3 Epiphanies About Social Media Marketing for Books

In Guest Contributors, Resources by Guest Contributor

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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Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.