From the show-of-hands in response to Kingston University Masterclass speaker Jon Reed’s opening question, it was clear from the start of his recent social media lecture that students were in for a timely and highly-relevant talk.
Last year about half the room of MA Publishing students stuck their arm up to indicate that they were ‘on Twitter’; this year the whole group held their hands aloft. It’s not just Kingston students who have joined the Twitterati; social networks are growing everywhere you look:
- In June 2012, data analysis company Semiocast claimed Twitter had 500m users
- In August 2012, LinkedIn announced it had reached the 175m mark
- In October 2012, Facebook celebrated 1bn ‘active monthly users’ as well as becoming the highest trafficked website in the world.
If everyone’s on social media, it’s easy to see why publishers should be too: to make themselves and their products findable, in the places where their readers spend most of their time. But that’s not the only reason, says Jon. While every company spends time and effort concocting effective online marketing plans, publishers have two distinct advantages: they themselves have valuable content they can usefully share, and their readers already use the web to buy and talk about books.
Instead of just being on social media for the sake of it, or producing ‘viral’ campaigns prompted by sneezing pandas or finger-biting babies, publishers have the assets to provide quality pass-on-able content that is truly useful to their target audience. And if you can drive your social media followers down what Jon describes as the sales funnel, a portion of them will end up becoming loyal customers. Loyal customers, of course, are rather useful on social networks, since they’ll share your content and support your brand in their own communities.
Just like developing a new publishing product, developing a successful online marketing plan is all about knowing your audience. If you know where your readers are, you can choose the most effective tools to reach them; if you know what they’re interested in, you can select the most appropriate content to share. This distinction between ‘outreach’ tools and ‘content’ tools is a key aspect of Jon’s approach. He classifies social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest as outreach tools. They’re not much use unless you partner them with a piece of content, such as a blog post, a video or an image. Or, looking at things another way, the content you want to share isn’t much use unless you get on a social network to promote it.
Doing any of this, though, isn’t much use either, unless you have clear aims and objectives and a clear call to action for your audience. What, asks Jon, do you want people to do? Are you driving them to your website, getting them to share their email address with you, or prompting them to click on a ‘buy now’ button? If you want people to give you something (whether that’s money or their data), you’ll need to provide an incentive. Jon himself built up a sizeable email list by offering a free downloadable Twitter Cheat Sheet in return.
Listening to a man who has almost 250,000 followers on Twitter (under his alter-ego Publishing Talk), you could be mistaken for thinking social media was a piece of cake. After all, the tools are free, and the followers are ever-growing. However, Jon is careful to point out that the time commitment is costly and that the barriers to entry for some tools (for instance video) can be pretty high. There’s also a danger of getting the tone wrong, especially when large corporations try to manage things. In fact, individuals and small businesses might find it easier than the big guns, as Jon explains in this interview with Kingston University Journalism Lecturer Adam Westbrook:
Overall, though, Jon tempers his claims about the power of social media. While other commentators are railing against the hype linking social media to supposed self-publishing success, Jon sticks to sharing solid, practical and outcome-oriented advice. I’ve blogged before (both here and here) about Jon’s generosity in sharing what he’s learned over many years, making life easier for the rest of us in the process. His latest visit to Kingston was no exception. Jon isn’t just an expert on sharing content via social media, he’s a natural born sharer himself.