How Publishing Execs Should Use Social Media to Help Their Companies and Not Get Fired

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

More publishing executives are using social media this year than last year and more of them are being careful about what they say on Twitter and in blogs, according to a recent survey.

According to a Digital Book World survey conducted by Forrester Research, nearly half of publishing professionals are using Twitter and are blogging, up from about a third a year ago. More publishing executives are also conscious that they have to be careful about what information they broadcast using social media, 54%, up from 47% last year.

In late 2011, book publishers representing 74% of U.S. publishing revenues were surveyed on a wide range of topics concerning digital books and digital book marketing. The same survey was conducted in 2010.

“Don’t tweet or blog anything you don’t want to see on a billboard,” said Scott Stratten, a Oakville, ON-based social media expert and president of Un-Marketing, a marketing consulting firm.

Publishing professionals who want to use social media but are worried about the pitfalls should follow a few simple rules.


Follow Your Company’s Policy

Consult with your company’s human resources department to see if it has a social media policy for employees and executives. According to the Digital Book World and Forrester survey, 41% of publishing companies have a social media policy, up slightly from 38% a year ago.

Hoboken, N.J.-based professional and trade publisher John Wiley & Sons has a set of social media guidelines posted on its intranet for its employees which “allows for colleagues to experiment with engaging their audiences,” said Wiley vice president of communications Susan Spilka.

Some publishers that don’t have them are currently crafting policies. Nashville-based Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, for instance, has formed a committee for the purpose but doesn’t currently have an official policy.

“A social media policy is smart but it shouldn’t be limiting,” said Dan Blank, founder of We Grow Media, a Madison, N.J.-based social media and marketing consulting and training firm. “A policy is there to reflect the fact that people have questions and we’re going to address them. You want to be there to support your employees.”

Some publishers’ policies are more a set of “unwritten rules” rather than official policy.

“Our unwritten policy is if you wouldn’t say it at a conference or on a panel to not say it online,” said Andrea Fleck-Nisbet, head of digital at New York-based Workman publishing.

There are some obvious rules to follow that company policies will cover, like not sharing private company information, sales and revenue information or any other proprietary information.

Several publishing companies, including Penguin, Hachette and Sourcebooks, did not respond to requests for comment before press time.


Add a Disclaimer to Your Profile

Experts say you may want to add to your social media profile language that makes clear that your public opinions may not necessarily reflect the opinions of your company.

There are several top publishing executives on Twitter whose examples may be instructive.

Molly Barton (@MollyBBarton), global digital director at Penguin, writes on her Twitter profile “Opinions & thoughts are mine and mine alone.”

On the other hand, Maja Thomas (@digimaja), Hachette Digital senior vice president, has left her profile sparse. Paul Bogaards (@paulbogaards), head of public relations at Knopf, an imprint of Random House, follows suit with a short but clear profile that reads “prguyatknopf.”

Sometimes a person is so closely associated with a company, it’s hard to separate their social media presence from the brand of the company.

Dominique Raccah (@draccah), publisher and CEO of Naperville, IL-based Sourcebooks, is widely associated with her company’s brand and makes mention of this on Twitter on her profile, “indie book publisher. entrepreneur. Sourcebooks. believe books change lives. fascinated/inspired (maybe even possessed) by digital transformation of the book.”

In some cases, caution may be the better part of valor. John Makinson (@JohnMakinson), chairman and CEO of Penguin Group is on Twitter, but has only Tweeted once – on July 28, 2009: “Giving this a go!”


Only Be Social If You Are Good at Being Social

It may go without saying, but online social media technology may not turn you into a social butterfly if you aren’t one in real life.

“Social media won’t change the fact that you’re a jackass,” said Stratten. “Some people aren’t meant to be that social.”

Take the example of fashion designer Kenneth Cole. Last Spring, during an uprising in Egypt as part of what is now known as the Arab Spring, Kenneth Cole Tweeted through his company’s official Twitter feed, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.”

The Tweet caused a backlash on the Internet that an apology from Cole did little to mitigate.


Don’t Take the Bait

Executives in any industry, but perhaps more-so in book publishing, often face negative opinions from industry observers.

“Whether it’s somebody who hated what happened in The Hunger Games books, or they’re just disgruntled, you’re going to have people coming at you,” said Stratten. Authors who may be upset that a publishing company did not pick up their book could take out their anger on the editors and executives at that company.

On Twitter, you don’t have to respond to these people. Doing so only serves to give detractors more legitimacy and a bigger stage on which to air grievances.


Have an Opinion

Sometimes being too careful can undercut your social media goals.

“Say what you believe and back it up,” said Erika Napoletano, a Denver-based marketing consultant and author of the book The Power of Unpopular [Wiley, March 2012]. “Having an opinion is about honoring your audience and letting people know ‘this is how we think, this is how we do business.’”

For publishing companies in particular, which are currently facing attacks on their legitimacy in the marketplace, it might be a good time to have an opinion, she said.

“You read a lot about the demise of print publishing or how publishers are price fixing and publishers should stand up and fight back,” she said.

Then again, even when voicing strong opinions, it’s always wise to check oneself.

“It’s kind of like a court of law,” Napoletano said. “Anything you say can and will be used against you.”

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

Twitter concept via Shutterstock

One thought on “How Publishing Execs Should Use Social Media to Help Their Companies and Not Get Fired

  1. Sarah Reece

    One point I would like to add to this list of social media Do’s & Dont’s that is often over looked, that at most times, Social media is nothing but an extension of our real networks. Comments that are likely to get attention offline shall get attention online too. So it boils down to common sense.

    Also, someone who watches this industry closely, I must say, it is the initial response to your stuff that usually forms opinion of the rest & companies with deep pockets usually make use of this bigtime.. How? Is anybody’s guess.. BTW great post.. Will try & hang around more on the blog..



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *