PubWest Workshop: Thoughts on Social Networking

November 15th, 2008 · 24 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

I cringe a little when I hear that someone is “working on a viral campaign” for a product or service. I see viral marketing as taking a fingers crossed approach to marketing — hoping that you’ve created something cool enough that others will want to pass it on to their friends — while social networking means that you take an active role in cultivating and maintaining relationships with your friends, customers, fans, and other interested parties. To me, it’s the difference between passive and proactive action.

Social networking is not a magic new concept. If anything, it’s a return to basics: talking to your customers, reminding them that they are important to you. The only difference between then and now is that your customers are everywhere and technology gives you the power to find them, listen to them, talk to them, and build relationships that extend long beyond the boundaries of a traditional marketing campaign.

Social networking, by its very definition, is a sustained, ongoing process. If you’re a publisher, this is requires changing your thinking. You’ve traditionally maintained some distance from your ultimate customers: readers. People buy books from retailers. Retailers buy books from distributors. You might take out some ads and put dollars into promo, but you haven’t spent a lot of time talking to readers. Focus groups don’t count.

It’s time to get your hands dirty, to dig into the real-world conversation. It’s a weird thing, and sometimes awkward and uncomfortable, especially if you’re accustomed to public relations-speak and the cheerleader behavior that accompanies marketing messages. When you talk directly to real people who read and buy books, they tune you out when you try to stay on message. If they wanted to rehash cover copy, they’d read the back of the book.

What you’re going to find — if you haven’t already — is that you have absolutely no control over what is being said about your brand. While you’re busy executing marketing campaigns that are the end result of countless meetings, blanded-down and made safe enough to keep your CEO’s pulse steady, real people are out there, talking about your books. They’re reviewing on Amazon, they’re reviewing on blogs, they’re reviewing on Twitter.

It’s an amazing thing, these conversations. There is positive, negative, lukewarm, curious. It’s linear, it’s tangential. It’s of-the-moment, it’s six months later. Look at the comments related to a review of Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars. The review was posted in November, 2006. The comments continued into June 2008 (and would have gone continued had the site not been put on hiatus).

Books are social. Reading, usually, is a solitary endeavor (though I still think back to dinners where my mom read stories about King Arthur to us while we ate). Books, however, invite conversation. The continued popularity of book clubs is not just about the wine; it’s the fact that people love to get together and talk about books (also, gossip about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness).

Social networking means that the book club is online — and the participants range from people who’ve read the books, people who want to read the books, people just passing through the conversation, people who sell books, people who sell books to people to sell books, and, yes, people who acquire, edit, market, and distribute books.

Think of it like a giant cocktail party. You might know one or two people very well, you’ll likely meet several interesting people, and, as you circulate around the room, you’ll dip in and out of various conversations — sometimes adding something, sometimes eavesdropping. The key here is that you’re participating on various levels, sometimes initiating the conversation, sometimes listening.

Which reminds me of something else: never underestimate the power of just listening. Don’t just listen to what is being said about you, but what is being said about your competition. Listen to what your customers want, what makes them happy, what makes them crazy. You might think you know these people very well…you might be surprised by how wrong you are.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re saying. I hear you. I get it. But, man, the time, the time. This stuff takes a lot of time and energy. How am I supposed to do it all?

The good news is that you don’t have to do it all. Do one thing, two things really well. You can’t do everything, but you have to do something. Let’s face reality: print coverage is shrinking (and even at its zenith, you were fighting for space), radio is dependent upon the right listener being in the right place at the right time, television? Ditto.

Nobody can reach out and touch your customers better than you because nobody knows your books and what makes them special better than you (except, yes, your authors; they play a role in this process as well). There is no right way to do this. I’m loving what publishers like Little, Brown and Co are doing on Twitter: talking about books and engaging readers (they get bonus points for the frequent offers of review copies to people). I think it’s amazing that publishers like Unbridled Books make it a point to reach out and talk to people like me on a regular basis — even the business contacts have a personal flavor.

Pan Macmillan has a team of really smart bloggers talking about the future, as does HarperStudio, via their blog “The 26th Story”. Harlequin Twitters, blogs, and maintains a robust, interactive website, not to mention constant blogger outreach. We’re seeing publishers like Dzanc Books and booksellers like Vroman’s use tools on Facebook to connect with readers.

