22 Tips for Building Communities
The rise of niche marketing in the book world has led to a new appreciation of the power of audiences to drive interest in featured authors, titles and subject areas. Publishers are discovering a variety of ways to create communities, whether by building on time-tested marketing strategies or crafting innovative online features to encourage participation and create buzz. This feature shares tips from several experts on developing audience-building strategies that work.
TIPS FROM ... Linda Leonard, Director, New Media, Random House Children’s Books
Random House Children’s Books recently relaunched Teens@Random (www.RandomHouse.com/Teens), a Web site for fans of young-adult literature that makes extensive use of community links and other interactive tools built around genres and book series.
1. Design Web sites to appeal to a target group.
A prime driver of the redesign was to clearly separate the teens’ Web page, in look and feel, from online materials aimed at younger kids. “We wanted to make it very sleek looking,” Leonard says. “One of our main goals was to make it very teen-friendly, sophisticated, not too kid-oriented.”
2. Orient users to available features.
The Teens@Random home page offers a clear picture of what’s available to users, seamlessly bringing together new and previously launched material. “We wanted to raise the profile of our featured sites and series Web sites, in order to drive traffic to those sites,” she says. “Our ‘landing page’ features all of them.”
3. Two words: “fun” and “games.”
A “fun site” features polls, quizzes and other interactive activities. Some, such as “Build Your Own Boyfriend,” are expected to generate a fair amount of buzz. “Those are really successful and really viral,” Leonard says of the games. “We wanted to raise the visibility of those features on the new Web site, because that kind of content is so popular with teens.”
4. Allow users to interact with authors and each other.
The Web site brings together young readers in an interactive forum, “Random Buzz,” that features topic boards, graphics, polls, user-generated reviews and other activities. The site also contains links to author Web sites, MySpace pages and blogs. “With all of the major entertainment brands out there, teens these days expect there’s going to be a community element, and books are no different,” Leonard points out.
5. Build activities around specific releases.
“The Squad,” a new series about cheerleaders with special powers, has activities tailored to build interest and expand the brand. Fans can contribute their answers to questions such as “What would your secret power/weapon be?” or upload images of what they think a particular character should look like. “It’s getting them to think beyond the books and engaging them further,” Leonard says.
6. Encourage frequent use.
On “Random Buzz,” members can earn points for participating in discussions and polls, and by competing with other fans to be an “expert” on a certain book or series. The points can be redeemed for promotional products and tickets to events. The site also features downloadable graphics and multimedia content available only to members.
Maintaining high interest means the site can never be neglected for any length of time. “We have to keep the content fresh, or it gets stale really fast and nobody wants to come back,” Leonard notes.
A partner company, Affinitive (BeAffinitive.com), develops ideas and maintains the site. “They can develop more enhanced functionality, such as multimedia. It’s kind of hard to do that in house,” says Leonard.
7. Make readers feel like insiders.
Just launched is a feature that makes advanced-reading-copy sections of books available six months ahead of release. Members can register their opinions in the forum, read plot summaries and discuss personal messages from the author. The idea, as with so much else on the site, is to create the sort of buzz among teens that spills over into their everyday lives, bringing in new readers.
TIPS FROM … Peg Sousa, Book Club Director, F+W Publications Inc.
Cincinnati, Ohio-based F+W Publications is a leading publisher of special interest books and magazines in consumer enthusiast categories such as hobbies, arts and crafts, and recreation. The company hosts conferences and trade shows, and is well-known for its popular, long-running book clubs.
“We have a lot of magazines, so there’s a lot of cross-promotion [between magazines and books],” Sousa says. “We can monetize magazines more quickly, but that being said, we do a lot with just books.”
Cross-promotion allows F+W to utilize the multimedia features of a magazine’s Web site as a way to further promote books, authors and trade shows. “Magazine sites currently have the best content, such as streaming audio, digital products and downloadable plans for projects,” she says. (The company plans to develop separate multimedia-rich book sites.)
“We will excerpt books in magazines, or get behind a book by advertising in our magazines. We work with the magazine’s staff to come up with good [promotional] concepts,” she adds.
9. Build lists.
“We try to collect a lot of names and leads, and from that we promote and have our [book] clubs,” Sousa says.
10. Involve the customer in publishing decisions.
Soliciting the advice of loyal fans strengthens both catalogs and consumer ties, Sousa notes. “[One] of the cooler things we do in our book clubs is survey book titles,” she says. “For example, people in our Northlight [fine art] book club … are very passionate about the art-instruction books. We survey them with potential Northlight title ideas, and we get a huge response. What’s really nice about that is that we can go back, and when we publish a book that they’ve weighed in on, we can say, ‘This truly was something you asked for and helped us to develop.’ It’s an intriguing way of getting the customer involved in your product.”
11. Do focus groups.
First-hand feedback from members of your audience is invaluable to being able to relate to and develop your audience at large.
