The other day, I sat down and realized that the majority of products I use, ESPECIALLY when it comes to my writing and publishing projects, come from seeing friends (or strangers, if I’m on Twitter) post about them. Additionally, there have been a number of products that I have chosen NOT to use, once I did some searching and saw how those brands interacted with their customers online. Finally, I have also, as a user, had varying customer service experiences when interacting with brands’ social media. All of these insights have led me to where I am now–taking a Social Media Marketing class as part of SNHU’s MFA in Creative Writing. As an author, as a publisher–as a brand–I want to be able to interact and communicate with others online effectively and positively. (Or, as positively as a horror author can really be, let’s be honest…)
Communication Versus(?) Marketing
One of the insights that this class has given me was one that should have been obvious–but wasn’t until the textbook pointed it out. Namely, marketing, especially social media marketing, is all about communication. When viewed in the communication lens, instead of the platform lens, a lot of the concepts of being on social media start to make more sense. For example, so many authors I know focus on the platform, asking questions like, Do I have to be on Twitter? Should I try TikTok? Is Bookstagram still a thing? (Hint: Most of the “get in on this” posts about Bookstagram are over a year old, and there are more about why people are leaving or taking a break from their accounts.) I’ve even had some writers tell me they didn’t want to do social media, which is why they were going to try to go the trad pub route. (Another Hint: You’ll still want a vibrant social media presence.)
Don’t get me wrong, marketing is definitely part of my online presence (just ask all the folks the other day who got a look at my post about my book, which FB then slapped an erroneous label on and tossed it into FB Marketplace, WWHHHHYYY…) However, communication is what you are DOING online.
One of the examples of this that made a lot of sense was the case study presented in the text regarding Warby Parker. This is a company that wanted to disrupt how people bought prescription glasses, and so they offered a try-at-home service. Combined with an active social media communication campaign as well as donating glasses to people in need, they have thrived since launching, and are still going strong today. In fact, I saw quite a few posts from my FB friends mentioning them (or posting themselves trying on glasses, just like Warby Parker encourages their customers to do.)
The social media technology aided Warby Parker by first, allowing them to reach audiences already accustomed to interacting online and second, by making it possible for them to encourage their potential purchasers to do what most people already like to do online–post pictures of themselves and ask their friends what they think. This model reminded me a lot of the Stitch Fix model, which is a personal shopping and styling brand that sends personally chosen clothes and accessories, lets you try them on, and send them back if you don’t like them. (Coincidentally (maybe?) both companies were started or came together in the 2010/2011 time frame.)
I don’t know if this specific marketing model is directly translatable to an author platform, but what I do know, is that some elements of this communication strategy are available to me as an indie publisher. From sharing photos taken with people who purchase my books at conventions, to encouraging interaction in my press’s Facebook group, social media has allowed me to amplify my communication to a group of potential readers–and given them the chance to complete the feedback loop and communicate with me.
This idea of encouraging communication and engagement from potential customers can, I think, also translate to fostering that sort of communication among members of the brand. Online, Warby Parker has made great strides by encouraging communication with the brand. As I gear up to publish our next big print anthology, one of the promotional activities is to share photos of our authors with their “Crone Girls Press Author” buttons. This way, I am engaging and communicating on a variety of levels, and that conversation that is happening (for us, on Insta, Twitter, and Facebook) helps boost visibility and contributes to platform growth and book sales.
So, What Now?
Okay, well, while I don’t think that I will be going public on the New York Stock Exchange anytime soon, I do think that some of the insights from this course so far will help to give me a better idea of how to more effectively communicate online, and how to increase my promotional activities by NOT viewing them as marketing, but viewing them as communicating.
One of the things that I see over and over, such as in this blog on how authors can use social media IS a focus on communicating, on not flogging your sales over and over and over. I remember the one memorable occasion when an author friended me on Facebook, then, after I accepted the request, almost immediately send me a private message in the voice of his character, introducing the character and his book. I replied with my own character (hey, if you’re going there, I’ll meet you!), and then I never heard a single thing from them–not a like, not a comment, not a share. Until … my birthday rolled around and as a happy birthday message that author posted a greeting that included a buy link to their Amazon page. That was a short case study in how NOT to use social media–but it’s also a case study in how, if you look at social media through a communicating lens, you would already see that such a comment or private message would be rude. After all, do we start every conversation like:
Other Person: Hello, my name is Rachel and I like dogs.
Writer: BUY MY BOOK!
For me, I don’t think this will require much of a change in how I use social media. However, it’s given me some ideas of topics to think about (and hey look – it got me blogging after a long dry spell. In fact, this blog may be making up for six months of not posting. Oops.) I’ll keep you updated!
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