The Potential of Social Media in Driving Book Sales

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

The Rumors of the Death of Facebook E-commerce have Been Greatly Exaggerated

A recent and much-quoted article written by Ashley Lutz and published in Bloomberg1 lamented the various attempts by brands to monetizing their presence on Facebook. Here’s a taste: “There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into . . . a place where people would shop . . . but it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

The analogy here is spot on, but the conclusion—that Facebook marketing is a waste of resources—is dead wrong. Facebook has actually proven itself to be profoundly effective in driving discoverability. Let’s take a look at some actual data:

  • One-in-three consumers bought a product or service due to recommendations made via social media, as reported by an analysis of US and Canadian consumer consumption habits.2
  • In 2010, Amazon saw year-on-year increase of referral traffic from Facebook of 328% , or 7.7% overall.3
  • The top 200 internet retailers saw a 203% increase in traffic from Facebook during 2011.4
  • Facebook was a more powerful referral source than Google, SumbleUpon, and Twitter combined, according to a survey conducted by Shareaholic, based on aggregated data from more than 200,000 publishers that reach more than 260 million unique monthly visitors each month.5

How is Facebook able to be such an important driver to ecommerce sites? I would argue that it’s because of the unique social qualities of Facebook—the way it allows people to create community around their shared interests, services, and products. Facebook acts like a vast social recommendation engine. And the potential benefit for publishers who focus their social media efforts on Facebook is vast, especially considering the variety of social media options available and the cost of building one’s own social site.

But the dynamic that make Facebook so effective is really nothing new. “Social recommendation” is really just another way of saying “word-of-mouth”—which has always been the main driver of book sales. Surveys have shown that word-of-mouth in the promotion of books is more important than advertising, cover design or the blurb.6 Books have always been shared among friends and book clubs and reading groups are more popular than ever. Books also have an advantage in the social space. Unlike most other products, book discussions are already a popular social activity in the real world, and as such are a natural fit for Facebook. Furthermore, the very nature of social networks is that they amplify these discussions and exposes them to many more people.

Imagine a Facebook book page that gets 2,000 likes. Posts from such a page will reach 5,000-6,000 users every week. This means that friends, family members, and colleagues can follow or be a part of the discussion about the book. With such a discussion underway, it is only natural for people to be curious about books their friends follow, look for more information about the book, or simply purchase it online or the next time they are in the bookstore.

Let’s go back to that quote from Bloomberg that compared marketing on Facebook to “trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.” Most marketers already know they can’t interrupt conversations on Facebook with a sales pitch and expect good results. That won’t work. But, I believe Facebook and other social networks can be especially effective at driving book awareness and yield demonstrable sales—but publishers will have to take a different approach in order to leverage Facebooks’ true value.

By focusing social media activity around book titles—not the publisher’s imprint or even the author—Facebook pages can facilitate and amplify the kind of word-of-mouth that will resonates with potential consumers. This approach allows publishers to move away from maintaining isolated pages on Facebook and toward a social network of interconnected pages for many books that have overlapping potential readership. In this way, the community around one Facebook book page is continually exposed to new books within this network. Furthermore, this exposure to new books happens within the social space, so when they enter a Facebook book page they can learn which of their friends already liked it. This increases the chances that readers will discover lesser-known titles by leveraging the success of the best-sellers that have already attracted users to the network.

Referrals and recommendations have always been one of the strongest influences on sales. By networking together books with similar audiences, and using more popular titles to amplify the network effect, Facebook can give book publishers a new tool to spread the word about their books at a fraction of the cost of other marketing efforts.

1. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-17/f-commerce-trips-as-gap-to-penney-shut-facebook-stores-retail.html
2. http://www.empathica.com/consumer-insights/market-specific-reports/social-media-report/
3. J. P. Morgan and ComScoore: http://www.slideshare.net/PowerReviews/pushpull-social-marketing-on-facebook-and-beyond
4. http://www.customerinsightgroup.com/marketinglibrary/by-the-numbers-social-media-proves-to-be-a-powerful-force
5. http://blog.shareaholic.com/2012/01/pinterest-referral-traffic/
6. http://www.icmrindia.org/casestudies/catalogue/Marketing/Da%20Vinci%20Code%20Marketing.htm

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Expert Publishing Blog
Ronny Golan

About Ronny Golan

Ronny Golan is CEO and founder of BookPulse, a new company that offers a cost-effective social marketing platform that enables book publishers to build social eco-systems around their books and turn them into a powerful marketing and direct sales platform. Before founding BookPulse, Ronny was the founder & CEO of the online video advertising company, HIRO-Media, the leader in online video ad-serving technology. Prior to HIRO Media, Ronny co-founded and managed the successful wireless community company Valis. In 2008, Ronny was chosen by Variety magazine as one of their “top 10 innovators to watch.”

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