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.

 

 

 

Tools of Change for Publishers

Day one of O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference was yesterday. It’s was a mixed bag, with a lot of very strong speakers and some that seemed to be struggling to make an impact (or struggling for something relevant to say). All in all the audience is pretty receptive – they want every one of the speakers to succeed, but this is a very tech-savvy crowd and there isn’t much tolerance for glossing over or, god forbid, patronising.

There were three keynotes to open the conference, and it seems the first – by blogger and marketing entrepreneur Mitch Joel – was the biggest hit with the audience. Joel’s talk wasn’t specific, but it was inspirational, exploring the paradigm of the new consumer and urging publishers to hit “ctrl-alt-delete” and make a fresh start in the way they see consumers in the digital age. The concept that seems to have struck the biggest chord is his not necessarily revolutionary, but it is timely –  a reminder that publishers need to stop thinking of their readers as a broadcast audience. ‘“Like our Facebook page!” he said, “why don’t you try liking their Facebook page, and following your loyal consumers’ social media.”’ He told an anecdote of a friend of his utilising Amazon Prime to act on a purchase recommendation instantaneously. This is how the consumer of the future will buy – immediately, or not at all. Recommendations are everything. He and a couple of Twitter friends began recommending a particular brand of luggage – whenever they mention it now they’re capable of getting a number of online retailers to sell out within hours. It seems trivial, but connecting to influential readers (and book recommenders) is, I think, really going to be the future of book marketing.

I saw David Gosen speak next, from Nielsen, who peppered the audience with some fantastic statistics about the penetration of devices, especially tablets, in the UK, US and European markets. None of the information was necessarily game changing, but having it all in one place and from one engaging speaker was incredibly useful. Some of the topics he covered included the tendency of tablet readers to dual screen – 69% of tablet owners watch their TV while using their devices, and the majority of the information they’re looking up is unrelated to what they’re watching. Gosen urged the publishers in the room to get rid of the idea of ‘downtime’ – downtime no longer exists. Following neatly from Mitch Joel’s speed to purchase anecdote, Gosen said consumers want to fill all their time quickly and efficiently, and if you can’t do that then you will lose their loyalty.

This ties in quite interestingly with something the keynote speaker Bob Stein from the morning session said regarding social reading. Stein – the creator of the Criterion Collections – is launching a social reading platform called SocialBook. SocialBook will allow readers to share annotations, comment on each others’ annotations and buy special add-on content.  Contrary to expectations, however, this kind of social reading isn’t just for the time rich. The ‘glosses’ that Stein is selling as add-ons to books through SocialBook allow readers to get the annotations from an expert reading of a longer text – and therefore skim information intelligently. On the flip side, SocialBook allows deep analysis of individual pages or annotations for a book that a reader has a genuine connection to. These tools allow readers to connect with each other and connect to texts on multiple levels depending on the desired level of interaction.

There were plenty of speakers and a lot of interesting information to cover, but I’d like to end this post with the phenomenal talk given by Elizabeth Wood from Worldreader. Worldreader is working to give ereaders (at the moment they’re using Kindles) to kids and schools in sub-Saharan Africa. Wood reminded me how radically e-reading technology is going to change things. As she said, Kindles (and other e-readers) are approaching a zero price point. Imagine a world in which 200 million readers in sub-Saharan Africa get access to instantaneous (largely English) reading. They might not pay $8 for a book – but as Wood pointed out, they will pay something. This has a tremendous potential impact on world democracy and literacy and on the longevity of the book as a cultural object. It’s an optimistic time – and a great time to be involved in books.

The Critic in a Digital Age

So I saw Jonathan Franzen in conversation with Geordie Williamson at the Opera House earlier this week. It was, as many people who saw it with me agreed, a complete train wreck. But it underlined a really interesting distinction between old and new media that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since.

Williamson is the chief literary critic of The Australian, and is obviously a very intelligent, thoughtful and interesting individual. However, when it came to interviewing someone like Franzen in front of an audience of fans in a venue like the Opera House, his questions went down like a lead balloon. They were heavy, dense and literary – focused on the social themes of the novel in general and not the novel in particular (in particular Freedom, Franzen’s latest tour-de-force). Franzen kept trying to steer Williamson on to gentler currents, but the critic either wouldn’t or couldn’t change tack.

It would be simple to dismiss this as nervousness, or just an unlucky, bad interview (particularly as Williamson managed to accidentally call the author ‘James’ Franzen during his minutes-long opening monologue). And I’m sure it was both of those things. But I also think there’s something else going on.

Literary criticism has been losing ground to the internet for years, along with the rest of the standard newspaper. And by ground I mean audience share. People are more willing to listen to each other through social media than they are to experts. They are more willing to engage with amateur critics through blogs. The tools that the web has made available turns anyone into a critic and gives anyone a voice that can be heard anywhere in the world. Literary criticism alone no longer has the audience share by dint of the standard newspaper’s distribution network.

I’m sure most critics would probably deride this as a loss of literary objectivity with an audible sniff. And to an extent, that’s true. The internet is a shallow place at times, and most armchair critics probably aren’t delving deeply into the social conscience of the novel. However, blogging and other social media gives something back to criticism that has always been lacking from the art form. Bloggers are forced to engage with their audience. The humble comment form is a feedback loop that is capable of creating the most banal stupidity on the internet (see just about any YouTube comment thread), as well as some of the most fascinating, engaged critical thought I’ve come across.

Watching Geordie Williamson dig himself deeper and deeper into a literary hole on Tuesday night, I could almost feel him losing the audience. Audiences raised in a digital age are used to being paid attention to. It was clear Franzen could see it. But Williamson either could see it and didn’t care or couldn’t see it at all. Either way, that’s not a good thing for us or for him.

My question for you all today, if you feel like chiming in, is about the role of the critic in a digital age. Are they entirely irrelevant? Do you trust online reviews? Are you interested in the reviews in mainstream newspapers, or do you seek out the niche online? Sound off below and let us know.