Thursday, 16 August 2012

Is social media the magic bullet - Article review

I recently read an article by Ewan Morrison which talked about whether social media really is the magic bullet for writers and I really wanted to share my experiences with social media for a selling platform. As a writer of sorts and a published one with over 6000 likers on Facebook I really want to look at what he says when he disagrees with the concept that "Authors – become a success through building an 'internet platform'!"

I'm convinced that epublishing is another tech bubble, and that it will burst within the next 18 months. The reason is this: epublishing is inextricably tied to the structures of social media marketing and the myth that social media functions as a way of selling products. It doesn't, and we're just starting to get the true stats on that. When social media marketing collapses it will destroy the platform that the dream of a self-epublishing industry was based upon.

I disagree, for me personally without social media I wouldn't have sold a single pattern. Maybe if I'd had more time I could have printed off my patterns and approached some shops but the time and money involved in doing so would have defeated the point financially. Online selling has been my only option, especially starting out, as long as you know what you are doing with social media you can make it work for you.

As Joanna Penn says: "In a world with lots of talent, success requires more than simply being great." She advocates, "more effective networking, of course!" Self-styled eSpecialists such as Penn often invoke the 80/20 rule which advises that, as a sales person (in this case an author), you should spend 20% of your time writing and 80% of your time networking through social media. In tune with this, self-epublishing author Louise Voss recently informed me that the success of her ebooks came about as a result of spending about 80% of her time marketing (her writing partner also had a marketing background).
I agree somewhat with what Joanna says although I probably wouldn't put so much effort in as she suggests but you do need to make social media work for you. It's not simple a case of spamming people with your product, you do need to network and build you platform slowly and also appreciate that different social websites change and adapt to how they want to make money and what worked yesterday many not work today. I too have a marketing background but I don't think that really makes any difference! You just need to know how Facebook and Twitter work and that really means using it but I don't think you need to spend hours and hours social networking. At the end of the day your product you are selling is what will sell your product and that is where you need to spend the most of your time. Without a quality product no amount of social media marketing will sell your product.

And if that seems like a limitation on your creative time, consider the case of San Diego-based "book publicity and promotions expert" Paula Margulies, who is taking the 80/20 rule even further. She claims that when tweeting and Facebooking you should spend "80% of your time posting about things other than your book, and 20% selling. That's right – 80% of what you post should not be a sales pitch." Why does she recommend this? "Because readers are human beings, who long to make connections with others ... They join social networking sites not to receive non-stop reminders to buy, but to develop relationships." Margulies advocates that authors blog and tweet about hobbies and personal activities: things you like, and which you think will draw other people to you. Essentially, 80% of your tweeting should be about cats, food, sport, what's happening outside your window – all the things that millions of non-writers tweet about. This theory is backed up by many other self-appointed social media specialists.
Some of this is true, yes people join social networks sites to ... well... network and make friends but I know for a fact that if you start a page about your new book say on string theory which people like because.. well.. they’re interested in string theory and you start posting what your dog had for tea that day or start posting a daily joke photo of a cat playing a piano you will soon start pissing your likers off. It’s all about context. Yes you need to talk about more things than just your product; no-one enjoys the hard sell but the best way to do this is to post articles or even write articles about subjects related to your product. Invite conversation and discussions about string theory or physics in general, don't start talking about the haggard tree outside your window...You need to keep a distinct line between personal and professional.

So what are Ewan's suggestions on how to be a successful social media marketer...?

1. Hire a company to teach you how to tweet better
It's possible that the reason you're not seeing a big rise in book sales online is because you're not tweeting properly. There are plenty of sites with online tips from those who claim they hold the "key secrets to going viral". There are even those who claim that learning how to use Twitter makes you a superior writer.

If you want to learn their methods, you can attend one of the hundreds of new courses that have sprung up, and pay hundreds of pounds to master your 140 characters. Or ...

2. Hire a company to generate your tweets for you
If you're still failing and are daunted at how much effort it takes to spend 80% of 80% of your time being chatty, you can hire a company to do it for you. Book Tweeting Service's website claims: "We tweet your book, blog or author website to 60,000+ readers, editors, publishers and writers who are following us on our Twitter accounts. We will send 5 TWEETS PER DAY which we then share with our 5 Twitter accounts (=30 tweets) to get you maximum exposure." Book Tweeting Service will write your tweets for you. Its tweet plans start with a one-day plan at $29 (£18).

While this frees time to actually write, the downside is that your tweets may not come across as particularly "you", which might alienate any followers you already had. And, of course, you'll be paying almost £10,000 for a year's worth of tweets. But as these companies say, "Online marketing is a full-time job for professionals." And they should know: many of them are, in fact, just good old-fashioned marketing companies who've developed an internet wing in order to get in on the feeding frenzy. Most, however, are sole-trader start-ups – for that, read solitary, self-taught people who have set up a page as a specialist. Many of them are also self-epublishing authors, trying to make a buck so they can buy time to do their 20% of writing.

