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I Call BullSh*t: Social Media Marketing is Easy

Dung-heapI’ve decided to start a new regular post call “I Call Bullshit”.  In these articles I will take  common themes, rules, myths, and legends about writing and publishing, and I will call out the bullshit behind all of them.  Call me the Mythbuster of the writing world. Unless that violates some copyright, then just call me Richard.

Anyway, one of my favorite sayings is, “I call bullshit.”  Why? It has so much more of a punch than, “I don’t think that is true. ”

This time around I tackle the myth that Social Media marketing is easy.  You wouldn’t believe how much I heard this starting out as a business owner, and now as a writer.  And on the surface it sounds easy.

Here are some of the things I have heard:

All you have to do is post a lot and people will follow you and buy your products.

Once you have followers, the word will get out about your projects.

If you write engaging articles, people will continue to read your blog.

Getting followers is easy.

Well, I call bullshit.

I am not a social media expert, and I think anyone who claims to be an expert better have some concrete evidence to this title.  But, I have used social media for my old security business.  And I currently use if for my writing, and for Plasma Frequency.  I am constantly on social media, not just for business but for personal use too.

First, simply posting doesn’t attract followers.  You have to post things that either engage your audience or entertains them.  And you have to get them to like it enough to share (or ReTweet or ReBlog) it to their followers.  And it has to be good enough that their followers than choose to follow you.  This can be excellent articles, a hilarious Tweet, information that your audience might enjoy, or anything like that.

Again, that sounds easy, but it isn’t. Lets look at my author account on Twitter.  I’ve been on Twitter for going on three years.  Not a long time, but I have almost 4,000 tweets in that time.  Or,  roughly four tweets a day.  That doesn’t sound like a lot and compared to others, I am a novice.  But, even still I can only think of maybe twenty tweets that actually gained mass popularity and directly resulted in adding one or two follower.  I know of only three tweets that directly brought on 10 or more followers.

Now, my blog on the other hand does tend to attract more followers with each post.  I usually get one follower for every three to four posts I make.  But, I have had some posts, such as my self publish one, that brought on a ton of followers.  And my articles on writing tend to draw more attention that my promotional posts (I’m getting to that).

I haven’t had a a follower of Facebook is ages.  Facebook is becoming the vast wasteland of social media marketing.  And I will get to that soon.

Now, posts resulting in purchases…. I hate to tell you this.  But I can not account a single sale on any product to Social Media posts.  Not one.  For one reason it is hard to measure that.  I am sure people see my book is out and go buy it.  But my guess is most of those people were going to buy it anyway because they know me, or know my work.  They just needed the reminder it was out now.  But, how many people have read this blog and decided they wanted to buy my book?  There is no way to really know that.

I will say, as a big time consumer of books, I have never seen a promotional post by an author I didn’t know and decided to buy it.  My promotional post I mean “Here is my book link.  Please go buy it.” Followed by a link.  Any why not?  Well that is a lot like a hard sale.  Imagine walking into the car dealership, which is already a hard sell location, and the first think the salesman said to you was, “Here is a car, please buy it.”  You probably would leave.  And I doubt you would buy the car, you know nothing about it.

The same is true in social media.  You need to get people to buy your books because they like what you have to say.  That means they like what you post on your blog, the Tweets you post, the Facebook things you share.  And then, only every now and then, you give them a reminder that you have a book out.  Or you integrate reminders through out your posts.  I often reference my books and my magazine in posts.  But not in a “Buy me now” way, but in an example or a causal reference.  Like product placement on TV.

And that takes a lot of work.  I go back through my blog posts to add these links you see.  I have to constantly update my website and blog to show relevant books.  And even still those only result on a few clicks.

Promotional posts are not outlawed.  There are several promotional rules out there.  Some say the one-in-three rule, or the one-in-five rule.  I personally use the one-in-ten rule.  That is that one in ten of my tweets or Facebook posts are promotional.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I count my tweets.  It is a general rule of thumb.

