Chip MacGregor

May 29, 2010

The Hidden Costs of Social Networking


Today we're having a guest blog from marketing specialist Rob Eager, President of Wildfire Marketing…

Facebook is great because Facebook is free, right? Same idea with Twitter, YouTube, and a host of other social networks popping up all over the Internet.  There’s no cost to join, and you get the ability to communicate with thousands of people all over the world. No wonder so many authors and publishers have jumped onto the social media bandwagon. But, are social networks really “free”? Instead, could using them cost you big-time?

There’s a basic economic principle that affects us everyday called “opportunity cost,” which is the cost of passing up another choice when making a decision. Put another way, it’s the benefits you could have received by choosing a different action. What does this have to do with selling books via social networks?

I’ve watched a lot of authors and publishers become avid social networkers who spend considerable amounts of time reading and maintaining their blogs, FaceBook pages, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, etc. When you conservatively add up the hours that these people spend surfing and contributing to social sites, the total amount of time can easily reach over 10 hours a week! That’s over one-fourth of an author’s weekly time devoted to social networking activities. (Some people claim they spend only 15 minutes a day. But, they’re shocked when they actually track their hours.) My point is that if you’re going to spend 25% of a 40-hour work week on a specific marketing activity, then that activity ought to contribute at least 25% of your total book sales. Yet, I don’t see that happening.

At Book Expo 2009, John Sargent, the CEO of Macmillan Publishing stated, “Viral marketing doesn’t sell a ton of books.” He mentioned a video based on a Macmillan book that spent time in the # 1 spot on YouTube in the U.K. Yet it wound up only selling a whopping 200 extra copies 

One of my author clients has a blog with over 50,000 monthly readers. He spends a lot of time maintaining his huge social network. However, none of his new books have surpassed the sales of his older titles. Instead his book sales attributed to social networking activities represent a trickle, rather than a torrent of revenue. Ironically, this author is continually surprised by how many books he sells via more traditional activities, such as public speaking, sending newsletters, or national radio and TV interview. I remind him to stay balanced and keep the lion’s share of resources dedicated on tactics that truly work.

The time has come to get pragmatic over the return on investment in social networks. That’s because if online activity doesn’t create a lot of book sales or some form of significant revenue, then it’s time to re-focus on other marketing priorities. Notice that I didn’t say abandon social media altogether. I am not against social networks. Rather, don’t make them a prime area of marketing concentration. Social networks may help raise awareness, but if that awareness doesn’t create direct book sales then it shouldn’t be a top priority.

This may sound harsh, but it needs to be said. One reason why some authors and publishing marketing staff love social networking is because they lack the value, creativity, or people-skills to actively engage their target audience. Instead, they prefer to sit passively at their computer chatting on social networks thinking that they’re marketing their books. In reality, they’re spinning their wheels and making little progress capturing new readers. If you’re going to sell more books, you can’t preach to the choir. You’ve got to actively go out and make new converts.

For instance, let’s revisit the example of how many hours some authors or publisher marketing staff spent on social networking. If they re-allocated just 5 of the 10 hours spent online to conduct other marketing tactics, they could complete any one of the following activities listed in the table below during that week:



1.   Write and send a newsletter to influential leaders.

2.   Develop a new keynote speech or workshop based on a book.

3.   Contact and follow up with 3 trade associations for speaking opportunities.

4.   Send out a press release that connects your book’s material to current events.

5.   Contact 3 – 5 organizations who could purchase bulk quantities of your book.

6.   Create 3 free resources for your author website.

7.   Write 1 – 2 chapters for your next book.

8.   Contact 3 – 5 well-known people who could endorse your books.

9.   Update your specific book pages on Amazon with tour dates, RSS blog feeds, videos, etc.

10. Attend a regional or national conference to build relationships with key leaders.


Publisher Marketing Staff:

1.   Send out 5 – 10 press releases for new titles.

2.   Develop a creative book trailer for a key author.

3.   Contact 3 – 5 authors to coordinate specific marketing plans with their schedules.

4.   Conduct research to identify new advertising opportunities.

5.   Prepare a media campaign for 1 – 2 frontlist titles.

6.   Notify purchasing contacts at key retailers about upcoming author appearances.

7.   Send galleys for 3 – 5 new titles to get reviewed in newspapers, blogs, or magazines.

8.   Engage in a half day of self-development to learn new marketing or management skills.

9.   Take time to actually read 2 – 3 upcoming frontlist titles to uncover powerful marketing hooks.

10.            Contact 2 – 3 large book clubs about carrying new titles.


After looking over this list, what makes more sense to you? Why spend excessive hours trawling the Internet for electronic “friends” when you can get your book in front of real people who can immediately buy it? The choice is yours. Social networking might be “free,” but there’s always a cost. Don’t miss the opportunity to maximize your time and book sales.


Rob Eagar is the president of WildFire Marketing who helps authors and publishers sell books like wildfire.
He has trained over 200 authors, including nationally-known names, Gary Thomas, Chip Ingram, Lysa TerKeurst, and Mary DeMuth. Rob has also consulted with major publishing houses, including Zondervan, Howard Books, and Harvest House Publishers. For a free consultation, call 1-800-267-2045 or visit:



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