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An IBPA Roundtable: Which Social Media Sites Work Best?

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An IBPA Roundtable

Which Social Media Sites Work Best?

August 2012


By now it’s a conditioned reflex. Someone says “social media,” and we immediately think of Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Facebook and Twitter. Or Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and LinkedIn and Pinterest and maybe even more connect-here sites.

But responses are far from automatic if someone asks which sites facilitate the most productive connections with readers who bought or might buy particular books, or which sites demonstrably generate sales.

Although answers to those kinds of questions are hard to discover, several publishers responded to our recent mailing “Social Media: Which Site Works Best?” by telling what they’ve done and what conclusions they’ve drawn. Read on to benefit from the experiences they shared.


—Judith Appelbaum


Start with Your Own Web Site

Like most companies, O’Reilly Media has devoted thousands of hours of employee time to building and maintaining our social presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Good Reads, Google+, Pinterest, LibraryThing, SlideShare, and YouTube, as well as a host of other sites that are now a dim memory but at one time represented the Next Big Thing.

Each platform is important in its own way, and it’s essential that we experiment as new ones emerge. But we learned a long time ago that we had constant access to the most important social network imaginable, one where we control the user experience, messaging, privacy settings, and ads. That social network is our own Web site.

Just having a Web site isn’t enough, of course. It’s how you use it, the tools you employ, and the people you involve. Here are four key ingredients that make oreilly.com our most important social media outlet:


● Get Satisfaction. Most customer service and interaction happens behind closed doors, and that’s probably a good thing, given how badly many companies treat their customers. Get Satisfaction is an open, community-driven customer service platform where users can ask, and answer, questions about your products and services, all out in the open for anyone to read. Here’s the O’Reilly channel: getsatisfaction.com/oreilly.

While an open forum for customer service and interaction may seem horrifying, you should be cautious about using it only if your products are inferior and your idea of customer service is to deflect and defend. I encourage all to jump in.

Using Get Satisfaction has cut down, over time, on the number of inquiries we need to deal with because customers can find answers to many of the questions they have. But more important, it gives customers personal experience with real people inside our company. When we respond well, the merely curious become evangelists because of a great interaction.

And Get Satisfaction allows us to understand issues, needs, and desires more deeply because we can carry on a dialogue with our most committed customers.


● Reader reviews. An Amazon page designer once told me that reader reviews are the most important element on a product detail page. In the best cases, they provide customers with product recommendations that are more accurate and informed than typical marketing copy.

We’ve had reader reviews on oreilly.com since 1997, and they’re an intelligence goldmine. We aggregate all reader reviews into a weekly report that goes to editorial and marketing people.

We respond to every reader review that gives three stars or fewer, informing customers of our 100 percent Satisfaction Guarantee.

We regularly correspond with customers who share ideas and suggestions.

A bad review is an opportunity to learn more from customers, and to direct a customer to a more appropriate product. In all my years at O’Reilly I can recall only a couple of instances when someone who started as a pissed-off customer didn’t leave as an evangelist because we listened to the customer’s complaint and took care of it.

And we gained vital information to make our products and services better.


● After-purchase survey. Once customers complete a purchase on oreilly.com, we invite them to participate in a survey. Formulated and tweaked over the years, the survey solicits information about preferred product types and formats (we sell a lot of e-books and videos), about topics we’re publishing on, about what they’d like to learn next, learning styles, information sources beyond books, demographics, and more.

The aggregated results are distributed to stakeholders within the company, and we follow up as appropriate with survey takers. Like reader reviews, the surveys provide detailed, qualitative intelligence that is hard to come by through social networks, and it’s delivered in a way that allows us to adjust our business to the needs of our customers.

● Contact opportunities. We’ve all hunted through Web sites looking for a way to contact a company, only to find an e-mail address to “info,” or a phone number with a complex automated tree. Companies that function this way obviously don’t really want to hear from customers, although some of them run expensive campaigns on Twitter and Facebook.

Our phone number and contact information appear at the top of every product page on our site. Get Satisfaction is available on our homepage and product pages; reader reviews are on every catalog page; and, as mentioned, we ask every customer to complete a survey. Call O’Reilly and you’ll get a real person at the front desk who will route your call to another real person. In other words, we make it clear that we want to hear from our customers, and we make it as easy as possible for them to get in touch with us.


