Don Draper makes advertising look easy when he swoops through a briefing in a cloud of cigarette smoke and whiskey vapour, dazzling his clients with brilliant ideas before returning to his office to count some fat stacks and look smug about the whole thing.
And that’s a nice little piece of drama. But there’s a great deal more to the story than that and, unfortunately, it’s quite easy to find examples of authors (particularly indie authors) who aren’t quite hitting the target with their marketing activities. Nowhere is this more readily visible than on social media. These sites are both powerful and free marketing tools, two facts which make them common pit stops on the road to becoming a best-seller. Using social sites to market yourself effectively isn’t quite as simple as common sense might dictate and a little help getting it right could save you a world of disappointment in the long run.
So you want to use Facebook and Twitter and all manner of other social sites as an author. There are a few things that need to be said up front to address the most common misconceptions I have come across. The following apply equally, no matter what platform you are using:
1. Effective social media marketing looks effortless and is inconspicuous – as soon as you have to outright tell someone that you’re cool, you’re definitely not (and you run the risk of being obnoxious).
2. Social media is not the place to sell your book; social media is the place to interact with a community of your followers (d) in a meaningful way.
3. Community building is a long-term game, while there are ways to buy followers or tricks to gather them quickly, an actual, useful core community takes time to build and will require a significant investment of your time. Keep your expectations in check and don’t give up too early.
4. Social media is just one part of the whole. Creating a lonely author page on a singular site and expecting the followers to roll in is an exercise that guarantees disappointment. Your presence needs to be wider than that, and it needs to be managed constantly. If you aren’t going to actively manage your presence then don’t bother; it speaks poorly of your brand as an author to neglect social media pages after having at least gone to the trouble of creating them.
With these things stated up front, let’s move on to how to use social media to help build your community and spread your online presence. Specifically, we will be look at Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads as they are probably the three most helpful sites to budding authors.
Facebook is easily the single most useful free social media platform that an author can use to complement their online presence. By 2016 the site will have in excess of 1.5 billion members (1) and it is the second most popular website in the world (2) behind Google. And those aren’t idle numbers. Of those 1.5 billion members, all of them are active accounts that log in at least twice per month (3). If that isn’t enough of a potential audience to tempt an author to use Facebook then nothing is.
So, you have all of those people within your reach, now how do you get them to take notice?
1.1 What to Post
There is a really good reason that there are entire career paths dedicated to social media within the marketing industry. Knowing what to post on your Facebook and Twitter accounts is equal parts art and skill and getting it wrong can very realistically cause followers to leave your flock. So, let’s revisit our second precept from up above:
Social media is not the place to sell your book; social media is the place to interact with a community of your followers in a meaningful way.
This precept in particular is important to remember. Users do not log in to Facebook to be the target of advertisement; they log in to keep up with what their friends are doing and to be entertained. Constantly promoting your book is a very effective method of getting people to unfollow you permanently. Additionally, unaided, the maximum organic reach (e) of your Facebook posts is 16% of your Page Likes. So, until you have thousands of Page Likes, your unpaid promotions only reach a relatively small number of people, which greatly reduces the conversion rate (a) you might hope to see when advertising to a larger number of people. Those that do see your promotion will not be swayed to the point of purchase in any case (4).
Instead, posts you make should fall under one or more of the following categories: Entertaining, Original, or Informative.
Anyone hoping to build their brand on Facebook should be in the business of entertaining their followers. Users respond to posts that are relevant to them in some way, and the easiest way to make your posts resonate with the people who see them is to use humour. That means sharing funny cat videos is actually better value for the standing of your brand than you might assume. You should stay on-message of course. If your online personality isn’t the kind that would share the latest viral videos then don’t break character just to chase followers. There are many ways to be entertaining or humourous that fit in with your particular brand. If you personally find something amusing then there is a good chance that your followers will agree.
Apart from using humour to connect, providing information or sharing useful links is a good way to do something that your followers will resonate with. For example, if you read a useful blog post by someone else, come across a timely piece of news, or find a website that has helped you in some fashion, then you may consider posting about it on Facebook for the benefit of your followers.
Whatever you are posting, the end goal is to maximise the level of Engagement (c) that your posts gather. Engagement is an important measure on Facebook. Even though the organic reach of a post you make is capped at 16%, that rate does not apply to users who have not already Liked your page. If your followers engage with one of your posts, then their own friends can see that activity, and thus your post is then shown to a wider audience. High engagement begets high post reach (e), which helps to increase Engagement, and so on.