I agree, most of these so called experts will be the same so called SEO expert companies that charge thousands to do the same job you could easily do yourself with a little knowledge and you will probably get better results.

To make social media work for you YOU need to be on social media websites, it's as simple as that. No-one is going to promote your work better than you and you'll save thousands in the process. Ewan's right, you need to come across as yourself, not a company trying to do the hard sell. If you don't know anything about Twitter or Facebook you would be best buying a couple of books on them than spending thousands with a company who cares more about taking your money than selling you in the correct light. It will also be much more rewarding when you develop friendships and have discussions with likeminded people. That is what people will click 'like' for.

3. Get family, friends and Facebook friends to post reviews on Amazon
Many self-epublishing authors claim that you can "trigger Amazon's algorithms" and get on to "Amazon recommendations", after you get 30 – or 50 – or 100 favourable reviews. They sometimes say this gleefully, as if it's a trick they've learned and are secretly passing on to you. The idea is that you contact all of your friends on Facebook and get them to post reviews. Although it's a bit crass, and may be dishonest, it's not illegal.

The problem with this is what I term the Facebubble, or what Eli Pariser calls Filter Bubbles. The hard fact is that since Facebook started tracking our behaviour, no matter whether you have 1,000 friends or 100, you're only going to get updates from the two dozen people you've most recently been in touch with. You're not speaking, let alone marketing, to the vast world of the internet at all. You are only a few steps removed from your old school friends and your mum. This problem is compounded when you try to sell books directly on Facebook to your friends. You're in the Facebubble and you're stuck with the 80/20 rule. You're spending 20% of 80% your time trying to market to the two dozen people who will see your feed. So you sell 10 books, and you feel dirty for having given the hard sell to your mates.

So what's wrong? Why aren't you sweeping ahead as a new author in the social media revolution? Maybe you've just come to it too late. If you didn't start doing this when social media began then you're already years behind the pioneers: everyone else and their auntie is now trying these very strategies, precisely because the pioneers are now selling courses and books on how to be as successful as they are (if they're so successful, why do they have to do all this consultancy work?) And, anyway, how can you compete with the 1.1 million new writers who have downloaded their ebooks on to Amazon? Is there any space left for you on this platform? Does the platform even exist, or is it a vast collective delusion?

Sadly this is true. Facebook are constantly changing how their website works, especially with page owners because at the end of the day they want to make money and this will be through promoting your posts and advertising but all is not lost and it is most definitely not too late to start a Facebook page and gain likes. It’s just about networking, so how do I do this I hear you ask?

I started my Facebook page about 2 years ago and I have nearly 7000 likers now. I will admit that I got a lot more interaction from my likers back in the old days before these strange elusive Facebook algorithms existed but you just need to learn how to get around them.

Yes you can get all your friends and family to like and comment on your posts, it can help but a few tricks can help to get your posts noticed such as posting a photo with every post. Photos are much more likely to be noticed in someone's news feed than a text post. Run competitions on your page where people have to share your page with their friends and family to win prizes, everyone loves free stuff at the end of the day. Share other people's posts, which in theory is helping someone else but it invites conversation and discussion which equals comments and likes on your posts which Mr Facebook algorithm likes.

4. Buy Facebook advertising
Got your Facebook and Twitter pages, multiplied your friends and followers to 1,000 or 5,000, and still haven't managed to sell more books than you would have done standing on a street corner? Try buying Facebook advertising.

These are the little picture squares on the right hand side of the screen, which lead users to a book or author page that can be "liked". On that book page you can post live links where people can buy the book from Amazon, Waterstones or your publisher – alongside reviews, or things of general interest. The theory is that when you build up a big enough "like" base, people will actually start to buy.
How much does it cost? Facebook advertising is on a sliding scale, so the more you spend the more visible they claim they will make you. Based on your targeting options, Facebook suggests a bid of $0.33 per click. Users claim you can get 51,000 clicks for $650. A click, though, is not a "like" - and even a "like" doesn't necessarily lead to anything.

A writer I know has, after two months of buying Facebook ads, gained 490 new "likes", but the number of books he sold through this was only three. This is just one example, of course, but who would you ask to give you honest comprehensive stats? Self-promoting authors? Facebook, whose entire financial survival depends on selling ads?

Yes, buying Facebook advertising will increase your liker count but that will not mean you will sell anything more than you usually do. Why? well we need to go back to the Mr Facebook algorithm. Like I said before I got a lot more sales and interactions when I had just a few thousand likers but now I have nearly 10,000 I get less sales. It's because my posts are not getting as noticed as much as they used to be because Facebook want me to pay to promote my posts, which I refuse to do to be honest so I try to follow the rules above on gaining people's interest to get comments and likes which in turns make my algorithm healthier.

And it works, my sales always go up when I am more active on Facebook running competitions and offering discounts on my patterns.

5. Hire a company to create five-star reviews on Amazon for your book
Things are getting drastic and you've crossed the line already, so why not go illegal and buy fake reviews?

In January someone on Fiverr ("the world's largest marketplace for small services" posted an ad: "I will write two Amazon reviews from two different reviewers, for anything that you send me, ebooks apps…for $5". Elsewhere, one of my publishers was approached recently by a company, which has since mysteriously vanished from the net, offering just such a service – 30 reviews for £100. This is blatantly immoral but becoming widespread. How many five-star reviews does it take to trigger the Amazon algorithms, now that others are getting in on the game? How much are you willing to pay and risk to find out?

Although this is more relevant to authors on Amazon, fake reviews are just that, fake. I agree with above statement. There is nothing worse than suddenly finding your accounts have been disabled and is this what you really want? fake success and being back to square one?

6. Give your books away for free
Ultimately, you may find that the only option left available to you is the one that internet gurus and marketers expound in articles such as "Why giving away thousands of free books is a good thing". Again, this is about platforming – developing a readership base of people who will, hopefully, come back and buy the books when you put the prices up. This is the reasoning behind the Amazon top 100 free ebooks lists. This is not, ewriters claim, about ripping authors off, nor about creating a race to the bottom in prices that will ultimately destroy Amazon's competitors in the book market.

But does giving your books away for free work? A test case is another author I know who went on to the Amazon free deal for a day and entered the top 10 Kindle Free Chart. He had 700 downloads within four hours. However, over the next day, when the price had gone back to £4.99, and in the three weeks that followed, the total number of copies sold was zero. He had, somehow, failed to build his platform.

I think for a one book author this can be difficult to get to work as the above example suggests but as we're talking about this in relation to crochet pattern writing I believe it can work for you. When I first started out wanting to sell my patterns online I gave away ALOT of free patterns to gain interest in my designs. Slowly over a period of a year I have slowly introduced patterns for sale and because I have already generated interest in my work people are buying my patterns. I still continue to release free patterns as a reward for customer loyalty but over-all I found this to work well. If you have more than one product to sell this is a really great way to gain interest in your wok but if you only have one book to sell, I would probably avoid this technique. Why would anyone buy anything they once got for free? It has to be a different book. As an author it may be worth considering writing up some short stories to give away for free, and then people might come back and buy your big novel.

I know for a fact that this method has increased my likers count quicker on Facebook than similar Facebook pages who started at the same time who didn’t give away free products.

The theory goes that if you give your books away for free, one day you'll see a return. But when is that day coming? For those who self-epublish and those who have been downsized by their publishers, it's a question of how long they can keep going before they run out of energy and money; before they lose faith in the effectiveness of this platform that might not be a launchpad for them, but for the net companies that created it.

For me it took about a year. It's something you need to weigh up for yourself to see if this method is something you can afford to do.

...if you went out on the street with a book in your hand and tried to sell it to a stranger for 88p, or 99p, and you did this every day, you would still be making more money than 50% of all self-published authors on Amazon and all the other new epub platforms.

The same would probably be for pattern designers who could print up their patterns and sell them on street but I think what is useful about social media which isn't mentioned is that if you are unable to go out on the street to sell what do you do? Say you're a full time mum or disabled, walking around the streets all day is just not feasible. Social media platforms have opened up the market for many people who do not have the time to spend out there on the streets or do not have the courage or confidence to do the hard sell in person.

As Malcolm Gladwell has been saying during the past few years, the internet is good at forming weak, not strong links. Commitment on the net is shallow. This is the same for events and for purchase of books, and also for reading the content of any post. People click "like" on articles they've never read, befriend people they've no connection with. As Gladwell also says, it's the same for political affiliations. You can click on a cause but you won't turn up for a protest march. These are weak connections.

This may be true but it could also be said for the real world. How many times have we been approached by someone trying to sell us something, we make the right noises and then never have anything to do with them again, let alone buy their product. At least our connections online are more track able through mailing lists or fan bases. We have a means to gain the interest of the people we meet online over and over again. They have come, they have liked, now they are ours to play with. That is a lot harder to do in the real world.

So what can social media sites sell?

A new study by Reuters shows that four out of five Facebook users have never bought a product or service as a result of advertising or comments on the social network site. Facebook can't prove that it can monetise its 900 million-strong base of users, and as a result it has lost 26% of its value since the IPO launch.

