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A lot of these figures are coming from a study conducted by Deloitte and Beelinelabs: Tribalization of Business Study

How are companies measuring success? (in order of prevalence)

  • Greater awareness (50%)
  • Number of new ideas (43%)
  • More referrals (25%)
  • Increased sales (25%)
  • Others…

Biggest obstacles to making communities work (according to survey respondents)

  • Getting people to engage
  • Finding time to manage the community

This is an interesting point emphasised by the presenters. “Getting people to engage” implies that you are trying to get them to do something you want them to do, which belies the true dynamics of communities. Finding time to manage the community is similar, in that if you are getting the funadementals right, a lot of the work in managing a community will be done by the community itself.

How companies are incorporating communities:

  • Usually managed by marketing department, not a job for interns, take it (and resource it) seriously
  • 58% of survey respondents are spending less than $50,000 on community management
  • Investment in community building is relative, $50,000 may be ample if the fundamentals are right

Takeaway #1: Communities are about delivering game-changing results

  • Communities can increase revenue per customer dramatically i.e 50%
  • Communities will increase product introduction success ratios
  • Communities amplify everything you do – increasing effectiveness and decreasing costs

Takeaway #2:

(missed this one, was too busy twittering, sorry)

Takeaway #3: The need for new management thinking

  • Mismatch between community goals and associated investments
  • Major gaps between community goals and what is being measured
  • Communities have to combine with major talent initiatives
  • Communities will transform most business processes. (You can start communities without changing the way you work, but eventually it is going to impact on the way you work)

Takeaway #3.5 : The worst practices enjoy wide adoption

  • The build it and they will come fallacy
  • The let’s keep it small so it doesn’t move the needle phenomenon
  • The not invented here syndrome (especially applicable for newspaper and magazine publishers – people already have a vibrant social network on facebook, myspace, bebo, they do not want to rebuild networks on your site. Engage people where they are.)

Early predictions

  • Many community initiatives will continue to fail
  • Communities will eventually transform the role of the the CMO
  • Early adopters will force industry-wide changes
  • Companies will find out how to build predictable communities

Prediction #1 for publishing industry: Have your community cell-phone ready
(*Based on data from Deloitte’s “State of the Media Democracy” Survey, 3rd Edition)

  • A third of US consumers are using their cell phone to entertain themselves, over half of Millennials
  • Almost 50% of consumers, 40% of Boomers, and a surprising 35% of Matures are interested in ease of access to product information via product bar code scanning on their cell phone/hand-held
  • Although a very small percentage, almost 5% of every generaiton considers cell phone advertising as being the MOST influential form of online advertising

Prediction #2 for Publishing: Media will never travel alone

  • In order to optimize subscriber and ad revenue potential, media companies must create new product development and advertising strategies
  • Package of channels around content, not separate and distinct, but integrated, convergent

Prediction #3 for Publishing: You will need to provide the full capabilities of the digital media menu

  • Customizable interface
  • Personalized content
  • Personalized recommendations
  • Extensive content selection from all sources
  • Sophisticated content search
  • Active/Passive viewing
  • Free/Ad supported option
  • Supports multiple platforms
  • Same menu on each platform
  • Transfer content license across platforms
  • Integrated cross-platform builling
  • Purchase, rental, free w/ads
  • Off-line viewing
  • Single integrated sign-on
  • High speed, real-time streaming
  • High reliability
  • [Wow, that’s a lot to be ready for!]

Key message: “Social is embedded in everything.”

Bren MacDibble alerted me on Facebook to  some grumblings about HarperCollins’ Authonomy site.

Authonomy participant, Alexander McNabb, fought his way to a top 5 ranking on the site, spurred on by the promise that each month HarperCollins would read the Top 5 ranked manuscripts. What he got was not what he expected.

But the HC review of my book (next to the gold star on the book page) was slapdash and odd. And many other writers who’d got to the top of the ‘greasy pole’, as some called it, got the same feeling. Now, over 25 chart-topping reviews, five months, into the exercise, HC has not asked for ONE full read from a writer whose book reached the top, let alone taken anything further to any degree.

Yesterday, HC sent me a note offering me the chance to put my books up as POD (Print on Demand or Publish on Demand) books on authonomy. Soon, according to the email, all books on authonomy will be available as POD books but for now only ‘a few early adopters’ have been offered the opportunity – and a ‘gift’ of the first 10 books free.

