Social media is a great way to do academic book promotion. But not everyone has endless energy or resources to dedicate to it.
Having a concrete plan ahead of time means less heartache and indecision in the moment. It also lets you figure out the platforms you’ll focus on, the content you’ll create, and how often you’ll post.
Here’s how to create a social media plan that fits your resources, time, and goals for your book.
New or existing account
Most of the time, you don’t need separate social media accounts for your book—your existing accounts will work just fine. As an academic, you’ve already spent many years building a personal reputation, audience, and network as an engaged scholar. Your name is the cornerstone of that reputation and network. You can harness that to promote your book.
If you reserve your existing social media accounts for personal use, however, new accounts just for your book or your professional life might make more sense.
Keep in mind that creating a new social media account from scratch requires creating new content, including header and profile photos (sized for the platform in question) and a new bio. It also requires building a new audience from scratch.
The challenge of building a new audience is one reason I recommend using the social media accounts you already have as they come with the audiences you’ve already built—your friends, colleagues, co-organizers, collaborators, teachers, students, and interlocutors who are already following you. Talk to them using the accounts they already follow: use your personal accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Academia.edu, Instagram, or LinkedIn to create posts about your book and (most importantly) send people to a website where they can purchase your book.
What social media can do and what it can’t
The point of any social media book marketing post is to get people to go to a website where they can purchase your book. It is easy to get caught up in chasing Facebook likes or Twitter followers. There is an immediate gratification to those. But I’m going to encourage you to mostly ignore them.
There are several problems with chasing likes and followers:
The folks who click a “like” or “follow” button to support you are not necessarily buying your book. They may think you’re awesome, they clearly want to see what you post, but most of them will not buy your book. The only people buying your book are those who go to a website selling the book and clicking “buy,” or buying it in person.
Many, many more people will like your page than buy your book—it’s a lot easier and it doesn’t require much effort. You want to focus on the latter group, however, to increase book sales. Of the people who follow you on social media or visit your website, how many actually buy your book? This is what is known in marketing parlance as “conversion.” All the support in the world doesn’t equal book sales.
Another problem with chasing likes and followers is that you don’t have much access to those folks and no way to contact them if they leave or the social media platform disappears. The social media platform owns those people’s contact information; you don’t. This is why building an email list is so crucial, and why I cover this in another chapter of Book Marketing for Academics. With an email list you have a way to directly contact folks and let them know news about your book, upcoming events, and where they can get their copy.
The third problem with relying solely on social media platforms is that they are separate from one another. Your Academia.edu or Instagram followers don’t necessarily follow you on Facebook and vice versa. When folks jump to the next hot social media platform, you have to build a brand new audience from scratch over there because you can’t bring your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter followers over (just think of 2014 when many academics flocked to the new platform Ello, only to largely return to Facebook).
So why be on social media at all?
Social media can be great for generating buzz about your book. Chances are your book’s ideal audience already uses one more than others so going there and participating can be a fantastic way to reach them. The key is using that platform to get them to a website where they can actually buy your book.
Do you have to be on all the platforms?
Nope. In fact, you shouldn’t. Don’t stretch yourself thin trying to build audiences on each platform, figure out the image and text rules, learn what times of day are best for posting, and mastering the tone and content each platform lends itself to.
After all, you’re not a social media manager or marketing professional, you’re a scholar (which is a lot more fun, in my opinion). So find a few platforms that are the best fit and focus on those.
Not all platforms fit your book, you, and your ideal audience. In chapter 3 of Book Marketing for Academics (“Find the Unique Ways You Like to Connect to Others”), I helped you figure out the ways you prefer to connect with people in general. Here we’re going to think about this in relation to social media platforms because different platforms allow for different kinds of connection.
Do you like big crowds or small groups? Do you like talking to people you don’t know or do you prefer to get to know friends of friends and expand your social circle that way? Are you a more visual person or do you prefer text? Does long-form communication appeal to you more or short, brief engagements?
Now, how do you like people to respond to you? Do you like them to ask questions, request information, or get to know you better? Do you prefer like them to share what they’ve learned from you with others? Do you like them to translate what you’ve said into their own context, maybe pointing out connections you didn’t notice before?
One way to figure this out is to think about your teaching, advising, and service. Which courses do you like teaching the best and why? Forget the content here, the focus is on the human engagement.
Do you like smaller seminars with upper-division undergraduates or graduate students (i.e., people who are already experts or at an advanced level) with whom you have more informal discussions and conversations? Do you like large introductory lecture courses where you deliver material essentially onstage in a giant lecture hall? Do you prefer students schedule office hours with you so you can prepare or do you have an open-door policy encouraging them to drop by?
Think about this with regard to your service work too. Do you prefer committees where folks get right down to business and debate the merits of a particular policy or applicant or more informal committees where people socialize and get to know one another before making decisions?
Next, see which social media platforms emphasize your preferred mode of communication and how you prefer people to respond. Which offer longer-form engagement, which offer more sharing capabilities, and which have a temporality you like? Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, for example, are a lot faster than Facebook, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu.
And finally, figure out which platforms your ideal audience is already on. The intersection between these things is where you want to be. Let’s say the platforms that lend themselves to your communication style include Facebook, Instagram, Academia.edu, and Pinterest. And perhaps your book’s ideal audience is on Pinterest and Facebook. So those two are where you want to focus your efforts. Now you can craft a social media plan that harnesses those specific platforms.
Now that you have your platforms, what are you going to post on them? Social media is a great place to post news about your book (release dates, new editions, etc.), upcoming book tour events (book talks, conference presentations and conference book exhibits, Author Meets Critics sessions), current news stories related to your book’s topic and argument, reviews of your book, nice things people say informally about your book, and links to where people can buy your book.
The key here is balance: nobody wants to follow a social media account that is 100 percent promotion. It’s why we unsubscribe from advertisers who just seem to be selling us stuff, rather than providing us with quality content we can use. You want to strike a balance here between promotion (actively pitching your book and telling people where they can buy it), original content, and sharing. A good ratio to aim for is 40 percent original content, 40 percent sharing other people’s content, and 20 percent promotion.
Depending on the platform, original content doesn’t have to be super long. A tweet about an event you attended last night on some themes your book addresses can be short and sweet (and include images/videos). Alternatively, if you have set up a blog on your website, you can share your blog posts (which are original content) on social media.
Sharing involves passing along content that somebody else created that is of interest to your audience. So retweeting a news story or sharing a review someone posted about your book is sharing content.
Promotional content is the more direct sell. It is where you tell people clearly that your book is for sale and where they can buy it (this content should always include a link). You can also do promotional content that “sells” your email list, encouraging people to sign up to receive news and updates—in that case, your link would go to your website where folks can sign up for your list.
Your posting schedule
The key to effective social media marketing is consistency. If you post erratically or go long periods of time without posting anything and then dump a bunch of content at once, at best no one will actually see your content and at worst you’ll lose followers.
When your book is about to come out, it may sound appealing to post every day! On all the platforms! You have so much energy because you’re so excited about your brand new book! But this energy will definitely wear off when your other responsibilities kick in and you get buried in grading, course preparation, starting that new research project, grant applications, tenure review packets, family vacations, and home repairs. So you need to find a posting schedule that you can actually stick to.
Take a hard look at your calendar and all your various projects. Think holistically here and map it out: all your professional and personal activities that you spend your time on. Now decide what is a reasonable amount of time for you to spend each week on your book marketing—not just social media, but all of it (scheduling book events and writing book talks, maintaining your website, sending out news to your email list, blogging, pitching podcasts, researching and applying for book prizes, and, of course, social media posting). Now figure out what percentage of that overall book marketing time you can spend on social media posting. That’s the time you’re working with.
Next, plan out your social media content for the next several months. This is known as a content calendar or editorial calendar. What is the original content you’ll create? How will you find the material you’ll be re-sharing? What will your promotional content be? Schedule that content on a calendar.
You can also harness upcoming events. For example, if you have a conference next month, you’ll want to schedule social media posts leading up to it encouraging people to stop by the conference book exhibit where your book is on display, attend your panel, or come say hello at the reception. If it is November and you know your publisher is having a big holiday sale in December (many do), schedule some content emphasizing the sale and promoting your book.
Now you might be worried that spending time on your book marketing each week means you have to constantly be on social media posting content in real time. If that appeals to you, by all means go for it. But if it doesn’t, check out social media scheduling tools like CoSchedule, Hootsuite, and Buffer that let you upload a bunch of content at once and schedule when it gets posted to each platform.