by Steve Weber

#95, 21 May 2007

Make MySpace Your Space for Promoting Your Bookselling Business

Selling on Amazon

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Traditional marketing and advertising is less effective than ever; people aren't paying attention to it. But free advertising is alive and well. The catch is you can't manufacture free advertising; you must get it the old-fashioned way - by earning it.

Social networking sites such as MySpace offer an ethical, effective and free way for business owners to find new customers. At MySpace and similar sites, members create profiles of themselves or their business with the objective of meeting like-minded potential friends.

MySpace includes nearly 200 million members. Whether your online bookstore carries general stock or specializes in the tiniest niche, your customer base is represented on MySpace. With millions of users, all segmented by interest, geography and age, MySpace presents an unprecedented opportunity for marketing because it enables your target market to find you.

When 24-year-old Steven Oliverez finished writing his debut fantasy novel, he faced the same predicament as most new authors. He wanted to sell the manuscript, but couldn't get a single publisher to read it, let alone buy it. He spent two years writing query letters, and all he got was a stack of form-letter rejections.

So Oliverez decided to self-publish and promote the book himself. Fortunately, he wasn't starting from scratch. He'd been active on the wildly popular social site MySpace, networking with other fantasy readers and authors. On his MySpace blog, he'd given away seven of his short stories to anyone willing to read them. His stories prompted hundreds of enthusiastic comments and attracted thousands of MySpace "friends."

So when Oliverez published Elder Staves in 2005, he asked for a little help from his MySpace friends. He asked them to buy the book on Amazon, and they did - pushing it to No. 25 on the fantasy bestseller list. Then Oliverez started getting messages from book clubs around the country, asking if he'd make phone-in appearances. After that came some write-ups in publishing trade magazines. Few tools can attract and bind an audience than a network like MySpace, Oliverez says:

"Buzz creates more buzz. Since there's no marketing or publishing company behind the book, it really helps to be online, able to connect with readers directly. Being on MySpace makes you seem more approachable, and that makes it a great tool for authors."

Next Oliverez printed 30,000 personalized bookmarks, and asked his MySpace friends to pass them out at bookstores and coffee shops. Immediately he got a few dozen volunteers. Then Oliverez found more MySpace friends by joining several of its "groups" for authors and fiction-writing.

You can visit Oliverez on MySpace and read the first two chapters of his book here.

MySpace: Not Just for Kids

What Oliverez did wasn't new. He took a page from the thousands of unsigned rock bands that have tapped MySpace to build their audiences. It's a simple yet wonderfully effective strategy: The bands put samples of their music on their MySpace profile, and friends forward the songs to an ever-enlarging circle of friends. Bands that "go viral" on MySpace sell lots more concert tickets and CDs, and some have snagged major recording contracts. Even the journeymen are raking it in by hawking their disks, T-shirts and other goodies right on MySpace.

Authors and many others who want to promote themselves or a product are quickly realizing they can do the same thing the bands are doing - use MySpace to go directly to their potential customers without a big fat marketing campaign. New profiles on MySpace are created daily for artists, restaurants, movies, TV shows, bars, towns, and nearly any other thing imaginable - including booksellers! The commercial entities all hope that participating will generate word of mouth for their product or services.

Barely two years after its launch, MySpace became the most popular U.S. Web site based on number of visits during 2006. With nearly 200 million members, the site contains part of the audience any business needs to reach, and provides easy tools to make that connection. Each MySpace member has his or her own circle of like-minded friends. After you become someone's MySpace friend, you have access to his or her friends. And each of your new friends has more friends.

While there are hundreds of social-networking sites - Facebook, Friendster, Orkut and to name just a few - MySpace has captured more than 80 percent of the traffic. Getting started with MySpace is easy and free, you can open your account here.

If you wish, you can make your MySpace account private until you're ready to use it. Go to Account Settings and then Privacy Settings.

MySpace? You might be thinking, "Isn't that for high-school kids?" Sure, that's the stereotype; MySpace is popular with kids. But with nearly 100 million members and the No. 1 traffic rank on the entire Internet, clearly there's more to it than loitering school kids.

All sorts of people are having success on MySpace. Horror novelist Michael Laimo says he got more than a dozen big media interviews after reporters noticed his MySpace page. He inked his first movie deal through MySpace after an independent director sent him a MySpace message asking about film rights. Hundreds of fans have told him they bought his books after seeing his MySpace profile.

MySpace is the Internet's answer to a promotional tactic used by new authors for decades - selling books from the trunk of your car. Both tactics are tedious, time-consuming, and usually don't produce results for a while. But if you keep plugging away and you're sincere, people notice. Your snowball starts barreling downhill purely from its own momentum.

Most of MySpace's 190 million-plus members don't use the site as a promotion tool; they're just there for the friends. But MySpace can be a foolproof self-promotional tool if you're intent on using it that way. Any business owner, even one without computer skills, can easily post photos and written content.

In addition to its networking opportunities, MySpace is a wickedly good research tool. For example, in about 10 seconds you can find out how many members say "Jimmy Buffet," for example, is their favorite singer, or that "Antiques Roadshow" is their favorite TV program. You can zap a message to any of these folks or you could quickly locate members in your ZIP code who are science-fiction buffs.

