Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Marketing Via Social Networking

NOTE: I did not get the idea for this post from Rowena Cherry's post on Book Marketing this past Sunday, Sept. 13. But I expect she may have something to say about this post on marketing strategy and the social media, too.

A friend of mine has been studying "marketing strategy" and recently led me to a treasure trove of Marketing Instructions explaining how to "use" social networking to promote a product.

It made me ask why that sentence makes my hair stand on end. I had to figure out why it makes me want to puke. I have, after all, been pounding away on this blog about how a writer must analyze and understand their MARKET before structuring their story. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

Marketing via social networking is a whole new topic in the Marketing business. These instructions make little sense until you delve deeper into the whole lump of lore called "marketing" (which is much bigger than just "advertising.")

There are whole schools of marketing, and they're all a subset of "business" which is also a whole lump of lore you need to understand in order to understand marketing. Advertising is a tiny sub-set of marketing. So to grasp any of it, you need a smattering of it all, because the thing is one of those patterns made out of pixel sized dots. Get far enough away, and the array of dots make a picture.

The pattern I suddenly saw while cruising through all these sources on "marketing" shows why marketing via social networking is doomed.

The itinerant trader (picture the gypsy wagon; the tinker with a mule loaded with needles, pots, bowie knives, and other things rural households couldn't make for themselves) - the itinerant trader may in fact be a profession older than "the oldest" profession.

After all you can't sell yourself well without marketing yourself.

So "Marketing" might be older than Storytelling, too, because the itinerant paddler's travels beget stories to tell, stories which need a "market."

Storytelling (even the Shamanistic variety) is not only marketing, but also a sound business model.

Telling a story is not just saying what happened. It's a selective recreation of reality selected with the audience in mind.

So the "business model" of the storyteller is to create something intangible out of nothing and sell it for room and board for a night.


So the essence of storytelling (if not story itself) must be marketing.

And in fact, my thesis presented on this blog, is that stories contain elements of marketing.

Only since the invention of the printing press has marketing of stories been subcontracted by writers to publishers.

Today, writers are taking back that function.

Blogs are full of discussions on how this trend is totally new, and something writers have never done so we have to learn how to do it.

But it's not new. It's OLD, older than any records show.

(I'm just skipping over the period when artists of all stripes (musicians, painters, playwrights) had to find a rich patron to support them while they produced art. That's actually a reasonably similar business model, just a bit more personal, but much more like "social network marketing.")

Stories, our stock in trade, contain elements of marketing, but they also contain characters and relationships. Romance is particularly focused on how relationship moves plot. Where there are characters and relationships there is "society" -- and "society" begets social networks.

So we're talking about the intersection of two professions, distant cousins but definitely related: marketing & social networking.

A society, Wikipedia notes, is a group of individuals bounded by interdependence. "Bounded" could be visualized as "circumscribed" -- like a lasso holding hero and heroine together on a really hot Western Romance cover.

No, social networking is not new! It's just bigger than it used to be, and binds together interdependent individuals who don't really know each other very well, but have a common interdependence (an interest or a goal).

In pre-printing societies, and even today in many illiterate societies, villages, regions and whole countries operate entirely on who you know, not what you know. In fact DC isn't far from that model, and Hollywood certainly admits to it up front.

Take away long distance communications, bottle people into a communications net of a few hundred individuals, and living successfully becomes all about who you know, what you know about them, and where the skeletons are buried.

If one of those small town people happens to be a writer telling stories, word will get around especially if a character in those stories is almost recognizable. (I'm thinking of a MURDER SHE WROTE episode where a gossip blew the lid on some clandestine affairs gossiped through the Beauty Shop.) Gossip goes viral.

Marketers are teaching each other "how" to "use" social networking to move product by "going viral."

Writers are teaching each other how to use marketing tools such as Advertising to cost-effectively move product.

They both think they're doing something new. But they're both doing it with OLD tools, or are reinventing the wheel.

The age-old principles of advertising have refined down to a method of constructing a message, and of constructing a product about which such a piercing message can be written.

The age-old principles of storytelling have refined down to a method of establishing rapport with an audience (SAVE THE CAT!) and the key element is a grasp of how these strangers are just like you -- are bound to you in interdependence. (High Concept is a statement of that interdependence binding force.)

MARKETING starts with one seminal message from which all other principles are derived and all actions motivated.