Lets say you are lucky to have a vast amount of followers.  I certainly don’t.  But maybe you are lucky.  You may actually be unlucky.  Here is why:

Facebook has stacked the deck against authors, especially broke ones.  It is a game of percentages. Not all those people will see your posts.  Not even half of them will.  Not even a quarter of them, unless of course you pay for that.  Promote your post and it will pop up everywhere and to everyone, even people not following you. But it comes at a price.  Of my last few posts on my Author Page, only 2.5% to 8% of my followers saw the posts I made.  On Plasma Frequency’s page it was a bit better, 9% to 41%.  Note, the 41% was on those posts that were shared by others (like when an new issue releases and all the authors share).

So here lies the problem with Facebook:  Getting Followers, and getting those followers to see what you post.  The solution, and the only one I know of, is to pay Facebook.

But I am a small press that doesn’t make a profit.  My books are not making a profit yet either.  I am unemployed, trying to make a living off of writing.  I don’t have “extra” money to pitch into a Facebook campaign.  And even if I did, a little research will show you that there are plenty of people who didn’t get much for their money.  And what would I have to pay to get all my posts seen all the time? My wallet just started crying at the thought of it.

You may be thinking Twitter is the way to go.  Sorry, to tell you that simply being free has not solved the problem.  Getting followers can be easy.  Follow a shit-load of people and so many will follow you back.  Then, I know people who go back and unfollow all the people who don’ follow back… I call bullshit on that too, but that is another topic.

Anyway, I see people with 5k followers and following 5k people.  I follow 400 people on my account.  When I go on Facebook, I can go back for an entire day and read all the post from a day.  Maybe it would take an hour, or two tops.  Go on Twitter, I can read Tweets for four hours, and only get about 3 hours down my timeline.  There are so many people out there shouting on Twitter that things get lost.  Some of my favorite Tweeters are constantly missed by me.  I find myself skimming over my timeline and bypassing any tweet with a link in it.  Anything that sounds like “buy me”.

And that got me thinking. If I am doing that with 400 people, what is the person who follows me with 5k other people they are following.  I can guarantee they are not reading Tweets by a small time author with sarcastic humor.  So while Facebook will tell you that they are not showing your posts to everyone.  Twitter is showing it to everyone, but I contend that just as few are actually reading what you Tweet.

And, WordPress tells me how many views I get on each article I write.  None of them add up to all of the followers I have.  In fact of the last ten posts, the readers number worked out to about 25%, on average, of my follower count.  And that is just the ones that clicked the link.  Not that actually read the article.

And if that is the case, simply having followers does not mean they are hearing about your projects.

Write engaging articles, Tweets and posts, and people will read what you write.  Well, what the hell is engaging? You can answer that for yourself, but not for other people.  It sounds easy.  Just write about writing.  Sorry, but every independent author and writer out there is putting out self help articles on their blog.

So what makes yours stand out from the crowd?  Your personality.  Certainly the fact that this feature has “bullshit” in it will mean some readers won’t read it.  But, it is also giving this article a bit of my own style.  Regular readers know that I tend to have a rambling, sarcastic, and sometime crass humor in the topics I write about.  Every single one of my blogs oozes with my opinion, and that gives it my own flair.  You can get my information anywhere, but my opinions and humor you can only find from me.

All that still doesn’t mean new followers.  They have to find your blog, Twitter, or Facebook before they even decide if they want to read what you say.  And while WordPress does well to attract new people to my articles, the rest is up to me.  It isn’t easy.  And, I can write one really good article, but not everyone is going to read it.

Finally, getting followers is easy.  Three years I have been fighting my way up to getting good quality followers.  And you see, that is the real trick here folks.  Getting followers is easy.  You can get thousands of egg avatar followers on Twitter, but those bots aren’t reading shit you write.  You can use programs to gain more followers, or be part of “Team Follow Back” and get thousands of followers quickly.  But they are not reading what you say, and that defeats the entire point of everything you’ve been working for.  Why write at two thousand word blog, such as this one, if no one reads it?  Why keep tweeting away when no one is reading them?  That is not an effective social media marketing strategy.  That is a scam of trying to make yourself look popular in the hopes that you might get more followers based on your perceived popularity.  It won’t work.

