[My Guest Post] Aspiring Authors Should Think Twice Before Marketing

Hi everyone,

Today on the How To Write Shop I posed a question about whether or not aspiring authors should start promoting themselves before they learn how to write.

This is one of my longer columns where I cover the difference between website visitors and readers, mention why it’s important to focus on your craft, and where some of the confusion might be coming in. Many of the topics I brush on might be uncomfortable for people eager to write their first short story and hopefully sell a ton of copies, but I felt it needed to be said. I’m seeing a heavy-handed focus on developing an online presence and how necessary it is to get online traffic, but for new authors I feel this is greatly misleading.

There are benefits and drawbacks to jumping in to online promotion when you don’t have the resume to back it up. However, you have more flexibility to experiment because you have nothing to lose. Many people want to be a writer because, on the surface, it appears glamorous. No set schedule, work from home, make a ton of money, etc. But there’s a lot that goes on in the industry outside of writing that eventually you’ll need to pick up on. To survive, you need to be flexible, disciplined, determined and thick-skinned. Not everyone is, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Like books, there are many different types of writers out there. I know some who are perfectly happy writing for a few small presses; others want their books in retail stores like Target, Wal-Mart, etc. As a result, their online promotional efforts reflect their goals and life as a writer. — SOURCE: When Should You Start Promoting Online? at the How To Write Shop

If you’re new to writing, I hope you’ll drop by and read my article today. After all, if you’re going to chase the rainbow, you’ll need to put your running shoes on first…

My Take on Pepsi Refresh’s Social Media Campaign Results

Hi folks,

Not sure if you’ve heard this or not, but this past week in social media news an article entitled Social Media’s Massive Failure at The Ad Contrarian made a lot of refreshing waves. (Pun intended). In the article, the author talks about how Pepsi spent millions of dollars on a social campaign wasted their money. Why? Even though the campaign was successful in every way, shape and form according to what a social media marketer might expect, the campaign didn’t result in higher sales for the company. Hence, millions of dollars “lost.”

I’m going to be blunt. “Well, duh!”

Now, to explain my position. First, social media has its own currency and that unit of measurement is not in dollars and cents. It’s people. Yes, people buy things. That is true, but social media has the word “social” in it for a reason. It’s not primarily about shopping, it’s about sharing. Ergo, unless you make the social media campaign about getting people to buy a new product, it is not going to automatically result in higher sales. From the articles I’ve read, it sounds like the people at Pepsi knew this and were willing to test what they knew about the digital space to see what kind of an effect it might have. For that? I say: “Awesome!” Sometimes it’s the only way you learn. However, it does make me question what their goal was in the first place.

So, let’s look critically at the Pepsi Refresh campaign and see if we can’t figure out why this didn’t result in higher profitability for the company. I go to Pepsi’s Facebook page which asks me to click to support. Okay, if you were to show me this page before the campaign even started I would have said: “You will not make money off of this.” Why? Well, on the first page we see the word “support,” which means I suspect this campaign has something to do with a charity. The requirement for me to do something good is to click “Like.” That’s it. (No seriously, that’s all you have to do.) Sure enough, when we get to the page we see that I’ve done a good thing and I am automatically rewarded with the information about all the good things that this campaign is doing. So here, to pay for the charity efforts you have to take an action. Your reward is instantaneous. Out of sight? Out of mind. Boom. End of story. Immediate action, instant pay-off, no long-lasting impression.

In this regard, I argue their social media was successful if you look at currency in context.

To convert Pepsi fans into revenue-generating customers, here’s how I would have approached this campaign:

Stick with the “do good things” idea because that is a great angle to take. Set aside concerns about the volume of Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers. Nine times out of ten, those concerns are unwarranted — especially for uber-big brands like this. When it comes to conversion, it doesn’t matter how many visits you get or how many fans you have. What matters is what percentage of those people will convert into customers. Social media is never a one-to-one relationship because it depends on the volume of friends and followers you have in addition to a number of other factors. There’s no guarantee that you’ll even see a campaign which is often why so much money is dumped into these efforts.

