Make or break

<p>Can you sell a book in 10 or 20 words? Possibly, but you can certainly make or break a reputation if those few words are passed on hundreds and thousands of times.</p>
<p>There have always been word-of-mouth successes in publishing, easy to describe but hard to predict. Now, a lightspeed version of word-of-mouth, based around social networks such as Facebook, and microblogging tool Twitter, is revolutionising the practice of public relations.</p>
<p>This very rapid and fundamental change brings considerable challenges to publishing. In music, digital delivery has quickly created a why-pay-when-downloads&ndash;are-free generation that has forced a major rethink of business models. No doubt a similar challenge faces book publishing; the decision by governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to phase out dead-tree textbooks from California classrooms is another wake-up call, if needed.</p>
<p>How people read is changing, but just as significantly, so is the way people talk about what they are reading. Blogs, Twitter and YouTube mean that everyone can have a say about what they think is good or bad and the reach of their message is global and instantaneous. Significantly, their opinions&mdash;worthwhile or not&mdash;are searchable and endlessly interlinked.&nbsp;</p>
<p>PR academics call this &lsquo;aggregation'; lots of individual opinions can be interwoven, almost randomly glued together, and this becomes &ldquo;reputation&rdquo;. And reputation sells new books, and reputation is key to the ongoing sales of established authors.</p>
<p>The challenge is to engage in conversation with readers and build relationships. We call it crowdsourcing. Or in other words, getting the readers to do the work!</p>
<p>Don't think of social networking as simply a marketing tool, although it can be a very powerful you-to-them channel.&nbsp; Social media creates dialogue, partly between organisations and their customers, or&nbsp; authors and readers, but crucially between readers and other readers.</p>
<p>Today, many people mark their daily lives in status updates and measure experience in star ratings. If they are reading a book, they say so, doubtless using Twitter or Facebook. Maybe they rank and review on Amazon, or even write or comment on a book blog.</p>
<p>This new PR dimension demands that publishers work out who are the influencers in these new digital book clubs, and work out a way of including them in conversations. There are countless case studies of organisations which thought they knew who was important to their reputation but were then shocked to discover the conversation hotspots were built around websites and online commentators they had never heard of.</p>
<p>Online gives new opportunities to track and map the people who matter. Often, they are not journalists, so sending out piles of review copies is not cost-effective and can be counter-productive.</p>
<p>So it is about listening, about understanding the psychology of the &ldquo;mavens&rdquo; and &ldquo;foragers&rdquo;, the first adopters and enthusiasts, and then finding ways of contributing to conversations. Find out who has authority in this new world, and work out what they want&mdash;not easy, but simply asking might be a start!<br />
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