability series, I promised that I would examine marketing strategies from passive to active. I have to abandon that promise now, because most everything we’ll discuss from here on out will be active.
By active, I mean you’ll have to do something—write something, design something, or pay for something—and you’ll have to do it several times. You had to do those things with passive marketing as well, but generally only once.
I’m going repeat here that I am not advocating all of the things I’m mentioning in these blogs. As I’ve said previously, there is no one-size-fits-all marketing. None. Just because something works (or doesn’t work) for me doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. Give it a whirl and report back here. What I’m most interested in is numbers—did you see an effect on sales? Because if you can’t answer that question, I’m going to assume that the marketing didn’t work and/or that there’s no way to measure if the marketing worked.
Remember, as you go through the upcoming posts, that you’re a writer, not an advertising executive. (“Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a marketer!”)
If anything you do to promote your last book (or your series) takes time away from writing your next book, you’re doing the marketing wrong. The most important thing you can do is write. Please remember that.
Ironically, doing this discoverability series in the middle of one of my busiest years in a decade caused me to drop several small things—including making this series more (ahem) discoverable. This website is being redesigned and the new look will launch in mid-to-late March, so I was ignoring the table of contents for the Business Rusch, which is silly. You need to see previous posts in this series. You can now find them here. Sorry about that, everyone. Often, much of this series is do-what-I-say (or do-what-I-used-to-do) not do-what-I’m-doing-right-now.
Because I’m writing as fast as my little fingers allow, as well. In fact, I’m writing this with a cup of strong tea at my side, about an hour later than I usually work, because this week, I have to write double what I usually write. Next week, I’m co-teaching a weeklong workshop with Dean Wesley Smith, John Helfers, Kerrie L. Hughes, Rebecca Moesta, and Kevin J. Anderson. I will not be answering comments (much) this week or next, and maybe not the week after (depending on if/when my brain recovers). That’s just a heads-up.
I decided to follow the post on blogs and guest blogging with a post on social media, because traditionally published writers and indie writers alike are told that they must be on social media to promote their works. Some traditionally published writers are given marching orders by their editor—tweet at least 3 times per day, make Facebook posts, hit at least five social media sites per week, mention your book, mention your book, mention your book—and so on.
Social media is to the modern writer what going to book signings and genre conventions was to writers ten years ago. Back then, publishers often insisted a writer show up at major conventions—on her own dime, of course—and perform “well” on panels.
Not every writer does well in public, sitting on a panel in the middle of the afternoon, trying to be coherent. Nor does every writer do well on social media.
I had a small sense of panic a year or so ago, when I realized there were so many new social media sites that I couldn’t go on all of them. This was not a writer-based panic but an information-junkie-based panic. I love learning new things, and I find social media fun. So the fact that I couldn’t get on all of it and participate in all of it given the time I have in my day irritates me to no end.
How valuable is social media? It depends on who you talk to, and what studies you believe. Does it sell your books? Again, it depends on who you talk to and what studies you believe. I can move hundreds of copies of whatever I’m pushing in a day on my various social media sites, and that’s nothing compared to Neil Gaiman who can create whole new worlds with a single tweet. (Okay, that’s not really true, but it feels true.)
Those of us who can actually inspire people to action with our social media sites have an obligation to use this power for good. Or at least, not to use this power terribly often. And there are other tricks to it as well.
I will get to the ways to use social media below, but first, I want to give you my opinion about its value.
Two weeks ago, in my blog post called “More Passive Marketing,” , I mentioned an old Sisters in Crime consumer book buying report that I actually learned about through a comment on a previous blog post. (Thanks to Elise M. Stone for pointing this out to me.)
The Sisters in Crime report dates from 2010, which was the end of the Dark Ages of Publishing. Much of the information in there about ebooks, etc, is probably not relevant at all. I was looking at the report with an eye toward discoverability, though, and some of that information does not change.
And as I was drilling down, I noticed a generational gap.
