The publishing industry using social media platforms as a way in which they can promote everything from new books to jobs is still relatively new. Of course, websites have been around a lot longer than the likes of Facebook founded in 2004, Twitter (2006) and Instagram (2010). However, the idea of being able to reach a mass audience as well as specialist groups, such as those interested in cookery, travel or non-fiction, very quickly is what made the likes of Twitter and Facebook so appealing to many publishers. Social media has changed the way that publishing is seen and the way that the publishers present themselves to the readers. Without publishers and authors using these platforms, the style of publishing that has been developed over the last decade would be very different. The use of social media has broken the gap between brand and audience in a way that had not been done before and made publishers seems more accessible.
Although social media is often seen as being aimed at the younger, millennial generation; the fact that publishers are encouraging the likes of their editors and writer to get involved helps to broaden the age range. Although age is of course useful in terms of reaching a wider audience, the size of the platform also has a part to play. Facebook is still by far the largest platform with over 1.7 billion monthly active users (MAU), whereas Twitter has just over 500 million MAU. Although Facebook is a much bigger site with far more monthly users, it still goes back to the idea of the way each platform presents itself.
The shift over to social media and its impact.
The introduction of social platforms into what was once a very hands on, face–to–face industry had its challenges, such as taking a format for selling books and rapidly changing it to fit the fast moving, internet based 21st century. Publishers such as Penguin, which merged with Random House in 2013, have made huge use of Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram, with Penguin having around 25 different twitter accounts such as Penguin Classics, Penguin Random Ire, Penguin Digital USA and Penguin China. Penguin is a major publisher, with an international audience and this is where having a platform such as Twitter that is online and ‘open’, 24 hours a day is really useful for customers all over the world. As well as this, publishers have to engage more with an audience in a way that they never had to do before, as Craig Morgan Teicher said, “Twitter affords a new and unprecedented level of access to and from all sides of the publishing world” .
Another way in which the introduction of social media has changed the publishing industry, is that it has become to some extent, far more transparent. Instead of being shut away until they are finished, books are now able to be marketed far in advance of their actual release. Pre-digital age, books were sent out to bookstores with the marketing; now half the marketing comes from the publisher’s social presence. This change over to social platforms has not only changed the way in which publishing houses engage with their audiences but also the way that authors engage with readers.
Authors and readers on social platforms
As important as it is for the publishers to engage with the readers, it has become important for authors to do the same. In a world where they are no longer just a name on the front of a book, or a face that is seen occasionally at book signings and events, there is a definite need for them to be somewhat approachable to their readership. It has become important for the author to build up a presence and a following on platforms such as Facebook and especially Twitter. They have become such an important part of the marketing process, “Authors should feel comfortable with any digital activity they are asked to undertake, using tweeting, blogging and other online platforms to build an audience” as Sarah Shaffi stated. Authors often engage with their readers on a personal level by either aiming posts in a way that is engaging to the audience, or by actually interacting directly with their readership through retweets or replies. A good example of this is J.K. Rowling; on Twitter she has a following of over eight million, with her Facebook following with over five million. She is constantly engaging with her fans and readers and this gives her readers a sense of her being more approachable and helps to build a community. In a time where everything is virtually only a Google search away, this brings back a sense of it being personal.
George RR Martin is another hugely well known author, yet the way that he uses Twitter is far less successful. Whereas Rowling tweets and engages with her readership, Martin does neither of these, choosing rather to link every tweet out to his LiveJournal. This is reflected in the number of people that follow him; he has just over 800 thousand followers. Compare this to Rowling and even the Twitter account for the HBO Game of Thrones show – where they engage with the fan – which has over 4 million followers. It shows the impact that tweets and retweets can have.
The road to social media
The introduction of social media platforms in the early 2000s marks a key turning point in the publishing industry. The business had become far more digitalised with the addition of the internet and websites in the 1990s; yet this social element was something vastly different again. Facebook, was the first to really fit under the category of social media, getting the users to engage with the website and other users. However, to some extent Facebook is seen more as a place to interact with people that you know and less about brands and publishers. Posts by companies are often overlooked or simply don’t show up on timelines, according to Jayson DeMers “Facebook is going to increasingly prioritise posts in newsfeeds that come from user’s friends and family members…By contrast, the visibility of posts made by brands and organisations, especially publishers is going to decrease”.
Its target audience is vastly different from that of Twitter, which has become the social platform for companies. The difference in the audience that each website is aimed towards, allows them both to grow and for people to interact with them both in very different ways. An example of how publishers use both platforms can be seen with Penguin Random House’s (PRH) respective pages on both websites. On Facebook, PRH has just over 500 thousand page likes which is much the same as a follow, whereas on Twitter, they have over one million followers.
The way in which publishing houses have chosen to engage with social media platforms has changed the way that publishing is viewed entirely. It is no longer seen as being quite so distant and unattainable to the readership. Publishers and authors have come to see the likes of Twitter as being a way of “engaging fans and sparking discussions about books with people all over the world.” as Daniel Lefferts said. Twitter especially has, as well as engaging readers, become as sort of publishers and authors network, with discussions taking place, that maybe wouldn’t have happened without this easy, fast form of communication.
Other areas and forms of publishing
Other divisions within publishing have to deal with social media in different ways, for example a children’s publisher like Harper Children’s using Twitter in the same way as Routledge History wouldn’t work well for either. Taking the targeted audience into consideration is important to whether the feed is successful. With Harper Children’s
Twitter, the feed is not aimed to be read by the child themselves necessarily, but by their parents. The feed therefore has to work for both adults and children and be engaging to both. However, Routledge’s history account is aimed to be read by the target audience, therefore the tone and content that is used is entirely different.Of course it is not only the likes of book publishers that have had to adapt to the addition of social media and target their content. Newspapers and journals such as The Guardian, The Huffington Post and The Bookseller have all created accounts on these platforms and are successfully engaging with their audience.
Social media has rapidly become part of everyday life for a huge number of people and along with that it has become an important marketing tool for companies. The very fact that different forms of social media are used in different ways shows just how diverse the market is for companies, such as publishers to reach out and develop in these areas. While Twitter and Facebook are definitely leading the publishing presence at the moment, the constant drive forward is leading towards the likes of Instagram, Tumblr and even Pinterest. While these platforms have different styles yet again, the initial leap has been made by publishers into the digital and social age.