Happy Friday, everyone! It’s officially summertime in Alaska and we’ve been experiencing incredible weather. With 19 hours of daylight, I’ve been savoring every last second of it! At one of my late-night-but-feels-like-late-afternoon dinner parties this past week, somebody made the comment, “I’ve heard Facebook is dead.” Then somebody chimed in quickly to agree. I was too busy enjoying my fresh Alaskan sockeye salmon and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to bother arguing the point, but I’ll address it here.
Social media is here to stay. Though it’s true what’s “hot” right now might not be in five years, that doesn’t even matter. With marketing, your goal should be to create a plan and a build a foundation that will keep you on solid ground no matter which way the winds blow on the Internet.
Many authors ask, “I want to build a following, what should I do?” What will work for you is not necessarily what’s hot or what is working for somebody else. Be cautious, strategic, creative and flexible, because one thing is certain: nothing in this medium is guaranteed to be permanent. It’s not about the channel — whether having a Facebook page is where you should spend all your energy or whether Tumblr is the best place to blog — it’s about your plan to cultivate raving fans and form a strong connection with your audience.
How do you do that?
1. Be Valuable
The best way to secure your connection with your fans is to provide them with value. If you’re just pushing your promotions and asking people to do things for you (buy or review your book, share your special offer, etc.) then people aren’t going to have any reason to stay connected with you as their tastes and habits change and as social media platforms evolve. Provide your audience with exceptional value and limit your “asks,” and your audience will seek you out no matter where you are.
To illustrate my point: I used to read blogs primarily on Google Reader. Google Reader has been the dominant RSS newsreader for as long as reading RSS feeds has been a thing to do. This month, Google Reader will be no more. (See?) Even the big, huge, dominant players ‘go poof.’ But, I have made a point to stay connected with the content providers who consistently provide me with value, they didn’t need to do a thing. Some, I signed up for email delivery of their blog posts, some I followed on Facebook so I could get their content in my newsfeed, and some I subscribed to through my new favorite newsreader. The rest of the blogs on my Google Reader list were culled, because they weren’t valuable to me.
Furthermore, I’ve followed countless people on Twitter and then un-followed them as it became clear all they were doing was pushing self-promotional messages at me. Ew. A lot of “marketing gurus” will offer advice on how to get results by gaming the social media system, but don’t be that guy. In the long run, it’s best to be social, be human and be valuable.
Okay so, what is value? Think about how you can solve problems for your audience, provide insight, inform, entertain and delight. What kind of unique value you can bring to your audience is something that only you can answer best, it’s not about what other people are doing.
Catherine McKenzie, author of SPIN, writes a great column on Huffington Post where she often writes book reviews and helps readers make great selections. She is also actively involved on GoodReads.com and leads discussions about other authors’ books. At the end of each of her posts on Huffington, there are links to Amazon where people can discover her works. This is a fair trade for all her hard work and the value she provides readers.
2. Don’t host all of your content on third-party sites
It’s great to post original content (status updates, photos, questions/polls, comments, essays, advice, etc.) on social networks, but don’t put all of your original content on any site that is owned and controlled by a third party. Think instead about originating your most valuable content on a self-hosted website and then “feeding” that content out to the various social media channels you participate in. This serves two purposes: 1) It drives traffic back to your site (where you can guide your readers to other opportunities to connect with you, to ask them to buy something from you, etc.) and 2) It allows you to own your content, it’s yours, it’ll never go ‘poof.’
Tim Ferriss, author of 4 Hour Work Week, writes a blog that serves his audience with “life hacks,” not coincidentally, his content is relevant and related to each of his best selling books. He knows his audience. Check out his Facebook page — brilliant. He engages with his readers and posts original, conversational topics of discussion and links to other sites, but small percentage of his updates link over to his website — where his most valuable, original content is stored. (Which by the way, also helps with search engine optimization.)
3. Build and maintain control of your customer database
Social media sites are where people go to socialize, network, learn and be entertained. They’re not there really to shop. If your goal is to promote your books, it’s best to build a database of people who’ve given you permission to market to them, and ideally, you want to “own” that valuable list. (Your followers on social networking sites are all part of “your database,” but you don’t own those lists.)
Email marketing is not dead. One of the most effective ways to market online is still email. If somebody gives you their email address, you can be pretty certain they’re interested in what you have to sell. If somebody follows you on Twitter, that’s a different level of investment. One way to build a database is to capture email addresses by providing a sign up form on your own website (some email services allow you to provide that same form on Facebook as well). Check out Aweber, Constant Contact or MailChimp.
Don’t forget about offline. Next time you’re at a book-signing or participating in a book club discussion or conference, ask people to sign up for your mailing list to receive your newsletter, special offers and/or announcements about your books. A piece of paper and a pen at a book signing may seem old-fashioned, but why miss an opportunity? This is permission marketing at its finest, and while your database numbers may be lower than your followers on Twitter, these are people who’ve told you they’re interested in purchasing your books, so your conversion rates are going to be higher.
Remember snail mail? You can also build a database of physical addresses — a guest book or simple form on a clipboard will do at your next book event. Get creative and send a postcard the next time you release a book, or remind readers that you’re available to attend book club discussions via Skype. Services like Moo.com and VistaPrint provide beautiful, easy and affordable print design. While you’re there, print up some business cards too with your web address and give them to everybody you meet.
4. Know yourself, know your audience
Deciding on how to market yourself online depends on who you are — what are your strengths? Where’s your comfort zone? What types of content will your readers enjoy most? If you’re a voracious reader, you might focus on being an active participant on GoodReads.com, but house book reviews on your own website. If you love to talk, maybe an iTunes podcast is a great fit for you, maintaining an archive of audio/video on your own website as well. This way, you’re getting the advantage of the social media traffic but you still “own” as much of your original thought and content on your own web hub.
John Green, author of Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska uses the internet to build community like nobody’s business. His video blog, Vlog Brothers, is highly entertaining and keeps his fans coming back for more, and more, and more. He’s great on camera and plays to his strengths. He has a strong presence on Tumblr (over half a million followers, y’all) and of course, because he is wise, hosts his own website too.
5. Write good books
I have to include this because I monitor a lot of chatter amongst authors about how to gain a following and promote their books. I read advice about publishing frequency magic numbers and how much time they should spend devoted to their social media marketing. End of the day, if your book sucks, no marketing tactic is going to be a magic wand for success and longevity. There are plenty of authors who have wildly successful careers who have terrible websites. Or great websites, but spend very little time engaging in social media activities. This is not to say that marketing online is not important, it’s just that you shouldn’t put the cart before the horse.
Happy weekend, everyone! xo~Taughnee