Can Publishers Succeed at Social Media?

This is an artists rendering of what shit social media looks like.
This is an artists rendering of what bad social media looks like.

Last week, I went to a workshop on social media at Main Headquarters called a Social Media Social, which unfortunately isn’t a social where you dress up as different icons from social media but more like a bit of a talk, a bit of mingling, and a bit of casual Twitter use.  We got some great tips from the mother of Futurebook and Twitter Queen Sam Missingham, including:

  • Pick your platforms – do research into where your target audience is, or decide what you feel most comfortable doing, and stick to those channels. No one can be everywhere, and you don’t need to be.
  • Consider going off-message – social media advocates from within your company don’t need to be pushing the same agenda as the corporate accounts. Having rogues (eg. Waterstones Oxford St. on Twitter) can be great for your brand.
  • Make it fun – people want to interact with things that involve them in some way. It’s pretty hard to interact with a sales pitch.

In my experience, it’s not as simple as creating a good bit of content and seeding it out. Neither is it simply being constantly hilarious and having a quirky personality, which can get a bit tiring and also doesn’t make sense for a big publishing house – kind of like putting a Minnie Mouse dub over The Incredible Hulk, it just doesn’t fit.

The issue with investing effort in social media is that you have to do so much side-stepping. There’s no hard sell. Research has shown that social media is still falling way behind email marketing and search when it comes to driving sales. And if you do decide the hard sell is the way you want to go, you risk people becoming blind to what you’re doing. They might not unfollow or unlike you on the off chance you run some crazy good competition, but they’ll certainly phase you out of their attention when they’re trawling through their feeds. And that attention is really hard to get back.

I’ve written before about Pinterest, and why I think it’s cool for publishers. But then I started using it, and as ever it’s not as easy as it seems. Every repin is like getting blood from a stone. Yeah, you can pin a bunch of irrelevant and cute images of cakes and babies and get your follower count up, but how does that relate directly to creating awareness of your brand, or of the books you publish? It’s like a billboard saying: ‘[Publishing house name] is cool! We like kittens!’ Who cares, you publish books, y’know?

So what can social media do if not sell? I guess the main thing social media does (in my mind, though I am yet to see this in practice) is build trust between you and the reader so that when you recommend (yes, recommend, not sell) something to them, they listen. You get that trust by talking to people about what they like more than feeding them stuff that you want them to buy.

A lot of people recommend you spend 80% of your time not talking about what you’re selling, and 20% of your time selling on social media. I say more important than that, brands should spend more time contributing to other people’s conversations than they do trying to start their own, reacting rather than acting.

So yes, publishers can succeed at social media. Because we know a lot about what we’re selling, and we can talk about it at length, and we have a passion for it. It’s a lot easier to have a conversation about a book than about laundry detergent.

As ever, returns will be dubious given the time investment and you won’t be able to see a direct lift in sales as a result of the hours of love you put into other people. But in our current landscape, how is this new?

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  1. Great blog, Felice – I agree with everything you say, particularly when it comes to building trust within your network. There is lots of research that proves that a simple brand message is not enough. Most people will be more inclined to become customers through recommendation rather than a brand campaign and that is where Social has so much value. I know nothing about publishing but in the Corporate world, I have evangelizing this message for a long time and it is slowly sinking in. Gartner (the leading technology analysts) published a report predicting that any organisation that is not actively using Social to improve reach by 2015 will be in the bottom 25% of successful businesses in their sector!

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