Thursday, November 3, 2016

Can Web Sites Sell Anything to Writers? Part 3, Step 2: Socialize

Following up on Parts 1...

and 2...

...Part 3, or Step 2 in selling anything online to people who go online as writers/freelancers/job-seekers, is to learn how to socialize with us.

Wouldn’t you like it if Step 2 were still based on the assumption that I had made a rational decision that I can afford to spend a hundred dollars on your yarn (or whatever), just because I like you and your product? It’s not. When huge corporations decided to mechanize most jobs out of existence and export the remaining jobs to Third World sweatshops, thus creating our current bizarre economy in which rich Americans with university degrees are competing for entry-level jobs and bogus pensions,  it became impossible to continue working from the assumption that people who can afford to surf the’Net can afford to buy anything they fancy. Instead you need to picture the United States as a nation where the educated adults have already built and feathered our nests, and have enough “stuff” to feather our children’s nests, but either are already living on low unsteady incomes or living in fear of having to live on same. Many people who used to regard shopping as a hobby are now spending money strictly on things they consider essential, strictly in the real world.

So you need to work harder just to get onto that ever-shorter list of people whose work and products we want to support, if possible. In real life you might do that by being a nice neighbor, volunteering for community projects, sharing your car, plant-sitting, etc. In cyberspace it’s also possible to be a nice neighbor. You do that by reading the blogs of people (other than your employees and competitors) who might find a use for your product. A good site for finding appropriate blogs is Twingly, which searches personal blogs, specifically. Read a few blog posts carefully. Make sure the blogger is a competent writer in the language your web site uses. (If you want to market products internationally, don’t rule out blogs whose authors specify that they read languages other than the one(s) in which they write.)

Also make sure the blogger’s attitude toward products like yours is basically compatible with yours. I’ve written some content about insects, recognizing that some of them aren’t bad to have around, and getting rid of the ones that really are undesirable. What I’ve said about insects is that, except for a few ground-bound indoor pests that have no non-human predators but are vulnerable to borax, the more you poison the more you’ll have. If you sell an insect control system that relies on poisons, I’m not the blogger you need. If you sell one that relies on natural predators, e-mail me.

If you sell yarn, look for blogs that specifically mention knitting or crocheting. If you sell something with a wider market, like cars or shoes…even people who don’t drive may be willing to write about cars, and just about anyone who’s willing to write for hire has something to say about shoes. (What I put on my own blog about the Camaro Z-28 was about the irrational grief of a father whose son died from driving one while drunk, with just a mention that I found the car manageable while sober; when paid by a car site I wrote a research-based article about the history of the Camaro brand, with no reference to any private individuals. I’m not in the market for a motor vehicle myself, but I’d visit, and probably share, a site that featured an article by +Lyn Lomasi about the Winnebago brand. So it goes.)

Now invite some bloggers to write paid guest posts for your site. You’ll be surprised how many of us “e-know” and, to some extent, trust one another already. Make your site a semi-social site where e-friends connect. I’ve seen this work for writers (fiction, popular nonfiction, academic nonfiction, poetry, or all of the above) and artists whose careers had seemed to be over in real life. A buzzing blog generated reprints for almost everything Suzette Haden Elgin, a.k.a. Ozarque, had published in her lifetime, including artwork, and is not hurting younger writers either. I’m not sure that a website about cars, shoes, or yarn should use all the same techniques that work for authors selling their own books,  but if you’re marketing to writers and readers, writers’ blogs are the models of success.

You don’t have to offer a successful writer’s “letter” to fans every day, or even every week, on a website that’s about yarn. Few writers have as much information to recycle into blogform as Elgin had, as Scott Adams has, or even as I have; in the knitting niche, Barbara Walker had, but she retired, pre-Internet. Successful authors whose sales had not declined before they started blogging, including two I follow (Neil Gaiman and Liz Curtis Higgs), have asked their hordes of readers whether the readers wanted more blog posts or just an occasional post in between books, and the readers have answered, “One blog post a month is plenty if that frees up enough time for you to go on writing the kind of books we expect from you.” One good blog post a month may be enough for you too.

You don’t have to curate an archive of regular blog posts from one or more successful writers over several years, either. You probably don’t have to maintain your blog page as an active forum where different readers (who are also writers) get into conversations and exchange links—which was the biggest attraction of some of the great blogs; that’s fortunate, because here I stand to testify that, although it’s easy to prompt e-friends to comment on your posts, it’s not easy to attract a crowd of e-friends whose comments add a lot to the readers’ experience. (“Nice post, I liked it” lets me know that an e-friend is around, yes. That’s interesting to me and to her other friends, but it may be deadly boring to readers who don’t know us and are interested in yarn.) However, the more you can do these things, the better.

The bottom line is that writers who are successful but not celebrity-rich-and-famous are likely to be willing to write product-friendly guest posts for your site, for payment negotiated with the individual writers. Paying promptly is how you, a stranger in cyberspace, earn our trust. Paying our e-friends as well as us is a way you hold our attention. If and when we’re ready to spend a hundred dollars or more just to support you,  buying a few guest posts from us is the online counterpart to being a reliable car-pool buddy, Scout leader, or vacation-time house-watcher. The more guest posts you and other non-writers buy to enhance your web sites, the more likely we are to have that hundred dollars to spend.

Buy product reviews, but don’t stop there. Buy blog posts about what we’ve done with your product. If you sell yarn, buy posts about what we’ve knitted. If you sell shoes, buy posts about hiking or dancing. If you sell cars and car products, buy posts about road trips, and so on.

Do not delay payments. Do not try to “verify” anything online. (If you need to “verify” where your money is going, in the sense of which country, or if you’ve paid enough to need to list my real name on tax forms, you can build trust by exchanging a few real letters through real mail.) The more promptly your payments arrive, the more you will be trusted, respected, and recommended just in case we happen to know people who want to buy your product right now.

(Writers are sophisticated communicators, for good and bad. All of the "Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" books are recommended, as are anything you can still find by Ozarque's old friends Grinder & Bandler...but Scott Adams is still using the money from his advanced studies of communications, so let's link to his serious book on that topic here. Just be aware that you'll get more out of it if you've already read the books that went before it.)