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Facebook Groups: Their Real Strength

After a recent article in which I recommended that individual authors set up their own Facebook groups, a question or two arose.

The first one was to do with expectations. Let’s say you set up such a group. Within a week or so, you may have gathered some members. Over the next couple of months, more people join. Then it dawns on you that the bulk of these people are fellow writers, friends from Facebook, who are for the most part following you out of politeness or perhaps a mild interest in what you are doing, but with little thought of buying or reading your books. Should the group be considered a success simply because it has members? Or a failure because hardly any of the members are readers of your books?

It comes down to the basics of what you are trying to do as a writer in the first place — and I mean BASICS. As writers, we are communicators; the whole object of our writing is (or probably should be) to communicate something. That might be an idea, an image, a belief, a viewpoint, or simply a thoroughly good piece of entertainment. The strange paradox with many writers is that, while storytelling is primarily about communication, the rest of their lives seems to be about avoiding it — many writers are stay-at-homers, quiet souls who spend much of their time on their own, shy hearts who speak quietly and keep themselves to themselves. There’s probably a study to be done as to why many people who become writers are often like this, as a result of which their fiction becomes their primary channel for communication. Other communication, outside the world of stories? Please no!

But if writing a piece of fiction is about communication, then marketing that piece afterwards is even more so. Traditional publishers usually take on the task of talking about the work after it has been written and finding ways of getting it known and bought. But even they have come more and more to look to the author for support in this area — hence all the hoo-ha about ‘author platforms’ and so on, about which I have written separately.

This is where we return to the question about Facebook groups: they are primarily a marketing tool, and potentially a very good one. Using the world’s most far-reaching and popular form of social media enables even the shiest writer to reach out across the world to potential readers. But has the group above, which managed to corral together some fellow writers rather than readers, succeeded or not as a marketing tool?

The answer is that it has done a bit of both: it has brought together some identities and engaged them to one degree or another in live communication, which is along the right lines. But it hasn’t yet tapped into the right people. In this case, the right people would be those individuals who are potentially interested in the author’s work for its own sake. We must conclude, then, that a Facebook group is at its best when it is part of a wider marketing strategy which includes locating the particular audience for a piece of work. If a book’s correct audience can be located, and members of that audience encouraged to join the Facebook group connected with it, then the group comes into its own, actively engaging and keeping the interest of exactly the right people.

Instead of being a ‘writers’ group’, in which fellow writers ask questions or offer comments about the whole process of writing a book, the group would then tend to be about the book itself — which bits of it were favourites, what emotional effects it had, how such-and-such a character is fascinating, and so on. It becomes a gathering of fans. A Facebook group used in that way is fulfilling its correct function by keeping alive the interest of its readers. Then, when that author’s next book comes out, there is much more likely to be a surge in sales — after which the whole process can begin again, but at a higher level, this time with discussions about both books and with the readers of one cross-pollinating, as it were, with the readers of the other.

That brings us to the other question that came up: why set up a Facebook group rather than a Facebook page? The answer is almost the same: a group is about interactive communication; a page is more or less a static ‘website’, located on Facebook. Pages are useful places for announcements and updates, because it’s easier to share from there and to keep a professional ‘look’ — but groups are much more interactive.

All this talk of interaction and live communication puts some writers off. They imagine that their precious time will be swallowed up answering comments and keeping the beast of a group fed with material to keep members interested. They would rather leave all of that social stuff to others and withdraw into simply writing their next book. That’s perfectly fine, as long as they don’t expect that the act of writing alone will be enough to get their work out there being read.

Writing the book gets the whole thing from the swirling, imaginative void in your head out onto the page or screen. It’s a tremendous journey and a big deal. But it’s only really Act One in a three act drama. Act Two is getting the story known widely to actual living, breathing readers who will appreciate it; Act Three is the action of keeping that happy group of readers alive and engaged enough to want to get the next book. A dedicated Facebook group can help with Acts Two and Three.

You only thought of writing one book? Again, that’s totally fine, as long as you don’t attach to that one book any false expectations — you know the kind of thing: ‘overnight bestseller’, ‘Hollywood offers’, that sort of dream. One book written and published is an achievement, but by far the majority of books, even when heavily marketed, sell only about 250 copies in their lifetimes — and that’s an average figure, meaning that some sell much less. If you want to accomplish Acts Two and Three, you would be well advised to learn about marketing; and one of the best ways of marketing is through this use of Facebook groups as we have been describing.

So Facebook groups are great and can be even greater when they are part of a marketing strategy which includes locating the right audience for a book. I offer services related to groups and locating audiences — contact me if you want to know more.


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