Are you too big for social media?

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Jon Reed is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Publishing Talk, and author of Get Up to Speed with Online Marketing. Follow him at @jonreed or @getuptospeed.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Social media is about relationship building – something independents have always done well.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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About Author

Jon Reed is an author, screenwriter, publisher and social media consultant. He is the author of Get Up to Speed With Online Marketing (2e, Pearson Business, 2013) and the the founder of social media consultancy Reed Media, which offers social media management, training and consultancy. Jon started Publishing Talk in 2007 following a 10-year career in publishing, including as publishing director for McGraw-Hill. More...

7 Comments

  1. Very astute Jon – IMHO it’s all to do with time constants. The pulse of social media is in seconds and minutes, blogs in hours, newspapers in days or weeks, magazines in months. So if you have an organisation that is used to traditional PR route, you have the luxury of time.

    To use social media, the gearing has to change a little … but this doesn’t mean it has to take over or you need to be a slave to it. The trick is clever use of automated tools to assist.

  2. I’m enjoying the blog and getting into Twitter myself but I am still somewhat confused as to how one grows such a large following as Neil Gaiman, at least a following worth having and not just people hoping you will reciprocate. As a writer and publisher myself I know social networking is the way to go but do you have to be a ‘name’ already to go anywhere with it?

  3. Thanks, Perry. It’s a good question – but I think anyone can do this, to a greater or lesser degree. You don’t necessarily need to be a big name to have a big following – so long as your content is useful / entertaining / engaging enough for people to want to follow you.

    There are a also some more tips on building your Twitter following on my new blog, and there will be more to come on that here too.

    @Tom – thanks for your comment too; absolutely agree that automated tools are key to this – things like Twitterfeed, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are great for automating, maintaining and scheduling tweets, for example.

  4. I am an unpublished writer. I have just started tweeting in the hope I can attract the interest of an agent or publisher. Are there any techniques that would help me?

  5. To attract a publisher or an agent make sure your query letter is good. You have to make them want to read your story. So get samples of query letters and use them as your guideline.

    Publishers generally don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, but many small press publishing companies might, so you might want to start there. Every publisher has their own set of rules and guidelines to follow.

    Literary agents, many would like to see a proven track record of your work, and how much income you made with your writing to date, because an agent wants to know that you’re not a one time wonder, but can produce more stories, novels, etc.. so you can make money for them.

    There are new agents in this field, that would take new writers because they want to build up their client lists, but if you don’t produce for them, they will delete you from their client list. Get the LITERARY MARKET BOOK and there will be symbols stating if they are a new agent or not.

    Hope this helps.

  6. Self publishing is becoming a more popular form of getting your work out there. My company, Gibson Publishing, aims to take the stress out of self publishing as well as offering advice to get your work known. We take authors to the presses to see their finished work being printed and offer one print ready version of their book for free so they know what they are getting prior to the final order. This is not only exciting but allows the author complete control so that they can change anything about the way their book looks and feels even at this late stage.

    We offer an upfront package, tailored to suit any budget, and can print from one book to over 100,000 through our print on demand service. We will not take any royalties from any sale or subsequent deal as we believe that authors that print their book upfront shouldn’t have to pay extra costs if their hard work makes the big time!

    We are currently working on a number of books including an observational humour book about the London tube, a poetry book and a children’s self-development book as well as a number of first-time novels.

    We can do anything required by authors from typesetting and print to sourcing illustrations, cover design, obtaining ISBN and barcodes, and much more.

    Best of all we offer free advice to upcoming authors. See our website http://www.gibsonpublishing.co.uk for more information and a free downloadable self publishing guide.

  7. I have to hold my hands up and admit that I’ve been putting my social-media life on hold for far too long. I’m very new to this rather abrupt and seemingly barrier-less community, a bit of a giveaway is the fact that I’ve just spent the last couple of hours, online, finding my way around Twitter.

    The awareness of the growing trends of media networking did little to inspire me to take the plunge, the nearest I got was choosing a Blackberry at the last contract renewal. I’m now thinking about changing back to a simplified model. The separation of communication and respite has become more important to me. I have been intrigued by a few of the developments, certainly the telephone- app and the digital book phenomena, although having not yet experienced them, in my palm so to speak, I can’t really comment on their ‘street-worthiness’.

    The realisation dawned, after reading the article, without a shadow of doubt what had held me back is the fact that I didn’t think I was big enough. Only the big-kids swim in the deep end, I just didn’t think I’d look cool with my arm-bands on. I have now changed my tact; I do believe that the pool is more than big enough, even if you do need a bit of comforter to start-off with.

    Some of the big socialites are gracious enough to be part of my new-found community; I think it could well be a very convenient way of keeping abreast of forthcoming promotions and events. As for the self-promotion and overzealous twittering, I think you can find that in most social circles.

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