For those who’ve not discovered it yet, Authonomy is HarperCollins UK’s social networking experiment for authors. Authors can upload all or part of their manuscripts to an online community. The best ranked submissions, based on the community’s votes, are read by HarperCollins editors. Members also have  chance to converse and swap critical feedback.

I’m not a member of Authonomy and am certainly not in a position to judge whether Alexander’s account is accurate. But regardless of whether HC editors are reading full manuscripts or not, the move toward POD sales of members’ books is disquieting.

My best friend‘s favourite adage is “It’s all about managing expectations.” HarperCollins have clearly encouraged certain expectations among aspiring authors flocking to the site.  Authonomy’s tag line is “Beat the Slush” which holds out to authors the promise of catching the attention of publishers who are seeking fresh new talent. In the original media release that accompanied the announcement of Authonomy, HarperCollins stated:

For aspiring authors the site is both a new route to publication with a leading publishing house and a genuine base from which to build a long-term following online.

Authonomy also reinforced this expectation on the site itself, both in the FAQs and in its own “HarperCollins response” thread on the forum:

We thought this would be obvious, but perhaps we need to spell this one out: Our editors _do_ browse the site looking for manuscripts that meet their requirements and if we like something we follow up directly. (To pre-empt the sceptical who seem to doubt everything we say – yes, we’re in dialogue with a number of authors from authonomy).

HarperCollins have at no point promised any author any outcome at all, other than to read the most popular content posted to the site. But all of these messages create a very strong expectation: that Authonomy was set up as a pathway to publication for aspiring authors.

If it’s true HarperCollins will now be offering members the opportunity to sell their work to the community via print on demand (presumably for a fee, or by ceding some rights and sales revenue), members would be justified in feeling their expectations have been betrayed. Many Authonomy members have posted their own reactions on the site’s forums. Here are a few:

“Authonomy has moved from potentially innovative to concretely exploitative.” Richard P-S

“Slow-moving slush pile is one thing… but captive market and preying on our desires to be published is another thing. It’s just cruel. Lulu already exists… and at least you know what you’re doing when you sign in there.” macdibble

“If I wanted to POD, I’d have gone (as I think Diane said) to Lulu by now. I don’t. I thought that, no, was led to believe that authonomy was a genuine effort to create a peer-reviewed, community based filter for publishable writing. And by publishable, I don’t mean POD.” alexander

I will emphasise not all responses from Authonomy users on the forums are negative ones. For balance, I recommend you read through the threads yourself to assess what the reaction has been, but to me it appears the majority of users (at least those bothering to voice their thoughts on the forum) are feeling misled.

At the heart of this anger and disquiet in the Authonomy membership is HarperCollins’ failure to understand online communities. Authonomy has all the trendy social networking bells and whistles. It’s got well-trafficked discussion boards and user-generated content. But social networking platforms at their most vibrant cede control to the community, they don’t (in fact can’t) hoard it for the platform developer. (Which is why Facebook is having trouble monetising itself) Authonomy users came to the site because of an expectation they were sold by HarperCollins. Having built up a successful community, those users don’t now wish to be told by HarperCollins to do or be something else especially when it’s transparently about making money for HarperCollins. Or, as put by an Authonomy member:

‘Hidden agenda’? How about a rollout plan that hasn’t been shared – an intent to create a site in phases without sharing with, or consulting, the people that populate that site? How about misrepresenting the site to those people as you do your rollout? What does that make you? alexander

I wonder what HarperCollins’ answer will be?

The other day I was discussing with an agent whether authors should hold back digital rights from publishers until the publishers could demonstrate they had the know-how to fully exploit those rights. Well, HarperCollins US have just taken a big step toward bolstering my confidence.

Forbes.com has reported that HarperCollins, together with 4th Story Media, are producing The Amanda Project, a cross-platform interactive story series targeted at 12-14 year old girls. Readers will not only consume but participate in creating and sharing the narrative via social media and games.