(In fact, we’re very encouraged by the marketing possibilities offered by Facebook, so much so that we’ve putting the finishing touches on an online workshop to teach you all about the cool ways you can use the site to build relationships.)

Yes, social networking is hard work. Yes, it requires a lot of time. Yes, it means changing your way of thinking.

But the rewards of engaging with your readers, your customers on a human level far outweigh these seemingly negative aspects. If done right, you are directly engaging in a wider community than you ever expected.

File Under: Marketing For Introverts

24 responses so far ↓

  • Debbie Stier // Nov 15, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    You said it better than I could have!

  • Mike Cane // Nov 15, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    >>>radio is dependent upon the right listener being in the right place at the right time, television? Ditto.

    Ha. You just gave me the nightmare of Google digitizing all of *that* under “Fair Use” and making it searchable.

  • Amy @ My Friend Amy // Nov 15, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Good word.

  • Christine // Nov 16, 2008 at 7:29 am

    Well said. This applies to any industry or company. Social media is a target marketers dream – exactly the right people and the right time in their lap or at their desk, in their living room or office.

  • Kat J Meyer // Nov 16, 2008 at 8:19 am

    Thanks, Kassia. This is a great summary of the importance, and really–the definition of social media marketing. I now have a great place to point friends and associates to whom I’m trying explain what it is I’m talking about when I say they need to embrace social media marketing.
    But, for me the most salient point you make is about marketers being the ones who know the book the best. Marketers “should” be the ones who know the book the best, but too often, we don’t even read the book we are marketing, and that has to change if we’re going to be successful at engaging readers (or sales reps, or reviewers, etc.). In the world of today, where marketing is increasingly reduced to person to person word of mouth, book marketeers can no longer expect to get by with standard mass shipping out of “fill-in-the-blank” style press releases and a copies of the book to their ever-shortening list of trade and consumer publication reviewers. Ditto for spending big bucks on print ads and moving on to the next season. Readers want to know why we are publishing this book – why we are passionate enough about any particular title to make it our life’s work. If we can’t answer that question with some kind of honest and personal response, then we have no business asking complete strangers to shell out their hard-earned money for a book.
    Like you, I am incredibly impressed by Little, Brown & Co., Unbridled and others who are embracing the new/old concept of just talking about why they love a title and why you should to – instead of “marketing” it.

  • Alain Pierrot // Nov 16, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Well said!
    The same should be considered for most of our cultural leisures: the immersive experiences of movies, painting, music are usually completed and enriched by verbal social interaction.
    Still, introducing marketing interventions into these conversations is a delicate task: vested interests are not easily made compatible with the (alleged) sincerity of sharing artistic impressions with friends.

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  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 17, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    Thank you for the comments, and I’d like to specifically respond to Kat’s comment (sorry for the delay…was hogging the microphone and then traveling!). In typical introvert fashion, after the panel had ended, I thought of the one thing I should have said. Man, if I could time travel!

    Social networking/social marketing isn’t an option. It’s as essential to your plan as every other marketing technique you employ. The cool thing is that you — whomever you are — are returning to (what I hope is) a more comfortable type of selling: person-to-person.

    Here is how it works here (and with most of my peers): I get a press release and my first reaction is “what do I do with this?” In the past, a press release would have been an action item for me: publish it. In this world, I’m more like “okay.” I’m not sure who acts upon press releases these days, but if my informal polling reflects the real world, then it’s not the way to get the word out.

    If you want to sell me a book (and I’m easy, too easy), tell me why I want to buy this book. What makes it magic? What makes it worthy of my spending my money (and I do spend a lot of money on books — ask the husband)? I hate to fall back on the word of the year, but what makes you passionate about this book?

    PS — Alain, good point. But I do think there’s a lot of room for movement toward sincerity that can be done before we totally cross the line of overt vested interest.

  • Barbara // Nov 17, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Fantastic post. And I love finding out Little, Brown is on Twitter.

    Will look forward to the discussion on Facebook.

  • Melissa // Nov 18, 2008 at 11:29 am

    I think using facebook as an advertising media is a waste of advertising dollars. There is a fine difference here between what you’re talking about and what most people see when they think about facebook and advertising. You’re talking about actually creating a social network. Creating relationships.

    Every company these days seems to want to slice of the facebook pie, and sets up their own account, then tries to flood the facebook pages with their apps and ads.

    As a member of gen. Y, the primary users of facebook, I can tell you those ads are mostly ignored.

