Would You Rather Communicate or Broadcast?

As I plan out FSG‘s 2010 social media strategy, a few recent articles piqued my interest. (In fact, I hate that phrase “social media strategy.” Instead I’m going to say “methods for reaching readers online.” Because that’s all I want to do.)

First up is a Book Business article praising Chronicle Books’ efforts in this arena. I dig Chronicle’s list and many of their points in the article. Taking a day off to practice what you preach for your book on saving the environment? Amazing. Getting authors to participate in topical discussions using your Twitter and Facebook channels? Great.

But what didn’t track is the contradiction in their approach. Chronicle’s twitter feed has a near 1:1 ratio of follows to followers. This is great when you have a few hundred or even a few thousand followers. But 14,000? How does one manage the community at that scale? The answer: you don’t. Unless you have a full-time staffer, you can’t possibly maintain any kind of personal relationship without expensive CRM tools. (Echoes of my frustrations over the pervasive fallacy of Twitter worth.) At best, Chronicle can dip into the conversation at random. But randomness isn’t a great way to talk to readers.

On the other side of this equation is Clive Thompson’s “In Praise of Online Obscurity,” from the most recent issue of Wired. He addresses this demarcation line between communication and broadcast pretty well. Now, if you’re a large company like Kodak, your online strategy should and will be sui generis. But for publishers, especially houses like Chronicle and FSG, we ride the fence between communication and broadcast. At first I assumed garnering 10,000 Twitter followers would be great for FSG’s Twitter feed. But what do I get with that? 9,000 people I can’t talk to, just talk at.

Which begs the question: what would you rather have? This isn’t difficult to answer, and there are plenty of offline precedents. If your house’s titles are review driven (i.e. buzz driven, word-of-mouth driven), then you know the importance of 1:1 relationships with reviewers, editors, and bloggers. This is what I want to cultivate through our online channels. Because as anyone familiar with network theory can attest, 1:1 doesn’t scale well.

What do you think? I’m curious to see what people think about this with respect to different houses of different sizes, keeping resource allocation in mind. Yes, we’d all love to Twitter all day, just as we’d love to talk to every bookseller in the U.S. about our books and their most recent reviews. But let’s be realistic.

Related: Thompson’s article echoes Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody and Barabási’s Linked, both recommended reading.

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Filed under farrar straus and giroux, industry, socialmedia

3 responses to “Would You Rather Communicate or Broadcast?

  1. I think some more research is in order so I recommend http://mashable.com/2010/02/08/ted-talks-social-meida/ which I found last night and found interesting to say the least.

    I truly believe there is no right way or wrong way and one of the best people I know to read is Robert Scoble http://scobleizer.com/ because he spends his whole day exploring the web and has great influence and access. Search the archives in Nov/Dec to find out how Scoble uses twitter. Lists is a topic to, not followers.

  2. Thanks for your post. You definitely raise some key concerns about the follow back debate on Twitter. At Chronicle, we made the decision to reciprocate follows (when someone follows us we follow them back), but we do not bulk-add groups nor do we employ any 3rd party applications to boost our numbers. In fact, I make a habit of unfollowing all of the people who auto-DM us those annoying “increase your follower count” links.

    You are correct that it would be impossible for a single person, even a full-time Community Manager like myself, to monitor every tweet appearing in our feed. And I don’t. I use tools (all of them freely available online) to filter search terms, monitor conversations, seek out relevant topics, and engage with our readers. I read every @ reply and DM that appears in our feed. I follow hashtags and create groups. I retweet fan reviews, respond to queries, correspond with bloggers and editors, keep up with authors, and chat with friends I’ll likely never meet in person but with whom our books resonate.

    I don’t believe that being a brand on Twitter and having thousands of followers precludes making intimate connections with people and forging a vibrant and active community. (The hand-written holiday cards I received from several of my book industry Twitter friends are a testament to this.) However, it does require a strategy — and management tools — that differ from being an individual on a social network. After all, a publishing house is a business, and we can’t be friends if no one buys books and we all lose our jobs.

    @zenguin, Community Manager @ChronicleBooks

  3. You likely won’t find sympathy from the pedestrian twitter user who may be operating under the assumption that the platform was built to serve individuals, not corporations.

    You said it right up front: without a CRM to accompany thousands of twitter feeds, it’s a one-way conversation.

    Maybe the beauty of twitter is just that: for once, a platform that can’t be appropriated by corporations and products, but rather by the creators and individuals intimately involved in making the connections with people.


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