An interview with Dane Cobain, the man behind the blog SocialBookshelves.com, and a social media marketer at fst The Group, an integrated creative agency. Dane discusses key social media trends, what the World Cup taught us about real time marketing, starting his book blog and his top tips for PRs wanting to work with bloggers.
What would you say are the main trends in social media at the moment? The main thing that I’m seeing is the diversification of social media. There are now so many popular sites available that there’s something for everyone, whether you just want to say ‘yo’ to your friends or whether you want to share your photos and videos on Instagram, your music on Soundcloud or your book reviews on Goodreads. Everything is getting more visual, too. As well as visual-based social networks like Instagram, Vine, Vimeo, YouTube, established sites like Facebook and Twitter are assigning increased important to photos and videos. Finally, everything’s going mobile. I’d predict that the next big social network to make itself known will start out as a mobile app and grow from there.
What lessons do you think can be learned from the World Cup in terms of real time marketing and how can brands take advantage of opportunities? That’s an interesting one, as real-time marketing has been a big thing for a while but the World Cup has broken usage records on both Facebook and Twitter and proved the perfect avenue for brands to try to make themselves heard. I think one of the big lessons is that real-time marketing is no longer cutting edge, it’s simply expected, and if brands don’t participate then they’ll be left behind by their competition. There’s actually a lot of noise out there now and it can be just as difficult to cut through it as it is with regular marketing. I think brands who want to take advantage of real-time marketing opportunities need to plan as much as they can in advance, prepare a ‘war room’ of sorts so that content can be created and signed off as quickly as possible to give them an edge. They also need to assign some budget to paid ads (Facebook’s sponsored stories and Twitter’s promoted tweets spring to mind) to boost the effects of the campaign as much as possible.
What was the motivation behind starting your own blog, SocialBookshelves.com? What makes it different and why should people read it? Part of the motivation was that I wanted a project that I had full creative control over. Quite often, the work I get to do with clients can be fairly restrictive, with a hefty sign-off process. I wanted an outlet where I could just talk to random people about a subject that I loved, without having to worry about the consequences. I also love reading, I always have done, and I do a lot of writing in my free time as well. Starting a book blog seemed to be the best way of sharpening my social media skills and doing something that I loved at the same time. In terms of why it’s different, one of the main things is that the word count of the reviews is the same as the number of pages in the book, so that a short book gets a short review and a long book gets a long one. I also review a lot of books. I’ve released around 250 reviews so far, but I eventually want to catch up with my book catalogue. In around two years’ time, I should have over 1,000 reviews on the site. I also do a lot of vlogging and blogging on top of the reviews, and there are some great author interview pieces up where people can not only read the review but also listen to the conversation that I had with the authors.
As a blogger, how do you find the balance between honest opinion/reviews and the marketing/promotional side of blogs? I find it pretty easy, to be honest. As I’m the only person running the site, I’m just honest in everything that I write. It can be a little bit awkward if someone sends me a book for review and I don’t enjoy it, but I try to be honest when I speak to authors, publishers and PRs by explaining that I’ll be honest either way. I also turn down opportunities if I think I won’t enjoy them. In terms of the marketing of the site, I run a competition once a month which I don’t think really affects the honesty of the site, and I do a lot of networking as well. Again, as it’s my own site rather than that of a client, it’s pretty easy to ensure that I only really bother with stuff that I’m interested in. That said, there have been some awkward moments. I remember trying to avoid getting into an argument with Brian Solis (a well-known social media figure and speaker) because I gave his book a bad review, and I also had a huge backlash when Richard Dawkins retweeted my review of the God Delusion. I’d tried to avoid drawing any conclusions about the nature of god in my review, despite being a staunch atheist myself, but that didn’t stop loads of people arguing with each other and, as a consequence, with me as well!
Do you have any key tips for PRs, marketers and brands when it comes to approaching bloggers with content? Yes, everyone says this, but find out more about the blog. In my case, the best relationships I have are with people who’ve learned the sort of thing that I like and that only approach me when they have something relevant. One of them works for a publishing company and has sent me a dozen books, and I only disliked one of them. A couple of them earned a 10/10 rating, which I reserve for books which have changed the way I look at the world! On Twitter especially, I see a lot of bloggers asking brands for free stuff, i.e. ‘My washing machine is broken, can I have a new one for review?’, and it gives blogging a bad name. As a blogger, I’d be buying, reading and reviewing books anyway. If I accept a free book for a review, that’s only because I otherwise wouldn’t have read that particular book and would have bought a different one instead. I see a lot of bloggers who set up blogs purely to accept free products for review and I’d caution brands to avoid those (it’s usually easy to tell), but also to consider the way that they approach bloggers themselves. As annoying as bloggers can be when they only ever ask for free stuff, brands can be just as bad when they get in touch with bloggers and expect an article about their press release. Brands pay bloggers with product, and bloggers pay brands with their time.