Tuesday, July 07, 2009

How to do social media outreach right - don't use social media

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

While I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I was the recipient of one of the most professionally handled and forward-thinking social media outreach efforts I've yet come across, and considering that I've done social media for a living on more than a few occasions, that's saying something. Even more impressive, the outreach didn't involve LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or any other buzzword standard-bearer of the overhyped social Web.

The outreach effort was from Tor books (the sci-fi imprint under Macmillan) in relation to their online bookstore. You read that right: A dead-tree book publisher most definitely has a clue of how to play in the digital sandbox, as I'll explain below. The entire communication took place over e-mail, with nary a tweet or friend feed in sight.

I know what you're thinking: Where was the social media? As Chris Brogan and my colleagues at Social Media Explorer (Jason Falls and David Finch in particular) continue to preach but no one seems to hear, social media is about the connections, not the tools. Twitter is a means, not an end, and the Tor group was much better served in reaching their goals through old-school e-mail than overly asynchronous tweetspeak or Wall-to-Wall missives.

What goal, you may ask? Getting an insanely insignificant blogger to give a damn about the new Tor book store. In other words, they wanted me to know about Tor's new project, and went through no minor effort to inform me.

It is no false modesty to say that I am the smallest of small potatoes in the blogosphere. I no longer have my still-not-giant Geekend megaphone, and even my appearances on TechTalk and my tweet exchanges with some moderately well known names in sci-fi and comics don't crank my annual unique visitor levels into the four-figures-a-month range. I'm nobody, and I only barely know a few somebodies, all of whom Tor could much more effectively speak to directly. Using me to ping Mary Robinette Kowal, Lar de Souza or David Gallaher is a pointless effort. Tor has or easily could get all their phone numbers, and they'd all be happy to take the call.

So why waste time with me? Because there is nobody too small in social media. One of my Nerd Words columns made the weekly roundup on Tor's own sci-fi blog, and that was all the validation the digital marketing team at Macmillan needed to consider me worthy of courting as a press source. In the land of Google, every incoming link is worth chasing, and Tor put no small effort into getting some links from little old me.

Not that they ever asked for any link love, mind you. Macmillan's digital marketing manager, Ami, wrote a very brief and straightforward initial e-mail (and the only way to get the address she used would be to read all the way through my bio post) which linked to the new store and the press release covering its launch. Totally professional, but friendly and with enough personalized content to prove she knew who I was and demonstrate this wasn't a blind e-mail blast. Top marks so far, but nothing that out of the ordinary, right?

At no point did Ami ask me to buy anything, pimp anything, or link anything. It was a simple "thought you'd like to know" mail, like she was mailing the New York Times and not Mr. Bloggy McSmallTime, along with a promise to answer any questions I had.

Oh, and the pitch? Tor was launching a sci-fi/fantasy-only online bookstore that carried books from every major publisher, not just Tor/Macmillan. They were selling their competitors stuff side-by-sdie with their own. The boldness of the idea was intriguing, and worthy of its own (future) post.

Naturally, the idea of someone taking on Amazon in the book space when B&N, Borders and Books-a-Million are hemorraging cash intrigued me. I'm a sci-fi geek, aspiring author, and once-and-future Web entrepreneur. Books plus Web plus sci-fi was right in my wheelhouse. So I asked Ami a lot of follow-ups, with lots of gotcha specifics.

She answered the same day -- by looping in the store's project manager who would speak to me directly about the site. Pablo got back to me the next day -- asking me to elaborate my questions -- and he answered them a couple days later with some very thorough responses. He then invited me to ping him again, directly, if I had any future questions.

So, to recap, a major book publisher reaches out to a smalltime nobody with a press release about a bold new Web initiative -- with a personal invite, no less -- and then kicks him higher up the chain when he has questions. At no point do they ask for press, cross-linking, or even a simple purchase. There is no quid pro quo. Everything is professional and pitch-perfect. Oh, and they had to do some research to contact me. No direct, immediate or large payoff, just online community goodwill and knowledge dissemination.

That's how you do social media outreach, boys and girls.

And for what it's worth, it worked. From now on, my Nerd Words column will link to store.tor.com instead of Amazon for my book citations, which is a big deal for me, since I'm an Amazon Associate. I'm leaving (a very little) money on the table because the PR efforts impressed me so. The store is pretty good, too, but we'll discuss that later.

Social media is about socialization, not the media. Remember this and you will succeed.

Here endeth the lesson. Discuss.

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