Self-Publishing Success Strategy: Make the Most of Social Media

Image courtesy of Kathleen Donovan

Social media is ubiquitous. It has the power to suck up an afternoon of productive time, but does it have the power to sell books?

Some marketers find that trying to sell on social media isn’t effective. Reporter Ashley Lutz suggests that while hopes were high that Facebook would be a place where people come to shop, the result is more like “trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

Ronny Golan, CEO and Founder of BookPulse, counters Lutz’s argument and supports Facebook’s usefulness as a discovery tool with this data:

“One-in-three consumers bought a product or service due to recommendations made via social media, as reported by an analysis of US and Canadian consumer consumption habits.

- In 2010, Amazon saw year-on-year increase of referral traffic from Facebook of 328%, or 7.7% overall. The top 200 Internet retailers saw a 203% increase in traffic from Facebook during 2011.

- Facebook was a more powerful referral source than Google, SumbleUpon, and Twitter combined, according to a survey conducted by Shareaholic, based on aggregated data from more than 200,000 publishers that reach more than 260 million unique monthly visitors each month.”

Golan explains, “Facebook acts like a vast social recommendation engine. But the dynamic that make Facebook so effective is really nothing new. ‘Social recommendation’ is really just another way of saying ‘word of mouth’—which has always been the main driver of book sales.”

Like Golan, many marketers trust that social media is worth their time. In Social Media Examiner’s fourth annual survey, 92 percent of marketers used Facebook, 82 percent used Twitter, 73 percent marketed on LinkedIn, 61 percent spread word through blogs, and 57 percent used YouTube or other video sites.

Social media consultant Angelique Seditieusement summarizes the purpose of social media in one word: interact. “Social networks are places to a) interact with fans, existing and potential; b) interact with potential publishers; c) interact with other writers; d) interact with people who share your interest in your subject matter; and e) interact with editors.”

“Most marketers already know they can’t interrupt conversations on Facebook with a sales pitch and expect good results,” Golan says, “but I believe Facebook and other social networks can be especially effective at driving book awareness and yield demonstrable sales.”

Social media expert, Jane Friedman provides authors with tips to get the most out of their time on Facebook. “If you post helpful, interesting, or valuable stuff on Facebook, targeted to a particular sensibility, you will attract an audience who matches what you post—and will reward you for it through likes/shares. … If you don’t like the activity or conversation surrounding you—or you’re not getting the results you think you should—look at what you’re putting out. Don’t assume you need to increase your fan/friend count.”

For authors deciding whether to use a Facebook fan page or profile page, Friedman offers these guiding questions: “Are you prepared to develop a content strategy for it? Are you prepared to spend time on it? Otherwise, there’s no point. Would it make sense to allow people to subscribe to your personal profile instead? Is there a huge divide between your personal friends and your target audience? Do you need the functionality of a fan page? Would you prefer to shut down your personal profile but still have a Facebook presence?”

Each social media outlet has it’s own personality. TIME Magazine journalist Graeme McMillan examines effective use of Twitter. “According to Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the media is doing Twitter wrong. The problem, the study argues, is that most media outlets look at Twitter as an alternative to an RSS feed, and just push links to stories and other information that’s available elsewhere, instead of trying to engage with other Twitter users (93% of all tweets from the thirteen media outlets studied during the course of a week for the survey were links, according to the results), which seems to be missing the point and potential of Twitter altogether. While individual journalists may use the service to solicit information or retweet comments from others, institutional Twitter accounts exist, it seems, merely to be a voice of authority.”

Friedman is an advocate for a “less is more” philosophy for content sharing on all social media. “We all have too much to read anyway, so why bother sharing anything except the absolute best and most essential stuff?” Friedman says. For example she suggests authors “avoid automated posting, such feeding in every last one of your tweets [onto your Facebook page]. It’s one of the fastest ways to get muted. Plus, you’re missing an opportunity to say something geared toward the audience you have on Facebook, such as asking a compelling question to spark a discussion.”

While there are overarching best practices, the philosophy and application of social media is a personal choice and the variations show themselves in the attitudes and practices of authors.

In an interview with Tweet Magazine, author Christina Katz, explains her personal approach to Twitter and social media, “My experience of using online tools is that you are basically plugging in and expanding your sensibilities the same as when you walk into any room. Writers should think of all of the online tools as an extension of their own nervous system. If you walk into a room, you would get an immediate intuitive sense of the environment. The same is true of Twitter or any online environment. When you connect into to theses contexts, you are not acquiring billboard space. You are entering a context, an environment. Don’t over think how you are going to act. Just do what you would do if you were entering any new room. After a while, you will become ‘a regular’ and people will look forward to seeing you when you show up.”

Author and social media expert Douglas Idugboe says, “The easiest way [to manage time on Twitter] is to use third party solutions like Hootsuite and Bufferapp. Schedule your broadcast, but more importantly, come back to engage—schedule your the time to engage the process. That’s when the impact deepens.”

What about all the other social media avenues beyond Twitter and Facebook (and those that will appear over the coming months and years)? All My Friends Are Dead authors Avery Monsen and Jory John explain how their social media strategy fits their content and readership: “We’re relatively active on Tumblr in our non-book-release seasons. We have a comic called OPEN LETTERS, which appears in weekly newspapers around the country, and which we post on Tumblr once a week. Avery also has his own page. Most of the stuff we put up doesn’t relate to our books at all. This is important, we think, for a couple reasons: 1. It’s just good to stay active and keep producing things. Creativity is a muscle that needs to be stretched even when you’re not getting paid for it. 2. Giving things away for free online builds up goodwill.”

In short, authors should evaluate each media outlet based on their content and audience. If the media outlet fits the book’s content or if the audience spends time there, it can be an effective place to get the word out.

With all the places available for online activity, Friedman explains the importance of a personal website. “It’s the place online that’s totally mine. I own it, I decide what happens there, and it collects everything I do in one central place. It has the most comprehensive information about who I am and what I do. No matter where else I am active online (social media, community sites, e-mail, etc.), I always point back to my website so people can find out more and stay in touch by whatever means they prefer.”

“All serious writers need this kind of hub so they can start learning more about their readers and formalizing a connection with them,” Friedman continues. “Facebook, Twitter, and other sites help you find readers and connect, but those connections can disappear at any moment or gradually over time. Having your own site gives you more control and insight into your connections, how people are finding you, and why people find you.”

Melissa Anne Wuske is a freelance writer and editor. She is also the communications director for Stop Traffick Fashion where she writes about human trafficking.

About MAW

Melissa Anne Wuske is a freelance writer and editor. She is also the communications director for Stop Traffick Fashion where she writes about human trafficking.