How One COO Uses Social Media for Community Engagement [Interview]
Recently I was lucky enough to talk to Clinton Kabler, COO and co-founder of Book Riot, a website dedicated to books and reading. I love his no-holds-barred thoughts on social media and community engagement, and I think you will too.
Q1: Tell me a bit about Book Riot, what you do, and why you do it.
My business partner, Jeff O’Neal, and I started Book Riot to be the go-to voice for under age 35 adults who were, candidly, tired of the elitism that exists in the public conversation on books and reading. In addition, the shrinking number of traditional outlets covering books and reading are reaching an older audience — typically 60% are over age 44.
I read a lot. I’m not a lit snob. I’ll read The Hunger Games, and I’ll read 2666. I DON’T want to read a long winded review in the New York Times Book Review or the LA Review of Books telling me why I should or should not have enjoyed a book. Traditional book reviewers are academics and critics writing for their peers, not the public. Let’s be honest, traditional book reviewing is one of the biggest institutionalized circle jerks not owned by News Corp.
We started Book Riot to engage and delight the interested reader. Always books. Never boring. It’s a rockin’ community that would result if Engadget and Jezebel had a love child who geeked out on books.
I handle operations and revenue at Book Riot. Sadly, I’m a magnificently average writer.
Q2: What’s your social media goal/strategy? Was social media always part of Book Riot’s marketing strategy, or did you come to it later?
We built our platform to be social. If we weren’t social, we wouldn’t exist. However, we don’t believe in a one-way conversation. We believe in engaging with our community — democratizing the reading and writing experience.
What The Huffington Post has proved and traditional media outlets like the NYT can’t seem to grasp is that you must engage with your community. It isn’t enough for a writer to submit their article on deadline, take their paycheck and go away. They have an audience, and the gap between them and their audience has been flattened with social media. We EXPECT that our writers and the official Book Riot social channels engage with our community.
Q3: Who handles your social media? Do you have a dedicated set of people, or is it a full team effort?
Social media, regardless of your audience, is not something that can be done by your 17-year old nephew. It must have a strategy, and you must be committed to it. Else, don’t bother. Few things are more pathetic than clicking on a company’s Twitter link and seeing they haven’t tweeted for 18 months.
I’m a huge believer that the principles in Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm apply to social media adoption:
Innovators → Early Adopters → CHASM → Early Majority → Late Majority
To execute a successful social media campaign, you have to know where the innovators in the community you want to reach live in the social media taxonomy. You can’t get to the Early Majority, where you will see real bottom line results, without successfully building your thought leadership with the Innovators and gaining credibility with the Early Adopters. The best way to do that — find the person who is a socially savvy thought leader and innovator, and contract them to run your social media.
At Book Riot we did that. Rebecca Joines-Schinsky was one of the independent book bloggers with the largest audience and one of the best monetized. As we built the pre-launch hype, we quickly realized that she would be perfect because she knew the Innovators and Early Adopters, and she had also successfully crossed the chasm herself. She could be the voice of Book Riot’s social initiatives. One of the best decisions Jeff and I made since starting Book Riot is contracting, then hiring Rebecca.
Q4: What (if anything) do you read to keep on top of your marketing strategy?
I come from a tech background, so Techcrunch is my go-to source because the number of startups out there making it easier to maximize marketing ROI is incredible.
Also, I believe in the first-hand referral. When a business partner or competitor adopts a tool or strategy with which I’m not familiar, I investigate. If it looks promising, I suggest to my team that we explore adoption. Right now, we want to democratize the traditional author interview and are looking at tools like OnTheAir.com and Spreecast.com for powering author interviews with a low cost of production, high-level of community and huge social potential.
Q5: How do you define social media ROI and/or success?
It depends on your business. If you are B2B, I would say establishing yourself as a thought leader should be first priority. If you are B2C, thought leadership gives you credibility that results in consumers returning and engaging. In both cases, social media builds community and gives your organization a public voice. Finally, it should become a customer engagement/support mechanism.
The ROI would be, can you drive customer behavior through social media initiatives. If you can, I would say your investment has provided a decent return. If you can’t you’re probably doing something wrong.
Q6: What would you say to a business that is hesitant to start using social media?
Don’t do it. If you are going to be half-assed about it, don’t waste your money. However, don’t complain when your competition starts eating your lunch.
Clinton Kabler, COO & Co-founder of Book Riot, is a reader and a magnificently average writer. He manages Book Riot’s business operations. Should you be curious to know how magnificently average writing reads, he suggests reading didactic placards at your local museum.
He holds an MBA from an East Coast university. Upon completing his MBA, he jumped into the West Coast startup world and quickly learned that he had wasted a lot of money on said MBA. When not being a husband and father, he runs marathons and cycles mountains. He splits his time between Vancouver (the one in Canada) and Brooklyn.
(Editor’s note: This interview was edited for spelling and formatting.)