Five Reasons Social Media Will Always Sell More Books…

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

Peter McCarthy has more than 15 years experience in book marketing and is programming our upcoming marketing conference in in New York on September 26. Learn more about the conference here. Or, register today!

…If one uses it wisely.

Recently there has been a spate of research and opinion on social media and its effect – or lack thereof – on commerce. Attribution studies abound; critics of such “last-click conversion” studies point to “dark social” and the nuances of driving sales. I’ve been watching all of this with as open a mind as I’ve been able to muster and have come to the following conclusions: Nearly everything I’ve seen is incomplete, misinformed, or reflects an inability on the part of people and organizations to actually use social as opposed to just doing social; and that social media will always work for marketing and selling books (and ebooks).

Here are the top five reasons why:

  1. The Core Book-Buying Audience Uses Social Media (and so do all those other folks who will buy books if they hear about them…)
    This is true unless your audience falls outside of the 85% of the U.S. population that uses social media or isn’t between the ages of 18 and 65+. Check the most recent Pew stats. Perhaps even bump them against some book industry studies. The audience is there. Fish where the fish are.
  2. Real Consumer Data
    The audience data that marketers, publicists, and salespeople can gather about social media followers, fans, and general users should be invaluable to anyone marketing or selling books. Acting on an understanding of the demographics, psychographics, and behavior of an audience with regard to an author, a title, or a site will grow sales and marketing efficiency. If it doesn’t, then something else is very wrong. Gathering and acting on data certainly helped Obama whip Romney. And it can even be predictive (Holy Grail!); in 2010 a couple smart HP researchers predicted opening box office using Twitter volume and sentiment along with number of screens. They did so with 97% accuracy.
  3. Identifying Adjacent Audiences
    Once you’ve analyzed your core audience, it quite straightforward to identify key attributes of that audience and find “look-alikes.” In other words, folks with similar key attributes (hobbies, beliefs, activities, likes, dislikes, locales, marital status, education level, etc.) and place your book in front of those folks who, it happens, will behave much like your core. This is the social graph and it is major.
  4. SEO
    This could be an essay. Short, over-simplified version focusing on two key points: 1) Both the “general” engines such as Google and the more-specific engines (eg. Amazon) use social “signals” to assist them in determining the authority of everything – including authors and books. Authority=rank. So, positioning. If the title holds up (eg. garners clicks and/or more links over time), it will retain that rank or rise… and 2) As a corollary; an author or title’s presence on the major networks will nearly always enter the first page of a Google search for the author, title, and even some of the longer tail terms. Ranking higher in search sells books; ask Google or Amazon.
  5. Making the Next Campaign Easier
    We hear a lot of talk about scaling marketing efforts. Social is often seen as a hurdle to scale. Social is actually scalable using technology. But it doesn’t really matter if the “IT” hurdle is too great; scale is inherent in using social to market. A marketer’s ability to look at the performance indicators and underlying consumer data of past social campaigns will increase her understanding of what works, for what, and how well. Also, what doesn’t work. This will speed and hone her next efforts. Every time. Knowledge, process, and a better “feel for the game” is scale. Lather, rinse, learn, repeat. Scaled marketing sells more books.

Bottom line: As publishers realize – or perhaps more accurately stated – embrace the fact that they must demonstrate to authors and retail partners that they are the best at connecting books with readers and driving demand, the question becomes how to do so. It is difficult for me to think of any other efforts publishers can employ that will yield the insights and long-lasting audience development of social media. Very difficult.

Peter McCarthy has more than 15 years experience in book marketing and is programming our upcoming marketing conference in in New York on September 26. Learn more about the conference here. Or, register today!


17 thoughts on “Five Reasons Social Media Will Always Sell More Books…

  1. Seeley James

    I have 30 years of sales and marketing experience in the tech industry and I must respectfully disagree. Your points are plausible for specific books targeting specific audiences (Italian cookbooks, or Porsche Repair, etc) but broader fiction (thrillers, romance, sci-fi) is not making sales via social. Person-to-person recommendations, email blasts from “price hunters” like Bookbub, or display ads are the only way to move entertainment reading.

    Peace, Seeley.

    1. Peter McCarthyPeter McCarthy Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Seeley. Based on my experience it is ever-so-slightly easier to target within tightly-wound, nonfiction areas. But the universes are small and the audiences are already findable with little fancy-dancing. The 4Ps will get you there. Books are consumer products, after all.

      Just for clarity, I’m not implying that one makes the sale via social. I’m saying that one utilizes the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral audience data to identify anything that either a) “outsizes” the book beyond its fairly narrow confines of the “book buyer” or “interest area enthusiast” or; b) targets based on specific consumer behaviors, beliefs, regional dispersion, etc. to understand the likely audience as well as the right messaging, timing, and likely point of purchase (all of which you’d A/B split to be sure).

      That meant the key for me was to never identify my target audience too rigidly ahead of time, and especially too rigidly based on the content of the book. Rather, use the profiles of the social audiences (and search trends, sales info. and the like, of course). This rather blunt audience-first approach proved tremendously useful for fiction.