While we will continue to work hard on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and to divine the meaning of Pinterest, we’ll also continue to pour effort into the best social network we have, oreilly.com.

— Allen Noren

O’Reilly Media



Tactics on Our Sites and Others

Starpath School of Navigation provides training and related products in all phases of marine navigation and weather. On our main Web site, starpath.com, we offer customers a password that lets them ask questions of authors and instructors. Anyone can read what’s on that site, but only our students and customers with passwords can participate in its discussion group. We call this option a Webcard, thinking of it as a library card of sorts.

The second of our three sites, starpathpublications.com, offers a download of our book catalog, but without the order link that appears in the printed version we use with resellers.

And our third site, elibrabooks.com, presents our e-books, which include our books in our proprietary elibra format. Now some 15 years old, this format is still great for us, and we believe it’s the best available copy-protected e-books format for complex books on PCs (based on functionality, book compression levels, ease of registration and use, and the end cost to all involved with the book).

Recently, we shifted our longstanding newsletter from our main site to social media because we had too much good information getting to too few readers. I think this experiment will be successful.

Specials we offer via Facebook.com/starpathnav seem to be working too, and we have now set up a promo code ordering option for our main site that we will plug in on Facebook. So far, it seems promising. We realize that a lot of discussion we take part in will not lead to direct sales, but we are hoping that intelligent answers will encourage others to give our products a try.

Our experience tells us it pays to offer a discount or free shipping, but we hope to build an image of quality and support that will have a broader impact on our sales.

— David Burch

Starpath School of Navigation



Blogging at the Heart of It All

I have found social media to be a game-changer for both my publishing business and my career as an author.

The main way we interact is via comments on our blog. The blog is the heart and soul of our online marketing strategy. It is a tool to attract new customers and drive traffic to the site, and also the foundation of our social media strategy.

Because I believe in building an audience by sharing great content, I tweet about blog posts and resources hourly on Twitter between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. and also share all blog posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest. Sharing content that appeals to my target audience brings traffic back to my sites, helps me sell services, and gives me a readymade audience when I have a new book to promote.

I recommend hosting or participating in a group that reaches your target audience, whether on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Ning.com. Hosting a group on LinkedIn has been notably beneficial for me. I run the Nonfiction Authors Network there, and it has helped me get visibility with more than 1,700 members.

— Stephanie Chandler

Authority Publishing



Using Posts with Pictures

To promote my children’s book Skeeter’s Dreams, I interact mainly on Facebook and the Web site for my horse, Skeeter, by posting blogs and interesting pictures. I even created a series of ministories where she acts mischievously and comes up with different ways to beg for treats. And I create beautiful videos of Skeeter and her horse friends for her fans to view, which I post through YouTube.

I don’t like to spam people with “Buy my book,” but if someone asks a relevant question on a Facebook page, I will respond and add my link to the book then. Sometimes I make positive comments on other people’s posts as well. The number of viewers increases when I post more unusual pictures, and I can tell that people enjoy the posts.

Unfortunately, I have seen no sales of the book through these efforts during the year that the book has been out. All sales have been through stores and friends so far, but I continue to get new fans on Skeeter’s fan page.

Twitter is not one of my favorites, although I do post occasionally there.

If I get a comment on my Web site, I make sure I engage the person who provided it and say thank you. This usually happens when an article about my book and Skeeter appears.

— Heidrun Metzler Worchel

Zesty Art Press



Tracing Consequences

We depend on our social media presences for our interaction.

So far, definitely traceable results include sales to people who saw friends’ mentions of our books, invitations to speak (for authors and for me) at events we otherwise wouldn’t have known about or been visible for, trackback links to our book and e-commerce sites, and overall higher visibility for our titles.

We are now trying to find time to launch a regular newsletter to our customers through Constant Contact, which I think will have a big impact.

Social media streams work so well for us for several reasons, including:

● We have a Twitter stream for our publishing company that lets us participate in weekly Twitter chats through our regional affiliate, MBPA. I know for certain we’ve gotten followers through that interaction, and I also know for certain that those Tweeps visited both our publishing Web site and some of our Web sites for individual titles.

