The social media maven’s apprentice

This is an updated version of an interview I did several years ago with Laurie R. King, whose latest in the bestselling Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series, The Murder of Mary Russell, is due in April 2016.

The author of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is buzzing over social media.

With a website, author and character blogs and a presence on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter, Laurie R. King is a champion of social marketing. She posts in the voice of one of her characters, runs writing contests and invites fans to discuss the books among themselves. Her efforts go beyond promoting the work to promoting engagement with readers. That reveals an understanding of the collaborative nature of social media many corporations might envy.

“Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it,” she said in an email exchange. But first, some background on the Californian who has become famous for portraying the life of perhaps the world’s most-famous detective, and the woman who has become, some would say, an equal or better.

LaurieRKingCreating a voice
Ms. King has written 22 novels, including several stand-alone novels and three series, one featuring San Francisco police detective Kate Martinelli and a second with Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Her first book, A Grave Talent (1993), received the 1994 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and a 1995 John Creasey Memorial Award. She followed with the 1996 Nero Award for A Monstrous Regiment of Women and the 2002 Macavity Award for Best Novel for Folly.

Her books about Russell and Holmes have been applauded as “the most successful recreation of the famous inhabitant of 221B Baker Street ever attempted” (Houston Chronicle), “with the power to charm even the most grizzled Baker Street irregular” (New York Daily News). The first in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, appeared in 1994.

She measures the number of copies in print in the millions.

Creating a buzz
A few years ago, to highlight the 20 books she’s written, and the publication of her then-newest novel in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, Ms. King embarked on what she calls “Twenty weeks of buzz.” In addition to the traditional methods of promotion—book tours, radio and TV appearances—Ms. King took to the Internet with a passion usually reserved for her characters.

Her presence on the Internet is considerable. She created a website and a blog about her activities called Mutterings. She also created another blog, this one in Mary Russell’s voice, back when MySpace was the rage. Mary, in character, posts regularly on Twitter (@mary_russell)—a technique used effectively by Helen Klein Ross (@AdBroad) to promote the TV show Mad Men. Ms. King writes as a guest blogger on other sites and runs a Yahoo! Group. She has a page on Facebook. She even posts reader videos on YouTube.

King beekeeper coverTo share her tastes in literature, Ms. King created an account on Goodreads, where millions of members recommend, compare and discuss books.

She also bolstered reader engagement with the creation of twin writing contests. To celebrate the publication of The God of the Hive, she authorized the 2010 Mary Russell Fan Fiction Writing Contest. Contestants were asked to write about a character in one of the Russell novels as a teenager. A second contest, to celebrate National Library Week, invited readers to create their version of the ideal library, complete with drawings.

She even runs contests for artwork about Russell, Holmes, and their world where fans can submit and judge the works.

Her opinion on social-media efforts and their results are insightful for readers and writers alike. Edited highlights of the interview with Ms. King, who goes by LRK online, follow.

Creating a community
I have to say, it’s funny to be considered a “champion of social marketing” since I never feel I know much about what I’m doing! Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it. I’m kept in the loop of course, and I’ll drop in regularly, but making use of enthusiastic volunteers means that I don’t have to do all of the day-to-day work, while at the same time letting a group of key readers—”fans” if you will—have the fun of working with a writer they enjoy and making her job just a little bit easier.

Murder of Mary Russell coverI think a number of writers do this in some form or another—Dana Stabenow’s “Danamaniacs” are a powerhouse of networking, for example—and so long as it is kept fairly clear which is the author speaking and which is one of the administrators, I find people are happy.

Mostly I write and post my blog “Mutterings” and stop in once a day on both the personal and fan Facebook pages. I visit regularly on the Virtual Book Club [now the Laurie R. King Virtual Book Club on Goodreads],  reading the discussion and dropping in on some of the other threads, but I don’t tend to post a lot there unless I have something in particular to contribute—the VBC is a place for the readers to freely discuss and get to know each other, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m in charge of what they say. A great side-effect of the VBC is that whenever LRK readers meet at an event or a conference, they often already know each other remarkably well, even if they have never met in person.

