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3 Epiphanies About Social Media Marketing for Books

When it comes to book marketing, social media is a honeytrap, never quite delivering on its promises. But that can change.

Lisa Buchan

By Lisa Buchan

People have plenty of concerns as well as desperate hopes about social media: “Is anybody out there actually listening?”, “Will I make a fool of myself?”, and “If only I could crack the secret to social media, my book could be the next Fifty Shades…”

Unfortunately, social media companies are not government funded utilities. Each of them is fighting a global turf war, and their priority is shareholder value. Recently, Facebook business page owners paid a heavy price for not keeping this in mind. Without warning, Facebook started charging companies to show promotions and posts to all the people who had “liked” their page. For many people, this meant the majority of investment they had made in gathering Facebook fans was wasted, because they are now forced to pay Facebook to talk to most of them. A sweet honey trap for Facebook investors perhaps, but a sour taste for business page owners.

“Word-of-mouth” energy is highest when people are reading a book or immediately after.

With most of the planet now using Facebook, no one can afford to ignore them when planning a social media strategy. To prevent loss of future investments, a simple principle can be followed: keep control of your customer information. Paradoxically, Facebook provides the best application interfaces for developers to gather a wide range of Facebook member information — and they don’t charge anything for this wondrous resource. Twitter closed down their equivalent interfaces some time ago.

If you read the many social media advice pages, you could be forgiven for thinking that all you need for success with social media is to learn some tricks and tips for Facebook and Twitter (or any one of the latest social networks with a buzz). This is a bit like saying if you learn to use Microsoft Word, you will have no problem being a successful writer.

What is needed is a set of key social media principles to guide strategic decision making — principles like the aforementioned “keep control of your customer information.”

Three Epiphanies

When we formed Vangelizer last year, we set out to discover ways to help publishers, publicists and authors get better results from social media. We have had three  epiphanies over the last eight months as we piloted some advanced (and not so advanced) thinking.

1. First, “word-of-mouth” energy is highest when people are reading a book or immediately after reading it. This led us to develop ways of capturing that energy when it was at its peak. What we found after testing is that many print book readers and ebook readers are quite willing to scan QR codes on books with their mobile phones. The key principle here is: “Catch people when their enthusiasm is high, and make it easy for them to contact their friends.” Our pilots proved that people open almost all notifications to them from a friend on Facebook, so message delivery is exceptionally good.

2. Our breakthrough was born from our own frustration — we were doing so much research on social media for books we kept stumbling over books we were dying to read ourselves — but very rarely could we find how to buy them! In some cases a link was given to an online store that did not allow my territory to buy the book, or couldn’t tell me the cost to ship it. In other cases a link would take me to a publisher’s website but since I, like the majority of social media cruisers, am on my mobile, I would resort to googling the book to find it — and there are so many And interesting things once you get googling, that I generally never ended up buying the book. The key principle here is: “Make it easy for people to buy your book once you generate interest.” As a bare minimum, you should have a link embedded in every tweet and post that takes people to a mobile-optimized site with a range of global buying options.

3. Our third breakthrough came when we realized how quickly everything that gets posted drops off the social media radar. No matter how popular your tweet or post, no one will find it again after the first “flush” because everything gets drowned in the sea of noise. People get annoyed by those “radio station tweeters” that tweet the same message about their book over and over and over, but the design of social media encourages this “push” madness because discoverability is so transient. If you hadn’t noticed, most social media networks cannot be easily searched. The reason is that they are all embroiled in a war with Google for advertising dollars and don’t want Google extracting their crown jewels. The key principle here is: “Make your book discoverable on social media” — the gap is that the networks don’t make it easy. Vangelizer is working on some angles to bridge the gap, but in the meantime, we suggest you get your books and reviews onto Goodreads, which is the closest thing to a persistent, discoverable social network for books today. Goodreads also provide us with a useful application interface so we can help our customers leverage Goodreads’ information across all social media campaigns.

Pull Instead of Push Marketing

Our most recent lessons have been around the importance of “Pull” marketing, and how location awareness is going to transform the world.

Social media encourages this “push” madness because discoverability is so transient.

