Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Does anyone understand social media?

Let’s start with a chart. David Mihm, the guy who researched and assembled this chart, politely asked that his graphic not be used without his permission, so I’m honoring that.

Take a moment, go to this address , and scroll a little ways down until you see a chart called The Local Search Ecosystem. There won’t be a test, so don’t try to memorize it. I think it’s the best graphical representation I’ve seen about how complex social media has become. And no, I don’t understand this chart either, but I’m sure that Mr. Mihm and others in his position do. That’s the point of this blog.

Cindy King (@CindyKing), the Director of Editorial at Social Media Examiner, asked a lot of people—who probably do understand that chart—for their 2013 social media predictions. If you want to read all of the predictions go here.

Not surprisingly, one of the top predictions was that, in the coming year, doing business by social media will become a necessity, not a nice to have. Whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready or not, social media for business is galloping over the hill towards us.

So what? Writers do social media already. We have e-mail accounts, web sites, and blogs. We make book trailers, digg, stumble, tweet, ping, skype and have Facebook pages. Social media holds no terror of us.

Except that the age of home-grown creators/posters may be coming to an end.

Do you know the story about the chess board? A chess board has 64 squares, 8 horizontally and 8 vertically. According to the story a man gave Sharim, an Indian King, a handmade chess board. Most pleased, the king asked the man what he wanted in return.

The man said all he wanted was 1 grain of rice on the first square, 2 grains on the second, 4 on the third and so on. This is called exponential growth. When the King agreed, he had no idea that, because of the way exponential numbers grow, square 21—not even half-way through the board—would take one million grains of rice; square 41 would take a trillion grains and there was not enough rice in the whole world for the final squares.

This is what’s happening with social media. The number of businesses and the number of social media sites are increasing like the grains of rice. Pretty soon the board will be so full that companies and sites start falling off the board.

Not to worry. I’ve got a small, but viable, group of fans, friends, followers, etc. so I’ll just tend to those people and not worry about all of those other businesses. After all, I never expected to compete with huge corporations. The nice thing about the Internet is that I can go head-to-head with the big boys.

Which would be a workable theory if social media was that proverbial level playing field. I make a book trailer; a big publisher makes a book trailer. The beauty of the Internet is that we both post to YouTube or Vimeo, and my readers can find me.

Not for long. This is how the Internet has already started to change:

Step 1: collect massive amounts of data and store it in unbelievably huge data storage facilities.
Step 2: write algorithms to rank that data.
Step 3: create services like Facebook’s EdgeRankChecker, Twitter’s personalized feeds, or the new kid on the block Google+ Author Markup. Incidentally, “Author” in Author Markup refers to a person who writes or makes what’s being posted, not to author as writer of books and short-stories.
Step 4: moneytize rankings.

Think of it like flying standby. If there are any seats vacant after all passengers with confirmed tickets have checked in, the airline will put you on the plane. Eventually either you get lucky, or you get frustrated, and plunk down money for a confirmed ticket.

A Google search for “mystery writer” produced 65,500,000 links. Am I going to look all 65+ million. Of course not. If a link doesn’t show up on the first three pages, I’ll do another search. If a business comes up on page 20 or 200 or 2,000 of a search engine result, chances are potential customers will never see it.

We’re all flying standby, waiting in line to show up on the first three pages of search engine results. What will get us there?
1) High rankings: great content, frequent postings, professional graphics (no home-made book trailers need apply), buzz, lots of followers, going viral, etc.
2) Paying money to improve ranking and position: hiring professional web designers, data analysts, or electronic marketing gurus.

While social media sites still provide free access—great for fun things like videos of dancing kittens—businesses are being steered toward buying services, with promises of top ranking for their niche markets. Want to reach the ideal demographic for traditional mysteries (women 45 to 65, who have at least a high school education, read for pleasure, and have some disposable income)? Pay us and we will customize a marketing package for you so that your book shows up on their searches.

Am I discouraged? Not really. I think we have a little bit of wiggle time left before money takes over completely. And who knows, this whole system may collapse in on itself, and reinvent the Internet. Some of the people who understand that chart think so, too.

My forecast for 2013 is based on my lousy predictions of years previous, and learning from that experience. My prediction? That we will be taken by surprise by a new social media service that hardly anyone will see coming! Just look over the last few years and see how we have been blindsided.
~ Chris Garrett (@chrisgarrett), author and Vice-President of Educational Content, Copyblogger Media

The important thing is to be in the game. Equally important is to be having fun while we’re playing. Aim for great content. Do the exact opposite of the Wizard of Oz. Instead of ignoring the woman behind the curtain, let that woman’s passion and true voice ring loud and clear.

Quote for the week

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. … It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
~Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955), theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner. 


Sheila Connolly said...

An impressive chart indeed, and I confess I don't recognize at least half of the names on it.

But in spite of the omnipresence of multiple social networks, and the insistence from our friends, colleagues, publishers, agents, editors, etc., I keep asking: does participating in these media really help sell our books? And do we have any control over it, or do we just lay back and let the tides wash us where they will? I don't have the answers.

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sharon,
I echo some of your and Sheila's concerns. My take is that either (1) the social media website is a moving target (Facebook is the prime culprit), or (2) the social media website tries to be everything to everybody (Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, and others are culprits). This is not an exclusive or, by any means, and both items mean that negotiating the sites probably takes more time than any benefits you can obtain. However, many things about writing and publishing today boil down to necessary conditions. There are no sufficient ones. No one, anywhere, can guarantee to an author that his or her book will be a bestseller. It's a lottery, folks!

Anonymous said...

Does social media sell books? Actually, it does, but what it can't guarantee is massive book sales. This is where Steve's lottery comes in.

The bottom line I see all across social media discussions is that one-on-one works better than any other method. The real value that the Internet has is that it allows us to go one-on-one with readers anywhere in the world.

My tweets are a fishing expedition. When one of them drives a person to my web site, where she finds out more about my books, and sends me e-mail, that's when the real sale begins.

Sandra Parshall said...

I know Facebook has helped me sell books -- but it's a small, small number. I don't do Twitter and probably never will. I've decided I will do what I enjoy doing -- and I genuinely enjoy Facebook -- and stop worrying about the rest.