AWP 2014: Losing Sleep Over Social Media

March 10, 2014 § 6 Comments

cross-platform-marketingStephanie Bane sets the record straight on platform building:

“With great opportunity comes great responsibility.”  Jon Fine, director of author and publisher relations at Amazon, invoked two great teachers – Jesus, and Peter Parker’s uncle –  when he exhorted us to develop our own social media platform to better market our books.

The panel, titled “How to Do It Now: New Trends in Literary Publishing,” slid sideways, from what I assumed would be the topic of new digital publishing platforms, to the topic of digital marketing.   This is a topic I know something about.  I support my writing habit – my graduate degree and this trip to Seattle – through my work at an advertising agency, where roughly 70% of our revenue comes from digital marketing. We build social media platforms for national brands, so I have a clear understanding of how much time, strategic thinking, and revenue, goes into constructing a Facebook (or Twitter, or Pinterest) presence that will actually sell something: A lot.  A midsize client with a marketing budget of $10MM will spend roughly $4.1MM in digital media, which includes social media.  Social media represents $400K of the budget, and this dollar amount covers the salaries of one or two full-time employees who generate and post content, and the ad spend that drives people to the Facebook page.

This was the professional context I brought to a panel in which a room full of authors were lectured on the importance of social media to their careers.  This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this particular talk.  It is in fact an echo of what many writers hear from their agents and publishers: Start a blog.  Get at least 800 followers on Twitter.  Get at least 1000 Facebook friends, or fans of your author page.

Agents and publishers who are pressuring writers to do this don’t know the return on investment for these efforts.  This isn’t an indictment of the publishing industry –measuring the return-on-investment on social media is complicated, and involves expensive research.  Even brands with big, $10MM budgets will forego the cost, accepting as truth that even if they don’t know exactly how much in sales social media can account for, they’d be selling less product without it.

In the absence of social media return-on-investment data for the average author, let’s use some old-school direct marketing numbers as a proxy.  As a rule of thumb, a 1% response rate on direct marketing efforts is a good one.  Say you have the magic number of one thousand Facebook friends, or fans of your author page.  If you reach every single one of them at least three times with an announcement of your book release and a link to Amazon, you should expect ten of them to buy your book.  That’s right – ten. Let’s make that number a little – or even a lot – higher, because after all these people have some personal connection to you and are more likely to buy.  Say you get an extraordinary buy rate of 20%.  That’s 200 books.

Take a moment to imagine how much money that puts in your pocket.  It’s not nothing.  Now – take another moment calculating how much time you spent developing your online community, creating content to share with your friends, marketing your personal brand on your blog and in places like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest.  As panelist Rachel Fershleiser, a successful writer, editor, and digital media expert who works for Tumblr, said – in the most honest and gratifying moment of the talk – if you actually do all of this, “you will never sleep again.”

Every author should establish a social media platform. I’d never argue against it, given what I do for a living.  But there is only one reason for an author to lose sleep over social media: advertising dollars. If you or your publisher is paying hard cash for advertising that drives people to your blog or your author page on Facebook, go all out.  There will be an incremental pay-off. But if this does not apply — scale your effort to the reward.  Writing for social media should never take time away from something you’d rather be writing instead.

Stephanie Bane works at a Pittsburgh ad agency with a particular expertise in digital and social media.

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