As for Twitter and Goodreads, I work with volunteers on answering letters sent to me (or to Russell) through the sites, helping promote things like the recent Twitter Party. (I helped set this up beforehand but, being in a far distant time zone, I had very little to do with it at the time.)

All in all, I probably average an hour a day on this stuff, more when I’m working up to a book launch.

As for results, who can tell?

Beyond ‘Likes’: Growing Your Business with Social Media

Just because someone “Likes” your Facebook page doesn’t mean they’ll visit your business. Entrepreneurs need to engage these visitors, whether they encounter your business through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or your website. Please join me in a discussion of how to meet and measure success in digital communications at the Rotary Club of Sarasota Keys’ Business to Business Mixer.

The event will take place from noon to 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4. At Café L’Europe on St. Armands Circle. Admission is $5 per person. Lunch is included. There will be a cash bar.

Enjoy meeting fellow Sarasota business professionals and community leaders as the Rotary club continues a 50-year tradition of fostering good will and building lasting friendships. I’ll be making a short presentation on planning and measuring a social media program.

To RSVP or for more information contact Jack Geldi at jjgeldi@aol.com or (941) 586-2777.

Beyond Likes 3 Planning and Measuring Social Media title slide

The Revolution Will Not Be Printed

It’s easy to believe that since print survived radio and television it will survive the Internet. After listening to Barry Dawson, I’m not so sure. Or to take a more nuanced approach, I’m not sure it will continue to influence the culture and the economy to the extent it has since Gutenberg invented movable type more than 500 years ago.

Certainly print works better for some content and some eyes, but not news. Its immediacy seeks out the fastest and most flexible medium, and digital tools deliver. Combine original content, new distribution channels and innovative marketing and you have a potentially profitable business, as well as an alternative to ink.

Barry DawsonThat brings us to Dawson, a resident of the West End of Monroe County, a rural area of the Pocono Mountains in Northeast Pennsylvania. Long inhabited by the descendants of German and Dutch settlers, the area best known for woodlands and resorts continues to transition to a bedroom community for metropolitan New York and New Jersey. Several papers, radio and television stations cover the region but shifts in the economy and the culture have gutted their newsrooms.

Enter the digital entrepreneur. Dawson grew up in the West End, moved to North Carolina and returned to take a job in radio promotion with a pair of stations in the nearby Lehigh Valley. He has local knowledge, knows how to bypass channel surfers by embedding commercial messages in programs and lives on his mobile phone. Combining those assets, he bought a police scanner, became a reluctant reporter and launched westendsupporter.com and westendradio101.com. He also integrated his site with accounts at Facebook and other networks as a way to drive traffic and measure results.

Dawson believes that with its speed to market, digital news will eventually replace printed news. It’s a natural fit. Blending content and commerce creates a viable business model. Only time and his bank account will prove him right. Meanwhile, here are five conclusions I’ve drawn from his venture:

  1. Digital trumps print for speed and relevance
  2. Mobile devices trump PCs for optimum news delivery
  3. Micro content beats state, national and international news for gaining followers
  4. In our attention-deficit culture, product integration trumps advertising
  5. For marketers, digital offers the precise measurement of the effectiveness of the ad spend.

Where do you find your news? And do you think print and the people who produce it will dwindle in importance?

Marketers still searching for digital roadmap

Ninety percent of companies do not have an integrated digital marketing strategy, despite studies that show an increasing number of customers migrating to the digital platform.

Only 9% of chief marketing officers say their companies have a “highly evolved digital marketing model with a proven and clear path of evolution,” according to a CMO Council study of more than 200 marketing executives. Twenty-three percent report top executives at their firms are “still trying to understand where digital marketing fits within their overall business.” And 36% say their strategy amounts to a collection of tactics.

There is some good news from marketing leaders:

  • 20% report having approval from the C-Suite to implement a digital strategy
  • 42% say they have the interest and support of their teams
  • 23% are trying to determine where digital fits within their existing strategy
  • 20% say they need to make digital marketing a strategic priority with management.