1.2 Maximising Engagement
Maximising your post engagement is a matter of experimentation as there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The algorithm that determines what each person will see in their Newsfeed is highly complex and constantly updated. Authors who wish to get the most out of their Facebook page will need to try different things and monitor the results constantly. To get you started though, there are a few broad methods that can get you noticed.
1. Posts that include links (using Facebook’s automatic link format) (6) or pictures receive significantly higher Engagement rates than plain text or video links (7). Do not eschew either of the latter entirely as they still have their place and a well-timed post can do lots of work for your brand whether or not it is plain text.
2. Invite engagement by asking questions, hosting competitions, and responding to the people who make the effort to comment or otherwise contact you. Be aware that actively asking a question while you only have a small number of followers may be met with only the chirping of crickets. If you pose a question and get no response, perhaps wait until you have a larger follower base to try again.
3. Time your posts well. Timing is critical in social media. Something posted at the wrong time of day, or the wrong day of the week, might meet with absolutely no response where it would have garnered much more interest had the timing been better. Research for exactly when the best time to post varies greatly because everyone designs their experiments differently. Personal experience says that the best days of the week are Monday through Thursday, and the best times of day to post are 8.30AM-10AM and/or 1PM-2PM. Users tend to visit Facebook when they are at work first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon as their attention wanes. Morning posts perform significantly better than afternoon posts.
4. Post frequently. The number of posts you make per week is just as important as the rest. Leaving it too long between posts negatively effects your relevance to your followers, while posting too often can do the same. Three or four posts made per week, each on a different day, is a good number to aim for, though one post per week is an absolute minimum.
The sum of all this advice is this: choose your post content and timing carefully. Humourous or entertaining posts made on mornings during the work week may help to maximise your post engagement, which is the key to getting the attention of more people. Remember that promoting your work will not sell books and will adversely affect your brand – trust that your followers will seek out your work on their own initiative.
It is worth noting that Facebook has rolled out a feature for brand pages called a ‘Call to Action’ which allows you to place a button with a link atop your Cover Photo that leads off to a website where your products can be bought. This is a fantastic feature to use as it allows authors to add an easily accessible link to somewhere that their books can be purchased without being obnoxious about it.
Although not quite managing to be the second most popular website in the world, Twitter comes in at a respectable number nine on the list (, and rightly deserves the equal attention of any authors who are looking to operate online. Having both a Facebook and Twitter presence should be considered the bare minimum requirement for anyone wanting to use social media for marketing purposes.
Twitter shares plenty with Facebook, therefore much of what was said in the section above also applies here. To avoid rehashing that advice at length, for now we can just say that Twitter should not be used to directly promote your books, that humour and entertainment are still the best methods of attracting attention, and that choosing the timing of your tweets is critical.
Where Twitter differs though, is that it is not directly aimed at being an interactive community. Rather than encouraging people to speak with one another as Facebook does, the site encourages its users to use it more like a soapbox. Compounding this primary difference between platforms is that fact that all tweets are limited to 140 characters. These things encourage a special brand of communication that dedicated users have been honing for years. Leaning exactly what to say in your tweets will improve how well you connect with your audience and help to maximise your engagement levels.
2.1 Maximising Engagement
As with posts made on Facebook, the ultimate goal of your Twitter account should be to maximise engagement in order to help grow your audience. There are three main engagement types that we are looking for – the Retweet, the Favorite, and the Reply. Of the three, the Retweet holds the highest value as your tweet is then shared with all the followers of another user, regardless of whether they also follow you. You should also post on Twitter with greater frequency than you do on Facebook. Making multiple tweets on any given day should have a positive effect on the levels of engagement that you are seeing.
Twitter is very much a numbers game where large numbers of followers are directly correlated to maximising engagement. This is mostly due to the fleeting nature of a tweet – it will only be seen by the few of your followers who happen to be logged in at around the time you send it out. Unlike Facebook’s newsfeed whose algorithm attempts to display posts of high interest to the user and places little importance on their recency, Twitter does not use this mechanic and displays tweets in the order that they were made. This means that having a large number of followers is the most expedient method of getting your posts in front of more people.
