In order to mine social media marketing gold, you really need to roll up your sleeves, put on a pair of sturdy work boots, get into that little elevator, and descend that deep shaft into the gold mine yourself, pick in hand, and get to work. Message boards and forums are full of marketing gold but if gold were that simple to collect, everyone would be loaded. Instead of walking you through the boring pedantics required to be an effective message board marketer, I will instead share with you an exemplar using the author and journalist Paul M. Barrett, author of the new New York Times best-selling book about the cult and culture of the Glock handgun, Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun.
Long story short, I received a direct message via Twitter last November from @GlockTheBook asking me if I might be interested in receiving a copy of a forthcoming book about Glock, the gun. Out of nowhere. Obviously someone had done their homework, and I was identified as a gun owner and sports shooter. I jumped at the opportunity to receive an early copy of the book. The folks at Crown hooked me up with a copy for my Kindle, and I read it through and was wowed. I wrote an earned media review and quickly became part of the author’s street team.
Paul had an ambitious plan: divide and conquer the entire online Glockosphere. His marketing strategy was unique and bold, at least in comparison to other high-caste and high-pedigree writers I have met and consulted. His marketing plan included not only the influential grass-tops but went for a deep-dive into the passionate world of the firearms, pistols, Glocks, and the Second Amendment grassroots–into the deepest reaches of the gold mine and into the lowly and often-ignored message boards and forums.
As it turned out, his lovely wife Julie Cohen was the reason why Paul reached out to me and to dozens of other gun buffs and communities all over the Internet throughout the course of his book promotion campaign. In fact, I recently discovered that it was Julie who discovered that I was a brand new gun owner who loved taking my Glocks to the range to make holes in paper and sent me the DM asking if I wanted to received an advance copy to review.
To quote Paul when it comes to Julie, “Without Julie, nothing. Not kidding. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
Whether Julie is Paul’s puppetmaster, guiding him into the nooks an crannies of Glock-related conversation online no matter where they happen, it was Paul who was willing to get in there, all fisticuffs, and open himself up to trolls and haters in the rarefied air of anonymous communities with the ultimate goal of making friends and selling books.
And yet I hope Paul Barrett’s experience marketing online by virtually shaking hands and kissing babies was well worth his valuable time. Actually I know it was. A few weeks ago I got to meet Paul and Julie for coffee in person before he did a reading at Politics & Prose.
I will paraphrase Julie here when I say that no matter how prestigious a live book tour is and how personally fulfilling doing readings in bookstores always is for a writer, tours are insanely expensive, time-intensive, exhausting, and all too often completely ephemeral.
However, when you’re willing to add to this real-world dog and pony show the same kind and quality of community engagement online that you do during the book tour (all from the comfort of your home), then spending the time meeting people online, where they congregate anyway, is worthwhile.
Some of the benefits are simple: message boards are a permanent record, so all the sharing that Paul did, all the questions he answered, and all the good will he fostered is there for the life of the board.
Not only that, but because of the asynchronous nature of message boards, Paul needs to linger around each board for weeks to make sure he’s a responsive participant. It’s not as quick as just popping into a bookstore, spending a few hours reading and chatting, and then leaving.
Message boards aren’t real time–they required Paul to monitor responses and come back over the course of couple days or a week. This allows more people to engage over time, allowing Paul the ability to really consider his responses or draft and revise his response before committing. It also allows members and participants to get over being star struck and get real.
It also needs to be said that, for every message board member who actively asks questions, makes accusations, or debates an issue, there are at least a hundred, maybe a thousand, non-participants who are every bit as committed to their message board community.
These “lurkers” were completely engaged when they saw Paul and “NYC Shoots,” go at it in a heated debate on The High Road forum. By showing commitment to the community and a bit of bravery when challenged, Paul earned respect in the community, earning new fans and protectors as well as showing what he was made of in front of potentially 143,051 High Road registered members.
If bravery, boldness, and heroism under duress and challenge can’t sell books, I don’t know what can. If Paul M. Barrett, an assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek and author of American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion and The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America, still thinks it is essential to engage the lowly, antiquated message board and forum as part of his book publicity tour, what’s your excuse?