Let me set the scene. It’s a Monday, about 4:45 on a sweltering summer afternoon. It’s that time of day when you’re still working but the heat is starting to get to you, and your other colleague is leaving early, so you give yourself permission to take a five minute break and look on twitter and… The next thing you know it’s an hour later and you’ve only just managed to pull yourself out the Tumblr hole you fell into. Plus you’re £11 the poorer and payday is still a week away.
I blame Alana Whitman.
See, Alana retweeted this which lead to this, and the art was just so good (in particular this caught my eye), and I figured any author that inspires this much love and creativity in her fans might be worth a second glance.
So I followed the link-brick-road to Rainbow Rowell’s tumblr.
Along the way I got sidetracked by Tamora Pierce’s tumblr. Yes, Tamora Pierce has a Tumblr. The real Tamora Pierce. *Nods* Go, I’ll wait here whilst you go roll around in that glory like kittens in catnip.
Back to Rainbow Rowell and her rather awesome Tumblr.
It is the Tumblr of someone who is actively engaged with, and clearly passionate about, her readers and fans. I found her voice delightful, the things she reblogged made me smile, or think, or both. Her fans were witty, talented, and informed – it takes a solid talent to come up with this Hobbit/BBC News mashup. And (without struggling too hard, I will admit), I found myself in love with her world. Before I knew it, I’d followed yet another link and was buying a copy of her book, Fangirl. Not just any copy either, oh no. I was buying the fancy hardcover special edition. In all it’s pink glory (oh my gods, it’s so bloody PINK!)
Had I read a single word of the book before I purchased, like a sample chapter? No (beyond snippets in the fan-art). Has anyone I know read the book and recommended it to me? No.
I’ve gone on record about how I feel about book recommendations. Plus I really don’t like spending hard earned cash on a book I hadn’t even heard of an hour ago, let alone the fancy-pants hardcover when I could get more than 50% cheaper as an ebook without having to wait 2-3 days for delivery.
So what made me this time?
It all comes down to a masterful use of social media, in particular Tumblr. Without hammering me over the head with BUY ME!!!! messages, I was sold. There are no links at the bottom of each post asking me to buy the book. Yet I bought it.
As I said, a masterful use of social media, because I don’t think it was ever planned to be a masterful use of social media. It is genuine.
The cynic in me cries out that this could be a masterful use of social media by a very savvy PR team at the publishers. If this is the case, which I sincerely doubt BTW, my hats off to you. I don’t begrudge the sale.
Because people say social media is easy. People are wrong.
Yes, the entry (and cost) points are low, but the only easy thing about it is how easy it is to do badly. It’s damn hard to maintain a group of followers, keep them entertained, engage in conversation, build a profile, all the while retaining a coherent voice and identity, let alone keeping a rabid fan-base happy. People have the online attention span of a brain injured goldfish these days.
It’s not just one blog post, or some tweets, or a facebook broadcasting updates. It’s building all of these, and other, tools into a constantly evolving web of conversation, across a multitude of channels. It’s grabbing my attention before I’m seduced away by the next Benedict Cumberbatch gif.
It’s luck. If I’d looked at tweetdeck 30 seconds later, I’d have missed the retweet that started everything.
To be good at social media (where good = building and maintaing an audience) you need to embrace both the permanence and impermanence inherent in the internet. What I tweet now is broadcast then forgotten, but people read on a time delay, they link to archived content, a conversation you thought closed suddenly spawns a new hydra-head. And you have to keep up with it all. It requires time, and energy, and is intangible because no one can possibly track what influenced a particular sale.
Unless it’s the sale to a slightly bonkers publishing blogger in Oxford, but that’s by the by.
It’s stupidly tricky to do an ROI (return on investment, yes I do know what I am talking about ) on a full social media campaign. You can try, with trackable urls and cookies and google analytics and other fancy thingamajigs, but there still comes a moment in a sales meeting when you have to justify sending 100 proofs to book bloggers on the off chance they might generate a sale or three.
Social Media is word of mouth. It’s the newsboy on the street corner shouting the headlines. It’s the Regency ladies in their drawing rooms a-twitter about the latest three volume novel. And it isn’t a campaign that you can give a month to and then focus on something else. Fangirl isn’t Rainbow’s current book, but if I like it I’m sure to buy her other stuff (power to the backlist!!!). Part of what makes her Tumblr, and Twitter, so engaging is that they have history. They’ve been active for a while. It’s safe to fall a little bit in love because you know they will be there in the morning.
You can’t quantify it. Ten tweets doesn’t equal one book sale. But sometimes one Tumblr post can.
(I didn’t start this post intending to rant about social media and marketing and communities, but that’s where I seem to have ended up. It’s clearly where my head is right now. )