How to Choose the Best Social Media Channels to Sell Books

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

How to Choose the Best Social Media Channels to Sell BooksConfused by all the differing opinions about social media? You’re not alone. There is a whimsical idea gaining ground in the author community that social media is an a la carte menu and that you should just choose a channel you like and stick with it.

The truth is, social media is a marketing strategy, not a menu, and your choice of networks should depend on your goals and your audience, not on your personal affinity. And if your goal is to use social media to sell more books and build loyal fans, then you can easily choose the right channels to market your books by employing a simple three-step test of sellability.

Step One: Audience

When you want to find the best social media channels for selling, start by defining your audience. Who are they, and where are they? There are three easy ways to find out:

• Use your Facebook Insights data. If you have a Facebook page, your Insights dashboard will tell you exactly who they are: gender, age, location and interests.
• Take an annual reader survey. If you do not have a Facebook page but still want this information, then you can still do research by sending out a short survey once a year to your email list. You are asking for their time, so keep it short. Offer an incentive—maybe a free Kindle or e-reader to a random respondent. Ask questions that will help you make marketing decisions: age, gender, location, favorite genres, how many books they buy a year, and what social media channels they use regularly.
• Start with available, reliable marketing research. Pew Internet is a nonprofit organization that provides the go-to social media use data that professional marketers use the most. The data is free. Go to pewinternet.org and search for social media. You will get all the latest usage data divided by age, channel, location, gender and channel. Start with the latest comprehensive report here. Their annual data update is due soon.

Once you have gathered your audience data and have a solid idea of who your readers are, you can begin to match that against use statistics for specific channels. Your goal is to find the best fit for your audience: where they spend the most time online. Your objective is to match them to the best overall channel first—the one with the highest use and the best demographic fit.

The idea that being on more channels reaches more people is false. Pew’s data indicates that more than half of the adults online use more than one social media channel, so you don’t have to waste your time trying to be everywhere.

You don’t need to be on every channel, just the right ones.

Step Two: Channel Culture/Behavior

To make good decisions about where to invest your marketing resources (time, money, skills), you should know a thing or two about channel culture. No two channels are the same. Each one is like a small civilization with its own unwritten rules of interaction and behavior. Using a simple graphic that compares social media culture to drinking wine, you can get a pretty good idea of who does what where.

Social Media Is Like Wine

Using the top six social media channels currently (number of users), we can see that there are different default behaviors on each channel:

Facebook: I like wine

Facebook is the living room. It is the backyard BBQ. People share their likes and dislikes there with friends and family. They make recommendations, they post their vacation pictures, and they buy stuff. A massive 71 percent of online adults are there regularly. Facebook has the best demographic spread of any channel online from 18 to over 65. There is no other channel wired for selling like Facebook. It is where the world interacts.

Twitter: I am drinking #wine now

Twitter is a real-time newsroom where people share what is happening now and then fade into the oblivion of the timeline. For all the clamoring about how wonderful Twitter is, it only commands 23 percent of the adult population and its demographics favor youth and people who frequent the Internet at a higher rate than Facebook. Twitter has not yet developed a robust system for weeding out fake followers, so any fly-by-night click farm can develop millions of followers and sell them online to anyone wanting to promote a large audience for hire. To me, this is problematic, but not nearly as problematic as the lack of commerce options. More on that in step three.

YouTube: Here is my video on how to choose wine

Next to Google, YouTube is the most widely used search engine on the Internet. Being the go-to for how-to makes YouTube a good fit for some nonfiction writers. If you want to use YouTube for book trailers, make sure they are professional grade and that you set up your own business channel so you can take advantage of ways to monetize your videos. People go to YouTube mainly looking for information, not to connect.

Instagram: Here are pictures of me drinking wine

Instagram is a cross between Twitter and Facebook in terms of real-time engagement with pictures. It sports a younger demographic, and only 20-26 percent of the online adult population. Instagram is owned by Facebook, so their commerce options are slowly trickling in that direction. Instagram will need to allow live URLs in comments before the channel makes any strides toward being a truly interactive channel. But brands are starting to use Instagram as on online catalog of sorts. It is more of a sharing channel than an interaction one, and it’s tough to build conversations there.

LinkedIn: Hire me. I am a wine expert

LinkedIn is a no-brainer for nonfiction writers who have a need to develop expertise, as the groups function as a vibrant place to get involved in conversations around a topic. LinkedIn also hosts a publishing platform where bloggers can develop a secondary channel that leads people back to their websites. The network certainly has an older demographic, though. But it is basically one big job board, so if you are looking for speaking gigs, this might be a source. All that said, I believe it is a waste of time for fiction authors.

Pinterest: My collection of all things wine

Pinterest is used by 31 percent of online adults, according to Pew Internet. Their demographics are strongest over age 25, and the gap between men and women is getting smaller, although it still includes only 16 percent of online adult men and 44 percent of online women. Pinterset is where people share collections of what they like in visual form. Accounts are set up much like an online catalog or scrapbook, with separate boards for topics of interest. Pinterest wants to be a center of commerce for brands, and they are making speedy strides to allow users to buy products directly from a Pinterest board. It’s a channel to keep an eye on.

Step Three: Which Channels Are Built to Sell?

Now that you have a good idea of who your audience is and where they are online, you can turn your attention to which channels have the best commerce options.

In step three, we’ll tackle each channel’s established sales behavior and see just why some channels rise above the rest when it comes to selling books.


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