Hearing the buzz about the marketing power of Facebook and MySpace? The time to build your social network is now!

What: In 1993, futurist Howard Rheingold coined the term Virtual Community in his groundbreaking book of the same name, predicting that people would build affinity-based digital communities to augment their physical communities.  Back then, hardly anybody was in a social network.  Today, hundreds of millions of people around the world are dedicated members of these online networks.  What is everybody doing on them, and what does it mean for you, a BK author?

Create a profile on one of many online social networks to promote your book and you’ll connect to new or current audiences. These networks are communities that search for and share similar interests and activities. Services within each network provide many ways to interact, including instant messaging, email, file sharing, group building, video and audio uploads, and even sharing your virtual bookshelf.

The biggest social networks are Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, and LiveJournal.  More specialized writer-oriented social networks are Gather, Goodreads, and Red RoomNing offers a free service to build your own social network from scratch.  Squidoo, started by publishing guru Seth Godin, allows members to create a topic-oriented website in minutes and start communicating with other members.  More recently, the photo site Flickr has become a socialnetwork itself as friends and family members congregate online to share pictures fromvacation travels, births, weddings, and evenfunerals.

As an author and public figure, sometimes you will start the social network site and sometimes your readers will start one on your behalf.  For example, Facebook has a page about Thom Hartmann with 147 members managed by one of his fans.


Video-oriented social networks have also exploded on the scene in recent years.  The biggest of these is YouTube, where we are housing the BK Author Video Library.  Other popular sites are BlipTV and FORA.tv, (The Brilliant Ideas Network of Discourse and Debate).  We’ve recently started a BK Book & Authors page on FORA.tv, adding our video series to the BK author videos (such as Ben Cohen, Jared Bernstein, and Paul Polak) already profiled on FORA.tv from bookstore appearances.  The BK Authors Cooperative website is specialized social network for Berrett-Koehler authors, where you can communicate with other successful writers, learn Web 2.0 best practices, and test out new content, marketing, and communication strategies.

Why: Online social network services deliver exactly what they say they do: access to a network of people. Facebook has 70 million worldwide members, and even Gather, the more specialized writers’ social network, has 100,000 members.  These are your potential customers.  With this vast network at your fingertips, the ways to promote your works are increasing everyday. Most of you are already using the web to promote your products, services, and points of view.  Your profile on affinity-based selected networks will help you spread your ideas further along these digital channels. Creating these relationships helps you smoothly cultivate relationships with those interested in the topics relevant to your book.

My Squidoo Page on Ethics and Corporate Responsibility

How: The practice of building your network presence is up to you. You can just put a toe in the water, or you can spend hundreds of hours cultivating new contacts on a range of social networks.  Here are some steps to get started:

Step 1 -  Select a service that matches your themes and audience. In the United States, Facebook, MySpaceLiveJournal, and Friendster have become popular among the younger online population. Sites such as LinkedIn cater to a business-oriented crowd, and others such as Ning allow users to create their own interest-specific community networks. Outside the United States, Bebo and Orkut (the Google social network site) are quite big.  The writing sites Gather, Good Reads and Red Room appeal to a more mature audience.  If you are feeling particularly feisty, you can create your own animated avatar on Second Life, a visually stimulating virtual community, and join groups aligned with your interests.   The Book Marketing Network created by users on Ning might be a good place to get your feet wet.  I just joined and am beginning to post our videos there.

Step 2 - Create a profile, including your interests, contact info, and links to your book or services websites. Your profile is definitely key to plugging into and attracting a desired network. When people search for you, your books, or your interests, this is the first thing they see. It's typically an informal, non-demanding project. Adding the places where your book is sold and a little blurb about each of your books may be appropriate for interest-specific sites, but for bigger social-oriented sites, just post your personal site. Avoid aggressive salesmanship by providing helpful content even if visitors to your page don’t click through to purchase your book.  Create your own virtual bookshelf on Facebook, showing your book covers to visitors.  For sites like LinkedIn, you may spend more time creating a professional image, but otherwise, keep it friendly and simple.

Step 3 - Look for groups of similar interests such as other authors, publishers, book marketing discussion groups, or just others interested in the same topic or genre as your books.  Join an ongoing debate or discussion. Hopping on the net and pitching your book immediately doesn't seem to pan out very well on social network services. Social networkers expect communication and a potential ongoing relationship, not a quick sale and exit.  Here are examples of social network groups that align to Berrett-Koehler book subjects:

Environmental Sustainability: 40,000 members in over 30 groups on Facebook

Nonprofit Organizations: Over 28,000 groups on MySpace

Peace and Social Justice: Over 27,000 members on MySpace

Step 4 - Find and add friends that are within your interest groups. You should enjoy building a friends base, but don't be haphazard about adding friends. Clicking on random profiles doesn't yield as much fruit as locating and nurturing friends with similar interests.

Step 5 - Consider building and leading an interest-specific groupwithin a site. The freedom of adding topics for discussion, pictures, articles, links, and videos comes with responsibility.Measuring the pulse of group interest can become a time-consuming activity, but can yield great feedback and buzz if done well.

Step 6 - Link back to you website and bkconnection.com. As you become known on social network groups, let them know how to find out more about you. Here is a good example of a new Gather.com member who is interviewing for a position at Berrett-Koehler and links back to our website as well as a BK author’s website:

How Much: The best part of networking is the cost: free! But time is money, so beware of the time sink; virtual communities can become addicting. Allocate a certain amount of time to network building and stick to it. Social networking can do wonders building buzz around your books, but be patient.  Don’t look for big sales spikes right away.

Help: Until there's an online social networking manual for book authors, building a network is pretty subjective. Here are some examples and guides:

(1) Online Social Networking for Authors, by Robin Mizell on WordPress

(2) Book Marketing Network on Ning, a great source for seeing other authors in action.

(3) Social Networking on Wikipedia.

Caveat: not all social networks work, at least not the first time around.  We started a BK community site on Ning in early 2007 (before my time) but few people became members.  Now I’m trying to decide whether to revive this site or spend more time on existing social networks that already have groups aligned with the BK mission.  What do you advise?  I welcome your thoughts.

Please contact me at dmarshall@bkpub.com.