A broad overview of social sites authors can use to amplify their book marketing campaigns
The simplest explanation of social media is that it’s media created by the users. Whether it’s copy, graphics, music, video, or anything in between, the users create and share the content. This varies from traditional media (e.g., The New York Times, NBC, and NPR), wherein media companies shouldered the responsibility of aggregating and disseminating information to the public. If you’d like a more technical explanation, HeidiCohen.com offers a list of 30 different definitions of social media.
People tend to use the terms “social media” and “social networking” interchangeably, but there is a distinction between the two. While Social Media Today has a
post about the allegedly vast differences between social media and social networking, I think the differences are quite simple: social media is the channel or mechanism you use to share information, and social networking is the process of connecting.
There are dozens of kinds of social media platforms, from broad general sites like Facebook to incredibly specific sites on myriad topics like the arts, cars, health and medicine, finance, pets, and real estate, to touch just the tip of the iceberg. Today we’re going to examine brief explanations of the most popular ones. Some of these may not fall under the literal social media umbrella (podcasting, for example), but they are all ways of connecting or sharing information that begin online, so I am including them because they might prove useful in your book marketing campaigns. [Take a look at traffikd.com for a comprehensive – but by no means up-to-the-minute or complete – list of social media sites.]
One thing that connects all of these sites is that they either require or offer the option to create an online profile. Most of these profiles include a field for a link to a website (or blog). If you are active on any of these sites, you’re missing out if you have not included a link to your site. Brand yourself well by using the same picture and, if possible, the same screen name (your book title or publishing company?) across all the platforms. Remember – this is social media, so a picture of you is preferred over an image of your book cover or logo.
Saddle up, ‘cause here we go!
ANSWERING QUESTIONS. Sites like YahooAnswers, Answers.com, and Quora enable users to ask questions and receive answers from those who allegedly know something about the topic. According to techie-buzz.com, “Quora is a simple site where you can ask a question and expect an answer from other community members. It is similar to Yahoo Answers … in that sense. However, Quora goes much further than this. Quora basically documents knowledge through questions and answers and provides users with an easy way to find it.
AUCTIONS. While eBay is the first name in online auction sites, others now proliferate as well. According to an article by Billings Farnsworth, “The History of the Online Auction,” eBay was the first online auction site. It began in 1995, when Pierre Omidyar sold his first item, a broken laser pointer, which “sold for $14.83 to a man who collected such objects.”
BLOGGING. We’ll talk in-depth about blogging in future posts. For now, it’s important to understand that blogging was one of the first forms of social media on the Web. It predates podcasting, Facebook, YouTube, and all the others. And blogging works, as long as you show up regularly, offer good content, use images with your posts, and interact with your readers and other bloggers.
BOOKMARKING. Social bookmarking is a way for Internet users to organize, store, manage, and search for favorite sites and resources online. Tagging, a significant feature of social bookmarking systems, enables users to organize their bookmarks in flexible ways and to develop shared vocabularies. Though one of the most popular social bookmarking sites is Delicious, StumbleUpon is my favorite. They provide similar functions, but through very different mechanisms.
BOOKS. As you may have gathered by now, each of these types of social sites has dozens of options from which to choose. Book networks are no different. Two I happen to like are BookCrossing and GoodReads. BookCrossing allows you to track a found book with a code (or leave a book in a public site and then see where it goes). GoodReads is one of innumerable sites that allow you to share your literary tastes, reading habits, quotes, and other reading-related information.
CLASSIFIED ADS. Certainly the mother of all classified ad sites, Craigslist began in San Francisco in 1995 as an email distribution channel for its founder, Craig Newmark, to share local events with friends. The site now has a presence in cities and countries around the world. If you doubt its utility as a social medium, let me just say that my husband and I met through a Craigslist post. You can use it (and other similar sites) to announce your events, hire people for your team, and follow conversation threads on your topic.
CONSUMER REVIEWS. In my experience, the most prolific of these sites are Yelp and Angie’s List – but there are tons of others around. Review sites have changed the way restaurants and other service providers do business, in that the consumer reviews often are posted instantly. The downside is that backlash can be harsh and difficult to overcome if someone posts a negative review. The best advice is to ignore the review, rather than engaging with the reviewer – which can escalate matters and never tends to show the review recipient in his or her best light.