2.1.1 Followers and the Culture of Twitter
Thankfully for those of us who lack Kardashian levels of fame, the users on Twitter operate a very reciprocal culture. If you follow someone, they will often return the favour. Thanks to this it is quite easy to gather a large number of followers in a short period of time (if you ignore the fact that this culture is the reason you need to have lots of followers to get noticed in the first place, then this system is quite neat). To that end Twitter offers a never-ending list of accounts that it thinks you might be interested in following. Choose the people who you think may have an interest in your books by scanning the provided ‘About Me’ blurbs.
Here comes the ‘but’. There is something wrong with what I’ve just said above – people who are following your account just because you did the same for them add very little value to your fan base. The chances that they will engage with any of your posts is low, and the chances that they will be moved to find out more about you and buy your book is even lower. So while it’s not hard to grow your non-core audience, you will still need to put significant effort into adding value in order to grow your core audience.
That means you need to keep up your presence on other social sites, continue to write books or blog posts or whatever else you are doing as part of your author brand. On Twitter specifically you will need to play to its strengths. Prioritise making tweets that fall into any of the categories mentioned earlier (entertaining, original, or informative) because these are the things that will appeal to your core audience and it is really their good opinion that you need.
A quick word on buying followers – there are lots of services that promise thousands upon thousands of followers for, usually, tiny amounts of money. Strictly speaking this is against Twitter’s end user agreement, though there isn’t much they can do about it, but otherwise it’s legal. Legal or not, there’s one glaring issue with doing this: it looks like you’re high-fiving yourself for having achieved nothing. That, in itself, speaks poorly of your brand and can seriously damage your reputation.
You hand over a few bucks and the thousands of accounts that suddenly become your fans over the next couple of days are worth very little to you. They are (usually) all bots and they will have exactly zero interaction or engagement with you and your posts. Sure, the price is low, but the value added is less than what you paid. Artificially inflating your number of followers may feel good but they will not help you sell your book. Not even a little bit. In fact, they may have the opposite effect.
If you’re thinking of buying followers: don’t, seriously.
The most important member of Twitter’s special language is the hashtag. Yes, the hashtag. The butt of many a joke surrounding social media, it actually plays a very important role in how Twitter works. Hashtags are a way that users categorise the topic(s) of their tweets, making them easy to find for not only their followers but also for any Twitter user who is searching for that topic. For example, ‘#reading’ may be used by someone who is tweeting about a book that they are currently reading. Another member may search for that hashtag at a time when they are looking for suggestions on books to read, and they will get a list of all the tweets containing that particular term. Failing to use hashtags at all will decrease the number of unique impressions (e) that your tweets get, and thereby decrease their effectiveness.
Learning the ins-and-outs of what hashtags you should and shouldn’t use on your account takes time and more than a little research. If you’re unsure, then use Twitter’s search function to see what other people are posting about when they use a particular hashtag. If your content is a good match for the topic then you are in the right place. If your content is not a good match for the topic, then you should adjust and categorise it correctly for the best results. Using poorly-suited hashtags will also reduce the number of unique impressions that your tweets get.
The only caution here is not to overuse hashtags. Three or four hashtags in any given tweet should be considered a hard maximum. Too many hashtags actually drives down engagement levels (9)… and it makes you look like an idiot.
Hashtags can also provide you with an additional way of attracting attention. When you log in to your account, there will be a list of topics or hashtags that are currently trending (g). There is almost always hashtag trends that any user can make use of to gain engagement and attention. These trends provide an excellent opportunity for you to prove your wit and humour and get your tweet seen by thousands of people who are following the trend. Make sure to participate in these as often as possible.
As with Facebook, choosing when to post is an important factor in how many people will see, interact, and engage with a tweet you make. It is important to do some experimenting of your own to find out when exactly you should be posting for the best results as it tends to differ between cultures, locations, and the types of followers you have. However, here are some guidelines to get you started:
1. The mornings (from about 9am to 12pm) are considered peak hours on Twitter. Tweeting during this time will get your post seen by the most of your followers. The evenings (from about 4pm to 6pm), however, while not particularly a peak period of activity, often yield higher engagement rates. This can be attributed to the fact that people simply browse in the morning – typically while at work – while in the evening they are on their own time and can afford to spend a little longer actively participating in the site. Your own research will determine if one of these times is better for you than the other. It usually proves beneficial to post at both of these times to get the best of both worlds.
2. Choose your days carefully. Again, the best days of the week to tweet are Monday through Thursday. Friday through Sunday will yield far weaker results than they do on any other platform. However, it should be said that because the weekends are such a low point for site traffic, you can take advantage of this fact to get your tweet seen by a greater number of people before it is bumped out of their feed. Don’t ignore the weekends entirely, but don’t expend too much effort on those days either.
