Visiting Speaker – Alastair Horne

May 2nd, 2013 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker – Alastair Horne
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Alastair Horne‘s visit to Stirling on March 28th was much anticipated on Twitter, with talks the night before of red carpets and royal carriages on the 8:30am Edinburgh to Stirling train which students and tutors alike frequent to make the 10am start. Those of us lucky enough to take the Digital Process & Product module had a double dose of Alastair as he taught a class on digital start-up business models before taking up his position as visiting speaker at 2pm.

So as to avoid spilling the beans of our innovative, game changing business models (well, we hope) I will focus on Alastair’s visiting talk on the wonders of social media. Alastair himself has 10 years of experience in publishing, is the social media and communities manager at Cambridge University Press ELT with a personal Twitter account of 3.6k+ followers, a professional global Twitter account, a Facebook page for CUP ELT with 33k likes, fortnightly webinars… I could go on. Let’s just say Alastair knows what he’s talking about when it comes to social media.

His emphasis rested on building relationships with readers. Publishers need to let readers in, let them peek behind the curtain and feel part of the process. As the talk inevitably turned to Amazon, Alastair highlighted that their relationship with publishers is no longer mutually beneficial considering Amazon refuses to share stats and data. For this reason, publishers need to battle Amazon for reader loyalty. Nurturing a genuine relationship with readers is the best chance publishers have at reducing Amazon’s suffocating monopoly.

So, how does one go about shaping these vital relationships? Alastair offers two options.

1. Go to where the readers and conversations already reside and partake.
2. Create a new platform to start conversations and entice readers in. This option means not having to rely on a third party, particularly important if the conversation is, say, on Goodreads which is suddenly obtained by Amazon.* The rewards are greater for this harder option as Alastair pointed out that it took one year for CUP ELT to blossom from idea to actuality.

For publishers specifically, they need to learn to use social media effectively and to their advantage, for these 5 reasons.

1. Search visibility – Facebook Group graphs can offer great data about who is finding your page and how. Google+ brings together the social and the search by providing personalised search results through network lists.
2. Marketing – publishers must be stealthy with marketing and not post too many hard sales.
3. Customer support – Twitter can offer immediate customer support, turn a negative into a positive should someone be able to fix a problem quickly and efficiently.
4. Market research – where Goodreads was recommended as a valuable site for research.
5. Building relationships – the most important element. Trust must be built over time so publishers become part of readers’ lives. This kind of investment is long term and many publishers are too impatient to invest, especially as it’s time consuming and impossible to measure the direct effect.

And because Alastair loves a good list (who doesn’t?!) he also provided 12 suggestions for social media success.

1. Find home – you don’t need to be on every social media platform, find a platform that works best for your needs and make yourself at home.
2. Be regular – post daily on Facebook, 5x or more on Twitter, not too much, not too little. Spread out those posts.
3. Be prompt and responsive – you’re not a broadcasting station, engage with your readers, know when someone has mentioned you and don’t rely on scheduled tweets, you run the risk of looking mechanic and less human. Keep track of what your audience is discussing.
4. Involve the whole team – not just marketing, get everyone on board who is active and enthusiastic on social media, also get authors involved.
5. Share enthusiasm – let your audience know you’re excited about books. Let them see behind the scenes, the production, it can generate some very real excitement.
6. Involve the audience – get to know who shares and reads your content, make them feel valuable.
7. Encourage sharing – make it easy for your readers to share your content, create content that people will want to share.
8. Curation – you’re not the only source of good content, share other people’s content and involve the network you’re using. Add value by offering your voice to a retweet, don’t just mechanically RT something you find interesting, comment on it.
9. You’re a person – no one wants to talk to a corporation, introduce the team and open yourself up to your readers.
10. Re-purpose content – alter content for different platforms, make it applicable over the networks you’re using.
11. Take the conversation elsewhere – as above, don’t rely on those third parties.
12. Work out what’s working – all about analytics and tracking people. If it’s broke, fix it!

And so ends a crash course in social media. I was greatly encouraged by Alastair’s enthusiasm towards social media and the opportunities it can create for publishers, should they learn to use it to their advantage. I fully agree that publishers can’t create meaningful relationships with their readers fast enough. The sooner the better. Alastair was a fantastic guest and continues to be a fantastic presence on Twitter as he tweets valuable content from afar keeping true to his own advice.

*The day ended on a sour note as Amazon acquired Goodreads only hours after Alastair completed his talk, part of it recommending Goodreads as a valuable area of reader data and relationships for publishers. The irony was not lost.

Laura Jones (cross posted to