There are natural advantages to being a small, independent publisher when it comes to social media marketing. So are the big publishers too big to use it effectively?
I spoke at the Inpress Digital Conference at Foyles bookshop in London this week, a one-day digital conference for independent publishers run by Inpress, the sales and marketing agency for independent publishers in the UK and Ireland. The conference included: an industry overview of the digital future from Benedict Evans of Enders Analysis; a report on ebooks from Julie McNair; Julia Kingsford, head of marketing at Foyles, on how the company has diversified into selling ereaders and ebooks – including the revelation that Faber and Transworld dominate ebook sales simply because they bother to include bibliographic data; and Inpress MD Rachael Ogden on the explosion of book apps available for the iPhone and iPad and how to get involved.
It was great to see a room full of independents getting to grips with digital publishing. I was speaking on social media marketing for publishers (of course), a two-hour workshop session with plenty of practical advice on creating social media marketing plans, and getting the most out of a range of social media tools.
The independent advantage
I think this is one area where it is actually easier for small, independent publishers to succeed than their corporate counterparts – something I’ve previously written about in The Deal. Why? Because:
- Social media is a personal medium where things like personality, tone of voice and authenticity matter – things that are much easier to achieve if you are a small business. Last week the Huffington Post identified who it considers the best publishers on Twitter. It is telling that six of the 11 chosen were independents; two were imprints and the remaining three were big publishers. When it comes to engaging people on Twitter, it helps to have an independent voice. Find out more about how two of those publishers, @AAKnopf and @AlgonquinBooks use Twitter for community building in this week’s Huffington Post article Does Twitter Sell Books? Yes, It Does.
- You can punch above your weight. Because the tools are – mostly – free, you can use them without a huge marketing investment. Indeed, this is why social media is so widely used by independents – they have no choice but to use these tools since they have little or no marketing budget. The investment may be in time rather than money – but they have the commitment to put in the hours.
- Social media levels the playing field. Independents have the potential to reach as wide a market with these tools as big corporates – especially since some of the big publishers are still not really engaging with social media.
- Social media is about relationship building – something independents have always done well.
- You can just do it. No need to worry about getting your corporate comms strategy through a series of committees and approved by a manager who doesn’t get it. Independents are nimble and agile, and adopting a new strategy isn’t like turning a battleship around. If you’re small, you can just do it.
One advantage that big publishers historically had was the resources to create rich media such as podcasts or video, or to terraform islands in Second Life. But now you don’t need expensive equipment or recording studios – just use AudioBoo to create a podcast, or a Flip or Zi8 camera to record video. Everyone has abandoned expensive brand islands in Second Life – though there are still plenty of low-to-no cost opportunities for independent publishers and authors ‘in-world’. Bigger is not necessarily better.
Are you too big for social media?
But what if you are a big publisher? So long as you use it wisely, social media is for you too. Smaller may be better with social media, and independents therefore find it easier to use than corporates; but all publishers have access to the most individual, personal, authentic voice of all: their authors. And some have huge followings. Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself), recent winner of the Author Blog Award in the Microblog category, currently has almost 1.5 million followers on Twitter. The author is the most important brand in publishing – and social media is great for author brand-building. If you’re a big publisher, you can succeed with social media if you:
- Facilitate your authors’ use of social media. This is the real solution for big corporate publishers – but it is something independents should do too. Because it is a personal medium that’s hard to use with a bland corporate voice, get your authors to do the tweeting / blogging / podcasting / Facebooking etc. At the very least link to those authors who already have blogs or Twitter accounts – something still too often overlooked.
- Support your authors with technology or training. That doesn’t mean you can just say: “Ok, thanks for your book – now go off and do all the marketing for it too”. Facilitation means finding a way to support your authors. This usually means with technology – such as creating a blog they can write on, providing a recording device they can use for podcast, or editing their video material in-house; or with training, such as sending them on a blogging workshop.
- Don’t be afraid to use a personal voice. While you can use blogging software as a press release delivery mechanism, that’s not really a blog. There’s no reason not to use corporate accounts – Twitter is one network that allows both business and personal accounts – but using a personal account that engages people in conversation is more likely to be successful.
- Beg forgiveness rather than seek permission. If you spend ages trying to get social media approved by committee, you won’t get anywhere. Just do it.
- Set clear policy guidelines. Just to contradict the last point(!), several large publishers who have adopted the ‘just do it’ philosophy on an individual, department-by-department, or list-by-list basis, are now reaching critical mass where effort is being duplicated, mixed marketing messages are being sent out, naming conventions are confusing, or tone of voice is inconsistent. It makes sense to set out a top-level, corporate strategy and provide policies and guidelines for staff to work within. But don’t spend all year on this, or your competitors will be succeeding at this while you’re still agonizing over how to use YouTube. Decide on your corporate aims, communicate them, then let staff get on with it.
Big or small, there’s a social media marketing strategy for you. Just keep it appropriate to your type of organization, make sure you engage your audience, and go for a personal voice – whether that is you and/or your authors.