Social media marketing and its effect on publishing and sales

By Aniqa Khan

Abstract: This article will explore the benefits and disadvantages that come with social media marketing. Has social media increased sales or is it a waste of resources that would be better spent elsewhere? Social media has become a consequential part of publishing sales, whether publishers have a love or hate relationship with online marketing. The article will examine the relationship between bestselling titles and their social media marketing campaign and how the influence of social media in today’s society will only increase further in the future.

Keywords: Social media marketing, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, bloggers, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, brand loyalty, publicity campaign, consumer engagement, marketing campaign, sponsored posts, online marketing


Social Media is a goldmine for publishing houses in that it is a free form of publicity that encourages creative ideas, reader engagement and direct contact with your readers, something that was not easily available to publishing houses in times past. Publishing houses, in fact, had to rely much more heavily on bookstores in the past, buying prominent spaces so that consumer attention would be diverted to the books they wanted to sell. Retail marketing to consumers is still part of the publisher’s marketing toolkit – but now there are many more ways to get readers to walk into a bookstore knowing what they want to purchase

We already know how authors can use social media to engage with their readers. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are among the many available to the authors alongside which many of them have their own websites/blogs. The websites allow authors to send out newsletters giving them an idea of their audience size, have links to buy books as well as any extras/short stories available that might increase traffic on their site. Since the early 2000s when many social media platforms were launched the most direct way to communicate has become social media platforms. Consumers are able to engage and get the latest news at a quicker rate. Authors are able to gauge the response of the readers based on their comments to every post and the sharing of that post. Its benefits allow authors to sell not only with their books but also with their personal brand. This allows publishing houses to garner free book promotion and publicity.

This free publicity also has its difficulties. With the authors having so much free reign more than a few controversies have been created. Particularly when prominent names such as J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or Piers Morgan take to the internet discussing current politics. The key rule that works in publishers favour is that no publicity is bad publicity. The media only further publishes the public response giving their social accounts even more attention. This also brings us to the question whether these high profile authors ought to be monitored and whether the authors represent the publishing house in a positive light when they take the limelight.

Case Study

A recent example of social media success is the book Fire and Fury written by Michael Wolff. In today’s turmoil politics in America, the book delivers old news yet its success is in our lack of regard for Donald Trump. The relevant topic as well as the personal history and account of the author made this book not only a bestseller but gave it the ultimate publicity resulting in its revenue-driving success. Timing was everything with this book resulting in news discussions as well as the President himself commenting on the books release on social media. Trump’s attempts to stop the book from getting published worked against his favour. His public threats only encouraged the publishing houses, Macmillan imprint Henry Holt & Co in the US and Hachette imprint Little, Brown in the UK ensuring that they would publish the book against his intimidation tactics.

In a tweet, Trump called “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” a “phony book” and claimed that he’d never spoken to its author, Michael Wolff.

Trump’s attempt to give the book bad publicity turned into the books very success, he has a following of 58.9m people. The book sold according to Nielsen BookScan 1.7m copies worldwide during its first three weeks on sale. Social media at its most effortless and best.


The recipe for social media marketing success
We can see how the authors are able to promote themselves and can gauge whether publishing houses have a similar response. The big five publishing houses have a prominent following on social media platforms and with some platforms having more success than others. The character limit on Twitter is only 280 and yet it is one of the most successful platforms in terms of engagement.  With engagement we create brand loyalty, consumers are more likely to recognize a book published with the brand they interacted with. These consumers don’t want to read long passages to decipher the information they want. The content posted should be visually appealing.

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Data gathered from Ignite Visibility Digital Marketing Agency as of January 2019.

The graph above shows how images are much more effective than text, this not only applies to twitter but across the brand. The difficulty with these platforms is that despite the high follower count actual engagement maybe much lower. It also means that you are reaching out to an audience that already knows you as a publishing house, gaining new readers can be difficult.

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Data from publishers’ social media accounts as of March 2019.

From the table above we can see that publishers’ followers vary on different platforms though they post similar content on all platforms. What differentiates them is the audience, readers have preferences as to what platforms they prefer to engage in and that necessitates the need to be available on all of them. Publishing houses need to post regularly. From putting up a few recipes when releasing a cookbook to current news affecting readers. One pattern I was able to monitor was that a lot of the publishing houses had multiple accounts relating to the different regions they were based in. That allowed those accounts to post news relevant to their followers. HarperCollinsUK advertised in their Instagram biography the fact that they publish the likes of George R.R. Martin, David Walliams, J.R.R. Tolkien among many others. They were able to use bestselling authors in their regional account as those mentioned by name are those who have an international following and will most certainly be recognizable names from a British audience. This gives publishers some leeway as an international author will certainly have a bigger following than just in the region they are published. Another point to note is that publishers corporate social media accounts might not always be the one attracting the most traffic. It can be the imprints or author or genre-driven sites which are attracting the followers.  AvonBooksUK one of the many imprints of Harper Collins has a following of 20.9K on twitter while George R.R. Martin has a following 1.17M.

