Social media and social reading

Guest author and blogger M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs at A Writer of History. She is the author of Lies told in Silence, set in WWI France. Find Mary on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

We’ve been socializing over reading for centuries, book clubs being one example, salons being another. Participating in erudite discussions of some noteworthy book used to be a mark of distinction. So social reading is not a new phenomenon, however, it has become much more pervasive in our Internet dominated world of mobile devices and hence of great significance to writers and readers.

In our hyper-connected digital world, the reading ecosystem is changing, involving new and old players in different ways, facilitated by apps and forums and bloggers and book sites and book retailers. In a 2015 survey of over 2000 readers, 45% agreed with the statement ‘because of social media I read more than I used to’, while half agreed that ‘social media has changed the way I read.’

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As writers, it’s imperative to participate in this changing reading experience.

Social reading is about relationships. Readers with writers. Readers with readers. Readers with reviewers and bloggers. Writers with writers. Bloggers with bloggers. Well, you get the point. Such relationships are personal, involving time and effort on the part of those involved. The rewards can be significant. In a 2013 reader survey of more than 2400 individuals, 1473 participants listed one, two or three favourite reading sites. Pure one-way broadcast is dead—one of the reasons why traditional book reviews are giving way to bloggers, Goodreads and other mechanisms that provide a forum for interaction.

Social reading facilitates the shared experience of reading a book. Readers love to talk about books they’ve read. Some do so in physical book clubs, others choose online book clubs. Such conversations enhance the book experience by bringing additional insights and varied opinions. In 2015, asked to rate various statements about social reading, readers strongly endorsed the following: ‘social media makes it easier for me to find books I like’, ‘social media gives me a voice concerning the books I’ve read’, and ‘I enjoy the sense of community social media enables around reading. Writers: are you adding to the sense of community and shared experience? Go and check out some online book recommendations and see what company you’re keeping. Do you think your readers see you the way you see yourself?

Social reading varies with age and volume of books read. High volume readers are more likely to use blogs, social media and other online sites to enhance their reading. Looking to the future, an accelerating factor is age since social media is the top source of recommendations for those under 30. Writers: this is not a phenomenon you can ignore.

Readers expect writers to be social. As a writer, if readers want to hear from you, your books will sell. Achieving this objective requires an active, sincere, personal, and content-rich social media presence. It’s not enough to post once a month or maintain a static publisher sponsored website. Form letters via email in response to readers no longer work. The rules have changed and there’s no point moaning about it. Writers: have you found venues and time for being digitally social, to interact and respond to readers, bloggers and others?

Ultimately, “the audience grows the audience”. This notion comes from marketing expert Seth Godin in an interview connected with Digital Book World. The compound0ing effect of having readers tell other readers who tell other readers and so on can be phenomenal. Word of mouth gone crazy. Harry Potter fans were one example; Diana Gabaldon’s fans and the viral 50 Shades of Grey are others. The “Internet can amplify horizontal selling [word-of-mouth] but only if we know who the reader is”. Writers: Do you know who your readers are? Where they hang out? What they want to talk about?

Engagement is personal. Readers seek like-minded people. They enjoy the give and take of conversations that occur via social media and the opportunity to establish connections. Think of book clubs crossing geography and time boundaries, perhaps even language barriers to facilitate conversation. Conversations that begin about books unfold into other, more personal, realms. Perhaps not immediately, but over time. From the 2015 survey, 60% of readers use social media for their reading needs regularly or daily, with 31% saying daily. Writers: Are you connecting with readers and online book clubs in a meaningful way? Are your reader interactions two-way? Do some develop into personal connections?

Social reading requires social listening. Readers value conversations. Good conversations involve active listening. Writers (and publishers) should find ways to actively listen to readers, bloggers and others in the social reading community. Many are missing an opportunity to appreciate the insights book review bloggers and others can offer about their communities of readers.

Social reading facilitates discovery. For example, Goodreads recommendation engine suggests new books based on the books a reader has on their shelves while friends can compare bookshelves using an automated feature. Data from 2013 indicates 11 million books discovered via Goodreads every month. That’s every month for a total of 132 million per year. And that’s only one social reading site. A 2013 survey showed that 64% of readers found book recommendations from friends and 47% from ‘a few favourite book sites and/or blogs”.

With subject matter (90%), author (67%) and trusted recommendation (44%) as the top three factors in choosing a book, writers who are proactively involved in the social media elements affecting discovery will be more successful.

Social reading requires trust. Trusted connections facilitate open communications. Readers depend on trusting those who review and recommend books and those involved in the conversations around books. Writers who proactively build trust with the reading community will prosper.

Social reading involves a new set of influencers. Goodreads, book bloggers, Facebook, Twitter, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Wattpad, Book Riot, Amazon, Fantastic Fiction, Paperback Swap, Book Bub are just a few of the players in the changing reading ecosystem. In the same 2013 survey, 2400 readers recommended more than 600 different reading sites as favourite sources of book recommendations and discussions. The winners in connecting readers with books share three attributes: thoughtful, trustworthy information about books; opportunities for dialogue and an exchange of ideas; and, a community of like-minded readers. Writers: where are you active? Where should you be active in the future?

According to Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book, social reading “will evolve in response to ever-changing hardware and software platforms”. What works today will change tomorrow. Changes will come about as new apps are released, as further technology convergence occurs, and as readers demand more robust functionality. Change will also unfold as readers, writers and others recognize the potential for new ways to connect and relate.

Ultimately, social reading will extend into the creation process as sites like Wattpad allow readers to post suggestions chapter by chapter for authors to consider and comments that originate in the margins of books using tools like SocialBook augment a book’s content. Some even suggest that over time the boundary between writing and reading will blur.

Imagine that.

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