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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The CloudAge™ Author: Social Media discussion

Another part of the wonder of the CloudAge™, especially for an author, is social media; that is, the Internet-connected apps and software ecosystems where people congregate to create, exchange, and/or consume information (my definition, and not necessarily comprehensive). An author in the present time has an opportunity to create a brand around themselves before even being published, and can leverage that brand later when communicating with agents or publishers. Indeed, many agents & publishers now require an existing social media presence for debut authors, because it demonstrates a willingness by the author to be fully present in marketing themselves and their work—which alleviates certain burdens of the agent or publication editor & their marketing departments. Here are some of my observations, and collected experience and advice, on how CloudAge™ Authors can leverage social media to their advantage. In a later blog, I will go over some specific marketing advice I've culled and collected over time; for now, I'm just going to go over some of these entities.

First, some limitations: there are dozens and dozens of social media networks and apps around. Since we don't literally have all day and night and all day and all night tomorrow to go over them all, and I am reasonably certain that I don't know them all, I'm going to focus on a few that will either:
  1. have the most potential reach (that is, you will get the most eyeballs for your time); or,
  2. the most focused audience(s) (ones that target writers & readers in particular).
Next, let's talk about size. As of August 20151, Facebook was the largest social network in terms of active users, with nearly 1.5 Billion active users. The next four in descending order are the Chinese IM service QQ with 832 Million active users, WhatsApp with 800 Million, Facebook Messenger with 700 million, and QZone, the social network counterpart to QQ, with 668 Million. The next five after that are WeChat, Twitter, Skype, Google+, and Instagram.

With these sizes in mind, the stats are a little bit misleading. Although there are a lot of users on the QQ, QZone, and WeChat sites, they are primarily in China (all of them are properties of Tencent, a Chinese holding company). If you publish and distribute there now, then these will be good networks on which to market, but keep in mind that advertising is strongly regulated in China. I would certainly advise communicating with a marketing or PR firm with extensive experience in Chinese marketing, rather than trying to go it alone (at least at first)2. I also will not be terribly concerned with Facebook Messenger; although now it can be used without a Facebook account, it is still largely populated by users already counted in the Facebook count.

Leaving these four out, the six left over are Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Skype, Google+, and Instagram.

Third, let's discuss "purpose" and "suitability for a particular use," as far as CloudAge™ Authors and social media are concerned. More to the point, what is a given social media's core function and how to best use it to your brand's advantage, as a CloudAge™ Author.

For all its various changes, upheavals, and acquisitions, Facebook remains largely a friend-network medium. That is, it is still primarily a way for individual people to stay in touch, and keep up, with other individual people. There are some business features, and Facebook is certainly trying to incorporate more ways for people to interact with paid advertising (and, in the process, largely alienate the businesses that use Facebook), but for all that, it's really just about individual people interacting with each other. Because of its sheer mass of active users, it is going to be essentially a requirement for an author to have a Facebook Page for their brand. I do not, however, advocate the use of Facebook as a primary marketing tool; instead, focus on making your Facebook page a replacement for the portal of days gone by. Today, it should be a gateway to your other marketing efforts. There are a couple of main reasons for my feeling on this. First, Facebook has made it nigh-on impossible to have any "organic" reach until you expand your Page Likes into the thousands—even then, they make it difficult to reach your audience in their News Feed—instead forcing Page owners to spend money advertising with questionable results (and metrics), as well as questionable reach3. Second, your best bet to grow your Facebook Page likes will be through the same word of mouth that will accompany your book promotion anyway. Instead of spending additional money to drive Page likes, spend it instead on other media which includes an option to "Like" your Facebook Page as well, and kill two birds with one stone. Put your Facebook Page URL everywhere you have your blog, website, Twitter handle, or other social media links.

This is not to say that you shouldn't have a Facebook Page; to the contrary, simply due to the enormous reach of Facebook, it is virtually required to have one. Instead, I recommend using the Facebook page as essentially an extended "about me" and a portal, and that most of your Facebook posts be links to other resources, such as your blog or website. Use the Facebook page to give Facebook users a place to find you, and then click on your blog posts to read your updates. Definitely use the "Shop now" button though; the "call to action" can drive potential sales straight to your Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other website page where the Facebook user can immediately purchase your latest writing.

WhatsApp, along with Facebook Messenger (if you consider it separately) is an instant messaging service; think of it as a replacement for your phone's text messaging application. All three of them are direct-to-device communications; that is, you compose a message—from the phone's messaging app using SMS/MMS, or with the WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger app—and send it directly to the devices registered for the recipient(s). All of them support messaging lists (although, not all the same way, or well), enabling you to "blast" information to multiple recipients directly all at once. Unfortunately, this is often considered bad form, and will likely rapidly result in your brand being unfollowed.

Twitter has been referred to as a "microblog" service; while that might be one way to describe it, I have always seen it basically as Facebook Lite; basically all you have are status updates. Right now, those status updates are limited to 140 characters (including URLs and image links), so they must be very brief. What is great about Twitter is exactly that, though: short, descriptive entries, with images and links to more comprehensive information. In addition, it is an excellent place to find content you can "RT" (re-tweet), which is one way to gain respectability: when another author posts a blog you find useful, or an editor or agent posts a "call for submissions," retweeting them will get other people's attention. Don't underestimate the ability of a network of other authors and editors to get you noticed!

