By David Duhr
With over 800 million users, Facebook, in the words of Neil Baptista, has become its own universe. If Baptista has his way, the publishing industry’s portion of that universe will revolve around Odyl, a Facebook application designed to connect authors and publishers with their readers. And Odyl is already well on its way — officially launched in September, Odyl already counts among its clients publishing’s Big Six and heavy-hitters like Jane Fonda, Katie Couric, and Bret Easton Ellis.
Odyl’s platform provides its users the ability to include exclusive book excerpts, polls, quizzes, virtual gifts, videos, and more. Its sleek design is fully customizable and fosters reader engagement in ways that traditional Facebook pages can’t match. A prime example is the Dark Days of Supernatural teen paranormal series from HarperTeen. The Dark Days app offers excerpts from forthcoming titles and book giveaways, making them available only to users who “Like” the app; which is much of the reason that Dark Days has over 100,000 Facebook fans.
Baptista, Odyl’s Director of Product Strategy, and Senior Account Executive Sarah Dickman are enthusiastic about their venture, and confident that Facebook marketing is now the premier way to create online buzz for writers and presses. “I saw a funny quote in Wired the other day,” Baptista says. “By the end of 2012 there will be as many pages in Facebook as there are in the entire rest of the Web. So Facebook is actually still on the uptick.”
“Everyone’s on Facebook now,” Dickman adds, “so any author or publisher can find something that they want to use the app for.”
Work on Odyl began in 2008; its founding members, including Baptista, were early employees of HotJobs.com. They pooled their startup know-how to find a way to make Facebook a more profitable marketing hub for writers. “Social media is all about content marketing,” Baptista says. “Publishers in general have a lot to market — they have lots of book releases during the year — so from a technical aspect we saw very clearly that Odyl lined up with the needs of publishers.”
Dickman, a former agent with the Nicholas Ellison Agency, came to Odyl in mid-2011. “I became increasingly interested in all the technological opportunities that were coming about for publishers,” she says. “Positioning a brand in [Facebook’s] kind of social context is different from placing an ad in the Times; it’s really important that people can see buzz about a book among pictures of their friends’ vacations, baby photos, all of that.”
But competing with games like Angry Birds and Farmville for users’ attention takes more than a book excerpt and the importation of a writer’s Twitter feed. The interactive capabilities — what Baptista calls “engagement experiences” — of the Odyl app are what make users come back for more. For example, the Bret Easton Ellis app has a quiz entitled “Who’s Your Imperial Bedrooms/Less Than Zero Alter Ego?” with questions like “What’s your drink?” and “What’s your motive?” (Choices for the latter include “Getting laid,” “Staying alive,” “Being happy,” and “You really don’t need one.”)
Meanwhile, romance publisher Avon Books used its Facebook app to hold a sweepstakes to benefit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. “Like” the Avon app, enter your name and email address, and you’re eligible. The winner receives copies of some of Avon’s top-selling titles, and Avon will make a $100 donation to the OCNA in the winner’s name. Odyl’s platform makes interaction like this easier than it has been in the past. It’s even easy for individuals to use: when I ask if a computer dummy (like myself) would be capable of designing his/her own Odyl app, Dickman laughs and says “It’s so easy that even I can do it.”
“Facebook has become so huge now,” Baptista says, “that it’s almost like most companies have a web strategy and a Facebook strategy; they’re parallel but separate.”
I can testify that the Bret Easton Ellis Facebook strategy is working. My Imperial Bedrooms/Less Than Zero alter ego? Clay. Which apparently means that I’m “Sometimes manipulative, often cold, occasionally paranoid and obsessive.” So obsessive that I’ve returned to the quiz several times and provided different answers, just to see the results. And just like the Odyl team expects me to.