Thursday, 26 April 2012

Creating Social Media Buzz - How do networks really work?

Buzz is elusive, but as we demonstrated in an earlier post it's a bit like setting something alight. The more sparks there are, the greater the chance it will catch. We already listed all of the outlets we can use to try and create those sparks, but we ignored a major element - the people.

Social media sites are simply a vehicle. It's the users that make or break anything, and we need to reach people if we want to get our brand out there. To do so, we need to understand how personal networks work, how information in moved inside and between networks and why people share info.

We're going to start with a basic premise - People band together in groups. As authors, we all follow each other on twitter. This is fun, but it doesn't sell many books as authors are not our primary audience, readers are.

The beautiful thing is writers are readers. We have a great understanding of our customers' needs. You only need to go on Goodreads to see that we're very alike. That means we use the same language to convey the same meaning and openly exchange info. These links become groups, and these groups share information within them. It's quite often the case that if you can reach a handful of influential people within a group (e.g. book reviewers) that you can sway the entire group through them.

The trick is to reach those people - and to do so we need overlap. Commonality in groups help us to form chains along which information spreads. It's this amplitude that allows social media to work - the more you reach the more you are able to reach. The snowball effect can have a huge impact, which is why free promos, review copies etc work (if used well - see our earlier comment re oversaturation, and when freebies work). The big 6 know this - they've been giving away ARCs for years.

So, we know information spreads within smaller groups, then larger communities and then from group to group. So how do we find the bridges? This is where word of mouth comes into play. The internet is hideously poor at showing us how strong connections are. We might have thousands of friends/followers but only really link in real life to a handful. That handful are our connection as buzz spreads more easily face to face. Location matters - even online we tend to make connections within geographic reach more easily (which is in part down to time zones). Word of mouth from acquaintances is particularly strong. Academic studies have shown that we use acquaintances to find fresh information to disseminate (Professor Granovetter, M. (1983). "The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited" Sociological Theory).

So, it's about finding links, but not underestimating the weak ones. People maintain large social circles online, and those that initially don't seem promising may well help with the domino effect. As authors we have to reach out to diverse groups, and try and build a relationship with our prospective fan base. At first it's nigh on impossible, but as buzz spreads the pack mentality comes into play and it snowballs, so keep trying - and keep us up to date on your success.

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