Skype is essentially a video-conferencing app; in many ways, it is a replacement for a telephone. One innovative use of Skype, however, is the creation of video (or audio) blog entries; if you are interviewed over Skype (and have obtained the necessary permissions, if any), record the interview—and do any post-production needed—then post it on your website or blog, and link to it using your other social media tools. This can be especially useful if you happen to land a large-impact interview, you can use the buzz generated from it for a long time4.

Google+ is Google's foray into the social media marketplace. For a while, it was a required element for anyone with any Google account—from gmail to youtube—to tie their account to Google+; Google has since relaxed this requirement significantly. The Google+ team also recently lost its head honcho, and seems to be languishing. It does come with a couple of extremely useful tools, however; Hangouts (which can be used without Google+, although it does require a Google Apps account in that case), and YouTube (which is not technically part of Google+, but since it is so useful I will definitely cover it here). Hangouts is a great tool for interacting with your fans or followers, as well as the media; you can schedule events where fans can ask questions and get instant feedback, and you can conduct multi-user video chats. Recording these (again, with permission when needed) and producing them for inclusion in your blog can reap multiple, long-reaching benefits. YouTube can be a very useful marketing tool for hosting your recorded videos, and you can create content specifically for YouTube as well—see, as an example, the Princess Rap Battles by Whitney Avalon, among others. A software company might post a series of "how-to" videos, showing how their software works; an author might post those video or audio interviews we discussed earlier, as well as short blurbs about their work(s).

Instagram is primarily a photo sharing network, now owned by Facebook. Since Instagram and Facebook share a lot of photo publishing connectivity, it makes sense to link your Facebook and Instagram accounts, and then post your images through Instagram to both sites simultaneously. While an author may not necessarily use this as a specific marketing tool often, you can certainly think of ways it might help build audience (organically, I might add!): you could post the photos of your trips to interviews, selfies at book signings with your fans, even just your goings-on about town. It can also be a great place to get feedback and/or exposure for your book by posting book covers.

One final site that deserves special mention for authors is Goodreads. Although it does not have nearly the user base as the others on this list, the users it does have are readers. The vast majority of people on Goodreads are book lovers, and that makes Goodreads a highly self-selected, targeted group for exactly what you do: write. There are also many authors on Goodreads, with whom you can connect and exchange information, tips, and spread goodwill.

Finally, let's consider that all of these social media platforms are two-way streets. It is not enough to merely sit and announce your own projects, but also to use the platforms to connect with other people. If your postings are all you tooting your own horn, eventually people will become inured to your sound and ignore it. Instead, use your platforms to announce as well as delight, inform, and also to help spread the reach of other people whom you find interesting. In a later blog post, I will discuss some specific strategies for overall social media marketing, as part of a general marketing plan, but for now remember that your fans will be much more likely to stick with you if you can not only write amazing books, but also inform them about the amazing works of other authors, as well as information they will find entertaining, useful, and enlightening.


Footnotes:
1: Statista, "Leading social networks worldwide as of August 2015, ranked by number of active users (in millions)", August 1st, 2015, http://www.statista.com/statistics/272014/global-social-networks-ranked-by-number-of-users/ (back)

2: Henry Fong, Forbes, "5 Things You Need To Know About Chinese Social Media", October 25th, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2012/10/25/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-chinese-social-media/ (although a blog entry aimed at software developers, the general advice is applicable to anyone interested in leveraging Chinese social media marketing) (back)

3: I have a Facebook Page for my Author self (see what I did there? ;), and I have also worked with startups helping manage their social media. In all cases, "legitimate" likes purchased in "Promote your Page" campaigns from Facebook's official tools resulted in a vast majority of Page likes who were almost certainly fake, despite having come through legitimate, narrowly targeted Facebook ads or like campaigns. As is explained in a YouTube video from Veritasium ( https://youtu.be/oVfHeWTKjag ), this actually makes the organic reach of a page worse, since Facebook distribution of posts to your network of Likes is dependent on the engagement the post gets from the random subset of profiles Facebook selects from the outset. If that random initial post doesn't get much engagement, the rest of your network never sees the post at all; if there is a large percentage of your Page 'likes' from these fake likes, then the engagement will be low at the outset, which will damage your reach significantly. Despite the constant complaints of businesses small and large, and Facebook's insistence they are combating it, absolutely nothing has changed in the past 18-20 months on this issue, as my latest test (from August of 2015) shows. It is due to this ongoing fake "like" issue, even for "legitimate" like promotions through Facebook itself that I strongly discourage anyone trying to run an Author brand from paying Facebook for likes or ads (and, definitely don't pay anyone but the most vetted social media promoters for them, either). For additional reference and information on the problem with Facebook Likes and Ads, see also these blogs (many of which reference the Veritasium video, but also other sources, as well as their own experiences in some cases):

(back)

4: As discussed in Guerrilla Marketing, the savvy guerrilla marketer inside any author will get big bang for small bucks, when re-using certain content. In the book, the author describes re-using a one-time ad in popular magazines (Time, for example), putting it on a great big posterboard inside the front office with the blurb "as seen in Time," and reaping the rewards from that for as long as possible. This, it seems to me, would certainly apply to interviews via Skype or other video chat apps (Hangouts, for example) as well. (back)

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