Social media has a variety of influencers from the social media experts employed by companies to bloggers and celebrities. In the case study above we’ve seen how when a combination of all elements are used the numbers reached are among millions.

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From Ignite Visibility Digital Marketing Agency as of January 2019.

The graph below shows that more than half the population in the world are internet users with this set to increase with time. To not take advantage of these free platforms for publishers is not a choice anymore but a detriment to the future of their business.

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Data gathered from Ignite Visibility Digital Marketing Agency as of January 2019.

Another tool publishers can use is the fan sites as well as the blog tours their authors can partake in. A lot of reviewers are active on social media, more than happy to post honest reviews for the free books many of them receive in return. They may have a following of thousands of readers. This not only spreads publicity it also gives readers confidence that the book they intend to buy has content they will like as it has been approved by someone whose opinion they value but like anything else reviews tend to be negative as well as positive with no guarantee that the book will be liked by the reviewer. Emily May the current no 1 most followed blogger on Goodreads is known for her harsh reviews. She has reviewed more 1500 books to date has her personal blog where she also posts. The highly anticipated King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo only received three stars from her despite having an average high rating of 4.8 out of 5 from 9,230 ratings.

Managing social media accounts is a full-time job it includes not only posting up the relevant content. It also means knowing the audience of each platform what works on one doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate well into another. Know your audience and hone in, create brand loyalty, give the followers what they want. Show them something new as well as keeping up to date with current trends. The account also needs someone who has strong customer service skill and the ability to come across as friendly, knowledgeable and genuine online. You want your audience to participate and to make that happen all the above is essential.

Does social media marketing increase sales?

Social media might not always sell books directly, but the marketing campaign online may well influence a book buyer’s decision next time they are shopping for books.  Many social media platforms have sponsored posts which custom matches the social media followers account to their products. Publishers reap the rewards in awareness, audience growth – and book sales. This is a commercial transaction between publishers and social media platforms and a direct link to purchase.  A strong social presence does help you bring readers to your website and make them more likely to sign up for your e-mail newsletter. Social media marketing can drive publicity for books but it is no way a guarantee of sales. Readers now look online for book recommendations rather than a visit to the bookstore. Their purchases are based on ratings and reviews. After years of trial an error if your company has thousands of followers but cannot ascribe sales growth to that audience you need to consider shifting priorities to other resources. The truth of the matter is that no matter how many likes, followers, shares you get this will not get the audience to your buy link on Amazon. A balanced perspective is always needed. Social media should always be a part of your marketing plan but it should not be the only marketing plan. Knowing what works for you is half the battle won.


The negative effect of social media marketing

Social Media has drastically cut into the time people spend reading on digital devices. Nielsen BookScan statistics for 2018 showed a growth of the UK book market by 2.1% in value and by 0.3% in volume. In total, 190.9 million books were sold for £1.63bn across the year. The UK book market grew for the fourth year in a row. The data shows that sales of physical books have gone up as readers prefer to get away from their devices when reading using it as an escape from the digital world we live in today. There’s a fine line between promoting yourself to bombarding your followers with irrelevant content. Users will easily unfollow if they feel the content being posted is irrelevant. The graph below shows results where followers can easily make a negative impact on the brand.

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Data gathered from Ignite Visibility Digitial Marketing Agency as of January 2019.

Independent publishers and social media marketing      

Independent publishers can expect a much lower rate of followers than the big five. Their brand may not enjoy the same level of profile, so their popularity is consequently not on the same scale. Legend Press an award-winning independent publisher have a following of only 1078, their authors, however, have a bigger following than the publishing house. In this, the authors represent the brand and the content they publish. The publishers connecting to their consumers through their authors. The success of these publishers is that they specialize in a niche market and target that particular audience rather than the big 5 who tend to publish in across a wide range of genres and categories. The content posted is similar just not posted with as much regularity.


The benefits of social media far outweigh any negative effects that come as a result of it. Although social media cannot guarantee sales it has proven itself as a reliable, efficient and money-saving marketing platform. The research to support this has been gathered over years showing that future trends will be heading further in this direction. The best results are achieved when a combination of different marketing elements are used rather than just focusing on one. Books released by celebrities and well-known authors derive greater benefits in terms of awareness whereas the debut authors have to create a loyal fan base and work harder to establish their followers. An effective and well-planned campaign can work very well. Timing is of great importance resulting in many successful campaigns by relating them to current events. The absence of an online marketing campaign in today’s digital age would be an injustice for any book being released.



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