What a clickbait blog title. I know some of you must be thinking this but there is a good reason I’m using it. As social media has risen in popularity we have all jumped on that bandwagon, at some point, wondering if it is going to lead us to more sales, better connections and so on. At some point we have stopped worrying about what’s actually happening in the real world and started to focus more on follower counts and reach than actual conversions.
Over the past year, I have been working with an author to see what impact social media has had on them. Here’s my story.
For some time now I have been a writer. I’m not a terribly good writer and I can’t write copy to save my life (it just doesn’t flow like prose often does) but I have been paid by several publications to write, in the form of short sci-fi and fantasy stories. I do this under several pen names because, before now, I have never been worried about people focusing on me. I’ve always wanted my work to speak for itself. My friend however (who, for the sake of social graces, won’t be named here) is a fairly successful author, selling many books over many years. He has no worries when it comes to book publicity. He does it the good, old fashioned way. Promotion is something we have both talked a lot about in the past and when I approached him to let him know I was starting Crunch Net, he asked if I might know anything about social media.
Well, at the time I didn’t. I still don’t really, but I know much more about it now than I did. That conversation sparked a little experiment between us both. How could we optimise what he was doing in order to get more followers and sell more books. We tried many things which pales in comparison with my own, poor social media presence. It’s always the way, I suppose. You’re always too busy helping someone else to do these things properly yourself.
What we found was staggering. When it comes to selling books, building a big following on Twitter, Facebook and the like is a waste of time.
Yes, that’s right. A waste of time.
This lead me to looking in to other business practices we take for granted with social media and brought me to my conclusion that social media really is bad for business. It’s bad because we don’t understand it. It’s bad because even the people who say they understand it don’t always understand how it pertains to your market. It’s bad because we end up spending hours of our lives building followers, increasing our reach without a real end-goal in mind. It’s bad because it doesn’t work. At least, it doesn’t work in the way we think it does.
The best analogy I can give social media is that they are all tools we are able to use. A builder doesn’t start building because of the tools he has. He does it the other way around. And yet, we always focus on social media not as a tool, but as an end in itself. Perhaps the issue is with the name. Social Media is not akin to Print Media. It’s consumed in a different way and your message can easily get lost in a sea of other messages. This is especially true when you are working in a sector that tons of people are also talking about like, for example, selling books. It’s important to remember, social media is something people do for pleasure. It’s not primarily a tool for business (I’m excluding LinkedIn here, which is purely a tool for business. It gets a free pass in what I’m saying here because it works differently).
I say this because I think it is important to be honest with ourselves. How much time spent on social media is actually good time spent at work? We need to separate what we do on Facebook, for example, from what we promote on facebook. I have, personally, gained a lot of work through using facebook to talk to people in different groups. I try to impart what knowledge I have and I hope that, somewhere along the line, someone will see my value and hire me to do a proper job. It has worked, but I often conflate this with the time I spend on facebook replying to friends. I don’t use the platform much outside this, so that conflation doesn’t seem to hinder me much. If I were to do the same with Twitter, I would never get any work done. I love Twitter. It’s my social media platform of choice. Even so, I spend most of my time making inane jokes, replying to friends (even virtual friends) and not promoting what I’m doing. I’m very bad at promoting what I’m doing.
Increase your following, increase your reach, increase your sales
One of the things we were looking at was increasing my friend’s ‘online fame’. Outside of the entertainment industry this is more commonly known as reach and refers to how many people your social media post will touch in the course of it’s online lifespan. To do this, we were looking at increasing follower count. However you reword it, most of your activity on social media comes down to trying to increase your follower count. It’s a futile pursuit. If you look at the top 100 people on Twitter, none of them are famous because of the network. Their fame has come from their independent actions offline (or on YouTube, which is different again). Outside accounts that become popular for being silly (such as ‘Shit My Dad Says’) social media is not a good way to build your popularity. This is true for business as much as it is for celebrity. We think of celebrity as an amorphous group. It’s not, there is a celebrity industry (closely linked with the entertainment industry) and the same rules can apply to them and you.
We found this looking back at some of my friend’s stats. He didn’t post much on Twitter and when he did, would usually talk to like-minded people. When his last book launched he found his follower count increased by around 50%. He did that without any extra promotion online. This was the point where we got a few of our other contacts involved as well. We found similar figures from people who had done similar things. It is the norm, not the exception.
If you’re focussing on growing a following it will always grow slowly. What you should be focusing on is that not enough people know you exist. If you start tot think of your followers as potential business connections then you need to reach out to them in the more traditional way. Become friends with them and then you can start to see some benefit in social media. What’s wrong is to assume that posting links to articles is going to build the connection you need in order for people to use your service. It won’t, which is why hunting around for followers is futile. It’s the quality of the followers that make a difference.
You are social mediaing wrong
I’ve always felt this about social media. I’m sure, somewhere along the line, I’m not doing it right and you see tons of success stories. You look at your tawdry offerings and wonder why that same success hasn’t happened to you. How come one author can release a book online and have that be their only platform whilst another one struggles for even one sale? How come one business seems to be reaping the rewards of social media whilst another, with better quality posts, ends up in receivership? Did they do their social media wrong?
