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The Ever-Changing State of Social Media and Book Marketing

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by Jandra Sutton, author coach and digital marketing consultant

Jandra Sutton

The landscape of social media is complex and evolving. To market your books effectively and efficiently, it is important to stay up-to-date.

You don’t need to be an expert on marketing to know that social media has changed rapidly over the years. In the last decade, as more and more users continue to adopt profiles on the various platforms, social media has become an integral part of our society. Like it or not, social media now defines cultural trends, global and national conversations, and—yes—even government policy.

Where does that leave authors and publishers? With the landscape of social media radically different than it was a decade ago, it’s important to identify what has changed, how it’s changed, and where it’s going next.

What’s Happening with Social?

If you want to find out what’s changed with social media, it’s important to look at how far it’s come over the years. Various platforms have come and gone (sorry, Friendster) while others—like Myspace—struggle to hold on. At first, it was about the novelty. It was a race to see who could create the newest, best, coolest website for people to join, and users would hopefully flock to them in droves. Driven by word of mouth, Myspace was replaced by Facebook, Facebook was threatened by Twitter, Twitter was threatened by Ello, etc.

But while some platforms have toppled, others continue to climb. Facebook itself is on track to hit 2 billion monthly active users in 2017 (the platform had 1.86 billion monthly active users as of the end of 2016), and it continues to climb. Over 1.23 billion people log into Facebook every single day, with 1.15 billion of Facebook’s users logging in via mobile devices. While fewer young people are using Facebook than in previous years, adults continue to flock to the platform in droves—especially internationally—meaning that Facebook has created the single largest marketplace for reaching consumers instantaneously that has ever existed.

Twitter, on the other hand, continues to struggle to keep its grip. The platform has just over 300 million monthly users—a fraction compared to Facebook—with 82 percent of its users on mobile. According to Bloomberg’s estimates, Twitter has fewer than 140 million daily active users. Snapchat has 150 million daily active users by comparison, meaning its digital footprint is smaller than most people realize.

Meanwhile, Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform, boasting over 600 million monthly active users. According to the site, Instagram users share 95 million photos and videos every single day. Now owned by Facebook, Instagram also offers business profiles, analytics, and advertising—all of which are changing the game on the social platform.

Of course, other platforms exist for authors to capitalize upon. YouTube is a giant with over 1 billion monthly active users as well, but as Facebook continues to prioritize video content, its grip on the video market is changing. Tumblr has over 550 million monthly active users, Pinterest has 150 million, and LinkedIn clocks in around 110 million.

The biggest thing these platforms have in common? They’re searching for ways to retain users while providing value and staying relevant.

The Shift to Provide Value

As we see user behavior shift on social media, whether that’s increasing the amount of time spent on mobile or dropping old platforms in favor of new ones, new trends begin to emerge. We’re no longer using social media just to post status updates about what we’re eating for dinner; it’s a place to make new connections and stay in touch with old ones, consume various forms of media, and keep our thumbs on the pulse of news and current events.

Most importantly, we’re seeing how social media provides value to audiences, and brands are scrambling to keep up. It’s not about simply selling a product or experience, nor is it simply about connecting with your audience. Instead, social media now moves one step forward in its ability to offer something worthwhile to every single user around the world.

So what’s valuable to users?

There are three types, which I like to call the Three Es of Value.

  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Emotion

Social media (generally) falls into one of these categories, and, increasingly, so does most successful social media content. It’s not about providing all three simultaneously, which can prove to be difficult, but remembering to tap into one of these types of value in order to keep users engaged.

New Ways to Reach Your Audience on Social

1. Video
Video isn’t new, but it is a growing trend for social media. Live video, in particular, is gaining ground as every major platform now incorporates live video functionality. As more and more brands are turning to video to share content, even major news networks are using live video to reach their audiences.

Why is this so valuable? Historically, authentic content has performed remarkably well. That’s why content marketing—writing blogs that provide value—became popular over the years instead of simply placing an ad to reach consumers, and now video presents the opportunity to reach massive amounts of people in real-time.

For the publishing industry, it can be difficult to capitalize on this trend, especially when video isn’t the primary form of content our industry is used to producing. However, live video can be useful across the spectrum. It’s not just streaming events and interviews; live video can be used to create an intimate one-on-one conversations between authors and readers, publishers, book buyers, and more.

2. Social Commerce and Ease-of-Use
One of the biggest unspoken rules of online content is to lower the barrier of entry. The harder it is for consumers to do what you want them to do, whether that’s buying your book or reading your latest blog post, the less likely they are to complete the task. It’s a general concept in web design and development, as well. If it takes four clicks to get from point A (your Facebook page) to point B (a point of purchase), you will have less sales overall than if it only takes two clicks.

How can the book industry capitalize on this?

Social commerce is a growing trend. Instagram is introducing more e-commerce options, as well as Facebook and Pinterest. Facebook pages, for example, now offer the ability to create a “storefront” where you list products directly on your page. For people who are managing shipping themselves, this means there is zero resistance between sharing your products on Facebook and getting a purchase. Selling books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or another site? It still works!

Instead of sending potential book buyers to a website for more information about your books, it’s all hosted within Facebook, including a button to go straight to checkout on another site. The reduction from three clicks to two might not seem like a lot, but it could make the difference of a sale.

Facebook pages now offer the ability to create a “storefront” where you list products directly on your page.

3. Personalized Content and Custom Audiences
Finally, personalized content is more popular than ever. We like to see content that is catered to our personal tastes, and there’s no exception on social media. New advertising tools allow brands to reach audiences with extreme precision. Instead of hoping that a certain demographic might be interested in your book, you can now build custom audiences based on who has visited your website.

You can also create custom audiences based on your e-mail list or people who have engaged with your social media accounts recently, so you can target those who are already connected to you. Facebook ads also allow you to create lookalike audiences based on demographics the people who are your current followers.

Niche social advertising—whether that’s using custom audiences to focus your advertising budget or picking a specific platform where your users are most active—is a great way for authors and publishers alike to control spending whilst getting the most return on investment.

How Does This Impact Book Marketing?

That’s the big question every industry is scrambling to understand, especially as new social media platforms continue to emerge and present their own unique challenges for reaching audiences. The publishing industry is no different, especially when you consider the sheer size of it.

How do we provide value for our followers on social media? Which platforms should we be focusing on?

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to book marketing. Every genre is different, as is every author, so what works for one brand might not work for another. The important thing is to remember that social media is an ever-evolving tool for the publishing industry, and, because of that constant state of flux, how we’re using it to reach our audiences will change consistently, as well.

What worked in 2014 probably won’t work today, simply because the landscape of social media is nearly unrecognizable today from what it was then.

It’s important to remember the Three Es of Value as you determine what works with your specific audience. You might be surprised to discover that a marketer is telling you to avoid being blatantly self-promotional, but these days it just doesn’t work.

Authenticity sells. Relationships sell. Value sells. Give your audience a reason to follow you and engage with your content, and tailor it to the social media platforms you’re using. It can be daunting to customize a marketing strategy for each individual platform, so, generally speaking, don’t do it! You don’t need to be everywhere at once, especially if it’s going to spread your brand too thin and sacrifice quality of content for the sake of quantity.

Focus on where your potential audience is, based on targeted demographics, and start from there. Then, as you begin to craft your social media strategy, you can begin to explore new options for connecting with your audience. It’s not just about what’s popular—it’s also about what works for your brand. Don’t be afraid to test out new strategies as you learn what works. In fact, the most flexible marketing campaigns are often the most successful.

Be sure to keep your thumb on the pulse of social media, staying up-to-date on what’s popular and where audiences are seeking information, because it will always be changing. Even in the last few months, how people are using Twitter has changed so drastically that industries are scrambling to keep up. If you aren’t aware of these trends and changes, you risk losing efficiency and relevancy on social media, which, as an individual author or small publisher, can be costly in more ways than one.

Jandra Sutton is an author, historian, and doer of things. With six years of experience in digital marketing and two in publishing, she is an author coach and digital marketing consultant who loves to help people build and grow an awesome brand using the internet.

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