This year is my third London Book Fair, and the third time I’ve been to the PPC’s free seminar. I have to say I wasn’t blown away by the discussions or the panel, but nevertheless there were some good talking points.

The session was chaired by e-consultancy’s Michelle Goodall (@greenwellys). Great relaxed chair with some interesting insights. Must look up her courses. Nice reminder that social media started out with academics, sharing research. It’s obviously key to my line of work that academics still are active participants in this landscape.

Social media is a multitask medium: we watch TV and pootle on Facebook at the same time. Not sure if this is good or bad, but it’s something that we may potentially want to think about from a psychology perspective: if we only have half of someone’s attention, how much do we actually have?

87% of people online start out with a search engine. There are huge implications here not just for general SEO but publicity too. Where do social media releases come in? What ought we to be doing with tagging, cross channel key word placement etc etc to ensure that our news gets to the top of a person’s search results. Note here I am talking about PEOPLE – the end user/customer/prospect/whatever, not just a journalist. We have to keep thinking about the serendipity of searching. Michelle quoted a Nielsen study (must look it up) suggesting that we are (as a nation) now using social networks more than email. There’s an interesting question here about fragmentation. While the thought of 87% coming through Google (ok there are other search engines but hey let’s face it we’re talking about Google) means that search can be key to reaching out, there’s a whole new set of potentially gated communities where we’re still outside looking in. As we get more and more niche networks, how do we ensure we’re reaching the right people?

Next up was Nick Hawkaway (@Harkaway), author of the Gone-Away World. Wonderfully entertaining panellist. Nick claims his publisher got him into social media (blogging specifically), and it all spiralled from there. He was impressive. Clued up. So either Heinemann have an amazing digital team who are selling it well and explaining what it’s all about, or this guy should be changing careers as he was a super digital advocate. He had it all down: social media is about “dialogue” – making connections. “Twitter is like a giant pub discussion: you choose to listen to which conversations you want”. What a brilliant way to put it. You’d have to be a writer to come up with analogies like that.

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From the author’s perspective then, social media is a chance to go beyond the content, engage with readers, get feedback. It’s applicable to a much wider world. Businesses too can have these same dialogues. And most importantly moving from push to pull opens up the opportunity to have real conversations with people that are genuinely interested.

Last up was Matt Brown of Stay Loose. Very nervous, bless him. And also a little unwilling to get specific. Annoying. To be fair there were a few take-aways, although at a very simple level:

1. Keep niche communities at the forefront of your mind. There are so many opportunities now to reach out to very specific communities.

2. Research blog influence. Review peer groups (who else are they referring to and are on their blog roll?); what is their sphere of influence (who else is looking at them); and their tone.

3. Go in without expectations. Understand your target, be concise, and don’t be pushy.

I felt like there was a big gaping hole in this section. Namely monitoring. As PRs more than anything in our role we should be concentrating on issues management. We have to be constantly checking the temperature of our audiences, and understanding what their needs are. Otherwise we have no way of knowing how or what to reach out with. I didn’t feel like the strategies these guys were talking about were looking at genuine engagement in social media communities as much as short term “identify your targets and sell something in”. There were some interesting ideas on finding blogs to target from Goodall: using page rank to decide on influence (interesting: haven’t tried that before and will be doing); Going by Google alone: what gets to the top of the search lists;  and what are the in-bound links from those sources. But beyond that first foray…? Unless you spend all your time as a PR or publicist working in a very small number of niche communities, how do you stay on top of all the different spheres of networks and influencers? While Twitter as a pulse monitor is amazingly effective, what about the rest of the blogosphere? And the social networks? Minefield. And as yet I don’t feel like I’ve got the answers. It was interesting that places like Technorati, Blog Pulse etc didn’t feature at all either. Would have been really interesting to know what kind of analysis these guys are doing of their social media activities. And what would constitute a valuable outcome.

There were some other interesting points in the discussion. The importance of getting the author involved in your digital promo campaigns was key. Early access to authors too: not just once a book is out. Journalists are more and more taking up use of digital assets e.g. exclusive videos. We can do more with this, and it doesn’t need to be high tech. Just genuine dialogue. One thing in particular Harkaway referred to was “writing about writing”! Authors can make the most of sharing their experiences.

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