The Marketeers Club: University Presses and the Questions of Social Media

The AAUP membership list includes which presses have social media accounts: blog, Facebook, Twitter (the usual suspects). In an industry where so much depends on an online presence to succeed, it’s encouraging that most member presses are engaging with their community on social media platforms.

We are all aware of those “usual suspects” but one of the many questions that we should be asking ourselves is “what’s next?” A handful of UPs have taken on Instagram (one of my personal favorites), YouTube, LinkedIn, and Tumblr, but the next big thing in social media will come along and we will have to decide if we should jump on the band wagon. Most social media gurus and techies will spring at the chance to participate in the latest and greatest, but should UPs?

There are two approaches:

1) Be everything and everywhere to everyone!

2) Don’t fall for the hype. Focus on what you have now.

Pros to number one: grow your following and online presence, larger reach to a different potential audience. Cons to number one: time, personnel, time, and more time. Unless you have the staff and the hours to research, create, and engage in multiple, constantly changing online forums, approach number one may prove to be useless.

Pros to number two: robust and focused online campaigns with an established online presence can only help widen your reach. Cons to number two: the never-ending possibility to appear out-of-touch and outdated. (GASP!)

My philosophy tends to side with approach number two. There is no need to spread yourself thin and look mediocre when you have the ability to really focus on one or two social media platforms. I think it is worth more to have an impressive following in one area rather than a moderate following in many areas. Although…

The more creative, optimistic side of me says, “Go for it!” Get your press on all the popular sites to reach different audiences. Take on anything and everything! LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr, Youtube, and Snapchat, I want them all. (Realistically, if I did any of these, Instagram would be the first on the list.) But the issue holding me back from posting fabulous Insta photos of UNP’s cover designs is time.

And time, as we all know, equates to money. This brings me to the questions that our main objectives boil down to as a marketing department and as a UP:

Where is the money? How does this translate into sales? How does being social generate sales of books?

I realize these are standard questions for marketers everywhere and it’s hard to place a specific monetary value on a Facebook post or a tweet, but when you look at sales numbers, you should at least be able to say, “Something is working!”

Like many other UPs, UNP is currently active on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. So I would like to ask: Do our sales posts on Facebook encourage people to buy one of our books at a discount? Probably. Does George Takei’s Facebook status about one of our books translate into sales? YOU BETCHA! Anyway, my point, although extremely simplistic, is that social media matters. Social can sell, which is why UPs have been relatively quick to realize that these platforms are important. It’s why we are all promoting online in similar ways.

This is one of the great things about UPs. We publish similar books, share readers, and market to our audiences with the same strategies. But our downfall could be the exact same quality, we are all the same. We share the same message, tweet the same reviews, and are fans of the same literary blogs because we all, in theory, love books.

Is our sameness working?

Because I tend to gravitate toward option two, I have worked on ways to differentiate our social efforts on the platforms we already use. A few of weeks ago, I launched a new blog for UNP called Behind the Book hosted by WordPress (you’re reading on it now, it’s pretty, huh!?). The idea was to take the same content, same social media efforts and ideas but elevate the strategy into a user-friendly, up-to-date platform, which looks good and is shareable. The new blog is a way to become the central place that drives our online presence, supported and improved by our other social media platforms. Updating the blog and giving it a facelift is part of the strategy to divert from the usual UP marketing and social media strategies checklist. The new design not only looks sexy but it will, hopefully, drive those few extra sales we’re all hoping for.

-Rosemary (@ravestal)