Social Networking Sites: Options and Outcomes
by Linda Carlson
The challenges publishers face in the Web 2.0 world include understanding what marketing opportunities the Internet offers, and what marketing strategies your Web-savvy customers may expect. As a piece in The Wall Street Journal recently noted, “Consumers are flocking to blogs, social-networking sites and virtual worlds. And they are leaving a lot of marketers behind.”
What follows describes Web 2 social-networking options, and because the how of new technology can be as daunting as the why, it also explains how to monitor the Web site traffic generated by these and/or other marketing moves.
Evaluating Your Web Site
Today a domain name, a Web site, and/or a blog are as basic as a logo and business cards. Besides contributing to your online presence, a Web site can substitute for a paper catalog and media kit, and it provides the easiest way to present author bios, book descriptions, and book excerpts.
Even better, a Web site lets you save money and time by having high-resolution images of your book covers and author photos available for immediate download by event sponsors and publications.
If you’re operating on a budget so tight you don’t want to pay for Web site design, look at the templates that come with your Web-hosting service or your Web-authoring software, or consider a blog. Many blog templates provide all the options publishers need for simple pages, and for the Web-clumsy among us, a blog is easier to create and revise; you can design it without using HTML tags, and if you run into a software glitch (for example, one book title is inexplicably in a different size than all other titles), you can easily solve the problem by adding a little HTML.
Another advantage: blogs are often hosted free by such companies as BlogSpot and Word Press, and may not require a domain name. For a detailed list of blog software and hosts, see Wikipedia’s Weblog Software page, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weblog_software, or use
terms like blog software and blog hosts in a search engine.
Once you have uploaded a Web site, it’s important to monitor its effectiveness. If you’re receiving lots of orders, you know you’re doing something right. But small publishers and authors who maintain Web sites primarily as media resources or sources of general information need other means of measuring how often their sites are accessed.
Web-authoring software that allows a counter on the home page, or on each page; that’s the quickest way to check the number of visitors.
Site statistics software programs that are provided by your Web site host. These show how many people visit your site, which pages they visit first, and how long they spend on your site. If you’re not making many sales or getting many queries via your Web site, these statistics can help explain why. One week, for example, I discovered that 75 percent of my Web site visitors never went past the home page, and the average length of a visit was 10 seconds.
Site-ranking Web sites. These are independent sites, some of which (such as Alexa) require that you install a line of HTML on your site so that activity can be monitored.
Alexa.com describes its services (which are free) as “an unparalleled database of information about sites that includes statistics, related links and more.” If you type the URL of any site into the Alexa search box, you can access pages such as Site Overview, Traffic Detail, and Related Links. The single catch? If your site is not among the top 100,000 measured by Alexa, only limited information is available. And because Alexa counts only those site visitors who have already downloaded the Alexa toolbar, it’s unlikely that many of us will ever see our companies in that top 100,000.
This methodology also means that an Alexa count may be inconsistent with the counter on your site or the counter provided by your Web host. For example, in the same period when my Web host counter, Urchin, showed that visitors to lindacarlson.com typically viewed only one page before moving on, Alexa showed four pages viewed.
When I checked the IBPA site, which Alexa ranks about 700,000th in terms of global users, I learned that 70 percent of IBPA’s Web site visitors come from the United States, and that visitors on average viewed 1.6 pages before leaving the site.
Site -ranking Web statistics have another value: they can reveal how many Web sites link to yours. For example, Alexa showed 450 sites that linked to ibpa-online.org.
Google, having acquired Urchin, the tracking software provided by many hosts, now offers it under the name Google Analytics (google.com/analytics). It’s free unless your site receives millions of visitors.
Many freeware programs and fee-based services also measure Web site traffic. The major differences between free and fee-based: Although some fee-based programs provide less than Urchin and Google Analytics (for example, only one month of records), the most elaborate fee services offer real-time monitoring, live chat, and other options appropriate for high-traffic sites.
For more options, do a Web search for website analytics.
Picking Words to Boost Traffic
If the numbers show that people aren’t visiting your site, or aren’t staying long when they do arrive there, many explanations may apply. I’m not a Web site designer, and this is not the place to describe all the ways you might improve your site, but here’s how Web site advertising may help you get better results.
Many pages that sell advertising on a per-click basis estimate which words are most likely to attract visitors to a Web page, and you can use these estimates to determine which words should be on your site.
For a general look at search engine optimization, go to google.com/accounts and click on AdWords. Select “Get keyword ideas” and then type in a URL or text. I typed in lindacarlson.com/history book.html, and within less than a minute, Google showed why it seldom referred visitors to that page. According to Google, no one ever searches for many of the words in the text of that page. Of my keywords that did get searched, the most popular weren’t very popular at all: they were entered in the Google search box only a few hundred times each month.
Another source of information about keywords is WordTracker, a for-profit British company that allows you to check how often certain words are searched for.
Marie Rippel, at All About Spelling in Eagle River, WI, uses freekeywords.wordtracker.com to determine which keywords will be more effective for her company, which relies on Internet sales.
A Spate of Social Networking Sites
Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, Meetup, LibraryThing, LinkedIn, Spoke, CafeMom: these are examples of the hundreds—probably thousands—of Web sites that allow people to describe themselves, see who their contacts know, and communicate with other registered members of the sites.
As Facebook.com says, you can “keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people [you] meet.” One of the most famous social-networking sites, Facebook got its start as a means of keeping college classmates connected, and now is open to anyone 13 or older who is enrolled in high school or college, and to those 18 and older if not in school.
Sites created for other purposes have added networking and online “community building” to their services. For example, WorldCat (worldcat.org), a global library catalog developed to help librarians and library patrons arrange interlibrary loans, now invites users to build lists of books and movies to share with friends, and it advertises a Facebook application. Even Amazon has Askville (askville.amazon.com), where people are invited to post their questions and answer those of other site visitors.
Fans, Friends, and More at Facebook
Where do you start with a social-networking site? By registering. As a business, you have options. On Facebook, for instance, you can register as an individual, a business, or both. (For a corporate page, start at facebook.com/business.) Regardless of registration choice, your second step there is a profile. As an individual, you’ll probably include your own photo in the profile. If you register as a business, you might follow the lead of San Francisco–based Berrett-Koehler and substitute your logo, or if you’re a one-title publisher, the cover of your book. Then every time you make a post, the image will remind site visitors of your company or publication.
Profile text can describe you, your company, your books—or all three. Don’t forget all applicable URLs. On Facebook, Berrett-Koehler lists both its Web site and its YouTube URL. Besides author photos, it shows the covers of its recent catalogs; it links to videos; and in its posts it announces recent publicity for its authors and books. For a look at its current profile, see bkconnection.com and click on “Join us on Facebook” in the left menu.
Once you’ve created at least a basic profile, you can add friends or, if you’re online as a business, ‘“fans.” And you can use Facebook’s own tools to build an extensive network fairly quickly.
Note, though, that this network can have disadvantages, as Fort Lauderdale, FL, publisher Catherine Rudy points out: “At Wolf Pirate Publishing, we have encouraged our authors to have pages on Facebook and MySpace, as well as on our own Web site, but we have not had any interest other than people fishing for email accounts to spam.”
If you do want to add “friends” or “fans,” it’s easy when these individuals already have Facebook profiles. It’s especially easy if your software program is compatible with Facebook. If it’s not, simply export your contacts to a file and then import that file into Facebook. When I did this, I was shown a list of the 40 people in my address book who already had Facebook profiles. To invite them to be added as my friends, all I had to do was check a box by each name. I was then asked if I wanted to issue a similar invitation to those who were in my address book but did not then have Facebook profiles.
For more how-to’s on effective use of your time when creating profiles and other Web 2.0 content, see Deltina Hay’s step-by-step Independent articles in the January 2009 issue (“Streamlining Your Presence in the Social Web”) and the August 2008 issue (“Build an Impressive Social Networking Presence”).
Do Groups Make a Difference?
Facebook and many other social-networking sites offer two other options for developing virtual relationships: you can join an existing group, or create a group and invite others to join it.
Beth Whitman of Seattle’s Globe Trekker Press endorses this practice: “On Facebook I have nearly 700 ‘friends,’ and I have joined several groups related to my books’ topics. By regularly adding my blog posts to this site, I’m keeping my name in front of people on a regular basis. People who have found me on Facebook have bought books and signed up for my newsletter. Perhaps most important, Facebook has helped me create a ‘buzz’ for my Wanderlust and Lipstick brands.”
At Ashland Poetry Press, Ashland, OH, Sarah Wells reports that the company’s Facebook group is used to distribute information about its books. “It’s a good way to build a sense of community,” she says.
The Mountaineers Books in Seattle also has a Facebook group, which publicist Shannon Knowlton says is relatively small—fewer than 200 members when we talked—and although she has not seen any significant change in sales due to the Facebook or other social-networking site groups, she thinks they are “an incredible tool for virile awareness.”
Photojournalist Elli Morris, author of Cooling the South, created a Facebook account to promote her book and to promote events, but she is unsure of the account’s value. “Never had one inquiry from a stranger, and I don’t know if anyone came to the talks as a result of the Facebook listing,” she says. “For me, newspaper, radio, and television interviews were more effective in getting people to my Web site and signings, and selling books to them.”
Victor Brown, at Tavine’ra Publishing in Birmingham, AL, reports some success using the Facebook “events” module. Of those who attended an autumn presentation by author Tahiera Monique Brown, nearly 40 percent came because of a Facebook invitation. At another event , at least half of those buying books were attending because of a Facebook invitation. But, cautions Brown, “It does take some effort to ensure effectiveness.”
Brown, who tracks the invitations that he issues, warns, “It’s critical to determine who might want an invitation, rather than blasting an invitation to all of your Facebook friends.”
Clues to Effects to Expect
Other social-networking sites used by IBPA members include Good Reads, Readerville, LinkedIn, MySpace, Meetup, Eons, Gather, and WeRead, which describes itself as a community of book lovers, complete with “book clubs” and reviews.
Member feedback, however, reinforces Shannon Knowlton’s comment about awareness being the primary benefit.
At Milner Crest Publishing in Portland, OR, Dan Bruton has used Goodreads.com for advertising. “So far, the ROI has been negative. But it’s allowed me as an unknown author to reach my target audience more easily and more cost-effectively than with traditional print advertising.”
Carol White, whose Oregon company, RLI Press, publishes such travel guides as Live Your Road Trip Dream, is another publisher who has selected social-networking Web sites based on her target demographics. That’s why she has used eons.com, which describes itself as “the online community for boomers,” and gather.com, which claims it is the “premier social network for the over-30 crowd.”
New Orleans consultant Steve O’Keefe, author of Complete Guide to Internet Publicity, encourages his clients to set up profiles on social-networking sites for storing excerpts and images, “but the maintenance of them is often not worth the trouble,” he says.
“It is not important to update these sites unless you like to or your product is perfect for the MySpace or Facebook crowd,” O’Keefe adds.
This point is bolstered by Richard Peck of Table 301 in Greenville, SC. “MySpace reaches the wrong people—ads saying ‘Play Poker on MySpace’ and ‘Girls Seeking Older Men’ don’t fit our demographic,” he explains, noting: “Facebook offers interesting possibilities with its ability to stay in touch (News Feed and writing on other members’ walls), as well as its ‘Stores’ feature.”
Since March 2008, Peck has also been testing other social-networking sites: “LinkedIn is great for author bios and mining relevant contacts (connections), but it’s more static than Facebook, Twitter, or Meetup,” he has found.
His favorite social Web is Meetup.com—but for real, not virtual, contact. As Peck reports: “It’s allowed us to form a group of people who are enthusiastic about food and wine (the topics of our Soby’s New South Cuisine cookbook). Starting it was as simple as typing in our local ZIP code and the word ‘wine.’ Forty-three people were interested in the topic, but no one had volunteered to organize and lead a group about it. I volunteered, and we now have 217 members. We meet at least once monthly (see meetup.com/winemeetup for the schedule).”
Similar Meetup groups could be organized around other interests and other book topics, Peck suggests. “This could establish an author and/or associated organization as expert(s); provide consumer-direct sales opportunities for books; and create and maintain an ‘affinity group’ to advise, provide input, and support future efforts of the author or publisher.”
Peck has learned other lessons from his experience. One important one: “Users are divided over multiple applications, and most use only one, which means posting to several different social-networking sites.”
Microblogging helper applications such as Minggl, HelloTxt, and Digsby may eventually solve this problem, he says, but they are currently inadequate for his needs.
For providing real-time updates on events, Peck recommends Twitter and Jott. Posts, Victor Brown reminds us, should be professional in content and style. “Establish credibility with social networking, and avoid getting too caught up in the personal aspects,” he advises. “It’s okay to have fun, but not so much that you ruin your reputation. Once something is out on the Internet, it can’t be removed.”
Linda Carlson writes from Seattle, where she welcomes your comments regarding blog tours, keywords, and social networking at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Growing Group of Resources
Like “AdWords and Other Marketing Opportunities That Search Engines Offer” in October 2008; “Show Up on Major Sites” in January 2009; and “Tools for Reaching Media, Booksellers, and More” in the February 2009 Independent, this article identifies readily available resources that you can use in several different ways to improve your media and customer relations and to increase the visibility of your books and authors with a view toward increasing your sales.
Upcoming articles in this series will cover blog tours, YouTube, and virtual worlds. If you have anecdotes to share or other Web 2.0 applications to suggest, please email me at email@example.com.