DATING. Besides the online dating sites like Match and eHarmony, there are social networking sites where dating is the ultimate goal, but profiles and interactivity like quizzes and ratings proliferate. My only experience in these was with OKCupid – and it was fun enough, but geared for a much younger audience. Dating site or not, quizzes are a great way to interact with readers on thr subject of your book and potentially generate interest among new folks.
ENCYCLOPEDIA. Billing itself as “the free encyclopedia,” Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, encyclopedia project based on an openly editable model. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by largely anonymous Internet contributors who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles (except in certain cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism). Users can contribute anonymously, under a pseudonym, or with their real identity, if they choose. Information in Wikipedia articles must be verifiable via third-party sources, but once you make a name for yourself beyond your own website, you want to make sure to create a page here.
FACE-TO-FACE. The ingenious Meetup site is the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup makes it easy for a person to organize a local group or find one of thousands of already existing groups. More than 2,000 Meetup groups meet daily in local communities. Co-founder Scott Heiferman has said that the way people in New York came together in the aftermath of 9/11 inspired him to use the Internet to make it easier for people to connect with strangers in their communities. One caveat for authors: you cannot create a Meetup group to promote or discuss your own book. Get a friend or group of rabid fans to do it for you.
GENERAL. The social networking timeline is more or less: Friendster, MySpace, Facebook – which is poised to reach 1 BILLION users in August 2012. Though Google Plus is nipping around Facebook’s heels, it looks like “The Social Network” has a healthy enough head start to ward off any serious threats, at least for the time being. These general social network sites allow users to personalize their presence and share updates, written content, videos, images, music – pretty much anything that’s sharable. The average Facebook user has 120 friends and, depending on how each has set his privacy preferences, is able to interact with friends of friends – potentially expanding his or her network exponentially.
GOAL SHARING. Something of a subset of other social media platforms, goal-sharing sites like 43 Things allow you to set goals, see and support others’ goals, receive support for your own goals, and share how you accomplished them once you achieve your goals. Understandably, this site prohibits any postings that can be construed as promoting a business or service. “Write my book” is a common goal. You can even include a goal like “have my book reach best-seller status.” But you cannot directly promote sales of your book to other members.
INFORMATION AGGREGATION. Beyond simply sharing links, sites like Alltop and Squidoo (and dozens of others like them) allow the systematic sharing of information on particular topics. Alltop collects the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs on a particular topic, grouping the collections, or “aggregations,” into individual web pages. Squidoo is a popular free site that enables users to create single webpages (known as lenses) about their interests and recommendations. Users can even earn money for charity or themselves.
LOCATION REVELATION. I’ll probably never be accused of being a privacy junky, yet of all the social networks in the world, foursquare is the one I understand least. Users of this site “check in” at various locations with a mobile device and are able to find out (track?) where their friends are. Location is based on GPS hardware in the mobile device or a network location provided by the app itself. Many members use foursquare and its competitors (e.g., Loopt and Gowalla) for the discounts. Or perhaps you want people to know which bookstore you’re in for your signing or event – but use your common sense. If you live alone, don’t announce you’re leaving the bar to go home at 2 a.m.
MICROBLOGGING. With its 140-character limit, Twitter took blogging to a microscience. Smashing Magazine refers to Tumblr as “microblogging on steroids. Whereas Twitter and similar services limit posts to 140 characters or less, Tumblr lets you post updates of any length, although it’s best suited to short-format posts. Tumblr bridges the gap between full-blown blog and micro-blog.” Over the last few years, Twitter has emerged as a medium used in large part by the traditional media. It’s a great place to get quick glances into people you admire, want to meet, or who have shared interests. We’ll talk about it more in a future post, but suffice it to say for now that you won’t understand its power and potential until you try it.
MOVIES. If you’re a movie buff like me, you’re probably already familiar with RottenTomatoes and other movie review sites. Like many of the other sites mentioned in this post, RT allows you to log in via Facebook and share your posts directly on your Facebook wall. Such interconnectivity will make Facebook hard for any competing social network to overcome.
PHOTO SHARING. Some of the photo sharing mainstays include Flickr, Photobucket, and Picasa. These sites allow you to create public albums, copyright your images, or share your pictures privately, if you prefer. Related but different is the newest wave washing across the Web, Pinterest. Pinterest is a pinboard application that allows you to organize and share all the cool things you find on the web. People are using Pinterest boards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes, among a zillion other uses.
