It’s very difficult to contemplate the full extent of the impacts of the current shutdowns around the world due to COVID-19, and they only look set to get worse, at least in the foreseeable future.
The amount of people affected by the virus, both directly and indirectly, will be in the billions, and while our main focus needs to be on slowing the spread, and saving as many people as possible from the outbreak, the resultant actions will also mean job losses, income reductions and rising hardship across the board. And among the sectors hardest hit will be artists, with the shutdowns making it increasingly difficult to gain exposure, to build an audience, and to generate income from their work.
That, of course, incorporates authors, and those seeking to promote their books to audiences.
I’ve written before about the already challenging environment for authors in Australia, with fewer literary events, fewer bookshops and fewer opportunities for exposure. More than compound these problems, COVID-19 has virtually eliminated these avenues entirely – which means that authors need to turn to online promotional methods to get the word out, and build buzz through digital means.
Now, that’s not impossible. I’ve also written a detailed guide for how authors can, for example, utilize social media platforms for promotion, which is one element that all artists need to consider. The problem is that it can take time to build social media traction – and while you can (and should) use ads on Facebook and Instagram to expand your reach and awareness, that’s not always so simple, with the complexities of ad targeting providing their own challenges.
But digital tools can work, and can offer great reach potential, if you know how to use them. To help, here are some quick tips for how authors can maximize their online presence and expand their audience reach.
Social Media Ads
Social media advertising is complex, and targeting the right people, on the right platforms, can take years of research and understanding in order to get it right. But it can, absolutely, work – and you should, absolutely, be considering it in the current environment.
So how can you reach the right people for your book?
A key option you should consider is Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences, and expanding your presence by reaching the exact right people who’ll be interested in what you do.
Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences cross-match your existing audience data with other people on Facebook who share similar traits. Through this, you can get your ads in front of people who may not be aware of you or your books, but who will likely be interested, based on their related habits.
And they can be very accurate – Facebook has a database od some 2.5 billion people, and for each of them it has a profile, which includes a list of everything they’ve engaged with, every Page they’ve followed, every Like they’ve ever given. With that insight, Facebook can provide very accurate audience matches – it’s not simply matching, say, someone who like British crime shows with books by Agatha Christie, it goes far deeper, and connects hundreds of correlating trends in order to hone in on those who are very likely to be interested in the same things.
So how can you use this?
Probably the best way to do this is to first create a Custom Audience in your Facebook ads options. You can find this in the ‘Audience’ section of your Ad Setup. Under ‘Create New Audience’, click on ‘Create New’, then ‘Custom Audience’. When you do that, you’ll be given a set of options – select ‘Facebook Page’ as your source for your Custom Audience info.
As you can see here, one of the options here is to create an audience of ‘Everyone who engaged with your Page’ with a time frame. This is significant, because for most people, a lot of their Facebook Page likes are from friends and family, and you don’t really want to target them. Targeting those people who’ve actually engaged with your posts is a better option – and if you’ve only just started talking about your new book, you can narrow down the time frame, further refining your audience.
From here, you can create an audience of people who’ve engaged with your Page, and you can then target these people, who’ve shown interest in your writing in the past, with Facebook ads about your new book.
But we want to expand beyond this – the next step, from here, is to go through the Lookalike Audience process. Lookalike Audiences are available via the same steps as a Custom Audience, but when you get to the set-up stage, you need to enter an existing, created audience to use as the basis. And you now have one, in the Custom Audience you just made of people who’ve engaged with your posts.
In the data source, select the name of the Custom Audience you just created, and use that as your basis for lookalike matching.
Now, Facebook will provide you with an audience of people who match the profiles of those who’ve already engaged with your content, and will likely be interested in what you do.
From here, you need to experiment and see what results you get, then double down on the results and hone in further. You can then look into more complex ad targeting options (Facebook Pixel, segmentation, etc.), but for starters, this will help to expand your audience on Facebook, and reach people who are increasingly likely to be interested in your books.
Think you’re too out of the loop to utilize Instagram Stories? Think again.
Stories are where Facebook sees social media interaction headed – in fact, Facebook has repeatedly noted that Stories are on track to overtake the main News Feed as the key engagement surface in its apps.
This chart was created in 2017 – Facebook hasn’t provided an updated listing, but you can see that Stories usage will likely overtake the News Feed, if it hasn’t already. And that’s definitely worth noting.
Stories are most popular on Instagram, where they get prime placement at the top of the app.
More than half of all Instagram users engage with Stories every day – and in Australia, that equates to more than 4.7 million Instagram Stories users, every day.
With that type of placement, and that type of reach, you need to consider how you can use Stories in your promotional efforts.
You can re-share Stories that mention your book, which is a good way to amplify word of mouth, while you can also create quick snapshots and updates which are non-intrusive, and easy for your audience to take in.
Of course, the only people who’ll see your Stories are those who already follow your Instagram profile, but you can promote your Instagram presence on other platforms in order to grow your audience, and direct people towards your Stories as a means to keep them updated.
Another good way to build your Stories audience is by doing Instagram Live streams. Instagram Live video streams are available in the same place as Stories, so by getting your audience to tune in, you’re also promoting your Instagram presence, and promoting your Stories at the same time.
If you haven’t considered Stories, you should – they have great reach, they’re simple, and there’s a heap of creative options to consider to make your Stories look great.
Virtual Book Launches
Another opportunity to think about is virtual book launches, and engaging your community via digital tools like live-streaming.
Author Lauren Chater recently launched her new book via Facebook Live, and while many have dismissed streaming, and indeed Facebook generally, as a less effective promotional vehicle for books, right now, with everyone stuck at home, it’s actually far more effective than you might expect.
Lauren’s stream had, on average, 100 concurrent viewers throughout, which is a solid audience for a book launch. And while Lauren won’t get the benefit of in-person engagement, and a multiple bookshop tour, Lauren’s digital launch showed that you can still effectively connect with an audience, without being physically present.
At the time of writing, Lauren’s launch video is up to 4.2k total views – which is an added benefit, you not only get that immediate audience who tune in when the video is live, but also repeat views over time. The video also has 339 comments, people who Lauren can respond to, and further build her audience. Not all of those viewers, of course, will end up buying the book – but if even a quarter of them do, that’s a solid start, and could help to kick-off a big word-of-mouth push.
These are just some of entry-level options you can consider for book promotion via online means. And while they won’t give you the immediate exposure to a reading audience that a literary festival appearance would, they each provide ways in which you can expand your audience, and give your books a push – even if you can’t leave your house to do it.