One of the guaranteed ways to make an indie author’s eyes glaze over—more often than not—is to talk to them about their social media marketing efforts. While some authors have seemingly effortlessly picked up all manner of social media tricks and branding, and have high levels of engagement, others have avoided it altogether.
“I just can’t with social media ads,” an author friend mumbled at me last week.
It’s fair to say that not every author has taken to pursuing online marketing efforts with any kind of gusto. Often you’ll find people paying for ads with little to no thought about how potential readers will respond to the ad, or even what they’re hoping to achieve beyond a nudge in online book sales.
Unlike traditional advertising, social media ads can be a more affordable alternative, costing sometimes only a few extra bucks here and there to increase your reach. Is it worth it? Yes, often. But you have to be a little more invested in it than you often think in order to reap the rewards.
Figure out your strategy
Whether you’re doing organic social media marketing (online engagement, content, and posts) or paid (ads), the biggest mistake indie and self-published authors can make is to wing it. Coming up with even a rough strategy can not only help define your goals but tailor your social media marketing in way that will allow you to be more efficient. Often, people view ads as simply a sales tool. “They’re selling something to me.” Yes, they are. But why? And how?
What are you hoping people will do when they see your ad? Think about what you want your ad to achieve.
- Exposure—Ads can be a powerful tool for promoting yourself as an author. Do you want to increase your author awareness?
- Sales—Some ads can be specifically for selling your book. Think about how you may want to sell your book and what might make someone want to buy it, such as an endorsement or blurb from a review. Most importantly, ensure the ad links directly to a “buy now” site.
- Announce a preorder—Preorders can be a great way to tap into readers’ “fear of missing out” and drive them to a bookseller or even your website to preorder your new title.
- Increase traffic to your website—Have an amazing author website? Looking to sign up more folks for your newsletter? Once they get to your site, they might be excited by your book.
- Expand your social media reach—Some authors invest in driving traffic to their social media sites in hopes of gaining more followers and having a larger audience. But make sure you have something to offer them. If you engage only a few times a week, you won’t be able to significantly increase your reach. Which leads to…
Know your audience
Identifying your readers can help you communicate with them better. How old are they? How do they buy books? How often and from whom? What other things are they interested in? Do they like video and GIFs, or do they prefer strong still images with powerful copy? Who is currently buying your books? Are there trends you’ve spotted, like when you’ve posted a blog or sent out a newsletter?
A core part of marketing is identifying your audience and speaking to them in a way they can’t help but respond to.
“Having a clear understanding of who your audience is, and what influences their decision to buy should be informing the direction of your campaigns,” Rakuten social media head Andy Hardman says in “Where Brands Go Wrong in Social Media Advertising.” “This comes from testing ad formats and creative, and regularly analyzing social performance that can bring light to what’s influencing consumers beyond your own market research.”
Remember that you have a lot of competition
With so much online activity, especially during the pandemic, it’s going to be harder to reach your audience with so many other people vying for space and attention. There are other authors who want readers to buy their books, and while we don’t love that whole “authors are your competition” vibe at all, they are definitely going to challenge you when it comes to ads.
“In order to combat this, brands should reconsider how they are targeting users (in comparison to what competitors are doing),” writes Nikki Gilliland in “Four Challenges That Any Paid Social Strategy Should Consider.” “For example, if a rival brand is targeting people within a certain demographic, e.g., age or gender, it would be wise to delve deeper into specific segments such as interests or past browsing behavior. That being said, it might ultimately boil down to ensuring that creatives are strong enough to cut through the channel noise.”
Make your ads sparkle
You could literally make your ads sparkle, and that might work, but more importantly, you need to ensure your creative is strong, vibrant, and eye catching. That means good, clear, and professional-quality graphics and clean, effective copy.
With so many social media sites optimizing ads based on their content—such as your graphics-to-text ratio and whether you’re using video—you’ll need to aim for something that stands out.
Don’t ignore organic social media marketing
The hard truth is that people hate ads, and ad blockers make it very easy for your audience to potentially ignore your paid advertisements. No matter how many social media ads you’re running, ensure you round out your social media marketing with a hefty dose of engaging, organic content, whether that’s videos, images, or text. Not only will it increase engagement through your social media accounts, but it can give you an idea of how to more effectively reach your readers.
“Test your ad content through organic shares so you’ll know which kinds of content reach your audience and resonate most strongly with those users,” suggests Kim M. Pham in “Six Problems With Your Social Media Ads and How to Fix Them.” “This is an easy way to gain a distinct advantage over your nearest competitors. And if the ad content you’re testing doesn’t engage the way it should, then you can pull it back, tweak and retest before you sink more funds into an ineffective campaign.”
What's more, adds Pham, that consistent or organic content will act as a kind of verification for your author branding. “An otherwise brilliant ad campaign runs up against a kind of cognitive dissonance when a user navigates to the brand’s profile or account page, only to find nothing else of use or interest.”
Look for ways to embrace video
Like it or not, video on social media is becoming more important in terms of reaching your audience. That doesn’t means you’ll need to create polished and edited videos, but find ways to create video content for your readers and followers. This could include insight into your writing process, book reviews, videos of your cat sleeping on your keyboard, or even that amazing but super easy lunch you made.
“Though there are plenty of fun and fancy features rolling out for marketing on Instagram, the trend is clearly moving towards video—especially short-form video…I’m talking 10 times the number of views you’d expect for your stories or feed posts,” Instagram marketing expert Elisa Darma suggests in “Social Media Marketing Trends for 2021: Predictions from the Pros.” “The time to embrace short-form video marketing is now. Instagram Reels can be 15 or 30 seconds long and I like to think of them as stories on steroids. Reels don’t have to be intimidating.”
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.