PODCASTING. Paul Dunay makes the excellent point for Marketing Profs that podcasting, while a social enough means of sharing information, is not technically social media, because “it is only when you get involved in the conversation that it becomes social. … Take it from me, I have personally recorded and hand-edited over 100 podcasts … and I can safely say they don’t get the level of interactivity (read, comments) like my regular old blog posts do.” For a comprehensive list of podcast directories, hit up podcastingnews.com.
PROFESSIONAL. While LinkedIn cornered the market for online business networking, Ecademy is doing a similar job on a much more international level. LinkedIn has great groups, resume boards, job boards, and other features of interests to professionals and job seekers. Even if you’re an entrepreneur, writer, or someone who has not held a “job” in many years, it would behoove you to create a complete LinkedIn profile, if only for the added exposure. Not to mention that its database ranks well in the search engines, and you never know who you might meet with an interest in your book, your topic, or you personally.
RETAIL. No one would question that Amazon has become a behemoth in online retail – not just books, but almost any product imaginable. However, there are other retail outlets geared at creative types. Zazzle, CafePress, and Etsy are among the myriad sites that allow artists to create and sell their own products. While Etsy has a much more juried fine arts and crafts-show essence, Zazzle and CafePress have a mechanism for creating basic things like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, and greeting cards. If you can keep your fee to just $5, you’ll want to check out Fiverr, a site that will allow you sell anything in the world (songs, eBooks, instruction manuals, personalized golf balls, jewelry – literally, you name it) for five buckaroos.
SOCIAL ACTION. Sites like VolunteerMatch enable visitors to find volunteer opportunities and organizations to recruit helpers. Care2, on the other hand, puts users in touch with all sorts of social causes. Paired with more traditional social sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, these sites are revolutionizing social action in America and around the world.
TRAVEL. Sites like TripAdvisor enable travelers to plan and experience great trips. Offering advice from real travelers and planning features with links to booking tools, TripAdvisor sites are said to make up the largest travel community in the world. Similar – but with a focus on study-abroad programs – is StudyAbroad101, which promotes global citizenship by fostering the most meaningful study-abroad experiences for students and offering recruiting mechanisms for study-abroad program administrators.
VIDEO SHARING. If you’re not doing it, start. As the second largest search engine, YouTube is a place you want to have a presence. Additionally, AMD Web Services reports that video results appear in about 70% of the top 100 listings, the type of content most often displayed in universal or blended search results. (Marketingweek, 2011.) According to Rossiter & Co., People who view a web video are 64% more likely to purchase than other site visitors. (Comscore.) The best option is to host your own video so that every other video with similar tags (and audiences) doesn’t show up when people watch yours – but any video is better than no video at all.
WRITING. There are probably thousands of places to share your writing online, but here are a few sites I like quite a lot: Figment, an online community where you can create, discover, and share new reading and writing, follow your literary obsessions, and find fans for your work; 10 Day Book Club, an interactive manuscript development process that shares writers’ voices through a unique virtual book club format; Helium, a citizen journalism outlet offering a platform for writers to submit articles on topics about which they are knowledgeable; and Ficly, a place to play with storytelling in a collaborative environment where anyone can pick up a narrative thread and weave a prequel or sequel.
If you have a special interest, haven’t found the perfect social site yet, and have a lot of time on your hands, Ning offers you a means by which to create your own social network. I would be the last person to discourage you from trying – but if you do it, be prepared to put your heart and soul into. Remember that your readers are being drawn in a thousand different directions, so your site has to be active, dynamic, and interesting – with something unique that gives visitors a reason to keep coming back, and inviting others to join.
Lastly, it takes a lot of time to manage and maintain memberships in just a handful of these sites. One site offers an easy way to automate your posts. Ping.fm is a simple, free service that allows you update your status across many social networks with one click. Personally, I choose not to employ it because I understand that the users of each social site are different, and one-size-fits all posts generally don’t work. Would using Ping be easier? Of course. But as it stands, even if I don’t know each friend or follower on my social sites personally, I have qualified them – and when I post content or interact with them, they are getting it from me because I want that content on that site. If your choice is between using Ping and not doing it at all, I say use Ping. But where you are able, be present in real time.
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