That generational gap is always present when we discuss books and reading and trying new things. Several weeks ago, someone mentioned that the “current” generation might well react the way the generation raised in the Great Depression did when it comes to spending money.
My parents were raised in the Great Depression. My mother’s father died in the 1920s, in fact, and my mother grew up in terrible poverty. My father’s father worked as a postman and made a great deal of money for the time. My father never missed a meal in his life. My mother remembered missing several. My parents clashed about money constantly because my mother would use a towel until it was threadbare, and my father would spend money without thought to tomorrow. This is a long way of saying that I realize every generation has its overall characteristics, but within that generation there is a wide variation (sometimes in the same household).
That said, I agree with the commenter’s premise: the generation that grew up in the Great Recession will handle money differently than other generations.
The differences aren’t just in spending habits. They also exist in comfort with technology and in the methods of doing things. Every generation is special, and has things that it’s comfortable with. I’m currently reading Careless People by Sarah Churchwell about 1922, and the way that the younger generation in 1922 looked at technology—which is very similar to the way that the current teenagers look at technology. Ways of thinking change, and what’s strange to one group will be normal to another.
That shows up the most in Section 3 of the Sisters In Crime report, titled “What Influences Mystery Book Sales.” The designers of the report gave an overall result, then broke it down by age group. The groups differed widely. The survey found for example that “younger buyers are more likely to be prompted [to purchase] by a lower price.”
According to this study, age also factors into discoverability. The summary states this:
The majority of mystery buyers over 45 are not influence by online marketing. The majority of mystery buyers under the age of 40 can be influenced by online marketing.
I hope that someday someone updates this study, because I’ll wager that some of these trends will have continued. If you are major reader who has for decades discovered your books by bestseller lists, major reviews, bookstore displays, and print marketing campaigns, I’ll wager those things still influence your buying habits.
If you’re a younger reader who never really developed those habits, then other things will influence your buying habits, like book reader discussion sites, reviews in blogs and online forums, and social media. Start looking at page 24 of the Sisters in Crime survey and you’ll see how discoverability varies according to age group.
I suspect that discoverability difference is the same now—or perhaps the divide is a bit wider.
So, when you’re reading about how to get your book discovered and you see that anecdotally, all of your friends and/or the blogger’s friends find books using a certain method, realize that the advice might be spot-on—for a particular group. But it might not be right for another group.
In the years since the Sisters in Crime survey has appeared, social media sites have grown and changed. We’ve all heard the stories about how teenagers colonized Facebook, then moved away from it when Gramma and Grampa joined, only to colonize some place else.
But those generalizations don’t help when you’re deciding on a social media marketing campaign. They only give you the outlines of the campaign. You have to understand how your readership for your books uses social media.
For example, a fascinating interview with writer Danah Boyd in Fast Company outlines how teenagers use social media at the moment. Boyd, who just published a book called It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (based on 10 years of research), tells the magazine:
[Teens] are also more likely to have protected accounts, and use it to talk to a small group of their actual friends. To them Facebook is everyone they ever knew, and Twitter is something they’ve locked down to just a handful of people they care about–which is often the opposite of how adults use them….A lot of the teens I talk to, they’ll have like 30 followers. It’s a small world for them, as opposed to trying to grow large followings. … There are also a lot of teens who use Twitter around interests. An obsession with One Direction, and just talking to other One Direction people. That becomes Twitter, and then they’ll use Instagram with another group of friends. This one girl I talked to said, ‘Yeah, if you’re not into the things that I’m into, don’t follow me on Twitter.’
You’ve seen the hashtag viral videos. Those refer to the way teens are using social media. (My favorite is the Fallon/Timberlake spoof from last fall)
Adults link to things. In fact, a Pew study from 2013 shows that about half of Facebook and Twitter users get news from those sites. (That includes me.) The news includes links to books and new projects. But that’s an adult usage of the sites.
