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?

Brave new (digital) world

Everything old is new again . . . thanks to a little help from my friends.

My new website launched today. In the words of Crosby, Stills and Nash, it was a long time coming.

Checking the Internet Archive, affectionately known as the Wayback Machine, my first website went live in 2002, back in the day of dialup service. It was designed by Tom Thornton, a true artist and a gentleman if ever there was one.

The next iteration, the version we just replaced, went online in 2009 with an update a few years ago by a blessing of a designer, Robyn Dombrowski of Creative Heads in Sarasota, Florida. For her fortitude, she gets the patience-in-the-face-of-ignorance award.

After six years, we discovered the custom features of the site didn’t play well with WordPress anymore. The site didn’t look like the home of an author, either, since we’d designed it to sell marketing communications services to corporate clients.

The new site emphasizes my shift in focus from nonfiction to fiction, specifically to a series of crime novels I’m developing around two characters, former detective CW McCoy and a defrocked journalist known as Brinker. The website incorporates new ways to share stories about them and the publishing industry through social media links and an e-newsletter called Behind the Book. And wonder of wonders, the new contraption is responsive, which means the site should adapt to any browser or device that taps into it.

It was a long time coming but we’ve finally caught up with the digital age. Here’s to good friends and guidance . . . and another decade on the Web.

Jeff Widmer

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

Levitate your brand on LinkedIn

Your LinkedIn profile is more than an online resume. It’s a tool to learn about your industry, promote your expertise and prospect for new business. But before you can mine the data on the network, you have to supply some of your own.

Here are 12 steps you can take to optimizing your LinkedIn profile to increase the visibility of you and your company:

  1. Name. Use your full name, not abbreviations or nicknames.
  2. Personal headline. Choose text that highlights what makes you valuable and unique.
  3. Profile photo. Choose a professional-looking photo that reflects your industry and goals.
  4. Personalized URL. In Profile edit mode, click the Edit link next to your current URL (below your profile photo) and type in your name. If it’s taken, try adding your middle initial.
  5. Summary. Summarize your specialties, interests and expertise in narrative form. Brand yourself by telling a compelling story. Connect your Twitter account, company website, personal website and blog. To optimize your profile for search (SEO), incorporate keywords that best describe your skill set and career goals.
  6. Experience. List your work experience and ensure that each company reference links to the correct LinkedIn company page. Then go beyond employer and job title to list your projects and achievements.
  7. Skills & Expertise. Highlight your key strengths. List items that are relevant to your job and career goals. These form the basis of endorsements of those skills by others. Remember to return the favor. The same criteria apply to the Interests section.
  8. Education. A full education section adds credibility.
  9. Contact information. Provide your business email address and phone number. If you want to limit how people can contact you, click the Edit link next to your personalized URL.
  10. Recommendations. Request at least one recommendation for each position you’ve listed, and return the favor by writing recommendations for others in your network.
  11. Groups. Join discussion groups that interest you and participate. It will establish your expertise and keep you top-of-mind with other thought-leaders.
  12. Companies. Start by following your own company, then add those that reflect your personal brand.

Once you’ve completed your profile, take steps to build your network and influence:

  1. Contacts. Connect with current and past coworkers, managers and clients, then reach out to new connections who share your professional interests and qualifications.
  2. Updates. Establish your image as an expert in your field. Share status updates that are timely and relevant to your audience.

For more guidance in expanding your profile, see the help page on LinkedIn.

Wires

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?

Getting a grip on the grippe

You’ve had an inoculation and you’re still concerned about contracting the flu. Aside from living in a bubble or wearing a mask, technology can only do so much to protect you. If you do get sick, these three smartphone apps might help speed relief.

  • iTriage. The app lets you diagnose symptoms, identify an illness and book an appointment with the appropriate doctor. HCA West Florida Division uses iTriage to promote its 15 hospitals, including Blake Medical Center, Doctors Hospital of Sarasota and Englewood Community Hospital. Sarasota Memorial Health Care System uses AppBrain to provide users with a dynamic listing of its services, locations and physicians. Venice Regional Medical Center uses ER Extra to let users see the current emergency room wait time for the hospital and receive a map and directions to the facility.
  • RXmindMe Prescription. The app tells users when to take their medicine and offers nine types of reminders, from daily and weekly to a customizable schedule.
  • ZocDoc. A more social version than the others, ZocDoc allows users to check a doctor’s availability, view his or her credentials and rate the experience after the visit.

If that doesn’t work, take two aspirin and have the smartphone call you in the morning.

Jeff Widmer is a PR and social media strategist.

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The Wisdom of Clients

I’ve developed some of my best ideas about social marketing after talking with clients who think they don’t know much about the discipline. These self-described novices are not only modest; they’re plugged into their company in ways no agency can replicate. So when they talk, it pays to listen.

This week, while writing a social media strategy and guidelines for a financial services firm, I decided to listen to the real experts. With some additions of my own, this is what they recommend. When taking a leap into social marketing, consider these key areas as part of your organization’s social marketing strategy:

  1. Goals. Link social media strategy (as well as the overall marketing strategy) to the organization’s business goals. That move will provide alignment, consistent messaging and the opportunity to demonstrate ROI to senior management.
  2. Content. Use social media for expert-source positioning and customer engagement rather than product promotion.
  3. Distribution. Assign content to the appropriate network. Channel industry trends to Twitter and LinkedIn, community and social items to Facebook.
  4. Measurement. Apply the Pareto principle to measurement. Devote 80% of your resources to content creation and curation, 20% to measurement and reporting.

