Social media has created quite a buzz in marketing circles. Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are wildly popular and growing rapidly. Blogs, podcasts and video sharing sites like YouTube have become part of the Internet mainstream. Yet many authors and publishers are uncertain about how to leverage this new phenomenon for their marketing campaigns. Paul Gillin, author of the bestselling book The New Influencers, agreed to share some of his thoughts about publishing and social media with us.
Paul runs a consulting/freelance writing business specializing in new media.. He has been writing and speaking about information technology since the early ’80s. Paul is an accomplished speaker and is known for his ability to demystify complex concepts and explain them in understandable terms. His book combines historical perspective and the insight gained from 25 years of experience as a technology journalist. As the many annecdotes and profiles in the book attest, he is an engaging storyteller with a briefcase full of fascinating accounts of the people and events that are shaping social media today.
FPP: What does the term “social media” mean?
Paul: I actually like Wikipedia’s definition: “Social media describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media themselves.” Or as Lawrence Lessig of Stanford University terms it, “the writable Web.” It’s new technology that enables people to publish for themselves and to comment on each other’s published work. This can be highly individual or highly networked. The key component is that individuals now have the potential to publish to a global audience.
FPP: What are the factors driving the rise of social media?
Paul: There’s a whole appendix of my book devoted to that topic, but I’ll try to summarize. The two major factors are technology developments and innovations in search People have been able to input data through Web browsers since the early days, but the capability to capture, store and publish that information was limited. With the rapid decline in hardware costs, services like photo and video sharing are now affordable. Open source software has also made it inexpensive for people to experiment with new kinds of services. You no longer have to invest tens of thousands of dollars to put together a web server and a software stack. Broadband has also reached the tipping point, with over half of all US households now using it and considerably higher percentages in some other countries.
Google is a big part of the phenomenon. Until Google came along, there really was no good way to reliably find information that was important to you. The early search engines just paled in comparison. Because Google figured out a way to index information by the quality of content, it became much more attractive for people to publish and hope to be found. Google also pioneered advertising models that made it possible for businesses to provide very powerful services for free. Adsense was a true innovation in business and its impact on the development of social media can’t be underestimated.
FPP: Is the use of social media limited to a younger demographic? Is it a global phenomenon?
Paul: It’s very much a global phenomenon. In fact, the number one language in the blogosphere is Japanese, according to Technorati. While young people are very comfortable with these media, I think the most interesting innovation is being done by grownups. The new influencers I wrote about are all adults who are passionate about topics and who use social media to become shakers and movers in those markets. I think adults and kids both appreciate the value of social media for finding like-minded people, but I think the adults especially value the power to have their voice heard where previously they were silent.
FPP: How can book publishers and authors leverage social media to generate more interest in and sales of their titles?
Paul: There are many ways. Blogging is all about expertise and sharing your expertise with other people. Book authors must develop expertise in their subjects, and they can generate awareness and conversations with other interested parties by publishing their insights on a blog. Increasingly, authors are publishing their books in this way. I published my entire book on my blog for the three months prior to submission to the editor. This not only generated useful feedback, but the bloggers who commented on my work became excellent prospects for reviews after the book was released.
When the book is in the market, a blog is a good way to expand upon the topic, publicize reaction and find potential buyers. People who are searching on the topic that the book is about are more likely to find the author and the title. I think any author should have a blog related to his or her book, at least in the non-fiction realm.
FPP: What type of influencers should publishers tap into?
Paul: People who care deeply about the topics addressed by their titles. These are the people who are most likely to read the book, write about it and generate word-of-mouth awareness.
FPP: What practices should they avoid in their social media marketing campaigns?
Paul: Never lie or deceive. Don’t be overtly promotional. Social media practitioners, whether they be bloggers, podcasters or online video producers, want substantive content to work with. They want access to the author and the author’s sources. If you just send them press releases, they will react negatively. You need to follow up and engage them with the author and the publisher. Don’t treat them like second-class citizens. Bloggers should be afforded the same courtesy as mainstream media. If you excerpt and link to their work, you should publish the bad as well as the good. That shows that you are honest about the outreach effort.
FPP: How does search marketing relate to social media marketing?
Paul: Search marketing is about raising awareness for your content by making it easier for search engines to find it. That can be done through “organic” search optimization or through paid results placement. Social media vehicles tend to do very well in search engines for a variety of reasons. This is another reason why a blog is a good way to publicize a title. You have a higher probability of being found by a search engine if you are providing useful content than if you are simply listing the book on a catalog site.
FPP: How can publishers and authors measure their influence in the world of social media?
Paul: Use conventional analytical tools like Google Analytics and traffic logs to get a view of how many people are coming to your site. Register on Technorati. Its rankings of blogger popularity are controversial, but they are also the metric bloggers use most often. Check referral reports to see how much traffic is coming to a book site or sales landing page from your blog or from mentions on other bloggers’ sites. Look at how much commenting activity your own posts are generating. There are other things you can do, but those are some of the most immediate opportunities.
FPP: What trends do you see in social media marketing during the next few years?
Paul: Experimentation. There is some panic about social media in the marketing world right now. People think it’s the thing to do, and that you’re going to be left behind if you don’t get your plan together quickly. In fact, no one has figured out social media marketing. Everyone is just experimenting, and the successes still don’t fit any particular formula. There are a few best practices emerging, but we are still in the first inning of this game. That said, I don’t advise waiting on the sidelines. The earlier you get started, the faster you will realize the substantial benefits and low costs of social media marketing. The good news is that right now it’s a very forgiving environment. People are making lots of mistakes but no one is particularly upset about it. The costs are still low and the audience realizes that everyone is still feeling their way around. So take advantage of that, take some chances and learn from your successes and your failures. Few people are going to remember your failures five years from now, anyway.
Personal publishing in the form of blogs, podcast and online video is becoming fairly well established. I think the most interesting developments right now are in the social networks like Facebook and Flickr. This is where people gather around communities of interest and the power of recommendation and grass-roots organization take hold. It’s hard to organize people around a blog, but with a social network you can do some very interesting things. I think it’s impossible to predict five years out at this point with any kind of certainty. I do think that over the next two years you’ll see a lot of experimentation in social networks.