    I get tons of requests to ‘become a vampire’ or other stupid facebook apps – I’ve gotten them from Nike, and from other brands that should know better.

    It’s like Malcolm Gladwell talks about in The Tipping Point – the ads are so plentiful that they are devalued and watered down.

    It’s like you say – social networks are an ongoing process. Too many people look at facebook and think it’s an easy way to market virally – they stick their stuff out there and expect people to pounce on it.

    Social network, by contrast requires time and work; but I think it is, as you say, a good way to create buzz, when done correctly.

  • Amy // Nov 18, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    “I cringe a little when I hear that someone is “working on a viral campaign” for a product or service. I see viral marketing as taking a fingers crossed approach to marketing — hoping that you’ve created something cool enough that others will want to pass it on to their friends…”

    Absolutely agree. Users make something viral, not creators. You can make something that can be shared, such as widget or video, but it’s ultimately up the reader/consumer to want to share it.

    Though social networking can be time consuming, it can also be really fun once you’re in the space. Since Harlequin launched our Twitter account, I’ve become completely addicted to it. And the bloggers I’m in contact with and the readers of our blog are wonderful.

  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 18, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Amy — Did I know about your employer? Congratulations. You know I love your company and your co-workers (give one head chick a big hug for me). Have been buried under life, so I apologize for missing this momentous change.

    Thanks for your comments, and to Melissa for hers. I’ve always considered myself immune to advertising — after being bombarded with it since birth — but I do respond to some traditional messages (see: me, p-furs, pink phone, old). I respond more to great customer service and the sense that I’m a human.

    It gets back to the world’s oldest advertising concept. I have two dry cleaners in my ‘hood. One made me feel welcome from day one and it’s still a family feeling; the other, they went through the motions. Where do I go every time? The place that knows my name (and my husband’s name, which is different).

    Marketing should be personal, social, and (buzzword alert!) authentic. I may be the last of the generations that can be sold in the old way. You’re both in the world that requires more than a good slogan.

  • MikeShatzkin // Nov 19, 2008 at 10:18 am

    This was a fascinating post and I also enjoyed discovering Little, Brown’s tweets. But I can’t help thinking that this way of working will be impossible to make cost-effective in a general trade context. For Gladwell and Patterson? Sure, because they have enormous audiences. The amount of time social networking takes says to me it will make much more sense for Harlequin or Hay House, where they share audiences across their whole list, than for LB or the other big guys. But time will tell.

  • Mike Cane // Nov 19, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Facebook and MySpace are walled gardens, gated communities. My FB has been inactive since the first week. I used to be active on MySpace but page load times wasted my energy.

    Why settle for those two niches when there’s an *entire Internet* out there?

    I get Little, Brown’s tweets. I also see Del Rey Books just started. I wish HarperCollins did Twitter too.

    In fact, while I’m here, Attn Book Publishers: Follow me on Twitter so I know you exist and I can Follow you. Once that’s done, you can stop Following me. (Twitter Search = FAIL.)

  • bowerbird // Nov 19, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    how many publishers read this
    in its original incarnation as
    the cluetrain manifesto of 1999?

    probably so few that you can
    now safely plagiarize it here.

    so much for authenticity…

    > Alain, good point. But I do
    > think there’s a lot of room for
    > movement toward sincerity
    > that can be done before we
    > totally cross the line of
    > overt vested interest.

    it’s in your overt vested interest
    to think that way, of course, but
    it’s probably not in the interest
    of your customers to agree, is it?

    will you respect their wishes if
    they politely ask you to go away
    because they want a dialog that
    is free of commercial concerns?


  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 19, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    bowerbird — I am not easy to offend, but you’ve managed to do just that. Accusing me of plagiarism is beyond the pale, as is offending many of my commenters without adding anything constructive to the conversation. It’s especially egregious when you don’t have the courage to put your real name on your comments.

    Cluetrain was done in 1999, but sullen and argumentative is even older than that. You’re playing a really warped record.

    It’s clear that you are looking for a different kind of conversation and subject matter than what’s being discussed here. If you want to participate in a constructive manner — which means respecting the fact that others have different world views and opinions than you — great, but if you want to keep hijacking conversations, as you did with the Google Book Search discussion, then please take your comments elsewhere.

    In the meantime, the rest of us will be figuring out how to navigate this ever-changing world in a way that meets the needs of everyone involved in the literary chain.

