Jan. 5, the future of social media in publishing

A curmudgeon’s view of how social media will tranform publishing

For years I’ve been a social media critic, curmudgeon and general doubter. I find Twitter incredibly stupid, the ever-changing rules on Facebook annoy me, and I can never decide whether you’re supposed to wish someone a happy birthday on LinkedIn. There ought to be a social media flowchart with questions like “does it involve cats?,” “is it a picture of food?,” and “are you trying to find a job?”

I’m fairly certain that social media will have a profound impact on all types of publishing, but generally not in the way all the experts have been touting.

For example, I’m a self-published author, and I’ve read several of those books on how to beat the Kindle algorithms and so on. The bottom line is that it’s not enough to write a good book. You have to be good at lots of other things as well — picking the right title, finding the right categories, getting a good cover, using social media to drive traffic, etc. The list of things you need to be able to do is fairly long.

The books say anybody can do it, but the truth is that only very few people are going to be good at all those things. That’s okay, and I’ll explain why.

Think for a moment about music. Some people are really good song writers and some people are really good entertainers. We don’t expect the singer to write all of his own songs.

Or think about comedic actors. Some of them are incredibly funny, but others are just very good at delivering the funny lines that the writers came up with. The actors themselves can be rather boring people in real life.

I’m sure you’re seeing the point, which is that there’s no reason to believe that somebody who is good at creating great content is also going to be good at navigating the twists and turns of social media.

Right now the people who are succeeding are the people who are above average in understanding how to be hip on social media and in how to create worthwhile content. But some people are geniuses at social media and dumber than a mud fence, while others are geniuses at creating content and have the social skills of a potato.

The obvious next step is ghost writing. And apparently it’s happening already. Here’s an interesting story about ghost writers who are glomming on to some person named Zoella. (I had no idea there was such a person until I read this story.)

Apparently Zoella is very popular online, and she’s using that popularity to sell ghost-written content.

The article makes a distinction between legit Youtube sensations and the cheaters. Re: the legit people …

They’ve developed their brands, curated an audience, and created content that is successfully geared towards their demographic.

IOW, they have skills in several different areas. Most people can only do one or two of those things decently. These folk are good at all the elements that make for social media success.

The cheaters, on the other hand, “eat up anything [content creators] come out with” and put their name on it. Even if it’s garbage.

[N]o matter how bad the book is, it’s going to make money

… because it has the celebrity’s name on it.

It doesn’t take much thought to realize that this is a bad long-term strategy. Once people realize that everything coming out under celebrity brand X is garbage, the brand will lose its luster.

These people are paving the way for the next step in social media, which is to allow some people to be the popular front man — the lead singer, the actor, the comedian — while others create the content, do the market research, etc.

Things have to move this way because there is simply no chance that the best advice on any given topic is to be found from a person who is really good on social media. It’s just not going to happen.

Certain people will rise to the top — maybe because they had a really good first novel, or maybe just because they look good in a sweater, but there will be a subgroup of people who have the moxie to be social media royalty. They will rely on something like ghost writers to provide content. The tasks required for success will specialize.

What’s the business application of this?

First, don’t beat up on content creators because they’re not tweeting, facebooking and getting millions of followers or likes or whatever. It’s a rare bird who is a content expert and a social media maven, and it’s foolish to think any company can create a staff full of them.

Second, realize that it’s not enough to understand social media. I understand the violin, but I can’t play it very well. Companies need people who have that indescribable whatsit (apologies to Wooster) that makes them successful on social media.

That’s still not enough. The social media genius also has to have the humility to “read the lines” from their ghost writers, and subject their social media persona to the goals and brand image of the company.

The way I see this working out is not unlike the way companies do display booths at conferences. There needs to be a game, or a good giveaway, or some beautiful people to draw a crowd, but it’s also necessary to have a nerd who actually knows what the heck is going on.

The future of social media is just like the future of any industry or technology. Tasks will get divided up into specialized niches.

The person who does the video channel might not be the content expert. The best-selling author might need somebody else to run his Pinterest page and his Tumblr blog.

The trick going forward is to find and use talent where it exists, and don’t expect one person to be the jack of all trades.

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