Much feedback after Monday’s social media blog post, hence a part (ii). See what this social media thing can do? You get to learn a few things, and refine a few ideas using something larger than your own brain – thanks all for your ideas and in some cases for happening to blog wisely this week on this very topic (I’m looking at you Justine Larbalestier). Thanks also for the commiserations re our cat. He was indeed an excellent cat.
Yes, it looked a bit negative from the point of view of authors starting out. Maybe quite a lot negative. Several, perhaps many, stats (and other numbers that look like stats) are no endorsement of social media – or at least social media numbers – as an indicator of selling power. To mention just some:
• the New Orleans pizza place talked about in the original Guardian article, which had a Facebook ad seen by 70,000 people and ended up with only one new customer
• figures from new media experts, courtesy of Danielle de Valera who tells me Seth Godin works on a figure of 50,000 followers leading to 23 products bought and Thomas Power works on a ratio of 10,000 to 1. I don’t know their methodologies, but I do know my way around a ratio and those, at a glance, are far from pretty.
The disappointment for those who wanted social media to be an amazing new selling tool is that they wanted it to be way better than advertising (and all the other old kinds of hype) and perhaps it isn’t. That’s a win, at least, for those who didn’t want it to be that.
But for those who did, or who were pushed here for that reason, why push on in the hope that it’ll work? Several reasons, perhaps. First, we push on for pushing on’s sake – we stay alive in social media because we want to be there, and get something else out of it. Second, we stick with it because of our dread of vanishing. But, for the third, maybe we need to get qualitative rather than just quantitative.
Here’s what I think.
If you’re Ronaldo and have 46 million followers on FB, the rules for mortals don’t apply. You can openly promote a product, the Ronaldo nation thinks you no less god-like for doing so and, because of the sheer inconceivable soc-med mass of 46 million people, even a lowish conversion rate still means a lot of sales. But no one turns up on social media as an unknown and uses it to make themselves into Ronaldo. He had a product to start with, and could then use it as leverage.
But let’s look sub-Ronaldo. Way sub-Ronaldo. Let’s look at authors who write books as a job, but aren’t grossing $10m a year and don’t have a massive marketing juggernaut behind them. If you’ve had products in the paid marketplace already and people seek you out on social media because of them, or stumble upon you and stay, you will not be working on a 10,000:1 sales ratio if you mention a new product. These people are already buying your products – you’re not converting them from scratch. After blog part (i) on Monday, I’ve heard from plenty of people who have bought Welcome to Normal after I tweeted about it on release. As one of them said, she would have bought it anyway, but first she had to hear about it. Because of twitter, she heard about it. However much effort authors and their publicists put into tours, it’s possible to talk yourself into a trance and for every word of it to be missed by some people who would happily buy your book, if only they knew it was around. Twitter, if those people are on board, tells them it’s around.
And blogging can tell them more – a lot more – than 140 characters. It’s ‘story behind the story’ time. It’s what we’ve been in the habit of doing in interviews, in a different medium and on our own terms. Some people are really interested in that stuff and some want to look the other way. What I like about blogging is it gives people that choice. But does it sell books and to whom?
For people who know they’re going to buy your next book, one tweet was already enough. For most of the world, whatever dog and pony show you’re prepared to mount won’t be. Besides, they’re not online at the moment, because there are three books in that 50 Shades of Grey series keeping them busy. But for some people maybe it’s like the feature article or radio interview. Your book sounds interesting enough to buy. You go from an outside chance to a maybe, or from a maybe to a purchase.
But the executive summary for the sub-Ronaldo group is that, if people follow you on social media because they’ve bought and liked your work, the nightmare numbers don’t apply. They want to buy your next book, and they want you to tell them it’s out there (while also, of course, wanting more from you on social media than just that).
Now here’s where it gets tough. You’re starting out. You’ve written the book but you haven’t yet brought it to market. Over the past couple of years, you’ve been building your platform. You now have 100s, maybe 1000s, of people hanging on your every tweet, and several shouting encouragement any time you blog. When the time comes to bring out the paid product, how will you fare?
Are you facing the ugly numbers? For a start, you’re not the pizza place with the Facebook ad. 80% of Facebook users, ie, people who see the ads, have never clicked on one. (Sadly I’m in the 20%, by accident. There I was one day messing around on FB and suddenly this Volvo ad takes over my entire screen. I’d mis-clicked. And, yes, it looks like I’m in the demographic they sell Volvos to. Along with potential hot ladies in my neighbourhood wanting casual sex, and penis medicines. I’ve noticed those in the sidebar way more often than Volvos, so it’s probably good my only mis-click was a car ad.) Most people don’t click and plenty of clicks don’t convert into more.
As Ewan Morrison mentioned in his Guardian article, a writer friend of his bought two months of FB ads, got 490 more likes and sold 3 books. (Perhaps each of those three buyers then became a loyal fan and gave him great word of mouth, etc, but it’s not encouraging as a raw stat). So, looks don’t necessarily mean likes and likes don’t necessarily mean buys.
Next, did you get your twitter followers by buying them, or by following 10 kerbillion people in the hope that 5 kerbillion would follow you back? Some news: those ones don’t count. Your mum might be impressed with the numbers, but you can subtract them now. Some of them are just follow-junkies, some are robots, some are long gone.
But did you get your followers and likers simply by diligent attention to platform development and by being consistently funny, charming, shocking, fascinating, responsive or whatever combo is your thing? Those people count for something, don’t they? They’re real and they want to be there, right? Well, yes. But they haven’t spent a cent on you yet. Will they? Some of them, but how many?
Here’s what we haven’t cracked yet. This is the black box no one’s yet broken into that would make social media a powerful selling tool. How do you build a platform and sell it for nothing, and then build something else and sell it for money, to the same people?
I don’t know the answer, but I at least think that might be one of the questions. For people who feel inclined to ask it, and seriously want to crack this. And if you do, you might not sell many copies of your novel but you’ve surely got yourself a dandy platform-building workshop that you can sell all over the place.
We could tie ourselves in knots with this. Let’s not. Instead of 20% writing and 80% marketing, let’s give the writing 80%, and give that 80% 100% of our effort while we’re doing it. Then let’s give the 20% our best shot – whatever that means, for each of us – and let’s be glad anyone’s listening at all, and buying in to the conversation. And let’s hope that something about that small but irresistible idea that got us started down the tortuous path to that story or novel clicks with a few other people too, and maybe even gets them talking, and that starts a ripple and the ripple becomes some kind of rideable wave.
Some new writers will break through. That’s how it’s always been. The next generation is already on its way. And the ones we buy and stick with and keep buying and keep reading will be those whose writing compels us to, for whatever reason. Sure, we’ll be glad they’ve got their platform, since it gives us something more, but it’ll be the stories themselves that keep them in business.