  • bowerbird // Nov 19, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    geez, don’t have such thin skin.

    “plagiarize” might be a word that
    is overly loaded in your mind, but
    if you check the dictionary, you’ll
    see that it fits rather well here…

    “take without referencing from
    someone else’s writing or speech”,
    in particular, seems to apply…

    one link would have covered you.

    instead, you have people saying
    > Well said. This applies to
    > any industry or company
    as if they have no realization that
    it was indeed originally conceived
    as applicable in exactly that way,
    and all you’ve done here is to
    turn the general to a specific.

    plus if you bothered to ask me,
    i’d be very happy to tell you that
    i go with that old saw about how
    good artists “borrow”, while the
    great ones _steal._ but it appears
    that you _prefer_ to feel insulted.

    my point was extremely simple.

    if anybody reading this entry
    believes this “advice” is _new_,
    they must have been in a cave
    for the last 9 years, because
    “the web is a conversation” is
    a long-standing vibrant meme.

    to the point that it’s now trite,
    unless you’re bringing something
    new to the table along with it…

    which probably makes you feel


    p.s. bowerbird is my “real” name,
    for many values of “reality”.
    if you need my phone number
    to verify that, just let me know.
    i live in west l.a./santa monica,
    if you wanna do lunch sometime.
    i’d be happy to treat you, just so
    you know i’m “a real person”…

  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 20, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Mike Shatzkin — You raise a really important point. Time is one of those things we need in greater quantity (I am working on a magic device to add a few hours to the day; my fear is that I will waste them with frivolity and fun!). This kind of marketing requires a different in-house mindset.

    Authors like Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson do a lot of the heavy lifting themselves, and just about every author I know understands that they must participate in the success of their book. That gets individual authors in the mix.

    But publishing houses have long dumped a lot of books on the market and hoped for the best. I won’t get into my thoughts on too many books, etc here, but will say that success comes from connecting the right books with the right audiences. This is why bookstores know the importance of hand-selling — the problem for the customer is that they’re not always in the right place (the right store) at the right time (the right person/bookseller). Customers have expanded their social networks beyond the physical world in different ways, so publishers need to think beyond the traditional silo as well.

    You see it happening in small spurts and baby steps — which I think is fine because we don’t know how this landscape will look tomorrow, and we don’t really know how these various types of customers connect to books/information. It’s a time for wild experimentation.

    More importantly, it’s time to get out there and start talking.

  • Kassia Krozser // Nov 20, 2008 at 8:22 am

    Mike Cane — You’ve offered a very nice segue into another of Mike Shatkin’s points: the variety of brands that comprise a publisher. Your example of HarperCollins is illustrative. What is HC? It’s a large collection of individual imprints that (theoretically) reach segmented audiences (we know this isn’t really true, but let’s pretend).

    Twitter is a channel that reaches a certain type of online user. Ditto for Facebook. And MySpace. And Bebo. And so on. While I enjoy indiscriminate Twittering as much as the next person, I also understand that there’s a lot of noise. How does a publisher with all these brands figure out the best approach?

    Since there isn’t One Way, the company that is known as “HarperCollins” (thanks HC for playing along today!) needs to both assess how it wants to move forward from a mega-perspective, but also from the smaller perspective — or, the best ways to reach the right audiences for the books.

  • Alain Pierrot // Nov 21, 2008 at 6:14 am

    Mike Cane — Publishing groups, imo, have to consider different audiences: obviously they make more sense if they explain to authors and agents how the group can consolidate wider distribution channels, offer better promotion opportunities on a general basis.
    They should also communicate with their distribution channels as aggregators and — if they can be specific — explain their general publishing choices.
    Promoting a title/an author should be left to their editorial divisions, where the choice and involvement of editors are more personal.

  • Amy // Nov 23, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    “Amy — Did I know about your employer? Congratulations. You know I love your company and your co-workers (give one head chick a big hug for me). Have been buried under life, so I apologize for missing this momentous change.”

    Thanks! I haven’t been online in a professional capacity for very long — my position was made permanent in August. I have to admit, I didn’t make the connection between you, BookSquare and Romacewiki until you sent me that tote bag!

    “I wish HarperCollins did Twitter too.”

    @ Mike Cane, HarperCollinsCa has a Twitter account. It’s interesting — I’ve found more Canadian branch offices on Twitter than the main American offices (such as Random House and S&S). But with the people search down, I might just be missing them.

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