      I’ve got real life examples of all sorts, including each of the ones above (a current event trips off interest in a Sci-Fi title, for example). One that stands out was a case where sales, social, and search trend data all matched a specific religious affinity to a thriller which seemed to have nothing to do with the faith. Then, when that match proved to be an effective one in terms of conversion, we leveraged the online point of sale data and its rich profiles to double down on a multi-channel marketing and sales effort geo-targeted to high-potential regions and aimed at a specific account which was under-indexing while our data told us it didn’t need to be. With all of the data in hand, our sales force had what they needed to gain merchandising consideration while we (the marketers with their quant sherpas) had more and more of an understanding of our audience as we went, constantly uncovering new affinities to improve performance. Eventually, of course, it ends (though I’ve profitably marketed single titles for years). And, of course, they aren’t all that great. But I’ve found that using social media audience data as I describe above to inform and shape all promotional efforts leads to higher, cleaner sales and a more efficient marketing spend. That’s been my experience, arrived at with a fair number of efforts on the cutting room floor.

      Thanks again for the thought-provoking comment.

    2. Peter McCarthyPeter McCarthy Post author

      I recalled this post/graphic and thought it would be worth passing along.

      A Quote from the Write-Up: “4 in 5 marketers surveyed at the DMA2012 Annual Conference and Forrester Research’s e-Business Forum last year said they plan to use customers’ social media data to drive marketing campaigns in other channels this year…”

      Post and Chart (from Marketing Charts): Marketers Plan Wider Applications of Customers’ Social Media Data


  2. Andrew Rhomberg

    Well we have some in-house numbers at Jellybooks based on our open platform book samples (each share-able link) .

    Over 90% of shares initiated by users are email, not Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. This was a surprise to us, but the behavior is that many people prefer to keep their actual reading somewhat private (and email is much more private than a Facebook post for all the world to see).

    We see a lot of posts that get no re-tweets, re-pins or re-shares, but when looking at the click-through, people who see the post , do click to dowload the Sample send to to their Kindle or similar, but don’t re-shares the post, then those are significant. Most such posts posts stimulate others to get a sample. However, out of 20 people who are enticed to get a sample, only one will re-share the post.

    Unknown books really have to stand out to be re-shared. A really interesting and unqiue cover on Pinterest can lead to 100 repins in no time (nd >1,000 click trhoughs), when 100 other interesting, but generic covers might only get 1-3 repins (but still 10-50 click-throughs).

    Also most book blurbs are far too long for Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Any comment or description needs to be ultra-snappy and has to get the social browser attention inside of 100-200 characters. That’s hellishly tricky.

    One should also not forget that seeing a book mentioned on social media reinforces a consumers interest to may try or buy a book. We rarely heard abut a book and then rush to Amazon to buy it. Even when it comes to promotions, we tend to stick to books me might have already heard of before.

    So social matters, but between clicking on a link and actually buying a book there 2-7 extra steps in between and that’s what most studies miss, because you can only see it this, if you are able to track the entire funnel.

    1. Peter McCarthyPeter McCarthy Post author

      Thanks, Andrew. All super points. I am hyper-sensitive and extremely interested in that “dark social” word of mouth that happens by email, copy>paste>text, and so on. I’m also 100% with you on the challenges of outbound marketing of books via social channels and agree completely that every attribution study fails to consider the gaps in the funnels — the stuff we can’t see.

      Where I go with all of that is:

      – people use the networks so we can engage them — not all of them but a lot of them
      – when people use the networks and engage with us, we can see things and understand them in interesting and useful ways (your data-points are wonderful!)
      – it’s terrific if our engaging outbound social efforts engender word of mouth or, even, direct conversions but…social has proven to be either less effective than other tactics (search) or less measurable or both in terms of directly attributable ROI…
      – but the sure bet ROI is in low-cost potential consumer acquisition (not customer but potential consumer) and then flipping that group over and looking at the aggregate analytics of the followers/fans/pinners to divine patterns or personae or demographic outliers…anything actionable. And then…
      – taking more informed action where our goals are most likely to be met (eg. if it’s conversions, I’d go for SEO informed by my audience findings, enhancing meta-data where I expect or wish for the sales to occur; if SEO isn’t doable, same tactic but PPC SEM — intent is easily determined in searc, a percentage of conversions trackable, and I’ve got a baseline for expected conversion rates at accounts based on running campaigns over time).
      – I think multichannel is the real win — social audience data applied to physical world actions and then back again

      Lastly, I used social here but I’ve found the same type of consumer attribute triangulation effective with site analytics data, search data, and so on. Good outbound/inbound marketing efforts are virtuous unto themselves but in my experience only demonstrably (and materially) “pay” when I’ve leveraged the back end consumer data, which we (I tend to identify as a publisher) have never had in any useful volume or manner.

      Thanks again. Man, I’d love to look at the JellyBooks analytics!

      1. Andrew Rhomberg

        The premise for search is that the consumer is already searching for the tile or author (or less likely) there is a keyword/genre that makes the book appear prominently. Search is not discovery and where social shines is discovery. and social proof.

        One thing, we’ve learnt the hard way is that books – as object of sharing (online) – are nowhere as viral as other media objects. This came as a surprise to me, but most users are much more likely to share fun bookish stuff (fun things with or around books) rather than books and book recommendations proper.

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  6. John P. Wheeler

    Hey Peter, Thanks for sharing your insights on how social media can contribute to ebook sales. It seems like social media is now a force to be reckoned with, especially for those who are going to do business online.

    1. Peter McCarthy

      Sure thing, John. And, indeed, I do believe Social Media is “for real”. The web was built for us to communicate. Social Media is a logical extension of communication. Just as Bulletin Boards, Email, Instant Messaging, etc. all were/are. I think the real beauty of Social is the data that flows back to us as publishers or marketers. If analyzed and actioned on, we can provide better suggestions to readers with an enhanced understanding of what they like, etc. Which, of course, leads to more efficient marketing…but to me that follows. It doesn’t lead.

      Thanks again.


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