An article on Saturday’s Mashable illustrates the relative amount of traffic driven to publishers from various methods of social media, and makes it clear that Facebook sends more customers to publishers than any other social media combined.
Editor Neil Marr went so far as to say to his Facebook followers: “Trying to sell your book? Seems you’re at the right place.”
But once again, I’m presented with the incredible dichotomy between the realities for mainstream publishers and the realities for self-publishers… most notably, myself.
I’ve used Facebook to promote me and my books for the last few years. At one time, I had a second FB page devoted exclusively to the books. I used it by sharing FB posts and online articles related to the science and social issues that my books tend to discuss or highlight… sharing links to my blog posts about the same issues… and, of course, the occasional promotion, mention or excerpt presented about one of my books. Honestly, I had fewer links to my books than I had links and shares to other material… I wasn’t a total shill. At the same time, I mentioned many of the same article links, and links to my books, on my personal site, along with more personal material.
But I saw virtually no increase in traffic to my books site, or to third party ebook vendors, from my Facebook pages. The problem was twofold: First, I knew very few people, so I never had a lot of traffic to my FB pages in the first place; and Second, it turned out that few of those visitors actually shared my posts with anyone else… it was always the same small group of people, viewing my pages, occasionally liking a post, but not spreading them around.
This is the most obvious problem with Facebook, as with most social media: It depends on being actively, aggressively shared to gain any kind of audience or exposure. People who are already well-known are much more likely to be shared online, or even searched for; the rest of us obscure folk, not so much. And if nobody finds your page, you’re essentially talking to an empty room (or hollow tube, as the case may be).
Facebook users are also walking a razor-edged line between promotion and spamming, a situation familiar to most online users. Visitors brought their dislike of ads (that they didn’t specifically ask for) with them to Facebook, and even the most banal promotion of an author’s book is seen by many as “another stupid commercial.” Too many of those, and a Facebook page is considered a “spamming page,” to be avoided at all costs. But advertisement generally only works when it is widespread and pervasive. How do you make ads widespread and pervasive, and keep from being considered a spammer? I have no idea.
(Well, to be fair, I have one idea: Your ads need to be incredibly entertaining, so visitors do not consider them to be ads. A well-crafted video, some really funny lines or a popular character or mascot (think Messin’ with Sasquatch commercials) can be highly enjoyed by viewers… whom you can only hope will then go and check out your products. At least, they are more likely to share you with others, who might thereby discover your work. So, apparently, the real definition of Spam is “ads that don’t make you laugh.”)
Facebook can also be good for information and advice; there are plenty of Facebook pages devoted to activities like writing, for example. I’ve occasionally tried out a few of those, joining the group, then asking questions or venturing opinions about writing and self-publishing. I recently tried that with a group I’d recently discovered, the Indie Author group. I joined, hoping that I might catch some pearls of wisdom that would help me sell my books. Unfortunately, it soon became clear to me that the advice I was getting was no different than advice I’d gotten from other sources over the years, which had not improved my selling ability at all. (I say this not in criticism of the Indie Author group. Maybe their advice works just fine for more mainstream authors, for very popular genres like romance, or for authors with deeper pockets or better networks of supporters—but I’d tried them all in the past, and had zero success from them.) I continue to search for FB groups that can help me, or at least help me spread the word about my work, but so far, none of them has done me any good.
I haven’t written off Facebook yet… though, quite honestly, I can’t tell you why. Based on the graph above, I think it’s pretty clear that there’s no point in relying on any other form of social media to help me sell books. But if my results for Facebook, the most promising of social media promotional venues, continues to be so incredibly flatlined, I won’t be able to justify the time I waste on it trying to get it to work. That’ll be a shame, because I really have no other affordable way to promote myself, and I’m not clever enough to come up with the next Messin’ with Sasquatch commercial. And I’m not cute enough to draw sympathy from whining.