Compared to Facebook and Twitter, Goodreads is a much more complex beast. Authors should respect that Goodreads works far more like an interactive community than other social sites do – it is akin to a discussion forum rather than a pure networking site. Our key piece of advice from above about not conspicuously promoting your books applies doubly, but the use of Goodreads diverges widely from thereon. As a Goodreads Author your ultimate goal should be to get lots of positive reviews of your books from other members. The best way to do this is to become a popular member in your own right, with a network of friends who respect and like you well enough that they would be willing to purchase your work, or otherwise write a review if they were to receive a copy in a giveaway.
Becoming a popular member on Goodreads pays off in spades when it comes time for finding fans. Before you make it that far though, you need to participate in the community properly. That means making friends, talking with them, writing high quality reviews for books that you have read, and spending time being active and friendly.
There are a few tried and true methods for doing this. First, join some groups. Groups act like small sub-forums where members can talk, roleplay, discuss, and just hang out. Pick a few groups to join, making sure that they have a decent number of members and see frequent activity, and then participate. Choose groups that you have an interest in. It’s incredibly important to actually maintain a certain level of activity to help ensure that you don’t come across as someone who just wants to gather attention for their published works. Don’t spread yourself too thin, pick a small handful of groups that you can keep up with and become friends with the other members.
Second, write reviews. Reviewing other authors’ books is a great way to get the attention of members. Your reviews should be of a high quality, and frequently the most popular kinds of reviewers incorporate humour into their reports. As there is no formal template for how to write a review, everyone is free to have fun with their own particular brand of wit. It would be beneficial to write reviews with some regularity. This is not always feasible, depending on your own reading schedule, but for those that can manage it, adding a new review every few weeks will help to increase your personal notoriety.
Third, maintain a certain level of activity with Goodreads’ other functions. Goodreads allows its authors and users to Shelve books (a system of categorising them into arbitrary groups), mark books as To-Read, play small trivia games, and update an on-site blog, among other things. Doing some or all of these on a regular basis simply helps you maintain a certain base level of activity which shows that you still have an ongoing interest in using the site and keeping up with your friends there.
Of all the social networking sites that an author might use, Goodreads has the biggest potential to make a difference to the trajectory of your career as a writer. It offers you a chance to make friends and fans, and also to do paid advertising for your books and giveaways that help to boost your audience and profile. Appropriately for the potential gain, it also requires the most work and dedication which, conversely, may pay no dividends at all. As with Facebook and Twitter above, it is important to play the long game when starting out on Goodreads so that you can build a fan base that will actually make a difference to you.
(a) Conversion Rate
Conversion Rate is a metric that describes the number of people who see or click a link (typically to buy a product) versus the number that actually make a final purchase. For example, 100 people may click on a promotional link, but only 2 of them actually purchase the product in which case the conversion rate would be 50:1.
The cost-benefit of an endeavour simply describes the measurable return on an investment proportional to the outlay. In our case, the cost of an advertising scheme that would see significant increases in book sales for an author would ordinarily be prohibitively expensive proportionate to the number of books sold.
On Facebook, ‘Engagement’ refers specifically to Likes, Comments, and Shares. When a user Engages with a post, their interaction is made visible to their own friends even if those people have not Liked your author page. Engagement is also a generic term that refers to any action more involved than simply viewing a digital advertisement (such as following a link).
Followers is a generic term used in this article to describe the people who have actively subscribed to one or more of your social media accounts. Different social media sites ascribe different names to a follower base, but for the sake of clarity here it is easiest to refer to them with the same terminology.
On Facebook, ‘Reach’ is the metric that describes how many different people saw a post that you made and does not discriminate between paid and unpaid Reach. The term ‘Organic Reach’ is how we describe how many different people saw a post that you made without using Facebook’s paid advertising scheme. The more common marketing industry terminology in this case is ‘Impressions’ or ‘Unique Impressions’.
(f) Traditional Advertising
Mostly used to refer to non-digital advertising types – print advertisements, television, radio, and other physical media.
Trends on Twitter are simply certain topics or hashtags that have a high number of tweets associated with them. The Trending list is usually localised to your particular area or country. Companies sometimes use Twitter’s paid advertising scheme so that a hashtag or topic of their choice appears in the Trending list – these items are always marked as ‘promoted by…’ to let you know that they are paid advertising.