There is only one way to get quality followers on any social media platform.  Time.  Develop a strategy and stick with it.  Modify it as you find out what works, and keep plugging away.  I certainly get more hits to my blog now than I did three years ago.  My interactions on Twitter have gone up.  But it takes a lot of hard work.  Why do think major companies hire social media team members to manage their pages?  Because it takes a full time marketing team to really work on it.  And let’s face it you are only doing it part time around all the other jobs of being a writer, publisher, and/or editor.

To say social media marketing is easy is complete bullshit.  Like all marketing, it takes time, strategy, know how, and hard work.  It also takes the added step of being social and being yourself.  There is nothing easy about it.

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Do KDP Select Free Promotions Work?

Yesterday I did my first KDP Free Promotion.  For those that don’t know, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has an option to sign up for KDP Select.  This is a 90 day period where you allow Amazon (and by default Kindle) to be the only electronic form of your book sold.  Some people balk at the exclusiveness this implies.  But there are some pluses.  You get to be part of the Kindle Prime Lending Library. This means that people can borrow your book for free and in return you get a part of the collective “pot” of money.  I’ve not had any borrows yet.  Some authors have told me that you get more borrows for higher priced books, since prime users can only borrow one book per month.  I don’t know about that.

The other thing you get to do is pick five days per 90 day period to make your book free.  You don’t have to do that.  You don’t even have to pick the days when you publish your book.  You can go back and set up your days when you want.  You can do all five together or pick and choose a few days spread out.  The choice is entirely up to you.

As you probably saw in yesterday’s post, I made Dissolution of Peace free in honor of Veterans day in the United States.  It was free on all Amazon sites globally.  I did this for two reasons.  First, I wanted to see how well this KDP Free Promotions thing would work.  Second, I have a special place in my heart for those that serve in the armed forces.  It may even be why I enjoy writing military fiction.  So I decided to honor those people in a way that was important to me.

The real question is, do promotions like this work?

Success is truly something only you can decide.  But, I will show you what it did for me in just the one day since the promotion.  You can decide from there if it could be successful for you.

I would also like to point out that I did not market my free book on anything other then this blog, my Twitter, and Facebook.  I didn’t announce it on one the the many free eBook blogs.  I just spread the word myself.

Getting Books in the Hands of Readers

The point in writing a book is to have it read.  I’ve stressed that making money is not my goal in writing.  My goal is to get readers and maybe get a few fans who want to read anything I write.  So did the promotion get my book in the hands of readers.  With out a doubt it is a huge success in that fashion.

In Amazon US, I had about 19 times more downloads yesterday then I have had since my book was released.  Nineteen times more readers in one day then in the four weeks since my book was released.

In Amazon UK, I had 88 times more downloads yesterday then I have had since my book was released.  The UK was phenomenal in this free promotion.  I’ll get to more on that soon.

In Amazon Germany, I had 7 times more downloads yesterday then in the four weeks since it was released.

I even had my first download in Italy.

In comparison to other promotions I have done, this was by far the most successful.  My own eBook giveaways resulted in only around 10 free eBooks being given away.  This includes those sent to reviewers.  But if I wanted to get more readers, this was certainly a great way to do it.  They may not read it right away, I am sure there are people who just won’t pass up free, but there a whole lot more people with copies of my book now.  This means there are a lot more people in the pool to write reviews, tell their friends, and look for future titles I release.

Creating Awareness of my Book

This is a really hard thing to do.  Getting your book noticed by potential buyers is very hard for any author, especially the indie author.  You are fighting an up hill battle with major authors, major publishers, and the rest of the indie market.  It is not easy to be noticed.

One way to get noticed is on Amazon’s Best Seller Lists.  The thing that always frustrated me about many “help” sites that talk about these best seller lists don’t let you know the secrets to getting on the lists.  The truth is the secret is simply getting sales.  But Amazon does one great thing here.  The Best Seller Lists of the Top 100 eBooks sold is listed right next to the Top 100 Free eBooks.  Number 5 in sales is right next to number 5 in free.

