Marketing Etiquette in the Age of Social Media

Over at Crooked Timber, John Holbo has a question that is pertinent to my own experiences as a newly-published academic author.  Holbo, who has a co-authored (with Belle Waring) book on Plato coming out soon, asks about the thin line between marketing and spamming in the era of social media.  This is a concern of mine on a number of levels.  First, as someone who writes about digital cinema and the use of social media to distribute and promote independently-made films, I’m aware of the challenges that these filmmakers face in finding an audience for their films, and I try to review most of the DVD screeners I receive in a timely fashion.  I don’t always succeed, given the demands of teaching and research, but a polite, semi-original email doesn’t bother me at all, and I’ll at least consider writing a review.  The benefit for me is the opportunity to learn more about various forms of digital cinema and to see some interesting films that I might otherwise miss.

But now with my own book soon to appear in print–my author’s copies are stacked neatly on a table just a few feet from my computer–I find myself in the uneasy position of thinking about my own role as a marketer and what Holbo calls “the line between marketing and spamming.”  When I first mentioned that I had a book coming out, one (former) colleague suggested that I send a mass email to department chairs and others introducing myself in my book.  I immediately cringed at the idea, regarding that as a form of spam, one that would likely annoy potential future collaborators and colleagues.  But like Holbo, given that academic presses face tight budgets and difficult economic models, I do feel some obligation to support the marketing of the book.  This tension inspires Holbo to pose the question of what a theory of “just marketing” might look like when it comes to academic texts.

As one of the Crooked Timber commenters recommends, I’ve started a Facebook group for my book although I’m not yet sure what role the “group” will serve (a question that seems to haunt other academic authors who have started Facebook groups for their books).  So far, I’ve only invited people who are already listed as “friends” to join the group and I’ve seen some ripple effect where friends of friends have joined.  This approach seems relatively fair in that it allows people to opt-in.  Ignore or block the initial invitation and you won’t continue getting emails.  A blog, much like Matt Kirschenbaum’s for his book, Mechanisms, also seems like a useful way of promoting the book.  So this raises some questions: first, how has the marketing of academic books changed in the eraof Twitter, Facebook, and blogs? To what extent should academics market or promote their work? What’s the line between marketing and spam?  Some of the answers over at Crooked Timber have been enlightening, but I’d enjoy hearing from others on this issue.


  1. Christopher Lucas Said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    To me, spam really signifies receiving marketing or announcements for which I have zero interest (and of course, scams). Context seems like the crucial point – if I’m on media studies listservs, I facebook as a media studies scholar, and since my twitter is predominantly professional, I actually WANT to see relevant announcements and “marketing” there (although I hesitate to call promoting academic work marketing since it’s hardly going to enrich anyone). I suppose if everyone started posting every publication and professional move they made, it might get overwhelming. Discretion is helpful. But the virtues of social media for making the discipline at least a bit more coherent still outweigh the costs of seeing the marginally irrelevant material that comes with it.

  2. Chuck Said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

    That’s a good point. In a sense, I’ve tried to avoid thinking about what I’m doing as marketing, and maybe that shows a problem in how Holbo framed the question (and how I’ve reframed it). To some extent, I’m far more interested in having some discussion of the book and the questions raised in it and around it.

    But you’re also right to point out that social media help make it easier to find relevant scholarship and to connect with scholars and others who have shared interests.

  3. Francois Lachance Said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

    If marketing is too commerical a term for your taste, why not consider the promotional activity as a form of inivitation? Like you are inviting people to a wine tasting… They can sample your book and the discourse surrounding the book and then decide if they will add it to their collections. The Look Inside is a distinct activity from the call out to Buy Me.

  4. Chuck Said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

    I think that’s a better way of thinking about my relationship to the book. I want to talk about what I’ve written, to learn from the responses of others, and to build from that for future writing projects.

    And hopefully my blog provides at least some version of a “Look Inside.”

  5. Jess Said,

    July 21, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

    I think no matter what industry one is in, and even if they are just using social media for fun, everyone needs to be aware of social media etiquette. Check out this blog which talks about this –

  6. Matt K. Said,

    July 22, 2009 @ 9:55 pm

    Definitely self-marketing in my book blog, but it serves another function as well: I knew the book would have an afterlife online, in the form of reviews, mentions, comments, new developments, and so on . . . the blog has been a really useful way for me to get my arms around all that. It’s an important personal archiving tool.

  7. Chuck Said,

    July 23, 2009 @ 9:35 am

    Hi, Matt, I think that’s an important point. In terms of archiving details about the book’s reception for myself, a blog (or some other resource) would seem to be pretty important.

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