I’m still trying to create some coherence from this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival. Lots of ideas coming in, very few coming out. I think there’s a high level meeting happening in my brain. Presumably, the neurons will let me know when it’s time for me to get involved. In the meantime, one quick thought about social networking.
There is a sense that much of what’s happening online when it comes to social networking is being made up as it goes along. Fair enough. Everyone grasps the importance of reaching out and making connections; it’s the who, what, why, when, where, and how of social networking that remains in flux. This is good, this is bad, this means you need to make a lot of effort without clear payoff.
The marketing potential of social networking remains blurry. Today’s online users don’t like to be marketed “to”. Once upon a time, there was this top-down approach to selling to consumers. If your marketing department still believes that’s the case, fire the whole lot. The sellers have lost control of the conversation…and attempts to regain the upper hand have fallen flat. Very, very flat.
Those who are living and working online require another new approach: authenticity. Honest, open discussion. Nothing turns off a potential customer like constant happy sunshine talk. In today’s world, where two people who didn’t attend a particular conference session can casually discuss the train wreck that ensued — no names mentioned, no specifics shared, but clear communication happening — it’s clear that bad news gets around very quickly.
Of course you want to protect your brand, defend your brand, put a smiley face on your brand. Go for it, dude, but the real conversation is happening elsewhere and it’s not pretty. Failing to acknowledge criticism in a timely, constructive manner can kill you.
So what steps can publishers take to help themselves? First, everyone from the top of the company to the mailroom needs to have serious training in online media. This should range from the latest cool tools to etiquette. Include search and commenting as well. Create a set of protocols to be followed by everyone — and then empower more members of your company to reach out and talk to your customers.
(Yes, your marketing people are having a cow; the last thing they want is for you to develop close relationships with the people who buy and read your books…what if you go off message?)
If your editorial team isn’t already using Google Alerts to track authors and books, that’s step two. In addition to following your company and yourselves, you need to know what’s being said about your products. Then, you need to join the conversation. Share your enthusiasm for the book, consider criticisms of the book. Talk to the people who are buying what you’re selling. Get to know them. They might surprise you.
You might surprise them.
Part of the problem with the online book culture is the disconnect between the extremes in the food chain. This isn’t your mother’s publishing industry. Times have changed, roles have changed. Why are you still keeping your distance from readers?
More thoughts later.