Amanda Valentino is the elusive, charismatic, and alluring new girl at Evansville Township High School who arrives mid-year, leaves abruptly, and indelibly changes the lives of everyone around her in the process. Her story will be told across a variety of media in addition to the books — a social website where readers can interact with and become characters in the mystery, a related series of blogs chronicling the story as it unfolds, clues and seed posts on satellite sites, downloadable music and official and user-generated merchandise. Amanda’s fate will begin to unfold across the web during the fall of 2008, through the launch of the T.A.P. website in early 2009, and continue into the publication of the first book in Fall 2009.

This is complex and ambitious and I’m really excited about it. I also think it’s aimed at the right demographic – socially aware, digital native teen girls with hyper-connectivity. Needless to say it’s been a long time since I was a 12-14 year old girl, but I look forward to participating when The Amanda Project is released.

HogeTown is deflecting criticism for saying that it’s not a smart idea to have a book launch and not tell punters where and when it is. He mentions my post on author platform:

Also, I’m surprised to see one launch being promoted as a mystery, where we have to keep an eye out for clues as to when/where it will be.  Sometimes there are reasons these things aren’t known a week out from the con. Often they’re out of the control of the publisher. It happens. But if that’s the case tell us and let us know when we can find out. Otherwise it’s just as likely we won’t come because we won’t know when the bloody launch is on! As Kate would say on Electric Alphabet, it’s not good ‘platform.’

I thought I would make a few points here. Firstly, this is not quite what I meant when I talked about author platform. The book launch in question is for 2012, a small press anthology edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Ben Payne from Twelfth Planet Press.

Arguably, Alisa has excellent ‘platform’. She is deeply embedded in the Australian speculative fiction blogosphere. Her online review site, ASif!, attracts healthy patronage. She is a prolific publisher, critic and blog journalist. All these things add to her platform, that nebulous term which describes a combination of profile, reach or influence to particular audiences. Attempting to exploit that platform in order to promote her new publication is smart, and exactly what I hope more Australian authors will do, firstly by paying attention to how they can improve their platform, and then thinking about ways to use it to connect with readers and book buyers.

Having said that, I don’t think it’s a smart promotional strategy keeping the basic details of the launch (time, place etc) a secret, not for a small press book launch at a science fiction convention. This is a function of the kind of event a fan convention is. At any one time there are several program items competing for punters’ attention, not to mention the social pull of the bar, the traders room etc. It’s a content free-for-all. Being subtle and clever in this context doesn’t make sense. If you want people at your launch, you need to tell them where and when and give them compelling reasons to be there otherwise they’ll plan to be somewhere else. I understand that Alisa is trying something different and new, trying to get away from the boring old formula for book launches by using vague clues to create curiosity, buzz and anticipation. That’s to be applauded, and without that experimentation, we won’t know if a different approach could be more successful. But it needs to be coupled with clear information about how the mystery will be solved, what the pay off is, how tension will be resolved for the punter. This is not, after all, an episode of Lost. There’s a clear end game: to sell books.

I’m reminded of the time we were in Edinburgh during the Fringe and the basic method of promoting the dozens of shows going on across the city every night was for people from those shows to walk the Royal Mile with flyers and signs and comic performances to attract attention. This isn’t as chaotic and random as it may seem. The performances were designed to engage tourists and create desire to attend the show, much like Alisa’s mystery clues. But there was still a tangible item – the flyer, the sign – which said where to go, what time, how much.

At a convention, like a festival, there many things competing for attendees’ attention day and night. Why risk those people being distracted or captivated by something else before you can deliver the most important information – how to attend the launch, how to buy the book. And at the end of the day, number of people who showed up and number of books sold are going to be the measures of success.

Speaking of viral platforms for promoting and selling books, at the expensive end of the scale HarperCollins is going all out on a promotional campagin for Prince Caspian in a “Read the book before you see the movie” push. Tools of Change for Publishing blog notes:

The Facebook and widget components are notable because they represent a clear effort to engage the target audience (kids) on familiar ground (social networks, blogs, etc.). Back in the day, a program like this would have been relegated to a microsite and maybe a few text ads. Now, the openness of Web 2.0 creates all sorts of new engagement opportunities — both for companies and the audiences they seek.

Given the extent of Alisa’s ‘platform’ which I mentioned above, and which is largely based in online social media, I wonder if a well-constructed social network campaign wouldn’t give a better payoff for her time and energy in promoting 2012. I’m not talking having someone program her own widgets of course, but as this Guy Kawasaki article notes, you don’t necessarily need the bells and whistles to make word-of-mouth networks work harder for you.