So, if you’re a YA writer, you’re going to reach fewer of your potential readers by using a conventional adult approach of linking on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, you’re probably going to want to figure out your own social media marketing campaign on sites where teens actually hang out—and don’t mind adult involvement.
Because here’s something else that Boyd said which really resonated with me:
What’s interesting is that as a lot of young people are running away from their parents into a variety of apps, they’re also running away from marketers. That will be an interesting battleground in the next couple of years, because that creates monetization issues for the app creators. Because you make this too markety, and guess what? It’s one of those weird things where I think that people want to treat social media like Times Square, where there’s advertising everywhere on it, and that just makes it as unappealing as Times Square.
That can also be your social media accounts. If you’re constantly tweeting and talking about marketing, rather than just being a person, you’re screwing up. People will stop following you.
So, before you use social media for marketing, know who your readership is. If you’re trying to attract teens on Facebook, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re going after romance readers on Vine, you’d probably be better off with your own YouTube Channel.
Think it through. And again, only use social media because you enjoy it, not because someone told you to.
When I initially came up with the idea to write this post, I started collecting good brand usage of social media. Then, I found a link on Hootsuite’s blog that led me to these. (I use Hootsuite for Twitter, mostly, but some people use it to compile all their social media.) These posts are the Hootsuite’s bloggers’ opinion of how big marketing companies are effectively using social media sites. Okay? These aren’t my opinions, but they’re good examples of straight advertising being done in a creative way on these sites.
One thing to add before you look. Remember that people actively run away from ads—they fast-forward through them on the DVR (or cut them entirely), block Pop-ups, and try hard not to see something directly marketed. So when a consumer voluntarily shares a viral video like the Spock/Audi commercial, someone in marketing has done something right.
So, by showing you these links below, I’m telling you that someone repulsive has succeeded in catching people’s attention. I’m not telling you to be repulsive. I’m saying here’s something so entertaining that they’ve risen above the problems with direct marketing and managed to capture people’s interest despite the repulsive side of advertising.
First, Pinterest—which (full disclosure) I’m not on. According to a really cool 2012 marketing study from BlogHer, 47% of online consumers have made a purchase based on a recommendation from Pinterest, as opposed to 31% on Twitter and 33% on Facebook. I wish I’d found this study last week, because 61% of online purchases are made because a recommendation by bloggers. Or were, in 2012. (Some of the online stuff we’ll look at below didn’t even exist in 2012.)
On the Pinterest Top 5 brands, note that the publicist(s) in charge are developing different sites, and labeling them well. For example, they cite Lowe’s here, and mention its “Build It!” board filled with DIY projects. Brilliant.
I know some writers who place their research or their characters on separate Pinterest boards and if I only had the time, I would develop Moon shots for the Retrieval Artist, some space ship and art shots for my Diving series, and photos of Chicago and Memphis for the Smokey Dalton series. And I’d never sleep either. But I can imagine it—and so can you, if you enjoy this sort of thing.
(Please remember the enjoyment aspect. Please.)
A lot of writers have YouTube channels. I started one for WMG Publishing years ago, then abandoned it for time. I was thinking of uploading some of my research on it, and hoping to make some cool videos. Of course, I could do that or I could write. Since then, WMG has been using the channel for nifty book trailers. You’ll note, though, that my updates, which are video blogs, have about 600 views, and the beautiful well-produced trailers have at most 100 views.
I need to note that the trailers, as good as they are, are straight advertising, and the blog is attempting to be entertainment.
A video blog needs a narrative voice and something to bring the viewers back, just like a regular written blog.
However, if you want to do something short and fun, there’s Vine. Six-second videos, which at first, I thought would be worthless. But they’re not. Take a look at the videos that the Hootsuite blogger thinks work. I love the Oreos one and GE’s learn-science series. Right now, a lot of teenagers are using Vine, so if you want to attract them, go there. If you want adults, stick to YouTube or (ahem) blogging.
