One of the really exciting aspects of the Web 2.0 revolution has been the ability for consumers to communicate with creators of products on an unprecedented scale. It is now almost a truism that Publishing is seeing a move from being a B2B business (selling to bookstores and wholesalers) to being B2C (selling to consumers directly), whether through proprietary websites or through third-party websites.
To start with, this was a mixed blessing for publishers. Allowing anyone to review a book on Amazon.com for example, could lead to very negative reviews hanging around online forever - the recent Orlando Figes Amazon shambles being a case in point. The power is now very much in the hands of the readers to say and review as they want.
The growth of social networking has allowed publishers to communicate their corporate identities, brand imprints, and their new books direct to potential readers. There are a number of communication avenues, and between them, they allow publishers large and small, to get their wares directly in front of readers.
How to make the most of social networking:
Sites like LinkedIn allow people to follow your company news, tracking your profile, new hires and promotions. At an individual level, LinkedIn allows you to quickly find information about companies you may be seeking to partner with. You can also create Groups on the site, which allow you to start discussions, post jobs and capture identities of parties who are interested in your company's activities.
It is also worth creating a corporate identity on other social networking sites, such as Facebook. Facebook is a good place for setting up brand pages, such as page we have created for ingentaconnect.
Twitter is another matter again. Unlike posting to LinkedIn or Facebook, which can comfortably be done from the anonymity of a marketing department, Twitter really needs a personal touch. It is an instantaneous micro-blogging site, where the impact can be considerable, but very short-lived. You can track a conversation on a blog like this, or on a LinkedIn group, but Twitter is like talking in a bar after work - it's quick, short and back and forth, but a well-written post (within the the 140 character limit) can reach thousands of people in a short time.
You want to nominate some public and open figures within your own house to represent your company, but they need their own voice (hence I am @nickwwpt on Twitter, but can post either personally or as @publishingtech), depending on the message and the audience. The goal is to say something interesting enough to be retweeted by others - unless you are Tim O'Reilly and have almost 1,500,000 followers of your own anyway (who says no one is interested in publishing!). Importantly for publishers, you need to get your authors on Twitter too - they are the ones most likely to attract a following. With Twitter - and to a lesser extent, Facebook - you are networking at the book level, not just at the corporate level.
It is essential using these kind of sites to master the use of the URL which, in the social marketing world, is a unique identifier as important as the ISBN or DOI. Use an application like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to easily post to multiple sites and get excellent UI's and such automated functions as autoshrinking URL's to save character space.
It is also important to be at the crest of the wave. You need to follow what is current and at least make an effort to work out how to sell your company and your books there. Your authors should have a presence on author sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing. You should be helping them to get there, and coming up with inventive ways of putting content on the new hot sites, foursquare and getglue. Foursquare is particularly challenging - the new big thing in social media is the location finder. In this case, you simply check-in where you are, be it a local pub or health club, the site then gives you rewards for being there more often than anyone else, and tells you which of your friends are nearby. Some enterprising publishers have realized that they can add information into foursquare from their books - so when you check in at a Lower East Side bar, you could also get a notification from a travel guide of what historic houses of interest are nearby. The possibilities are endless and almost completely unexplored.