STORYTELLING starts with one seminal message from which all other techniques are derived, including the characteristics of your potential readers.


As with acting, the writer (Alma Hill's adage: Writing Is A Performing Art) must reach deep down inside and find a hint, a thread, a shadow, an inkling of each character. Each potential reader who will be fascinated by that character resonates to something within the writer's own psyche and experience.

See the comments on Linnea Sinclair's post
for a discussion of "taste" in character by KimberAn. She truly makes my point perfectly and I didn't put her up to that.

The writer infuses the character with "life" for a reader via an element, however tenuous, of interdependence with the reader, of BEING the reader.

As KimberAn points out, not every character of every writer will resonate -- because they're made of different elements inside the writer and "reach" different audiences. The sense of identifying with the writer's characters is what draws a reader into a story. The writer is the reader, on a deep, mystical and fundamental level.

That's how all communication works.

The marketer (salesman) remains clinically distant by pretending to reach rapport with the customer who is not the salesman.

The writer pretends to be clinically distant, but actually reaches rapport with the reader who is another version of the writer.

The writer forms a social bond, an interdependence, a society that includes reader, writer and the characters too, as if they were people in a social network.

The objective of both marketer and writer is to lower the customer's resistance (or psychic or psychological barriers) in order to deliver a payload.

The difference between marketer and writer is who benefits most from the delivery of the payload.

The marketer walks away with a profit, whether the customer actually got value for their money or not. (often the customer makes out like a bandit!)

The writer walks away with a tiny profit only if the reader got value for their money (because otherwise the writer's next book will be rejected).

Writers have always been social-networking champions. First the writer has to create a society of the writer + characters, then INCLUDE the reader(s) in that society by making them feel welcome, sharing identifying characteristics.

Social networking is how you win the Nobel Prize. It's all about what parties you attend and how amusing you are to the elite.

In addition to being champions at playing The Recluse, writers are social animals by nature. Even when alone with a computer, a writer is surrounded by a whole teaming society of characters circumscribed by interdependence.

Marketers are not social by nature, but by design.

In a social-network (be it small village or twitter, facebook, myspace, etc) there is give and take until you "know" these strangers you've met online. It's all about finding things in common, sharing likes and dislikes, (from politics to brand of baby-bottles). The network solidifies and becomes a channel for diffusing information via what we have in common, how we ARE each-other.

Society is all about what connects you to others.

Marketing is all about the disconnect "you are not your customer."

Marketers are "outsiders" by definition.

Their mission in piercing the membrane you've laboriously created around your social-network online is to treat you as not-themselves.

They are the stranger among you who will not blend. They are the stranger among you who may pretend to blend, and thereby win distrust.

This all makes no sense. Marketer and Customer are naturally "interdependent" and should form a society. Trade should be even, value for value.

But the key maxim of marketing is "You are not your customer." And that prevents the marketer from becoming a member of the social network that contains his customers.

Therefore (consequentially) the marketer's advertising message is auto-rejected by any social network simply because the marketer defines himself as not-you.

The only messages the networked people trust come from those who define themselves as you. A Newcomer who passes your tests for "like me" will be accepted and blend into the network (just try being accepted in a small town with generations of history behind each family!)

That blending will not happen if the newcomer knows that "I am not my customer; you are all customers; I am not you."

Internalizing the attitude "I am not my customer" makes a great marketer, but it is very similar to the attitude drilled into soldiers in the World Wars by the use of pejorative nicknames for various nationalities. These nicknames were meant to dehumanize "the enemy" and thus make it OK for nice guys to kill them and still remain nice guys. That practice is frowned on today. Today post-traumatic stress syndrome is rampant. The we/them dichotomy is necessary to the human psyche. Within "we" there must be "I am you" or there can be no "we."

Defining yourself as not-your-customer de-marketerizes your customer and makes it OK to trick them into doing what you want, not what they want, and you can still remain an upstanding marketer.

Online social networks are still young and churning with turnover.

Marketers think that disorganization gives them entre they would not have in an old small town.

Marketers don't understand why their marketing ploys are labeled spam and subjected to instant rejection and excoriating derision. They keep trying to find a way around this rejection of their messages.

They teach that a marketer must ease themselves into the network, listen and post on the topic under discussion, work to blend in, give free samples, run contests, etc. Some even say you have to recruit members of the network to speak for your product. (members who accept that will be instantly rejected by the network)

Marketers are completely missing the point.

