The Challenges of Training Publishers to use Social Media

The Tools of Change social media conference was another mixed bag – but it got me thinking about exactly what it means to be trained to use social media. The problem – and I suspect it’s something digital marketing shares with traditional marketing  – is that it’s difficult to train people to communicate well, and good communication skills are at the heart of effective digital marketing. There were a lot of “well, d’uh” moments during the conference today, but that’s not because what they were saying wasn’t true (or wasn’t useful). It’s just that it is nearly impossible to distil knowledge of social media and digital marketing strategy without stating the bleeding obvious.

Aliza Sherman kicked off the sessions with a high-energy overview of her seven steps to an effective social media campaign. They boil down to having a clear objective and audience, effectively marshalling the assets at your disposal, having a robust (but flexible) plan and measuring the results as effectively as possible.

One slightly more specific point Aliza raised that seemed to make an impact, and was echoed later by Sam Missingham from Futurebook and Julia Lampam from Wiley: email is still a very effective medium to get people to act. Although it is only one part of a social media strategy, email newsletters are still one of the most effective ways to drive traffic, and engage with an online community.

Arne Klempert from Fleishman Hillard spoke about (amongst many other things) the importance of building a community and maintaining an audience. As he said, “a community is not a community just because you want to market to them.” He also underlined the importance of ensuring social capital isn’t squandered in community building that is subsequently abandoned after a project is completed. Digital ghost towns don’t build loyalty to a brand.

Following on from this were a number of case studies and a session on how to prepare authors for social media involvement. There were some great takeaways from all the sessions, but for me the most salient point was that good people will make or break the publishing industry’s ability to effectively market their content online. There are a thousand potential skills to learn, but learning them requires a basic level of communication skill, sheer bloody-mindedness and hard work. Software tools were born and died in the time it took to attend this conference, but the skills to those tools effectively carry across platforms and technologies and time. There’s no point waiting for the right moment – you just have to do it – and be sure to share your results.




The Many Faces of the Kindle

So Amazon have finally started officially letting word out about their new tablet. TechCrunch’s MG Siegler has used one himself, and TechCrunch put together the mock-up above to demonstrate how it looks. The tablet will be called a ‘Kindle’ – not a Kindle Pad, or a Kindle Slate or any of the other variations thrown around. I can’t decide if that’s a good move or not – capitalising on the branding/cachet of saying you own a Kindle whilst risking confusion about what a Kindle actually is. Either way, this new Kindle is going to be focused squarely at the book reading market, which is a good thing for all digital readers.

As you can see from the mock-up above the new Kindle will be focused on the content, providing a carousel / CoverFlow like interface that puts the stuff you own on the device, rather than the device itself, at the forefront of the experience. This is quite different to the iPad, and to other Android-based tablets, and I’m sure that’s deliberate. Amazon isn’t shy about owning their own ecosystem through and through, and that’s almost certainly why they’ve been so successful with it. They’ll be using their own Amazon-branded app store, which they launched for Android-based devices at the end of last year. Even the flavour of Android they’re using on the Kindle is completely different to the one used on smartphones and other Android tablets, and apparently there isn’t a Google app to be seen anywhere on the device (Google is responsible for the lion’s share of the development of Android – and releases it for free as open-source to the developer community, which means it can be easily changed by vendors like Amazon to suit their purposes).

So, on to the details. The new Kindle will be 7″ (somewhere between an iPhone and an iPad – and the same size as the original Galaxy Tab by Samsung). It will only have WiFi – no 3G. It looks like it doesn’t include a camera of any sort. But here’s the kicker – it’ll be $250. That’s half the price of the entry-level iPad, and a good hundred bucks cheaper than the cheapest Android tablets. Granted, it’s not going to be as useful as an iPad, but this is going to seriously complicate how I answer the “Should I get an iPad or Kindle?” question.

So what do you think? Will you be tempted to get a new Kindle? Is this something that would lure you away from e-ink? Or is this device just falling between the cracks of usefulness – a big phone without 3G mobile data that isn’t as easy to read on as an e-ink reader? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

The Revolution Will Be Digitised

Some rights reserved by Todd Berman


As Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, has noted in a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, ‘software is eating the world’. Hewlett-Packard, a PC maker, is considering dropping its hardware business to invest more heavily in software. Google, a software company, has bought up Motorola’s mobile division. Dominant music, video and book companies are now software companies (or their influence is based on software technology): Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora and many others. As Andreessen says:

Over two billion people now use the broadband Internet, up from perhaps 50 million a decade ago … In the next 10 years, I expect at least five billion people worldwide to own smartphones, giving every individual with such a phone instant access to the full power of the Internet, every moment of every day.

Try to imagine the ten years after that. There will come a time, not too far away, when almost everyone on the planet has access to the internet from the palm of their hand. Try to imagine how that might influence our cultural consumption. There has never been a more important time to get our literary heritage digitised. Paper book apologists are thick on the ground these days, and I can see why. Paper books are a great technology. But if we want to save books as a mainstream cultural artefact – what’s in them, not the paper they’re printed on – we need to get serious about making them available to future readers. The problem isn’t that paper books might not survive the coming transition – it’s that the content in books of any kind might not be able to compete with social networks, viral videos and whatever media is created in the future to service the needs of audiences. To survive, books need to be just as accessible.

Those of us who care about books need to get passionate about digital books, because the companies that are making books available now are not. Amazon – the world’s biggest bookseller – could have sold anything. Apple uses content to sell devices and perpetuate their platform. Google feeds off information – but it doesn’t have to be book-based. It’s clear that the passion for the book has to come from us – readers, writers, editors, publishers, agents and booksellers. If we don’t make it a priority, if we don’t passionately embrace the future of the book, then it will disappear or be marginalised through sheer disinterest. And none of us want that to happen.