More blogging • 19 October 2007 • The SnowBlog
Here are some of the questions, and my rough responses, from the blogging chat yesterday Q: How did you get started with blogging?
A: I gravitate towards free stuff and after starting Snowbooks I surprised myself by turning into a bit of a geek. Suddenly, when it was my own money on the line the idea of reading IT manuals and googling techie forums was much more appealing than paying someone to do it for me. Plus Snowbooks is our own creation to nurture and be proud of - or ashamed of if we do things wrong. It seemed very important to be the one in control of the voice of the company. Plus we always like being first with things, or at least early adopters. Its delicious fun to know that we are doing things years ahead of other companies, with more money and time than us. For reasons of cost and control, then, blogging seemed from the start like our natural habitat!
Q: What can a firm like yours get from blogging as a communication channel?
A: The publishing process is linear; it's not a feedback loop. An author comes up with a book (usually); an agent buys it and presses it onto a publisher, who in turn sells it to a retailer. The customer the reader eventually stumbles across it on the 3for2 tables (the browser buying model) or sees a review/hears good things and buys it (the searcher model). But there is precious little feedback after that to the producers. Amazon reviews dont number sufficiently highly to be statistically significant; publishers dont do much test marketing or anything like the research Procter and Gamble, for instance, do. All publishers know is that they have the readers money they have no idea if the reader ever read the book, or gave it as a gift, or loved it, or hated it. What a blog can do is provide one way for that linear chain to turn into a feedback loop. By taking the frankly rather brave step of enabling comments, you allow people to say precisely what they think. Scary but utterly invaluable.
Q: How do you find your voice? What is it to be authentic?
A: Isnt it sad that being authentic is special? After all, its just being human. I think the trick is at the recruitment stage. Only hire people who you are 100% confident in. Then let them say whatever the hell they like and when they screw up, dont yell at them. Again, brave but the alternative is the air-brushed corporatespeak which will do *far* more harm and open you up to derision from your readers. People like to be proud of what they do: let them talk about it. Let them own their bit of the company.
Q: Practicalities: How long do you and the team spend?
A: About a half hour to an hour a day. Seems like a long time, and it is but this is the essence of the company were talking about here. After four years of blogging, we have a lot of readers every event I go to, someone new comes up and says ooh, I read your blog. Everything we are is epitomised by the blog, and frankly Id rather find ways to automate the boring stuff that no-one sees so I have time to do important stuff like projecting our companys progressive brand. Put in place the fixings for automation like ONIX compliance, automatic field-fillers for sales spreadsheets and marketing materials, upgrade to a decent, simple bookkeeping system and you have time enough for blogging. (Although I am about a month behind on my bookkeeping at the moment. Erg.)
Q: What does the idea of 'being brave' really mean in using the web in book marketing?
A: You dont need to be brave if youve got no secrets. So, ditch the secrets. Go as far back up the supply chain as it goes and be absolutely certain that you are doing the best you can, creating the best books, working with the best processes that youre perfectly proud of. So you have an amazing plan for next year? Who cares if your main competitor finds out the trick is in the execution, not the idea. Snowbooks business model is incredible traditional nothing unique at all but its how we execute that model that is the trick. So dont be afraid of people getting hold of secrets, because no one cares.
If you discover things that your company should keep secret, that youre ashamed of, then REMOVE THEM! So it turns out a range of business books you publish are actually quite crap, and youre only publishing them because of a sponsorship deal? Well, Id suggest thats something you should rectify. Readers are quite possibly buying them and hurling them against the wall in disgust thats something that needs fixing.
Q: Is there a particular challenge that large corporates face? You guys are racing away with digital channels much faster than those with much much larger organisation?
A: Authentic conversations are at the individual level. Companies groups of people find it hard to find a unified, consistent voice, precisely because theyre part of an internal conversation. My advice? Find someone in the organisation whose views exemplify the organisations own, and let them speak. Ideally, it should be the most senior manager. Isnt it interesting that were talking about blogging here, but the real problems are organisational and strategic?
Q: Show me the money: how much money does your blog make?
A: In direct sales, about 50 a month. In brand awareness, about 100k a year (related to column inches in The Bookseller and their equivalent ad rate)
Q: Can you come into my company and help me?
A: Yes, we are a small publisher, and therefore cash-starved, so any money youd like to pay me to help you with your own web presence would be most welcome! Snowbooks also do cover design for other publishers and were as good at that as we are at this stuff!
Q: You have non-publishing things on your blog I even saw a photo of your cats. Surely you have to focus, stay on message?
A: Humans have wide ranging interests. Our blog covers politics, my cats, books, blogs, the book industry, what I had for lunch because Im a rounded individual with a lot of aspects to my life. Dont try and force authenticity instead, be you and its inevitable.