● Our main author has a very active Twitter presence and often tweets links back to our sites.

● We maintain separate Web sites for our overall publishing presence, each of our books, and each of our authors. That provides lots of fodder for link bait.

— Mary Shafer

Word Forge Books



Facebook Places First

Facebook has all but made my Web site obsolete. People would rather write to me on Facebook and send me things through Facebook.

My book’s site gets very little traffic. Anyone who goes to it immediately sees my Facebook icon and clicks it and goes there.

— Steve Ozanich

The Great Pain Deception

Silver Cord Records, Inc.


Twitter Tops the List

I mainly use Twitter. It allows me to focus on particular users’ experiences and open direct dialog with users. Since my book is a teaching tool, I’m constantly trying to help teachers who are having challenges teaching Shakespeare to kids, and I can give advice and encouragement, as well as share ideas, via Twitter while sending people to my Web site for more teaching resources, such as the Shakespeare Insult Generator!

— Brendan P. Kelso

Shakespeare for Kids Books



Tracking on Twitter

We have launched a social media campaign and are seeing results from our Twitter handle. With approximately 1,200 prewritten tweets ready to go out over the next six months, we will be tracking the best time for getting responses, and we will schedule our next tweet campaign accordingly.

Sending four tweets a day with the help of Hoot Suite is attracting people to us. Twitter is also great because it is easy to maintain. Facebook is still great if we want immediate response from someone.

— Pamela McColl

Grafton and Scratch Publishers



Straight from Us

We publish the Planet of the Dogs series of books for kids and dog lovers. Making only minimal use of Facebook and Twitter, we use our Web site to provide visitors with information, reviews, and sample chapters of our book, and we use our monthly blog to maintain relationships with readers, online reviewers, therapy-dog owners, librarians, and so on. Every month, we send monthly notices about our blog to more than 1,000 people.

As a small publisher, we try to target our communication activity to relevant communities (for example, therapy-dog owners).

— Robert McCarty

Barking Planet Productions



Despite the Giant Buzz

I do not think social media works to sell books unless writers or publishers generate contacts outside of social media with people who are eager to buy their books. As far as I can tell, I don’t sell any books via my Facebook interactions. Professionals regard Facebook communications from someone they don’t know and haven’t “friended” as junk mail. I don’t think people expect or want sales pitches or other business communications through their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Anaphora’s Web site is an important advertising tool. It has information about available titles and about the press for potential interns, affiliates, authors, book buyers, and the general public. Visitors leave comments with book reviews and publication queries, but these kinds of notes have no correlation with sales.

There is a giant buzz about how social media channels work. A few years ago, I personally fell for Google’s social media university program. I filed a BBB complaint and received a refund, as the program only explained the basics of how to make posts on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., which any Internet user already knows. I wouldn’t advise other publishers to spend money or time on social media.

— Anna Faktorovich

Anaphora Literary Press



Four Favorites

Our Web site is designed to provide information and allow visitors to learn about the Mom’s Choice Awards, apply for them, or search winners. We have spaces on the home page to engage visitors and let them know what we’re doing. Essentially, it is a portal to other more interactive venues. We monitor and actively follow the Contact Us page, and our policy is to reply in 72 hours.

Direct messages via Twitter and Facebook are also creeping up in number.

Our primary platforms are our blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We have two communities of interest—honorees and parents—and we have portals for both on each of these platforms, except LinkedIn. Given its intent to develop and expand professional networking, we use the LinkedIn platform for our honoree and potential customer communities.

LinkedIn has shown itself to be a go-to spot for honorees interested in introducing themselves and connecting with each other. Facebook and Twitter are valuable for raising awareness of our brand and sharing information on a variety of topics. Like LinkedIn, Google+, Scoop.it, and SpringPad are useful to us as sites that can push information to our communities, both to engage them in discussions and to give them marketing ideas.

Pinterest is currently the most interesting platform in our portfolio. We use its boards to post award winners in various categories, and we are finding that products are repinned and boards are followed at a much faster rate than on other platforms.

— Terry Doherty

Mom’s Choice Awards®



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