Richard Herley, in his first post on Teleread, is discussing why savvy literary agents will have new opportunities in the e-publishing market. It’s a fantastic post and you should read it and think about what he says.

However, one little aside he made caught my eye:

Let me digress a little. The reason that hardback houses hold such sway in the publishing world is that they largely control—or did control—the entry to the market. Of course, they also promote the books they publish, but, as any publisher will privately admit, even a big promotion budget is wasted on a third-rate book. Books succeed only if readers like them. Once readers know of its existence, a book is promoted principally by word of mouth.

One of the things I’m often telling emerging writers is to moderate their expectations of how many marketing dollars are invested by publishers in their books. New authors often have unrealistic ideas about how much promotional support they will receive, especially for a debut. They have visions of national publicity tours, signings, launches, displays and printed collateral. In reality, it’s more likely to be distribution of review copies, some targeted media releases and inclusion in the catalogue. Don’t get me wrong – done well, a thoughtful publicity campaign will yield just as much exposure for far smaller spend than a lavish marketing program.

But Richard’s observation has me wondering whether, secretly, one of the reasons publishers don’t bother to spend much on the marketing of (most) books is, not that they don’t have budget for it, but that they know it doesn’t really matter. In the end, reviews, interviews and ads don’t really prompt people to buy books and read them. People do. Friends and peers do. Social networks do.

Of course, if that were the case, I’d expect to see more effort (in Australia) in doing the things that might impact on word of mouth, rather than traditional above the line publicity and advertising? I’d expect to see every publisher pooling their marketing spend into building vibrant online communities. Some are – I think the social media components of HarperCollins Voyager Online have attract a really strong, if small, community. I guess I’m surprised not to see more of it, in a whole range of genres.

Sebastian Mary has posted a thoughtful essayon if:book, the blog of the Institute for the Future of the Book, unpacking the debate around the ideology of ‘literary’ and its relationship to the web.

This isn’t to suggest that there’s no room for ‘the literary’ online. Finding new writers; building a community to peer-review drafts; promoting work; pushing out content to draw people back to a publisher’s site to buy books. All these make sense, and present huge opportunities for savvy players. But – and here I realise that this all may be just a (rather lengthy) footnote to Ben’s recent piece on Hypertextopia – to attempt to transplant the ideology of the literary onto the Web will fail unless it is done with reference to the print culture that produced it. Otherwise the work will, by literary standards, be judged second-rate, while by geek standards it’ll seem top-down, limited and static. Or just boring.

I’m particularly interested in his assertion that the notion of literature is inseparable from print. It tallies with my experience of how authors and publishers they think about how digital media relates to their industry. The discussions I most frequently hear are centred on the web as a means for promotion, distribution, building and connecting with communities etc. In my professional role at QWC, I almost never encounter practitioners actually producing collaborative writing, alternative reality games, hypertext etc, and perhaps this is because these activities are not regarded as ‘literary’.

I need to ponder this a while longer.

And since we were talking last week about authors promoting themselves better on the internet I was all geekgrrl delight when ReadWriteWeb alerted me to Traackr.

The nutshell version: Traackr is a service that enables you to keep track your content on the web and measure its popularity and influence. The platform gathers together your content living in other social media accounts including MySpace, Flickr, Last.fm, YouTube and more. It then provides graphs and stats about your content such as number of view, comments and ratings. It also has a Campaign tool which enables you to bundle up your content in different configurations.

I absolutely love this. My early professional experience was actually in marketing and I have a bit of an obsession with being able to track and measure campaign success. Since authors are distributing more and more content on the web, often not in a planned way, it would be an invaluable tool to be able to assess how it’s being received and used.

Imagine an author who has a new book out – the Campaign tool would be an invaluable way to package together content about the book and assess how web users are responding to it. Several authors I know, such as Ian Irvine and Marianne de Pierres are experimenting with their own book trailers, distributing them via YouTube. Traackr could give them a more complete picture about how the book trailer has been distributed and consumed, instead of only knowing how many views it has received on YouTube.

Traackr is still in beta version and has a few kinks to be ironed out. I haven’t finished playing with it yet, but I look forward to its evolution and more services just like it.