Clients new to online networks are the first to admit they don’t have the resources or expertise to develop social media plans. All the more reason to use the same process of engagement with them that we use with their audiences.

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Ghosts in the Machine

This holiday season, get ready for the blitz. We’re not talking football. We’re talking tech.

The National Retail Federation is projecting 2012 holiday sales will rise 4.1% from 2011 levels. A good portion of that will go to consumer electronics. Researchers at Booz & Co. expect a 4% rise in consumer purchases of downloadable gifts such as digital music, movies and books.

The shopping season is already off to a fast start. Amazon reported Thanksgiving holiday sales of its Kindle e-reader products doubled over the same time last year. And Apple alone may soak up a lot of holiday spending. Writing at forbes.com, Chuck Jones predicts sales of updated iPads and iPad minis should boost the company’s December quarter revenues by 19% year over year.

Sales enabled by technology continue to rise. Online retailers predict a record $43.4 billion in holiday sales this season as shoppers increasingly rely on social networks and mobile devices, according to Bloomberg. It estimates Internet sales will grow 17 percent over last year, or more than 10 percent of U.S. retail spending, excluding gas, food and cars.

What does that mean for those of us looking for gifts this Hanukkah and Christmas? Besides the usual smartphones, video games and big-screen TVs, expect to see a lot of so-called labor-saving devices.

Amazon is selling a wireless child locator shaped like a Teddy bear for $28.99. For the man cave, Sharper Image is promoting a Pac Man Arcade Machine for $2,999, with free shipping. And for people who like to drink, Bed Bath & Beyond offers a carbonator that turns water into soda for $129.99 and a cordless wine bottle opener for $29.99. Too bad they can’t turn water into wine. It would fit with the birthday celebration.

If all this strikes you as commercialized corruption of the holiday, you’re not alone. Charles Schultz expressed the sentiment 47 years ago with “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” As for the rest of us, some will light candles. Some will assemble the crèche and head to church. Others will give quiet thanks for good friends, family and health, realizing that in this holiday season, gratitude is one of the greatest gifts of all.

The Pause that Refreshes

My uncle and I were visiting the restroom during a showing at the old Eric Theater in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I didn’t want to miss the good parts of the movie but Uncle Max had other priorities. Leaning into the urinal, he heaved a huge sigh and exclaimed, “Ah, the pause that refreshes.”

As a kid I didn’t get the reference to the Coca-Cola slogan but I could tell he felt relieved. His point has become all the more poignant as age has inflated everything in our lives, from prices to prostates. Sometimes it makes liquids and films incompatible.

That’s why I was intrigued to discover RunPee.com, a website and app that suggest the optimum time to pause for a bio break during a movie. Take the most recent James Bond film, “Skyfall.” At minute 63 Bond raises his drink in a salute to the bodyguards. Here’s what RunPee advises: “You will have five minutes to pee while . . . cut to Bond and the three bodyguards fighting. It’s a really poor fight scene. Bond and one of the bodyguards end up in the Komodo Dragon pit.”

There’s more plot summary so you don’t feel left out of Monday morning water cooler conversation, after visiting the pit, slit trench, latrine or (if you’re Canadian) kaibo of your choice.

Here’s how it works. Download the app to your smartphone. Select the movie you are about to watch. After the credits end, start the timer. Your phone will vibrate before each suggested break in the movie. You can then run to the bathroom while reading what’s happening back in the theater.

The app is available for Android, Apple and Windows 7 operating systems. Or you can see runtimes and read reviews on the website.

Here’s why the app was invented. Dan Florio was watching the remake of “King Kong” around Christmas of 2005. The movie was about 3 hours long. “By the end of the movie I desperately needed to pee,” he said. “Like so badly I couldn’t enjoy the movie. But I wasn’t about to leave the theater before it was over.”

Those of you who’ve seen the movie know Dan could have sneaked out for dinner and another film and not missed much. But diligent movie buff that he is, he devised a cutting-edge solution with low-tech research. His family views each “wide release” movie on opening day. They watch for 3-5-minute spans where “nothing really exciting, or funny, or important happens” and leak the plot results.

You’re now free to roam about the water closet. Just don’t drop the phone.

Getting smart about smartphone safety

Four in 10 smartphone users in the United States will click on an unsafe link on a mobile device this year, according to a new report by Lookout, a smartphone security firm. That figure will only continue to grow as the number of smartphone and tablet owners in the world hits a billion over the next few years, according to Forrester Research.

Unsafe links include those that download viruses, malware and spyware onto a user’s mobile device—the usual culprits most people have heard about. Lookout flags several more insidious methods used by hackers that are spreading from Eastern Europe and Russia, including attempts to tamper with legitimate mobile tools and advertising systems. “Five percent of free Android mobile applications contain one or more aggressive ad networks, which can access personal information or display confusing ads,” it says in the State of Mobile Security 2012. “In addition, a number of high-profile iOS applications raised red flags about privacy issues this year.”

Aggressive ad networks often push out-of-app ads, change browser settings and accessing personally identifiable information without suitable notification or transparency.

What can mobile users do to protect themselves? Several things, some physical, some virtual.

  • Set a password on your mobile device so that if it is lost or stolen, your data is more difficult to access.
  • Only download apps from trusted sources.
  • Beware of pirated apps that were once sold and now appear to be free.
  • Once you’ve clicked a link, pay attention to the address to ensure it matches the website it claims to be.
  • Check your phone for unexpected activity such as unusual text messages or suddenly decreased battery life.
  • Check your phone bill for unexpected charges.
  • Download and install firmware updates as soon as they are available.