This means that when someone is looking for the best sellers on science fiction ebooks, they are also seeing the best sellers in free science fiction ebooks.  You still have to get the downloads to get on the list, but you can get a lot of benefit once you get on the list.  If nothing more than getting the cover of your book seen by more eyes.

I mentioned how great the UK was in this free promotion.  The first time I checked my Amazon UK page yesterday was at 10:16 in the morning.  My book had only been free for ten hours, which is a fair amount of time, especially considering the time difference.  But at that point I was #48 on the Top 100 Free Science Fiction eBooks.  And by the end of the promotion I was #19.  In that time I had been on the same page as H. P. Lovecraft, Jules Vern, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and more.  I was even next to George R.R. Martin at one point.  That is some good company to hang out with, even on a virtual level.

UK Best Sellers of Science Fiction on 11/12/2012

In the US, it was a slower start.  This, in part, has to do with two factors.  First, the US site has a much larger pool of shoppers.  They include India, and many other places that don’t have their own sites.  But, KDP free events also start at 12:01 am Pacific time.  Right when most of the US is still asleep.  But by 12:45 pm, twelve hours into the the promotion, I was on the top 100 list at number 61.  And by the time it was over, I had made it to 28.  So while the UK really came through on the Best Seller’s list, the US still put me along side the great names of Science Fiction past and present.

 

US Best Sellers of Science Fiction on 11/12/2012

I would say that overall that is a successful way of gaining exposure to my book.  I don’t know how many people browse the Top Sellers list.  But I do know that I often look for books online this way.  So overall even if I didn’t get downloads, people saw my book cover.  And book covers are the brand image of books.  Like all brands, the more the image is seen the more it becomes known and in some cases trusted.

You might be wondering where my book ranked at in the over all ranking for Free eBooks.  In the US it was #779 and in the UK it was #425.  Not bad considering how many thousands, probably millions, of books are on Amazon.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth advertising is probably some of the best.  People often choose books based on the recommendations of friends and family.  While I doubt anyone recommended my book the same day they downloaded it.  I got far more downloads then I have Facebook, Twitter, and Blog followers.  This means people had to hear about it from other people.  So people were at least mentioning my book.  I also noticed that many people were downloading my book in the US before it broke on to the top 100 list.  So they had to find it some other way.

But this huge pool of new readers who downloaded my book will contribute to the word of mouth advertising that will continue to increase traffic to my book.  And will hopefully increase my sales volume.

Reviews

I don’t know if this will increase my reviews.  Before the promotion I had two Amazon reviews, and one Amazon UK review.  But, the increased reader pool also means an increased reviewer pool.  So that has to cause a higher chance of being reviewed. But only time will tell on this.

Increased Sales

Again, only time will tell on this.  But my point has never been to get money.  Some people see the free book giveaway as nothing but lost revenue.  But to date, nothing has got Dissolution of Peace in the hands of more readers than the Amazon free promotion.  I’ve never thought of writing as a way to make money.  For me it is has been about readers, and maybe making enough money to cover the costs associated with publishing it.  Would I complain if my book starts flying off the shelves?  Of course not.  That is the goal of most writers, but not for the sake of money but for the sake of the volume of readers.

From what I have heard from others, the sales will increase but that takes time.

Summary

I can’t really see it any other way.  KDP has hit a home run with the idea of allowing authors five days to make the book free.  And if you use those days through out your 90 day period as a promotional tool, you can really gather a lot of new readers.  And many readers who might not have otherwise picked up your book.  I’ll likely do another two or three of these free promotional things in the next few months.  I see nothing but success here.  And if I enjoyed this much success with limited announcement outlets, imagine if I branched out from my circle of followers.

Of course, many people are turned off be the exclusiveness of KDP Select.  They feel like they are excluding a market of readers that use other eReaders.  Personally I have had little request for ePub format.  But, 90 days is a relatively short time.  If you don’t like it, you don’t have to renew it.  Personally I think it is worth a try.

 

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