Pull marketing is easier said than done. One of the first Vangelizer QR code pilots had a little message next to the QR code — “Scan this for a free gift” — which was a free bonus chapter. About 5% of the people buying books during the pilot period scanned the QR code (which took them to a mobile Facebook application where they could tell their friends about the book). We recorded the messages people sent to their friends. It was obvious that people enjoyed using the app to tell their friends about the book, but not a single person redeemed their free gift!

One of the most popular “pull” marketing tactics in social media is the “free book for the first lucky respondents” offer. After our experiences over the last few months, we have concluded that if anyone is going to be rewarded, it should be the people who actually read, review and recommend books — not the random folks looking for freebies. We have a number of initiatives in the pipeline that will enable our customers to test and evaluate different promotions on social media, and as we collect useful information on what is working for different types of book we will share the insights we get with all our customers.

Finally, libraries and bookstores are the last bastion of physical presence for books, and the online retailers would have us believe we should toss them out as archaic and irrelevant. We at Vangelizer beg to differ, and are working on ideas for location based tracking of recommendations to make it possible to prove the value of physical presence for books. We also believe there is a resurgence of interest in local communities, and that for some local publishers, community based promotions with libraries and bookstores would be better facilitated through social media.

DISCUSS: What Are Your Social Media Marketing Best Practices for Books?

Lisa Buchan is the CEO of Vangelizer, a book marketing company in New Zealand. 


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  1. Carlo
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink


  2. Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Lisa, thanks for your article. You touched on some valid marketing aspects to the continuing evolution (saga?) of social media. However, I can’t help wondering if we all won’t end up rotating around between the “social media of the moment” in the future as authors, publishers, and retailers follow the masses around for new and improved fertile grounds for customers. First there was MySpace, then Facebook and Google (to a lesser degree), and now Goodreads has reached its adulthood. It seems to me we need to watch and see where the early adopters who are put out with Facebook go next…

    All the best,

  3. Posted January 30, 2013 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    Not sure why Carlo felt the need to share his highly unhelpful & childish opinion. If i dislike a post I simply have the common sense to stop reading it and the manners to leave a constructive comment or none at all. With that said, I found the article both interesting and informative and its given me several things to think about.

    My belief is that no matter what your social media goals are, endlessly chasing the next big thing and spreading yourself thinly across social is a strategy to fail. Focus on a few key social platfroms, chosen based on demographics and generally activities will be more rewarding.

  4. Posted January 30, 2013 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    I’ve never found much use for the babble of social media. Surely, people seeking good books go to Amazon or google for an author or genre. That’s what I do anyway.

  5. Posted January 30, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I am a huge fan of Amazon, but…it is so easily maniulated by hordes of people with free time who can blacklist a decent book without even reading it. I am talking about the Michael Jackson biography that Amazon even with drew for a short time.

    I am also a reviewer and have watched mediocre books soar in ratings…so it is probably word of mouth via social media. My question is why does everyone else have so much more time than I do.

  6. Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    Very informative Lisa, thank you very much!

  7. Posted January 31, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    These social media epiphanies not only applies to book marketing. I’ve read a lot of articles on how to’s and tips about social media and this article is really helpful. I find this helpful : “Make it easy for people to buy your book once you generate interest.”

    A few of our author clients find our payment system time consuming, so I think we should find a way to make things easier for them.


  8. Posted February 1, 2013 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    Social media is a common way to propagandizing nowadays, just like email marketing, blogs and others. Social media marketing helps in building the brand name of the company, and establishes the company as an authority in the market.

  9. Posted February 11, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    It is still important for an author to build a platform across many areas of the Internet: Social media, blogs, personal websites, and anywhere where the authors name can be seen and remembered. This takes time and persistence and the insight into knowing who the author’s niche readers are.

  10. Posted February 25, 2013 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    I found this article very interesting and you give me a very good idea on how can I use QR code. I may try it on my next book tu check the result!

  11. Posted March 1, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Hi there. Social media plays a vital role in internet marketing now. Search engine gives more value to the social signals now a days. It is quite a nice post. Thanks for sharing it.

  12. Posted March 25, 2013 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    One must make good choice of social media to promote your product. Not only this, you must also keep track of amount of investment required for the same, and plan according to your budget so that you don’t loose your future gains.

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