Friday, June 4, 2010

Some Social Networking Pros and Cons

Earlier this week I shared a link to a post called The Hidden Costs of Social Networking on our facebook page. I thought it might be an interesting corrective to some of the more far-fetched claims made for the efficacy of social networking as a marketing tool.

In part this was also inspired by a couple of conversations I had while at BEA in NY. The first was with a prominent agent who has had at least one NY Times bestseller attribute a great deal of her book's success to the social media work she put in before and after the book's publication. But my agent friend went on to stress what a time-suck these eforts can be for all involved and relayed the story of another client who had done all the right things according to the "social media bible" and still the book disappeared without a trace. It seemed to me that the obvious lesson was that social media isn't going to sell every book -- like just about everything else it works in some cases and not in others (and don't spend all your time twittering).

Discussion number two was with a high-powered publisher who was frustrated that authors expected too much from their social media efforts, and often didn't bother to co-ordinate them with the publicity and marketing efforts of the house. Again it seems that one rather obvious lesson is make sure you plan your efforts with your publisher's efforts in mind.

HOWEVER in spite of these stories, and the link I refer to above, I do think that social networking is a useful tool for many authors. No its not for everyone, and no it won't work equally for everyone (in spite of equal efforts) and please don't let it suck away all the time and energy from your writing. It requires planning and foresite, but also creativity and experimentation. Be wary of the evangelists claims but also be wary of the naysaysers.

To respond to just a couple of Rob Eager's points from the post: I think his numbers mean next to nothing. First he says that "at Book Expo 2009, John Sargeant CEO of MacMillan Publishing stated, "Viral Marketing doesn't sell a ton of books."" Sargeant goes on to talk about a very popular Macmillan video that only sold an extra 200 copies of the book. Eager then goes on to talk about a client with a blog boasting over 50,000 monthly readers, but has not seen an increase in book sales.

These anecdotes lead to a number of questions, like: 2009? I think facebook and Twitter, to name two, have grown by millions of users since then, might things have changed? Of course they will change again by this time next year - maybe for worse. Perhaps videos don't sell books? And maybe your client has just tapped out his market -- if he wasn't blogging maybe his sales would be falling. But what is more interesting to me is that I just can't seem to believe any of the numbers that claim to tell me how many books a certain form of publicity or marketing or social media actually sells.

I used to work with some old-school publishing types who liked to repeat the nonsense that "An ad never sold a book." (I suppose that's why we are inundated with thousadns of ads everyday) even though they never attempted to prove that statement. Anywhoo, the point is that one ad in the wilderness will not sell a book - a well planned ad campaign might. A well planned ad campaign, plus reviews, plus publicity and a well planned marketing campaign, plus having some books in stores probably will. Throw in some of that social media stuff and you'll probably sell even more. But will we ever be able to measure ROI on that? Not until we have chips planted in our brains that track every decision and the circuitous routes they take from first becoming aware of something to the point where we actually buy it. One mention is almost never enough to get someone to buy something (unless you're my 8 year old apparently, and even then he needs me to actually buy it) but a number of re-inforcing mentions in influential places might. Of course that's where social media can help.

That was a long post. What the hell was I talking about.


  1. The thing with booksales that people overlook is that it is a two-step process, unlike most scenarios, and therefore, people’s analyses of social media efforts are flawed.

    When someone runs out of milk, they buy another carton, BUT, when someone finishes a book, they don’t know what one to buy next. And the statistic is that a reader needs to hear about a book 7-11 times before they’ll buy it. That’s where marketing and social media comes in: it jacks up that number of times a potential reader has seen your bookcover to 7-11 times. BUT IT DOES NOTHIGN TO SELL A BOOK. At any given time there are 10 books I’d like to be reading, but ultimately, I am only ever reading one. Of the 100 books a year I want to read, I only read 25.

    The question keen authors and publicist need to clue in on is why I chose those 25 I did read, over the 75 I didn’t.

    Of all the answers I came up with, only two make me sure to read a book:

    1.) It was a new book by an author I know I love, and I am loyal to that.

    2.) It was a book by an author I have a personal relationship with – even if it is as tenuous as a “Facebook Friend.”

    #2 is the key, in that it is an argument for attaching “brand and a face” to authors. By authors making themselves available to their readers, as visible, real people who will answer your emails and come to your bookclub and be known for something outside of their books,they get readers become loyal readers, who spread the good word and buy your next book.

    There is a number 3: and that's key too: Clever marketing campaigns, or something entirely unique and attention-grabbing for that reason.

    All this said: I’ve spoken on panels about this stuff, on Monday I am speaking at the AGM for the Association of Canadian publishers, on their Marketing 2.0 panel. This week, I’ve spent hours organizing and launching an Atlantic Canada Reads competition on Salty Ink, and a short fiction contest, and I went to speak with another book club a few nights ago, and I sent the soundtrack of my novel to a few university radio stations, and edited a short story for some kid ... but I have not typed a word of fiction in 10 days.

    I entirely agree with every word you've typed here, by the way.

    Personally, I boil it all down to this: Buzz gets a book into Canada’s reading onscience, but it does not sell that book. At any given moment a reader WANTS to read about a dozen books, but only buys one book per every ten they want to read.

    So basing the effectiveness of promotional efforts on SALES ALONE negates the fact that promotional efforts DO get people thinking about a book, thereby completing step one of a two-step process, and step one is the big part.

    I'm rambling, again, and possibly not making sense.

  2. Yup. That's what I thought the whole time I was reading this post.