Marketers need to go where their customers go, writes Michael Brenner in a post called “Are Marketers Becoming Digital Dinosaurs?” “The point is to create content that your audience wants, in all the places where they may look for it. The point is to have your customers share your content with their connections. The point is to lower the cost of sales and to increase the effectiveness of marketing.”

And they need a roadmap to get there.

— Jeff Widmer

Who controls the news . . . and who profits?

A report out today by the Pew Research Center suggests the large digital companies have wrested control of the news you receive from the traditional media companies.

The report on the “State of the News Media 2012” draws two major conclusions:

  1. Rather than siphon viewers from news sites, mobile technology is increasing news consumption.
  2. Major digital networks like Google and Facebook increasingly exert control over news content and delivery.

Here’s the bright side of the report:

“New research released in this report finds that mobile devices are adding to people’s news consumption, strengthening the lure of traditional news brands and providing a boost to long-form journalism. Eight in ten who get news on smartphones or tablets, for instance, get news on conventional computers as well. People are taking advantage, in other words, of having easier access to news throughout the day – in their pocket, on their desks and in their laps.”

Here’s the dark side:

“At the same time, a more fundamental challenge that we identified in this report last year has intensified — the extent to which technology intermediaries now control the future of news.

“In the last year a small number of technology giants began rapidly moving to consolidate their power by becoming makers of ‘everything’ in our digital lives. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and a few others are maneuvering to make the hardware people use, the operating systems that run those devices, the browsers on which people navigate, the e-mail services on which they communicate, the social networks on which they share and the web platforms on which they shop and play. And all of this will provide these companies with detailed personal data about each consumer.”

It’s like allowing the electric company to control your data, or the telecom companies to tap your phones. For free. Then charge you for delivery.

Maybe the New York Times should change its motto.

Roll over Facebook, here comes Pinterest

Facebook and its IPO might grab the headlines but image-sharing site Pinterest is grabbing viewers.

“According to comScore, Pinterest usage in the U.S. shot up from less than half a million unique visitors in May 2011 to nearly 12 million in January 2012,” eMarketer reported today. That’s a faster rate of adoption than the latest darling of the social media world, Tumblr. U.S. traffic at that blogging site traffic rose from less than 7 million unique visitors in late 2010 to more than twice as many a year later, comScore reported.

According to its website, “Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. Pinterest allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. You can browse pinboards created by other people to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.”

You just can’t get stock options at this point.

 

 

Piquing your interest with Pinterest

What do you get when you cross Facebook with Flickr? Pinterest, the hot new social networking site that lets users collect and share photos across the Internet.

Mashable, the source of all things digital, describes Pinterest as a “digital pinboard,” a place where users can connect to others through shared tastes and the images that fascinate them. Users create category-based boards and then pin images to them. They can populate those boards by finding media online or uploading their own artwork. The boards are visible to all users, who can repin images on their own boards, “like” those images and follow other users.

So what does an image-based social site look like? Let’s take a look at my boards. I started by collecting images in some of the preset categories such as “Favorite Places & Spaces.” After that I created a few categories like “Design” and populated them with Pinterest user images I thought were worth sharing. Finally, as a bruising cold spell swept across the Northeast, I uploaded a few original photos I’d taken last winter after a snowstorm. (I’m trying to go beyond the share-the-misery idea and find something positive about a foot or more of snow.)

A few hours after the photo went live Cassandra Gouws from Pretoria, South Africa repinned it for one of her collections labeled “Travel.” I’m returning the favor and following that board and one more called “Amazing Photography.”

What impact Pinterest will have on the social and business community is anyone’s guess. Mashable only started covering it last October. And at this point participation is by invitation only. But as of late last year some 30,000 people had downloaded the Pinterest app from iTunes. And Mashable has written a primer on its use.

Participating takes more work than Tweeting and yields a smaller audience than Facebook but the site may appeal to people who prefer visuals to text. And since one of the default categories involves favorite products, Pinterest is positioning itself for companies in the fashion and design industries.