Cover Story: 41 Tips for Building Online Communities
Tips from … Jennifer Webb, senior marketing manager, John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Webb handles Wiley’s efforts to increase the presence of the “For Dummies” books in the social media space.
6. Maintain—and link—multiple social networking pages.
The book series has two main social networking pages, on Twitter and Facebook, in addition to a “Dummies Man” profile page on Facebook. “The status posts feed directly from the Twitter updates, so it seems like we are active, but it is from a single source,” Webb says. “We are able to engage directly with our “Dummies” customers, and provide them with a place to reach us.”
7. Track click-throughs.
Webb’s team tracks click-throughs to Dummies.com and analyzes traffic response on posts/topics. “The main incentive is obviously brand exposure and keeping up with social media trends. Interactions are easy to track, and we can see traffic coming to Dummies.com from the social media sites,” she says.
8. Have an ongoing plan.
“We have monthly meetings with our content managers at Dummies.com to plan posts and topics to cover,” Webb says. “This also helps the Dummies.com team focus on acquiring new content that is useful to our visitors.”
9. Focus on the brand and the book/author.
The “Dummies” marketing team is focused on the brand, Webb says, but also wants to support and build communities around books and authors. “We have several authors, including ‘eBay For Dummies’ author Marsha Collier, who have their own fan pages, and heavily promote themselves and their books on these pages,” she says. “We 100-percent encourage authors to do this!”
Tips from … Lisa Earle McLeod, author (Penguin/Putnam) and business consultant
McLeod’s area of expertise is in building online communities around authors, which she believes is the primary responsibility of the author. “The author’s job is to create the platform and provide the content,” she says. “The publisher can then apply their resources to the PR machine, which will drive traffic.”
10. Start early.
“You need to build your community before you launch,” she says.
11. Focus on content, not ego.
For how-to titles and business books like hers, “You’re not creating a fan site,” McLeod says. “You’re creating a place where … people can learn, and share ideas.”
12. Don’t whine.
“It’s supposed to be hard,” she says of setting up and managing communities. “If it were easy, every wanna-be in America would already have done it.”
Tips from … Stacy Lellos, director of brand management and strategic planning at Scholastic Trade
Lellos oversees Scholastic’s “39 Clues” book series Web site for young readers, ages 8-12.
13. Fully integrate online and offline products.
The “39 Clues” site allows kids to do activities online that mirror the actions of characters in the books, as well as create their own content (playing cards), which adds to the offline reading and interactive experience. “We wanted to enable kids to feel like they are having a true interaction with the property,” Lellos says. “We want [kids] to really feel part of the experience, and get to put their own personal spin
14. Don’t shy away from multimedia.
Scholastic “enlists all the various mediums to their full potential and really thinks about them in tandem,” Lellos says. This includes, in addition to a Facebook page and the series’ main Web site, webcasts and video blogs allowing fans to follow series authors on book tours.
15. Connect with all stakeholders.
Scholastic is conscious of the need to communicate with kids, teachers and parents about the “39 Clues” series. Capitalizing on what she calls the “subversively educational” nature of the books—they teach history and geography along the way—Scholastic is working with teachers to foster the integration of the books into classroom curricula, and encourages networking among educators surrounding the books. Librarians and teachers who have their own blogs have also been instrumental in organically promoting the series, Lellos says, and a Scholastic-
sponsored teacher hub is planned to help further facilitate teacher conversations.
16. Don’t be a control freak.
Central to the online buzz surrounding “39 Clues” is an “organic” outgrowth of sites related to the series, but not created by Scholastic. Often created by fans, these include an independently created Wikipedia page and a wiki set up by a school in San Diego on which students talk to each other about the books, playing cards and characters in the books, as well as theorize about what will happen in the series.
17. Keep experimenting and learning.
“We are constantly learning,” Lellos says. “Given the groundbreaking nature of ‘39 Clues,’ there’s no model to follow, so we are creating a model and learning from that all the time. We’re using all the things we are learning, and can react most quickly in the online space to create a richer and better experience with each book, with each site feature, with each communication.”