In this vein, I’d build the campaign from the end goal up. So, if the goal is to increase Pepsi’s revenue through engaging people to work with Pepsi on a charitable campaign, then you absolutely need a financial component. I would have done small scale testing in this regard before launching the super big mega millions of dollars initiative, by looking at different options. First? Send a Friend a coupon. Now, Mr. Customer, that you’ve done this wonderful thing by helping us commit an act of kindness, we’d like to help you get refreshed. You can either a) have this fabulous two dollar coupon for yourself or b) send two of these coupons to two of your friends. Your choice. Get refreshed. Second? Micro-payments!!! Also would require testing, but what if you could buy a can of Pepsi for charity? The amount per can would be clearly disclosed and you could pick where you wanted it to go. For something like this, you’d have to streamline the conversion process (PayPal, Facebook dollars, etc.) so it’s a one-or-two-click sort of a thing. (Hint: this is the reason why social media campaigns can work well because it’s all too easy to “Like” or “RT” without having to invest anything into it.) Imagine the power of that campaign. If you had even twenty percent of the now three million people who liked the Facebook page spend a dollar… That’s a lot of cash.

After the conversion, I would have an optional screen that would say: “Thanks for refreshing the world. May we send you a follow-up e-mail to show you how you helped [charity of choice]?” Here you get the person’s e-mail address and you send them one e-mail later on with whatever information you have. Then you give them another, smaller coupon for themselves and ask them to sign up for your newsletter.

In the initial campaign, the event occurs within a span of five seconds (I counted!). In my version, the event still happens quickly but the first option has a viral component, so you potentially double or triple the effect and potentially monetize a portion of the campaign. In the second version, it would take a little bit longer, but it would give Pepsi another opportunity to remind them of how they did this really great thing, building a memory or recurring instance. No, there’s absolutely no guarantee whatsoever these ideas would work, which is why I would encourage testing on a smaller sample within a geographic location or demographic to offer some projected data.

So can social media make money? Yes, yes it can. The success of Ian’s Pizza on State Street happened organically through social media; people wanted to feed the protesters here in Madison, Wisconsin, Ian’s provided the service, business increased exponentially. In other words, social media was leveraged by its customers, in many cases without Ian’s knowledge, to pass the phone number and make it easy for people to donate. Emotionally-charged, customers had a reason to buy and believed the only place they could go to was Ian’s on State Street. No, this wasn’t a start-to-finish campaign, but there is a lesson I feel businesses can learn from this. Social media facilitates the sale by incurring people’s emotion, but you still have to have something for them to buy.

That’s why it didn’t surprise me that the Pepsi Refresh sale didn’t (and couldn’t) generate revenue — because they didn’t ask for the sale.

Guest Blog on SFWA: Do You Know How to Sell Your Sword?

In my latest guest post on the SFWA blog, I discuss the sales cycle from an online and an offline perspective. Do You Know How to Sell Your Sword? offers you my perspective from working in online and offline retail, by providing you with a metaphor about a blacksmith who is trying to sell a magic sword.

The online sales cycle is a very passive one for retailers, because no matter how much any store owner may try — the seller is not in control. The buyer is. At a convention, for example, organizers will help facilitate traffic and flow based on the physical layout of the hall. For any website, a reader can access that store from any page because of something called natural or organic search; not “just” the home page.– SOURCE: Do You Know How to Sell Your Sword? on the SFWA blog

Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed for SFWA for more articles and updates. My next guest post will be a “hit list” for authors about things to include on a website, so stay tuned.

Usability: The Good (and Bad) of Facebook

Whether you’re a freelancer or an author, online marketing is key to making sure you’re putting yourself out there in cyberspace. One of the ways that I’ve done this is through Facebook.

The Good

What I really like about Facebook is that it’s pretty easy to set up and get Facebooking. Here’s my Facebook profile page. If you have LiveJournal, you can easily copy and paste your interests and other info to set up your page. Very easy to find and friend folk, just like in other arenas. My number one reason for using Facebook is the ability to share blog posts with your subscribers. I really like how Name of the Wind author, Pat Rothfuss, is using Facebook. See his Patrick Rothfuss Celebrity Profile Page, personal page, and the Pat Rothfuss Facebook group of fanatical minions. Online marketing at its finest, Pat’s personality really shines through.

The Bad

For me, Facebook can be a big time sink. Every app you put in you have to, or are prompted to, share with someone else. Groups are a great concept, but I’ve found that posting can be intermittent and not as successful as the ability to message within Facebook. Some of the apps are truly addicting, like the (fluff) friends application and can waste a lot of time if you’re not careful.

