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How publishers can sell more effectively via social media

March 28, 2012
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Social Media - now essential to publishers in the digital world

Publishers the world over know that when margins are tight you need to make sure your marketing’s profitable. Yet many publishers continue to invest in marketing activities which are unmeasurable or which are not being measured. Social media is a great example of how publishers can engage consumers with their brands – and yet many, many publishers simply fail to make social media work for them.

In this great post from Mike Stelzner’s Social Media Examiner, a number of options are outlined for how social media can leads into sales. Let’s look at each of these in turn – and how they can work for publishers.

Before we begin, author Nichole Kelly asks the question “do fans mean business?” and cites the difference between B2B and B2C. As a consultant to both the B2B and B2C sectors, I can say categorically that fans do mean business for both B2B and B2C – provided that your social media actually engages with your target audience.

Implicit in this is that you need to understand your brand and what it means to your consumers. That’s easier said than done (although I am happy to run brand workshops for clients who need to understand and develop a brand strategy). Brand “personality” and values drive interaction; this must never be understated.

1: Understanding the sales funnel in a publishing company

Mike argues that social media lets you get in first ahead of the competition. Well that’s right – provided you have an active social media strategy. I’ve been looking at publisher social media initiatives a lot recently and, excluding those you would expect to have heavy brand equity (e.g. the Economist or the Financial Times), many publishers just don’t get it.

Indeed, many use a Wikipedia page, hoping to accrete “fans” from a page which never changes. Others simply use social media to announce new editions. This is not engagement – although, interestingly fans do grow – which means that people WANT to engage with publishers but publishers don’t know how to do it! Many other publishers don’t even bother at all…

Successful publishers have growing fans and engagement levels talking about not just what the company produces but what it’s values are, what it stands for and where it is heading. Consumers identify with shared vision. Which makes it all the more surprising that many publishers don’t see the potential of social media as a lead generator – indeed, many see Facebook as something they have to do but are not quite sure why.

This approach just replicates more of the old-style “promotion” type marketing. But this sort of “marketing” just shackles such publishers ever more to relying on third party retailers to sell their books at punitive discount levels. Fail to understand and own your brand and others will do it for you. So in terms of “know your sales channel”, I’d argue that publishers need to know their brand and then shape a persuasion journey to an architecture which they – not retailers – will control.

2: Optimising path to conversion

Publishers who for many years have relied on the trade – or indeed on Amazon – need to understand that social media permits a type of marketing which many of them might find inappropriate: direct marketing.

Subscription publishers and membership organisations have for many years used direct marketing successfully to engage with consumers and to sell to them. Direct marketing gives trade publishers something new in their arsenal: to know what they are spending and what they are getting back. ROI, for the first time, rears its head in trade publishing.

So here publishers need to ensure that links within their Facebook page take the consumer to where they want them to be. This may be a sale, or it could be a focus group, competition or other area of brand engagement. Crucially though, the process must be easy for the consumer and – equally critical – the publisher must be prepared to engage back. Most crucial of all – the journey must be much subtler than you might expect (see point 4 below).

Publishers who have not been involved in direct marketing before now need to learn the importance of message, communication, brand touch points, and persuasion architecture.

3: Opportunities for Soft Conversion

As we discussed above, engagement is crucial but not everyone wants to buy. Nor, indeed, should they. Direct marketing professionals such as myself know this old mantra like the back of our hands: keep promoting umbrellas and one day it will rain.

What this means is that by remaining relevant to your consumer, one day they may turn to you for a purchase. They may already have an umbrella but one day it will break so the marketer’s job is to make sure the consumer turns to you. This is why brand – and brand consciousness – is so crucial.

And for publishers, there is nothing easier than encouraging sign up to your email newsletter. If a publisher can’t write a newsletter to its own target audience then who can??? Publishers are guardians of literature, right? Personality is key to persuasion and here’s a typically-engaging example of softly-softly nuance from Alastair Sawday. I hope Alastair and Toby don’t mind – I’m just trying to get them to invite me for one of their great coffees down in Bristol while sitting outside by their pond!

4: Nurture the Social Media lead differently

Image of Sawdays books

Alastair Sawdays - a brand which fits in well with the social media world now shaping publishing.

Social media is about engaging with friends and building trust. Trust-based marketing and trust agents are now crucial to effective marketing. I have argued many times on A Brand Day Out that brands must be about inherent truth: demonstrable by fact and not by arch persuasion.

Again, reflecting on the Alastair Sawday presence, I know from experience that for them this isn’t a marketing conceit – their social media presence is actually what they’re like. Alastair would never subject a customer to the hard sell – he’s all about sharing the joys of life. The Sawday’s brand therefore has demonstrable truth.

Your company will need to learn how consumers behave during these periods of communication to understand trigger points of interaction. In developing a knowledge of a corpus of consumer interaction over time, you can begin to understand core statistics: new fan accretion; engagement interaction; site visits; product reviews etc.

You can start to tailor suites of pages within your conventional website designed to showcase your publications and, with digital capability, you can also provide product samples so that consumers can “try before they buy”. By engaging in “show and tell” rather than “show and sell”, longer-term brand relationships will be nurtured and this can only mean brand loyalty, new customers and referral business too.

5: Social Media Campaign Measurement for Publishers

Effective marketing means measurement, feedback and control. Social media is no different to any other kind of marketing but for book publishers who have not engaged in direct marketing and campaign analysis before, it can be daunting. Nichole Kelly cites the following 5 metrics for analysis once you have installed appropriate tracking using Google Analytics:

  • Cost per impression
  • Cost per engagement
  • Cost per soft lead
  • Cost per hard lead
  • Cost per sale

But costs are only one element of measurement. In addition, I would also structure social media to have growth targets for “fans” and for those “talking about” so that you can understand levels of engagement. Equally, you can then start to assess conversion rates from social media and from specific activities so that you can measure and test marketing initiatives more effectively.

Ultimately, for publishers, a strong brand makes the difference between survival and failure. A strong social media presence is today not just a “nice to have”; it’s a “must have” part of the strategic marketing and brand positioning arsenal.

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