At least, probably not. I’ve taken a look at several social media campaigns that were successful. If you search around on Google you can find some nice case studies that tell you exactly what they did in order to achieve results. There are several things that seem to come out of these searches and the outcome of the actions. Many of them don’t appear to be successful as you would believe. We see these things on Twitter and assume that some company somewhere is making a mint off it. Often they aren’t and the action is only part of a much bigger campaign. That in itself should draw attention to this fallacy. If social media is so great, how come big companies don’t rely more heavily on it? Simple, it doesn’t work in that way and other things need to be built around it in order for it to have an effect. There is a principal of marketing that says you need to see something several times in order to form a connection with your audience and deliver your message. Social media is just one of the spaces where this can work. It needs to be done in the real world as well. This is often why you only see big businesses doing these things. The scale of successful social media campaigns needs to be huge. 5k, 10k, 15k followers aren’t going to generate the sort of sales that you need. Somewhere along the line you will have to pay for that marketing (much like how people are starting to have to pay to promote their facebook pages).
Big following mean big sales
I touched on this a little above but thought it was worth mentioning again because it is the biggest lie out there and is perpetuated by all of the big, so called gurus of social media. I’m 100% sure that others will have picked up on this and be saying the same thing because, quite frankly, these are the people who are meant to know better. One of the chief culprits of spreading this myth is a guy named Gary Vaynerchuk. He said that if a fiction writer started a Twitter/instagram account for their book’s characters it would be the difference between 200 and 25,00 sales.
This is a lie. In fact, it is a horrid lie that will lead to wasted time for many who don’t have that time to waste.
The same is true in business. You can’t have a separate twitter account for each of your products or projects. You know how much time these things already take and the difficulty with gaining followers. If you’ve looked in to it enough you will know that social media isn’t the only form of marketing and connecting that you need to do in order to make your business a success. To claim that you can get 20,000 extra sales because of a twitter feed is either writing from ignorance or greatly inflating the results. I have personally seen this with books.
In all of our tests across different social media platforms it was typical to get around 0.2% of followers to take action. this is just clicking on a link, let alone converting to sales. We asked a few other authors to do this for us as well, using the link-shortening service bit.ly. You can try this too. The results we saw were similar across the board. One author, who has a follower count well into the 6 figures, told us they had only ever seen a difference of about 100 sales during a book launch. It begs the question, how many followers do you need to get just one sale.
I mentioned Gary Vaynerchuk above because he is also a good case study. This is, remember, someone who is a social media guru. In total he has around 1.4 million connections across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. In the first week of sales for his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, he sold around 25,000 copies. Let’s ignore any other promotion he did and assume that all of those sales came through social media. I say that because he has also been on NPR, CNN, Huffpo and a myriad other sites doing interviews about the book, but ignore that. If the sales came purely through social media, that’s still only a 1.82% conversion rate.
That means that every 55 followers he had, he sold one book, a low ticket item. How long would it take you to build up enough followers for that to have an impact on your business? And that’s assuming that none of the interviews he did had any effect on sales.
What should we be doing then?
Now, there are ways you can be smarter about your social media but we need to be honest with ourselves. It’s not going to turn into sales overnight and it’s not the be all and end all of your media strategy. I mentioned above that social media is a great way of connecting with real people but you have to do that on a one-to-one basis. This one-to-many mentality just doesn’t work. It is a great way to get around gatekeepers and it is much more instant that email. The public aspect of it is important as well. In my own time on Twitter I have found that talking to writers will bring in other writers who you might want to converse with or follow. It’s like a big, public get-together.
Those connections are important because one of the things you can also do is get help from people who are further up the social media tree. We’ve already seen that in order to make a difference you need to have millions of followers. Well, what if you didn’t. What if you had a hundred or so followers who you had personal connections with who were happy to retweet what you are working on? What if their follower counts were in the hundreds of thousands? Suddenly there is a way for you to find your market. Now, some of those followers might not be on social media, they may be following blogs or videos. Blogs and video series often need content. If you can provide that content then your message can get across to a whole group you hadn’t thought about.
What you’re actually doing, when you’re thinking about connecting to people with large followers, blogs, magazines is actually more traditional marketing. There’s a reason authors go on TV when they have a book to sell. They have a book to sell. they need to get the word out somehow and TV is a great medium for that, especially if they have a public profile. How do they get on TV in the first place? By making connections with people in the right industry and providing what they need, easily sharable content and a willingness to engage.
Social media for business isn’t rocket science. It’s barely computer science. It’s actually an exercise in traditional marketing and making connections. If you treat it like that then you will have much better results. This often means you have to ditch whole platforms, not retweet others articles and come up with something original to say about yourself. That shouldn’t be an issue because that’s what you should have been doing anyway. I’m sure it really is what you’re doing but you might not realise it.
In the mean time, building connections and talking to real people online can get you results. Just remember you have to be totally honest with yourself about when you are using social media for fun and when you are connecting with someone for business. Yes, there could be a crossover but not drawing those lines can mean spending far too much time on a platform and getting no results.