As the digital landscape evolves into subject areas with their own distinctive topographies and constituencies, some publishers have begun developing their own online “reader communities,” as a part of their long term marketing strategy for their books, authors and imprints.
One trailblazer in this area is social media consultant and web programmer Jesse McDougall, who I first met at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference in 2009, where he was clearly more evolved in his thinking on this topic than the other independent publishers in attendance that year.
Read on for the first installment in my two- part interview with Jesse – about the art and science of building reader communities.
Jesse McDougall in a nutshell:
- Current position: consulting under his own shingle at Catalyst Webworks—a web development and social media consulting firm in White River Junction, VT. Check out his blog here.
- Biggest client to date: Chelsea Green Publishing, for whom he developed a web site redesign and online marketing strategies (for more details, see my Publishers Weekly article on how publishers use Twitter).
- Recent star turns: at Tools of Change 2010, ran a social media workshop; at Digital Book World, appeared on my panel about Building Publisher Communities; and was a guest on our weekly #followreader chat on Twitter (recapped here)
- Credits: author of Expand Your Business Using eBay and Start Your Own Blogging Business.
Questions for Jesse
What does online outreach to reader communities have in common with traditional book marketing, and how does it differ?
Books are social creations. They are borrowed, shared, recommended, and discussed in the physical world every day. Publishers send authors out to book signings, interviews, and speaking engagements in the hopes of bringing together like-minded book fans to ignite discussion and spark a hopefully-lively word-of-mouth campaign. The goal of marketing books online is no different. Social media platforms and new content recommendation tools not only make these digital communities possible, but they also increase the speed and range of the word-of-mouth campaigns ten-thousand times over. That means a person attending a digital webinar by an author has the ability to tell and invite 300+ friends with the click of a mouse, where a person attending a real-world seminar only tells his friends in town, and maybe only an out-of-work cousin can make it.
One of Chelsea Green’s most successful campaigns was to run a weekly contest on Twitter. This brief and easy 10-minute contest drew 40-50 people every week, and through them we were able to contact a total of 15,000+ people with links to our website. That exponential potential isn’t possible in traditional marketing.
In your work with Chelsea Green and other clients, what steps have you taken to build focused audiences within specific subject categories on the Web?
The internet is organizing itself into crowds. People are seeking out and aligning themselves with like-minded people. Home gardeners are finding other home gardeners, motorcyclists are finding other motorcyclists, and so on. These groups of people are taking part in conversations that can span all the major (and some niche) social networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
The first step is to examine the niches in which you publish. Once you’ve got a clear idea of the audience (or audiences) you’d like to reach, you must seek them out online. For example, there may be thousands of stay-at-home mothers talking on Twitter for the quick interactions it allows, but very few of them visit YouTube because they don’t have time for a 4-minute video.
Find your audience—wherever they are—and listen to them. Join their groups, or feed, or page, and listen to them. Join the conversation only once you’ve got a clear idea of the conversation and etiquette. Add value to the conversation by offering friendly expertise from your books—when and where appropriate—with a link to find more. Do not offer sales pitches. The content should sell itself.
Over time, your participation in the discussion should come to be seen as valuable, and therefore folks will pass along the content you provide.
How do you evaluate whether or not your efforts are paying off?
One of the most exciting aspects of online marketing—and something that I think spoils us for untrackable offline campaigns—is the ability to gather information about the audience. Most social media networks and blog software has the ability to display demographic and location information about the people choosing to participate in your online efforts.
For example, if, after reviewing your audience statistics, you find that your Facebook page is trafficked by women in their 40 without kids at 4PM, you can tailor your Facebook efforts to suit that audience. Perhaps you’ll post more information from books designed for that audience. Or, you might run a contest on the page at 4PM.
The data a publisher can collect about the people engaging with their book content is one of the main benefits to participating in social media—second only to the exposure to new potential customers. The social strategy should be, after all, focused on meeting and learning about your ideal audience.
Part Two of this interview is here.