Did you know that one of the keywords that pops up more frequently than many other felt needs is community? Relatable, shared-value, safe community is a heart-longing, even if unexpressed or resisted.
A high percentage of writers are introverts, yet even they crave community…just on their own terms.
Billboard versus Community. That’s today’s blog topic. How does an author, published or unpublished, address the need to communicate via community versus billboard style, and build community rather than wave at billboard viewers?
The development of the Interstate highway system in the 1950s provided endless opportunities for billboard advertising, so much so that in 1965, despite more than a hundred years of few regulatory restraints, Congress adopted the Highway Beautification Act, which limited numbers, placement, and methods of lighting billboards.
(Random information…The first “scented billboard” for a grocery chain appeared in North Carolina in 2010. With a depiction of a giant cube of grilled steak, the sign was rigged to throw scents of black pepper and charcoal into the air between 7 and 10 am and 4-7 pm–drive time–around Memorial Day and a couple of weeks into the summer grilling season, according to an article by Jen Aronoff: “Eau de marketing, with hint of pepper”. The Charlotte Observer.)
Billboards can tell about a product, company, or cause. (I think the billboard to the right is advertising sunshine…or perhaps the wonders of the color yellow.)
What does it matter to authors?
Many authors, aspiring and veteran, view social media and their author newsletters as if they were billboards–flat spots to plaster a message and hope people see it as they “drive” past.
What if we flipped that script? What if we took a different approach?
- Authors looking to form community with potential or current readers and other writers make the communication two-way–listening as well as talking. You can’t ask a billboard questions. You can’t build a relationship with a sign. And if you do, that’s another problem entirely. Engagement is the buzz word for editors and publishers these days. Are you speaking TO your built-in audience–telling them what you want them to know, informing them of discounts and your latest contract or book idea? That’s the equivalent of a billboard. Or are you conversing WITH your audience, which is what will build that audience? Remember, they’re looking–consciously or subconsciously–for community.
- Are you deepening relationships with readers through your social media and newsletter efforts? If they sign up for your newsletter, will they feel that they know you better? Will they believe that you’re interested in responding to their needs and interests?
Billboard versus Community social media makeover
How tough is it to reposition your social media posts to look more like community than they do billboards?
Consider these easy-to-implement tips:
- Ask for your readers’ or potential readers’ input. That could range from feeding ideas for character quirks to the clarity of a term you want to use in your nonfiction to how much time they spend leisure reading each day.
- Rather than make your social media presence the equivalent of “Wanna see pictures of my book baby?” consider asking yourself what your readers need. Encouragement? Courage? Strength? A laugh? Do they crave tidbits of historical trivia like the kind you love to collect? Do they need words to help their friend through a crisis? Are they looking for hope? Once in a while, connect your book as part of the answer to that need. The recommendation? You may have heard it before–80% non-billboard, 20% billboard.
- Watch what other authors are doing to stay engaged with readers or their readers-to-be. You may find these elements of common ground. They encourage other authors. They celebrate other authors’ projects. They aren’t focused on “likes” but on creating content worth sharing. And they’re having fun.
- Check your Instagram profile. At a glance, you’ll notice themes. If the theme is “Here’s my book. And another image of my book,” consider shifting to a theme closer to “Here’s what I care about.”
See if those few tips make a difference for you. It just may be as simple as converting from billboard to community style.
Is your billboard blocking someone’s view?
In many states, billboards were at one time so scene-crowding that they were considered visual pollution–not just referring to all they blocked but the overload of stimuli. Ogden Nash addressed this when he created a parody of Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem Trees. In the parody, Nash said:
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all.