Firstly this would be extremely difficult to track. For my business Facebook generates the majority of my sales. I link to my own website, I link to my Etsy store, as I run sales and offers I promote them on Facebook and people click through (en-mass sometimes) to buy my products or take advantage of my latest sale.

But it does depend on what you're selling. If you are selling a product or products it will be a lot easier for you to make that sale on Facebook or Twitter but if you are selling a service it will be a lot harder to be able to track the performance of your social media marketing. I believe that Facebook itself is suited best for promoting a product rather than a service because Facebook is about sharing photos and images of well.. stuff. What photos can you share about a service? It will be a lot more difficult to gain interest without photos.

There are also numerous examples of people who have built up immense Twitter followings on the idea that they can then turn this into product sales, only to discover that they can't. A pizza joint in New Orleans hit 70,000 people with its Facebook ad, but through its own market research discovered that they had picked up only one new customer. Also in the US, General Motors pulled its $10m Facebook ads account in May, "after deciding that paid ads on the site have little impact on consumers' car purchases".

The problem here and where Facebook is miss-understood is that for large companies it really isn't going to generate you much more business from what you already have. Facebook is an international platform, not a local one. A pizza company based in New Orleans is not going to interest someone in coming to it if they live in say Paris, they may like the page because they went there once on holiday or just happen to love pizza but there is no sale there.

Also General Motors is one of the biggest car sales companies in the world; I think if you are trying to gain business from Facebook then you're coming across as a bit desperate. Let's face it, who is going to buy a car based on seeing an advert on Facebook? No-one, ok someone might but it would be pretty unusual I’m sure. People will like a brand of car, a page on Facebook say about Porsche if they are a fan of Porsche but are pretty unlikely to like a company that just sells cars in general. I think if a car company want to do well online, they need to think about viral marketing otherwise they are just another boring car advert..

As Kane states: "The internet was created with a mixture of a civic, a countercultural and a state structure. The idea of setting up a business on this structure is a tragic misunderstanding."
I don't even know what those words mean, what hope do they have in speaking to the masses...
So where are the real industry stats, and why does Amazon protect us from them? Or is it protecting itself from the accusation that it is the only winner in an online market intended to skim millions from millions of hopeful new writers, who themselves will only ever see minuscule returns on their investment and effort? All that tweeting and self-promoting was structurally bound to fail from the start.

The problem I think is that people expect to start promoting online and then switch on their computer the next day and see lots of sales coming in to their inboxes but it just doesn't work like that and for some it may never work like that. Some may indeed fail from the very beginning but that could be for a number of reasons, they may just not understand how it all works. I've noticed some people just blatantly spam people with their products and then wonder why it doesn't lead to sale.
The fundamental key to being successful on social media is to not try and be successful on social media. I know that sounds strange but if you just blog, post and comment just because you are passionate about what you do then people will pick on that genuineness about you and in turn become interested in you and what you have to say.

In economic terms, the only thing social media has yet effectively proven to be able to generate is more social media, and media about the future economic promise of social media. What if the idea that social media can sell products was simply what Facebook needed us to believe so it could put itself on the market? Many investors believe this is now the case.
As individuals and companies abandon Facebook advertising, and finally come to realise that Twitter does not increase sales for the vast majority of writers, then the very idea of using social media to sell books will begin to collapse.

The problem here is that it seems you have to choose one or the other. Either you sell online, or you sell offline but what the ideal situation is to just use social media as another platform for your business. Don't let it be the be all and end all. It may not work for you; it may not work for your product or service. You need to embrace every aspect of marketing avenues. I use everything from Facebook, Twitter to YouTube to my own website and this generates me sales from all over the place for different reasons. I don't focus primarily on one area that is dangerous anyway. If Facebook suddenly disappeared one day would your whole business be gone? Social media should only really be used as a bonus marketing tool to your current offline marketing if you have it.

In the end it's all about stats: the hidden ones and the real ones. If you're writing and trying to self-sell and net-promote, do your own stats. Calculate your investment of time and money in writing versus social media. Do you want to spend 80% of 80% of your time Facebooking about cats in the hope that you'll make a 2.12% increase in sales on a book you had to write in 18 days? Do you want to spend 80% of your time creating unpaid market propaganda for the social media industry?
Or would you rather step away from the hype altogether and spend as much time as you can being a 100% writer?

A good end with good advice. You just need to work out what is best for you and your business. I feel personally that social media is best for people who are at home who are selling small products, who have the time to enjoy blogging about what they do but don't plan to be the next Amazon.

If you are a large company or someone with an established business or even a writer who had a book published, use it as a tool but don't make it your sole marketing campaign as you will no doubtedly become quickly despondent with the lack of results.

The article can be read here which we have been discussing.

And here is a nice obvious social networking link to my website!

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