Cover Story: 41 Tips for Building Online Communities
Tips from … Gypsy Lovett, associate director of publicity, John Wiley & Sons Inc.
In an innovative move designed to capitalize on an already strong online following, Wiley worked with fans of Rose Levy Beranbaum and her RealBakingWithRose.com Web site to do some online community building for Beranbaum’s latest release, “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.” The idea was to facilitate a blog-based online bake-off. Wiley offered free books to the first 10 bloggers to sign up, and the post became the most successful (in terms of number of visitors) to date on the author’s Web site. There are now 25 bloggers baking and interacting with their own communities on their blogs about the book.
31. Find and work with fans already active online.
Lovett and her team found a blogger who had previously baked and blogged her way through one of Beranbaum’s books, and launched a new site, HeavenlyCakePlace.blogspot.com, to seed interest in advance of the new book. “We were thrilled that a fan of our author’s was excited to launch this community blog bake-through, with some technical assistance from us such as building a badge,” she says. “Having the blog up and running several months ahead of publication certainly helped to build excitement, and ultimately helped lead to a great launch, because people were hungry for the information before the book was even out.”
32. Tap independent voices to create authenticity.
It is important that the fan tapped to launch the online bake-off was already an independent blogger writing about Beranbaum’s books, Lovett says. “The opinions and experiences voiced there are those of the community that has formed through a common interest. As a rule of thumb, people are most apt to listen to their peers than [if they] feel they are being preached to,” she says. The blogs contain unsolicited, unbiased opinions, rather than those of a publisher telling an audience about a product. “It is consumers talking to other like-minded interested consumers,” says Lovett.
33. Center a blog network around an author platform.
“It is critical that the author have a platform already, preferably online,” Lovett says. “In this instance, our author … has a very active site of her own. It certainly helped support and build awareness that she was willing to let her community know about the bake-along.”
34. Measure success by the interest and enthusiasm of the audience.
“We are thrilled at the number of bloggers sharing their personal experiences. Individuals are owning, defining and ultimately evolving these blogs,” she says. “By documenting their experiences baking, cooking or sewing through a book, interested consumers are spreading the word and bringing these texts to life.”
Tips from … Scott Spiewak, president/CEO, Fresh Impact Public Relations Group LLC
Spiewak works with authors and publishers to build micro-sites and online community platforms for authors.
35. Create a book Web site.
Launching a “micro-site” around a book is one way Spiewak advises to build a strong online presence. “We recommend launching your site either around your overall brand or, even more specifically, to the title of your book,” he says. “We use these micro-sites to help build not only a presence online, but to create a ‘hub’ for readers to come to … for your book and discussions.”
36. Launch the site six to eight months before a book’s release.
An early launch is key, Spiewak says—and this means more than a superficial, static Web presence. “Most of the micro-sites we launch consist of a blog, presale links to bookstore chains and distributors, event listings, guest appearances, even testimonials from readers,” he says.
37. Encourage authors to participate frequently.
“Readers these days want to know authors are accessible,” Spiewak says. “We strongly encourage authors to be a part of the site as much as possible [by] responding to queries and feedback.” Make sure authors understand the time commitment—for blogs to be effective, for instance, they must have at least three new posts a week. “The worst thing you can do,” he says, “is launch a blog and then never make a post.”
38. Mix traditional and social media for maximum ROI.
“We tell authors that the biggest return on investment with social media is when you mix traditional with the power of social media,” he says. Spiewak often recommends his clients utilize Facebook fan pages, LinkedIn groups, YouTube and Shelfari along with the traditional bookstore appearances, interviews and lectures. Such efforts, he says, are mutually reinforcing. “If you do interviews before the book is in stores, send media outlets to your blog or Facebook fan page. … In many cases, we have seen author interviews bump up their fan pages by several hundred,” he says. Sometimes the results are even more tangible: One particular author Web site yielded close to 14,000 books presold before the release date, he says.
39. Track results.
Use Google analytics or software attached to the social networking site to track the growth of online readers.
40. Tap blogs to yield evangelists.
Blogs are great for building relationships with readers, he says. “It helps readers get to know you personally, which establishes ‘brand evangelists’ to continue to tell your story without you having to tell it,” Spiewak says. Use blogs to make connections with other high-profile sites through links and guest posts (offering other bloggers the chance to post on your blog and contributing your feedback to other blogs pertaining to your genre or area of expertise). This can bring more readers to your blog and get other bloggers talking about your book with their communities.
41. Don’t let interest fade between launches.
To maintain an author, title or series’ strength as a brand, it’s important not to neglect social networking sites just because another book launch is not around the corner. “Keeping the buzz alive online between books or book releases can be an uphill battle,” he says. “You have to know that going into it, and build a strategy around release dates.”