Perhaps the best single business move I ever made was to open up a Facebook group. But that’s not necessarily the best thing for everyone.
Let me explain.
‘Marketing’ for most people, until they learn how it really works, is a matter of taking one’s message and bombarding the airwaves with it - every possible channel, as much as possible, for as long as possible. You run into this all the time as a consumer - advertisements and other promotional efforts coming at you from every possible angle, through social media, through email, through posters, through radio and television advertisements, through newspapers and magazines. It’s ‘industrial fishing trawler’ marketing: throw out the biggest net, covering the widest possible area, and see what you can trawl up. Yes, it can be refined to some degree - you can trawl in those areas where the most fish have been reported, for a start. But all the accompanying paraphernalia of search engine optimisation, keywords, Google Ads, Facebook Ads and so forth which follows from this approach, along with the various attempts to refine it and make it more effective, can be immensely time-consuming and expensive.
How does marketing really work? Well, you have the perfect test subject upon which to run some diagnostics: yourself. Take a close look at your own behaviour as someone in a marketplace. How effective are these bombardments? How frequently is your attention ‘trawled’? How effective are the huge nets that are thrown out every day to capture your purchases? The answer to those questions, unless you are close to the automaton which most of these campaigns postulate that you are, is probably ‘Not a lot’.
When you ‘spam the internet’, for example, sending out messages into the environment, your own expectation of how much response you are going to get is probably extremely low. What if you could send out any message - not even a very finely honed message, just something that was of interest to you or generally associated with your favourite topics, and get engagement without paying for anything or wasting time ‘promoting’ that message to the world? That would obviously be preferable.
The big advantage to having a Facebook group (or its equivalent on some other form of social media) is that through it you gather an audience who will, by their very nature, be more engaged, more likely to respond, and often more likely to buy.
I spent a great deal of time - more time than I care to admit - attempting to trawl attention from the wider world, mainly by spamming the internet, with very little result. Fortunately, I also spent that time studying the way the market was responding and researching how it actually worked. And I came to various conclusions, some of which I wanted to share with you here to save you the hassle of having to find them out for yourself.
The primary conclusion was that what was working, underneath all the number crunching and keyword advertising and all the other mechanisms and techniques, was affinity. People only buy stuff when their affinity for a certain item or service has risen to a certain point. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to feel a gushing love for everything they buy, but you can see for yourself that, in any given context, your own liking for a particular product or service has to reach a certain point before you will reach for your wallet or purse. This can be as coldly mechanical as having to buy a new light bulb because an old one just blew, or it can be as intangible and emotionally based as deciding to purchase a new book because you have had your affinity raised in various ways, through the blurb or the cover or reviews about it, until you decided to get it. If a person’s affinity for something remains low, for whatever reason, then the likelihood of them purchasing that thing remains low.
You can be as mechanical and tautological about this as you please: something which remains far away (low affinity) is less likely to be drawn close (high affinity). If the whole purpose of marketing is to draw the product and the consumer closer together, then the product you want to create with any marketing campaign is affinity = closeness.
Members of your own social media group are about as close as you can get to real, living people who might buy and read your book. In many ways, they are even closer than an email list of names, because the relationship in social media groups is live and interactive, whereas an email list tends to be less lively and more one-way.
When I started my Facebook group, the membership of the Inner Circle Writers’ Group, which had been only a couple of dozen people for several years, began to rise rapidly until at this writing it is around 4,000 individuals. The number of those individuals who are active within the group also tends to remain high. So the group is alive. And the people feel close; the affinity is high. The group definitely contains the people most likely to buy my books. These people are no longer faceless strangers in the wide open world of internet spamming, but friends.
But if you are an individual author building an author platform, you might be wondering how this applies to you. It’s all very well having a ‘writers’ group’, but what you want really is a ‘readers’ group’ - preferably a large and growing readers’ group, in which the readers are reading pretty much exclusively your own books. If you have only written one book (you might be thinking) and you’re trying to get people to buy it, how can you engage with a group on social media - or anywhere else for that matter - in any other way without just ‘being salesy’ and trying to convince those people all the time to buy your book?
Of course, this is very much what you see when you come across other authors’ platforms - their websites, blogs, Facebook pages, and so on. They have set them up and called them ‘author platforms’ and spend most of their time on them inventing new ways to try to persuade you to buy their books. Most author platforms are thinly disguised advertising pages - perhaps yours is too.
This scenario gets even worse if you’ve written only one book and it's a work of fiction. Let’s say this is your situation and you have set up a Facebook page and perhaps even a Facebook group around your book. Maybe you have a few people who have ‘liked’ your page and joined your group. But what do you talk about in that group? Apart from the latest special offer or book signing that you might have arranged - in other words, new ways to try to entice people to buy - what is there to talk about? You could talk about what’s in your book, I suppose - but not too much without giving too much away. So the conversation becomes quite stilted and probably infrequent, perhaps even a little bit anxious. You might come to feel that the persona you present to the world through your platform is a little insincere or forced, as all you seem to be able to do is try to sell people your book; you perhaps wish that you could just relax and talk instead of trying to flog stuff to strangers.
What’s the way forward through all this?