Making friends on MySpace

There are several ways to find people on MySpace who might be in your target market - by searching for self-improvement, organic food, or whatever field you're in. Once you've found potential friends, you can send a request for them to "add" you as a friend. The invitee can accept, decline, or ignore your request, although most people accept.

Once you're friends with someone on MySpace, you can post comments on each other's profile pages and see each other's full circle of friends. Here's how to find friends and potential readership on MySpace:

Browse friends lists of members interested in your field. Find the MySpace profiles of similar businesses and target market as yours. On the right side, scroll down a bit to the link "See All of [Name]'s Friends." Start sending invitations - you'll get many potential customers this way. Here's another twist: Send an invitation to a famous business operator, and if they accept, post a comment, which appears on the bottom right of their MySpace page. More exposure for you.

Search. Click "Search" on the top toolbar on the MySpace home page. You can limit your search to certain areas such as Books Interest, Blogs, Music Interest, or others. Let's imagine you're looking for MySpace members interested in organic food. Click "Search" and enter "organic food." Presto, you've got a list of every MySpace member who's used the words "organic food" in that part of their profile. Also, use the Affiliations for Networking search tool a bit farther down the page.

Browse for friends. If your business serves a local clientele, it might be useful to browse for potential MySpace friends by geographic area. On the home page, click "Browse" and the Advanced tab. You'll be able to view member profiles within a specified distance of postal ZIP codes, as well as other criteria such as age, gender, religion, and income. Many single MySpace members use this function to scout potential dates, but it's useful for entrepreneurs as well.

Browse comments on other member profiles. Comments from MySpace friends appear on the bottom right of profile pages. The most recent comments appear at the top, accompanied by the comment writer's photo or image. Members who leave these comments tend to be the most active and vocal MySpace users - and make good friends. In particular, seek out people who've posted thoughtful comments, like "Enjoyed seeing your profile and getting more information." Skip messages such as, "You ROCK, Man!!!"

Sending friends requests. Once you find a potential friend, click "Add to Friends" under their profile's main photo on the left. And if you want to increase the odds of making a real connection, don't stop there - send a personalized message by clicking the "Send a Message" link. It requires some extra work, but you can't convert people into book buyers simply by pecking on your mouse button.

Accepting friends. Once you've done some networking on MySpace, people will start seeking you out. But don't feel obligated to accept anyone and everyone. Click to their profile page first, and make sure their interests are in line with yours.

There are two ways of approaching MySpace friendships - trying to acquire as big a list as possible, or having a smaller group you can make stronger connections with individually. In any case, the people who ultimately will become a customer will be those in your core groups, those who feel a connection.

Create an "event." Launching a new product or opening a new branch office? Throw a party and announce it to your MySpace friends by creating a MySpace event and sending invitations. To get started, simply click "Events" on the top navigation bar on any MySpace page, then "Create New Event."

Leaving comments. After you become someone's MySpace friend, visit their profile and add a comment. This is an effective networking tool. Not only will your new friend read your comment, but people who visit your friend's page will see it too. Avoid the most overused MySpace comment: "Thanks for the add," which means "thanks for adding me as a friend." It's a cliché - and a missed opportunity. Take a moment to think of a meaningful comment, based on something about your new friend's profile, like "Hey, my favorite author is Hemingway too!"

Sending messages. MySpace has an internal e-mail system and an instant-messaging system for sending private notes. You can include your regular email signature, including links and photos. But if the message isn't too personal, you're better off posting your thoughts publicly, as a "comment" on your friend's page. This increases your visibility on MySpace, making it that much easier for new friends and readers to discover you.

Responding to messages. When you receive a MySpace message, you'll receive an email alert. To network effectively, respond promptly to your messages. If someone makes the effort to write to you, they'll be waiting for a response. Don't alienate potential friends by letting messages pile up unanswered.

Sending personal replies is time-consuming and you won't see instant results. But remember, the personal connection you provide with a thoughtful reply is something readers will remember, and something they're unlikely to get from a big-name author. These are the folks who will feel good about you and recommend you to others.

Sending bulletins. Once you've built a network of MySpace friends, the ability to send them MySpace bulletins is a powerful tool. Your bulletin won't be e-mailed like your personal messages are, but the headlines will appear on all your friends' "bulletin board" area. Whether you have two dozen MySpace friends or 20,000, the ability to let them all know about a new product or offer simultaneously is a unique tool.

To post a bulletin, click the "Post bulletin" link in the box labeled My Mail.

Like personal messages, bulletins are a feature you'll want to use sparingly, to preserve their impact. If you bombard friends with frequent bulletins that aren't compelling, they'll start ignoring them, and perhaps be irritated enough to drop you as a friend.

Here are the kinds of noteworthy events you'll want to send bulletins about:

  1. Your new product becomes available for sale at retailers or on your Web site.

  2. You get profiled in a national newspaper or magazine.

  3. You've won a prestigious award.

  4. You've just been booked to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show or Larry King Live.

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