12. Partner with vendors.
Partnering with vendors that have products matching a book title is a way to promote an overall community for an enthusiast group, Sousa says. “Instead of just having a vendor do an ad, have them do a demo of their product that’s more educational in nature, and have that be what represents them on [your] Web site. Sponsored streaming video is more instructional for the consumer.”
Sections on new products featured in monthly book-club bulletins offer opportunities for sponsors and a way to position the clubs as comprehensive sources of information on a consumer-interest category.
13. Set up a MySpace page.
F+W’s comic book art imprint, Impact, has set up a MySpace page to capture more of its target audience. The site features blog entries, book blurbs and, of course, a “friends” section for comic and manga artists and readers. Impact also sends out an e-newsletter to those who subscribe online.
14. Go to consumer shows.
Impact has a regular presence at consumer trade shows such as Comic-Con.
15. Host your own shows.
F+W runs a number of shows through its conference division, on subjects as diverse as coin collecting, gardening, fantasy baseball, antiques and CD/record collecting. All, of course, dovetail with book and magazine products. “Several of these shows include classes, seminars, vendor displays … all focused on increasing the customer’s knowledge and passion for these various subjects,” Sousa notes.
The shows are an outgrowth of the company’s stated philosophy, which encompasses providing services along with content aimed at helping consumers pursue a chosen hobby or special interest.
16. Utilize rich content.
F+W’s “Writer’s Market” portfolio of books for freelance writers has been turned into a database-driven digital product. “It lends itself very well to being an online product,” Sousa notes. “You can use the online version to track what you’ve done and how you’ve used the book.”
Within six months, the publisher hopes to launch a social networking site on WritersMarket.com to allow more experienced users to educate those just breaking into the business. “One way to tap in [to a community] is [to] get experts using the product to be part of an online community,” Sousa says. “It’s a way to harness viral marketing, but even more than that, it’s about sharing a common experience and building that community to help each other in that common experience.”
TIPS FROM … Twila Bennett, Senior Director of Marketing for Revell and Baker Books
Baker Publishing Group is home to seven imprints focusing on Christian history, scripture and evangelism.
17. Capitalize on an author’s following.
“From the time we acquire a book, we are asking how much audience is already built in with that author, even for first-time authors who may already have a well-read blog, a position of leadership or some other audience-generating factor,” Bennett notes. “From there, we look for ways to convert that basic audience to a book audience.
“With existing authors, we work with them to build their own list by capturing names, which in some cases, they’ve simply never taken the time to do.”
18. Video is key.
“We’ve also found that videos used as part of an online campaign, in e-blasts or through YouTube, are part of being able to successfully help audiences connect with an author or the content of a book, because they allow the person watching to get a feel for the author or topic in a way that static words just don’t,” Bennett says. “These are very often the elements that most friends pass on a link to a friend to watch.”
This was the case with a new book called “Glimpses of Heaven,” which recounts stories of what people have seen, heard and experienced at the end of life. “The way that the author, who has been a hospice nurse, is able to connect with people dealing with end-of-life issues is something that is comforting and totally appropriate to pass along to someone else in the same situation,” says Bennett.
19. Personalize marketing efforts.
“Another way we’re able to connect with audiences and create that sense of community is to think of ways that our marketing can simply add value to someone’s life,” Bennett says. “One example recently is an e-card we did for a book called ‘Pray Big.’”
Marketing efforts for the book, from a first-time author, featured an e-card meant to be sent to a friend to let them know they were being prayed for. The cards were sponsored, “so in that way, the very nature of the card made a connection to the content of the book, but the marketing connection itself was a bit softer,” she notes.
20. Use online features to fulfill a dual purpose.
When planning Web site features meant to promote a book or encourage return visits, keep their audience-building potential in mind. Feedback and comment sections, for instance, have “taken on a renewed purpose with the conversational style and interactivity that blogs have promoted in the last few years,” Bennett notes.
In other words, comment sections should be thoroughly integrated into a Web site, rather than treated as add-ons, if the goal is to promote and build an online community.
“Other elements that help create a sense of community, particularly online with book marketing, are blogs from the authors [and] value-added resources and downloads,” she says.
TIPS FROM … Ellie Berger, President, Scholastic Trade
Scholastic is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books.
21. Good Web content builds lasting loyalties.
Children’s-book publishers need to be marketing the books and authors online, “where kids are spending their time,” Berger says.
“By engaging them with exciting content, interactive games and activities, the books and characters become familiar. Then, when they see the books in the stores and in the classrooms, they want to pick them up. It’s a way of building loyalty and community that can continue to grow between publication dates,” she says.
22. Reinforce community through multiple channels.
Citing a recent release, Nancy Krulik’s “How I Survived Middle School,” Berger notes that sales have been driven, and sustained, through a “huge Web presence” and promotion through distribution channels such as book clubs and book fairs. The effort “creat[es] cross-pollination between the various channels of distribution and the … Web,” she says.