Making Indie Publishing and Social Media Work together

I have been arguing in this space that successful indie publishing is largely a question of understanding and working a niche or niches. If that is truly the case, all of us in the indie book business need to be looking hard at the question of how to use social media to promote our titles. The internet is a terrific place to find and exploit niches; and social marketing looks to be fairly easy, relatively cheap, and, if cleverly executed, astonishingly effective. Every day we consume packets of digital information—video clips, sound bites, images, memes, news items, even books—that have “gone viral” on the internet.

If only it were that simple. Here is a list of concerns to consider when exploring the complicated world of social media as it relates to indie publishing:

The number of blogs, Facebook pages, Pinterest boards–to say nothing of twitter profile and tweets—continues to expand exponentially. It is becoming harder and harder to be heard in this cacophony of voices.

It is important to fully understand the analytics that purport to track the number of people who visit your website, read your blog, or “follow” you, as that information can be misleading. A high volume of visiting traffic, for instance, can occur for any number of reasons. Years ago, I discovered that over half the traffic to IPG’s first website was generated by a single title: a perfectly respectable book about nude photography. While the unsavory traffic to this page has since diminished, it presents an excellent example of an instance when quantity did not necessarily equal quality. Social media gives rise to new, much more complicated concerns regarding traffic. It’s clear that some visitors and followers interact with your site—therefore generating what looks like increased traffic—in order to distribute links to their own sites or to gather other users’ information. Understanding traffic and analytics is vital to gauging the quality of the audience we reach with our social media efforts.

In addition to the questionable traffic that can muddy your website analytics, there can be outright deception associated with social media. At the last BEA conference, I attended a number of panels about how to make good use of these wonderful new promotional tools. During one panel I cannot forget, a panelist explained how she got her boss’s business book onto the New York Times bestseller list by hiring half a dozen interns to work full-time for weeks tweeting their hearts out. But, she cautioned, these tweeters had to preserve the fiction that they were acting as unbiased individuals, just plain folks who happened to love that book. Otherwise (she did not make this point but I will), the promotion might look too much like what it is: a sort of low-rent fraud. A marketing strategy built on deception cannot, in the long run, succeed.

Businesses are still trying to figure out precisely what works or doesn’t work with social media. I recently attended a dinner, along with about a hundred other business people, hosted by Google. The point of the dinner, of course, was to sell advertising, but the main event was a very interesting panel discussion involving three big-time social-marketing gurus and two very sharp Google spokespersons.

The first guru to speak painted a social marketing landscape featuring really awesome new possibilities. Wow. The second guru begged to differ with the first one. Actually, we had better stick to what we know, he said, and go slow. The third sharply disagreed with gurus one and two, but I can’t quite remember what his theory was. Finally, the Google spokespersons were in passionate agreement that the best course was to trust Google to give us great advice on how to spend our money on their advertising programs rather than on social media ventures. Given all the uncertainties surrounding social media, the Google approach has at least the advantage of being easy to understand and implement.

So what’s an indie publisher to do? If you take a step back from the perplexities of social media to gain some perspective on it, the issues I have raised are perhaps no more than what should be expected for a field so new and still so in flux. Social media has one foot in the highly commercial world of advertising and the other foot in the realm of human communication—hopefully sincere human communication. This combination might not always be a comfortable one; but it is now possible to glimpse some social media strategies that may be especially well-suited to the needs of indie publishers. That will be the subject of the second part of this post.

Curt Matthews
CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.

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One thought on “Making Indie Publishing and Social Media Work together

  1. Reblogged this on TheDisfigured and commented:
    You NEED social media. Period.

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