Here’s the biggie, though. Twitter. Hootsuite’s top 5 would be in my top list as well. Note all of them keep things fun and light. Or at least interesting.
When I first joined Twitter, I followed some of my favorite comedians and discovered most of them don’t know how to use 140 characters. One of the best usages of Twitter comes from Jimmy Fallon, whose people Tweet a hashtag suggestion every week, and fans answer. Those tweets often go viral.
The best viral marketing on Twitter, though, happened during the live broadcast of The Sound of Music in December. DiGiorno Pizza’s marketer live-tweeted the event, and was funnier than hell. He/She/It went viral fast—and should have. And the live-tweet of the night during the Grammys came from Arby’s, as they played on Pharrell’s hat.
Really, you can’t buy that publicity. But it’s the right place and the right time with the right voice kind of marketing. The tweets mentioned in Hootsuite’s top 5 are consistently good.
You don’t have to be consistently funny to be on Twitter, but you should be consistently interesting.
Next week, I’ll discuss some social media strategies. But as you’re prepping for that post, think about who your audience is. Teenagers? Then don’t use Facebook as your primary social media outlet. Older Adults? Facebook is just fine. And do you have a website? Remember, folks who use social media are people who use the web a lot. So make sure you’re able to reach them—even when you’re sleeping.
I’m probably sleeping now as you read this, or wishing I were sleeping. I’m heading into a busy three-week period. I’ll be monitoring the comments, just not adding to them.
I greatly appreciate the links and e-mails and interaction, though. And I’m grateful for those of you who support the blog financially. If you’ve learned something or you enjoy the blog, please leave a tip on the way out. Thanks!
“The Business Rusch: Social Media” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Please Read These Assumptions Before Commenting:
I’m going to make some assumptions in the next group of blog posts, and I’ll repeat those assumptions each week until I’m done.
Assumption #1: I’m going to assume you’ve read the previous posts, which you can find here.
Assumption #2: With only a few exceptions, we will be talking about fiction here. There are promotion techniques that work for nonfiction—even on the first book—that do not work for fiction. I don’t want to muddy the waters here. We’re discussing fiction in these posts.
Assumption #3: You have learned your craft well enough to intrigue readers. You know how to tell a good story, you have grammar, spelling, and punctuation under control, you create interesting characters, and you write what you love.
Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, then your work has a good blurb, a great cover, and a well-designed interior. Your work is available in ebook and trade paper formats. (I also hope you have audio books, but for our purposes here, I’m not going to assume it.)
Assumption #5: If you have indie published your work, your ebooks are available in every ebook venue you can find. Your paper novels are in extended distribution on CreateSpace or Lightning Source. In other words, if a bookseller whom you don’t know and never will know wants to order your paper book, that bookseller can call up a catalogue from a major distributor (Baker & Taylor, Ingrams) and order your book at a bookseller’s discount.
Assumption #6: If you are traditionally published, your books are with a company that makes the books available in e-book and paper formats, and your books are still in print. (If they aren’t, ask for those rights back and then publish the books yourself.)
Assumption #7: You have at least a minimal web presence. You have a website that readers can easily find. You have a list of your published books somewhere, also findable. You have some passive marketing in place. (A mailing list, a social media presence, or a contact button on your website. Something.)
Assumption #8: You have published more than one book. Most of what I tell you won’t work on one novel. You’ll need several—or at least a novel and some short stories. If you’re haven’t published much, make sure you’ve done 2-7, and write the next book.
Assumption #9: You will finish this discoverability series before you decide which of the things I mention is for you. Because one of the last posts I’m going to write is how to measure success. That should have been one of the first posts I wrote, but of course, I write out of order, and so it’ll go at the end. [VBG]
Those are the assumptions.
Now, I have one big WARNING:
Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.
I know, I know. Lots of warnings and assumptions. But I had to be clear, because these points are extremely important. I won’t get to everything this week or even the next week. So…you need to be on the page that I’m on to understand what I’m talking about.