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.