There’s a reason most animals stick with their own species in the wild; it’s the best defense mechanism to avoid being eaten. Because one individual can’t constantly be the lookout and participate in other activities to ensure their survival—such as eating, sleeping and mating—one is often designated as the lookout, as occurs in a gang of meerkats. The lookout will stand on his or her hind legs—alpha females are most dominant—and when a predator such as a jackal or a snake appears, they sound the alarm. The others will decide on the spur of the moment whether to circle the predator and take it down, or flee to the closest tunnel.
Where’s My Gang?
In the physical world, human beings have evolved beyond the instantaneous fight-or-flight mechanism, but they still gravitate toward particular clubs and associations that mirror their own belief systems, hobbies and interests. People want to feel as though they belong to a community; it can feel as though there is safety in numbers.
What does that have to do with selling your books? Everything. Because once you identify your ideal reader—the person most likely to be attracted to your genre and specifically, your book, likely hangs out with other readers of similar interest. What’s more, if you give that reader just a bit of a nudge, they can broadcast the word about your writing to all their friends—just like word of the Harry Potter books spread on playgrounds worldwide.
Social media is a natural extension of social interaction. People are naturally attracted to those most like themselves. This is known as homophily: either individuals will seek out those with similar beliefs and views of the world as their own, or they will mold themselves to become more like the group to which they want to belong.
A top advantage of homophily is sharing information, which strengthens the connection between individuals and results in more positive interactions. Groups tend to cluster by age, nationality and cultural background and often by gender and religious beliefs.
With Facebook, Twitter or other social networking services, authors tend to accumulate followers that are readers, fans, fellow authors or those in the publishing industry, as well as a sprinkling of family members and friends from the physical world. Sometimes we friend authors because we share a love of the written word but we might discover they have different views on religion, racial issues, political issues, culture and other matters. This is known as heterophily, the practice of individuals that embrace diversity.
The trick to using social media effectively to sell books is to gather your ideal readers so your posts (which should be informative and engaging, not blatant advertisements) find a receptive audience. To do this, notice others’ posts. Look for ways in which your book’s plot, characters, backdrops and hobbies/interests intersect with others’ posts. This is called commonality.
If you haven’t friended this individual yet, send them a friend request. Then look at their friends: chances are they are engaging in homophily and they have surrounded themselves with others of similar interests. As you identify more people with posts that lead you to believe they would be receptive of your writing, friend them as well until you have an ever-widening circle of ideal readers.
You can group these readers together and send posts to them without engaging other groups. For example, suppose you have become politically active. Rather than send your posts to everyone on your list, send the political posts to those with similar political views and send your book marketing posts to your ideal readers. This step is often missing in social media, so the users have to wade through a lot of unwanted posts to reach those that do interest them.
It’s All in the Numbers
And while users are conversing, liking and sharing, the social media platform is engaging in platform algorithms. With a new user, Facebook posts are shown in chronological order. As the user likes certain posts, comments on them or shares them, Facebook’s software records that user’s preferences. This results in more of those types of posts appearing than others with less interaction. This is considered positive as it provides more content that the user likes or uses.
But for you the author, it provides a unique challenge because whether your post even shows up within each individual feed depends on how well you interact, known as an interaction score. The higher the number of comments, likes and shares, the more often your post will show.
Twitter now has “the best tweets you may have missed”, which shows tweets involving topics the user has liked, retweeted or commented on in the past. This can encompass politics, religion, hobbies and interests. This means the more buzzwords your tweet contains, the more likely it is to display in an ideal reader’s feed. Using hashtags increases this likelihood exponentially. However, Twitter users have the option to turn off this feature and revert to chronological tweets. This was done so late-breaking news and emergency notifications can be viewed without regard to their perceived popularity.
Platform algorithms increase the likelihood of homophily. If a user follows a democratic or republican candidate, for example, they will receive suggestions for additional candidates of the same party. If they follow authors of particular genres, they are likely to receive suggestions involving other authors in the same genre; the same is true for movies, television shows and music. Based on a birthdate or simply through the material they have liked, the SNS determines their age bracket and feeds them information to which they are likely to be more receptive. In many instances, locations they have indicated in their profile will result in suggestions of others within those same geographic areas. Additionally, SNS consistently searches for cookies on the user’s device and feeds them advertisements similar to items for which they have searched.