The Conclusion

So if you manage your time and use it right, I think Facebook can be pretty useful as long as you minimize your apps and choose the right applications to integrate with your blogging efforts. (That reminds me, I should probably scale back a few apps myself…) On a networking scale, I’ve made a few great connections and have generally found people to be very friendly, accessible, and fun.

10 Ways Writers can use Blogging for Marketing

Just yesterday, I posted an article about whether or not blogging affects a writer’s ability to write. I’d like to go into a little more detail, and cover my ten ways writers and freelancers can use blogging for marketing their work, building careers, and enhancing their professional “brand” personality. You may (or may not) agree with the points I bring up here, and I will always encourage you to share your feedback.

Blurred deeply behind these ideas, is the notion that a professional writer will understand copyright laws, contracts and, of course, agreements with publishers about what they can and cannot write about. If you’re not aware of these things, please read my When do writers need a copyright? article for more information and stay tuned.

No. 1: Build Excitement for your Upcoming Work

Whether you are freelancing for a newspaper article or you’re knee-deep in a romance novel, blogging about what you’re working on not only gives people an inside glimpse at your writing process, it also “soft-sells” your project. A hidden benefit to “soft-selling” is that readers are more appreciative of someone who doesn’t beat them over the head with the words “buy me.”

No. 2: Allows you to Promote Charity and Good Deeds

What better way to wade through the rants of the blogosphere by contributing something positive and uplifting? I mentioned earlier about Yasmine Galenorn’s contribution to the 2008 online juvenile diabetes auction; other writers have blogged about sites like do one nice thing (every Monday). Being public about community-centric involvements is good PR; even if you don’t feel comfortable talking about your good deeds, you can always admire someone else.

No. 3: Dispels the “Writers are Egotistical and Anti-Social” Myths

There are some of us out there who have days where we want to crawl into a cave with a pen, a notebook, and a flashlight to work furiously on a novel or a project. That doesn’t mean we are all socially-backward or have an ego the size of a small island, however. As I continue to learn through my day job, letting your personality shine through your blog allows agents, publishers, readers and potentially employers see you for who you are.

No. 4: Builds a Writer’s Community

If you think that readers only look exclusively at your work–guess again. Many reviews mention similar authors who write in your vein, or other products customers might be interested in. By exploiting that view, rather than hiding it underneath a stack of books, you take control of that aspect by choosing who you feel is similar. In my opinion, there is no better recommendation for any writer than from his (or her) peer.

No. 5: Encourages Fan/Reader Interaction

Some readers follow a writer’s work from the beginning through until the end. Loyal, buying every book (whether they enjoy it or not), if fans don’t have a destination to go “somewhere” to talk about your work they will create their own. In my opinion, blogs are better to start with for fan interaction simply because low-trafficked forums make you appear unpopular and your books unloved. It’s pretty easy to set up blogs to have someone else manage your comments as well.

No. 6: Mention your Upcoming Appearances and Events

Are you speaking at a local college? Going to a bookstore or convention? Interviewed by a webzine? Promote yourself by talking a little bit about where you’ll be and how readers can get more info to come see you in person. Linking to interviews helps promote other sites, shows you’re appreciative of the nod toward your work, and provides your readers with more info about you.

No. 7: Clarify Misunderstandings More Easily

Every author sometimes experiences a “faux pas” with their work; maybe a blown deadline, maybe a publisher killed the book. By having an official blog, you can support press releases and easily clear up misunderstandings that may occur–especially if your fans or readers only get a snippet of the real story elsewhere.

No. 8: Build your “Author Brand”

In today’s market you’ll hear “Tad Williams writes Aquaman comic” or writer contributes to “George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series. Publishers around the entertainment industry have discovered that well-known author names sell. If you, as an author, have any aspiration of sticking around in the industry, a blog can help you build your “author name brand” in the way that you design.

No. 9: Talk about your Interviews and Book Reviews

If you’re promoting yourself through traditional means, then you’re probably being interviewed or encourage reviewers to read and comment on your book. A blog allows you to acknowledge your interviewee and thank your book reviewers, but it also contributes to that overall “soft sell” for your product and your “author brand.”

No. 10: Offers you the Chance to get Instant Feedback

If you don’t have a blog, this point may take time as you build readership. If you do, there is no faster way to put information out there than the internet, especially if you are an author with some “weight.” If you’re curious about what your readers think, and are savvy enough to do it well, then a blog is definitely for you.

Monica Valentinelli > online marketing

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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