I do admit that their tactics produce apparent profits. But it's more like clearcutting forest instead of harvesting trees.

Marketers must learn a big lesson on a fundamental level. First though, they must unlearn "You are not your customer" because that is the source of the whole problem.

The new explosion of online social networks has to change MARKETING as drastically as it has changed PUBLISHING.

I've discussed the changes in publishing in a number of prior posts. Here are a few.




Publishing subcontracts marketing or out-sources it. Larger houses have in-house marketing operations, but those people really don't read the books they are selling to book distributors so they may as well be sub-contractors.

Publishing is (very gradually) changing its business model because of the rise of the e-book, yes and Kindle the 900 lb Gorilla, the blog, and social networks. Amazon has created "Communities" which are boards for social networking of readers and writers.

Hollywood is changing its model too with the rise of websites that "vet" scripts then hang them up for producers to browse through, so it is becoming less about who you know and more about what you know in selling a script. Book publishing has not been that inventive yet, but bloggers are moving in that direction with installment-novels.

Even the biggest publishers have begun to shift the burden of marketing back onto the writer.

The first efforts of writers online have been (naturally) to use social networking to announce their newest book.

People like Linnea Sinclair who started with an e-book project and took it to Mass Market paperback have been successful - and marketers can't figure it out. (Because they didn't read the books and wouldn't understand them if they did because "You are not your customer.")

Marketers have not changed their methods. They have adapted, yes, but they consistently apply the oldest methods to the new problem.

And they are successful in making a profit! Those old methods are old because they work. Those methods can sell snow to an Eskimo.

What marketers don't understand about viral marketing success stories like Linnea Sinclair is that one, oldest, core principle of marketing they rely on will not ever reproduce Linnea's success.


Marketers, like doctors, feel they must maintain distance from their customers and clients.

Marketers aren't selling to people just like themselves.

Writers are.

Writers are studying to change their methods to "you aren't your customer" but marketers are not learning that they are indeed their customer.

Here's a tweet about spammers being banned from twitter. I found it by the keyword search Twitter Anymore from the list of "trending topics" twitter supplies on each person's homepage.
zumbaba You Won't See these Spams on Twitter Anymore -Twitter Updates its Terms of service to Eradicate Abusive Users http://bit.ly/Twitter-Spamers

That tiny url is actually this article

And it lists 10 KINDS of abuser who will be banned from the twitter service. These are all "marketers" applying the theory "I am not my customer."

Look at that list and imagine where they got the idea to do these anti-social things on a social network in expectation of making a profit.

And these marketers probably think banning them is a hostile act on twitter's part. It's not.

These marketers are mystified because they are not their customer. They think war has been declared upon them. It hasn't. It isn't a contest that aggressively applied strength can win.

The marketers can't understand that their behavior strikes people like the behavior of a nerd at a party, always trying to yank the conversational reigns from whatever cluster he's standing next to and not joining.

The marketers can't see themselves behaving like 3 year olds, jerking their parent's elbows while the parents are having a conversation about the trials of raising a 3 year old. The marketers can't see themselves because they are not their customers looking at themselves from another point of view.

Writers quickly master POINT OF VIEW, because it's a key component of being an adult. In the "socialization" of the toddler, there comes a point where the toddler begins to understand that other people get tired too, that other people feel pain when you pull their hair, that other people EXIST. That's the first step in "socialization" -- and marketers have adopted a maxim that denies the real existence of "others!"

YOU ARE NOT YOUR CUSTOMER prevents you from making that crucial step in socialization, understanding another point of view.

Online social networking can, will, and even must change "marketing" as much as it has already changed "publishing" -- if not even more.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Wow. Excellent analysis, Jacqueline.

    I'm pleased to hear that Twitter will be banning spammers. Spamming is hardly "social" is it?

    With luck, there will be a bit more balance in future.

    One goes to a social function, even if it is the online equivalent of an office party, and someone tries to pitch something... sometimes without so much as an introduction.

    One of the groups on GoodReads.com has a rule. An author must respond pleasantly to other group members' interests at least 9 times before the group will tolerate a discreet mention of the author's books.

    I find "marketing" very tough...

  2. I thought you might find that one interesting!

    And isn't it odd how we're all struggling with this concept now?

    Writers should have no problem whatever in "marketing" -- but when marketing jargon is introduced, we suddenly don't know how to behave.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg