Ten Years on Twitter: Ten Things I’ve Learned

This isn’t ‘How To Max Out Your Followers Click-Bait-Marketing’, these are proper Old School…

1: Talk to people, answer and retweet them. In the words of the age-old saying: Twitter is like a sewer, you’ll get back what you put in.

2: If you’re using twitter in a professional capacity, don’t use txtspk. You look like a twat.

3: Aggressive marketing is not your friend – don’t spam people with endless links. If people like what you’re selling, they’ll come to you.

4: Don’t buy followers. They won’t give a rat’s arse what you’re saying, no matter how cool you think the numbers look.

5: A picture’s worth a thousand characters; use one.

6: Celebrities are not going to notice you, retweet you, or tweet you back. They don’t know you exist. Get used to it.

7: Don’t ping new followers a DM. People <hate> that shit, and no-one clicks the link anyway.

8: Tweets – even deleted ones – can come back and bite your arse. Be careful what you say. If you wouldn’t shout it aloud, don’t tweet it.

9: Politics is a minefield. You’re entitled to yours, but DO navigate the area carefully. And above all…

10: DON’T BE A CUNT.

 

 

Of Battles and Book-Sniffing – Where I’ll Be at FantasyCon!

Saturday morning at FantasyCon, I’ll be the one belting off the train at high speed and racing straight into the Conference Theatre for the ‘Fighting The Good Fight’ panel – the one where we talk about the battle tactics, the merits of cold steel, and how many Orcs one uber-Barbarian can really take down in a scrap. From the emails that have already been flying around, this promises to be a LOT of fun, and there may just be some propage…

At 2pm, you’ll fine me being rather more sensible, in Suite 2, and talking about book marketing. You know the stuff: social media, what works and what doesn’t, how much is too much and why you should never send a new follower a DM telling them to buy your book.

Or you can find me reading from Ecko Endgame at 4:40pm… plus ther are wicked rumours that Titan Books may have some advance copies, so be very very nice to Lydia, and she might let you sniff the pages.

The one place you won’t find me is behind the booksellers’ table. Because it’s not Forbidden Planet and they’re likely to ask me what in the ever loving fuck I think I’m doing monkeying with their till.

Find the rest of the gleefully awesome FantasyCon programme here!

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In the Wild!

Raymond E Feist tells a wonderful story about how, when ‘Magician’ was first released, he went round all of his local bookstores ensuring that they sold their copies, and therefore ordered more. I get the impression he’s told this tale more than once!

With this noble legend in mind, I can’t exactly guarantee that my local bookstore will conjure similar vast and ongoing magic… but bless the manager of Waterstones in Sutton for being so supportive!

 

Sure as Eggs

There are eggs all over London.

I’m not actually doing the hunt (what the fuck would I do with a Faberge Egg anyway?), but I do walk a lot and I stop to admire them when I see them. They’re absolutely beautiful, and, like the elephants last summer, they’re an amazing way to showcase artists and to help a charitable cause.

It got me thinking about the really sharp graffiti marketing that Orbit did for Simon Morden’s Metrozone series – there must be a way that authors can do this too. Sentence fragments on billboards, on tube trains, treasure hunts to piece them together – I don’t know.

But sure as eggs are – well – eggs, there has got to be a way to make this work for us too…

‘RT to Win’ – the Big Joke

I’ve always baulked at ‘RT to win’ competitions – no bloody imagination, cheap and soulless marketing. They’re lazy, they don’t actively involve the customer (you know, the way we all learned to do at the beginning) and they show a sad absence of any kind of personal touch.

Over on the FP twitterstream, you’d more usually find me doing something stupid (never!). I’d ask a question, and invite – and retweet – the best answers, turn it into a game that everyone could share and play. Yeah, idealism. Got to love it.

They’ve always done quite well – they’ve been fun and they’ve given the FP twitterstream its quirky humour which has always been its strength.

But.

Yesterday, I succumbed. Swamped with catch-up and signings and Gods-know-what, I actually did an ‘RT to win’ – to win this, in fact.

And it went batshit.

Over five hundred retweets, over two hundreds new followers – and ‘Forbidden Planet’ became a city-wide and nation-wide trending topic. Massive Social Media win – look at that, I’ve become some sort of Viral Wizard (sounds itchy).

Viral Wizard or no – I feel like I’ve sold out. There was no creativity involved in that competition, no personal touch other than a couple of humour tweets. It was easy, it completely ran itself and the massive amount of reach was largely due to to the  VERY cool prize (thank you PGW).

Success it may be – huge – but I feel almost like I’ve cheated.

Ah, irony. You’ve almost got to laugh…

An Anti-Vamp Rant


I used to like watching Buffy – I own it on… actually on VHS… and I’ve watched it to absolute Undeath.

But by every Mother of God am I sick of fucking vampires!

It was with a huge cheer, then, that I read Neil Gaiman’s comments in the Independent this morning – kicking back against genre and marketing saturation, and against the de-fanged and de-balled castrato-vamp that we’ve all learned to loathe. He’s right, they’re like cockroaches, they’re everywhere – and we’ve had enough.

And not only Gaiman, bless him. He’s backed up by Sam Stone and Graham Marks… and even Ms. Meyer herself has had enough. Could it be – finally – that the public backlash is finding its teeth?

I get marketing trends – hell, I’m supposed to, I have to follow and ride them for a living. But when does a trend become a dictation? When does it stop being something the audience want – and become something they’re told they must like? Working where I do, I’ve been on ground level with marketing a motherlode of Vampire merchandise… and you can guarantee that, for every Twilight-Sparkly-Box-Souvenir that we’ve promoted through our Social Media net, we’ll get a kick-back of customers who’ve all reached their own saturation limit.

And so I ask: have we now reached the point where our media consumption is being utterly dictated by its buying trends – and where those very trends are set by a nation of proto-teen consumers? Just who is in fucking charge here anyway?!

Please – enough with the ‘safe sales’, already, and enough with the sheep-herding; enough with the force-feeding of pulp and enough with having our consumption controlled.

Let’s give the Vampire back his teeth… while we open out, and embrace the full scope of our genre.


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20/08 Hindsight: A Social Media Year

Okay, you got me red-handed: I didn’t mean to do this.
Not real Social Media.
I get retail marketing – even emarketing – but a year down a line of friends, followers, forays and fuck-ups and I’ve tripped over the truth without even meaning to.
What do I mean? Well…

For example: –

In the pub after Amplified08, @Yellowpark commented that he’d not heard of Forbidden Planet until Twitter – iconising how the openness of Social Media brings niche Brands like FP onto the ‘High Street’ of the web. For us, successful marketing isn’t selling SF to fanboys – it’s throwing the doors wide and saying ‘everyone can come here’. And that ‘everyone’ is bigger than we could’ve imagined.

For example: –

This year has seen the FP Megastore become a satellite Hub for London’s Twitterers. They’re at every signing; at big events, they add their own skills and insights to the on-web coverage. Social Media becomes its own beacon – the more they enthuse, the more enthusiasm is generated and the more it broadcasts – and the more it feeds back, and so on.

Believe in what you do – and Social Media becomes the field that surrounds your magnet. All you need is passion, conviction and sincerity.

For example: –

There’s always talk about the ‘human face on the Brand’, about ‘accessibility’– for a retailer, it’s the web version of standing on the shop floor. It’s a calculated gamble – on the one hand, you’re the first target when the e-mud starts flying; on the other, you reach friends, customers, guests and clients personally. And these are the people that will come back – to the store, to the site. Social Media is about hands-on Customer Service – and it matters.

For example: –

The failure of The Headless Bartman at SxSW created the MonQee, a classic example of out-of-the-box marketeering that caught the web’s imagination and went rapidly Viral. Social Media Marketing, coupled with genuine creativity, thrashes the pants off any amount of ordinary advertising.

As a personal footnote, 2008 has seen me return (at last!) to my ‘real’ job – to being back at the core of things, to taking full responsibility for promotion and event organisation at Forbidden Planet. From re-entering the SF fan scene at Orbital to my growing contacts lists on FaceBook and LinkedIN, to my recent interview with Tony at StarShipSofa… as this year comes to a close, I’ve realised something: –

Y’know what? I get it.
Y’know something else? It never was rocket science.

The big secret to Social Media Marketing? It’s common bloody sense – sling in a little humanity and a little respect (and a big ol’ bag o’comics) and there: Twitter’s your Uncle.

Honestly: how hard was that?

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Adapt or Die? SF and New Media

So why, for the love of whatever God you choose, is the science fiction community so reluctant to embrace new forms of expression?

While the comics industry surges off the page and onto the iphone, the science fiction profession has progressed as far as the Real Ale bar. Steeped in the traditional – novels, short stories, radio, television – they reluctantly protest that they like books, they like to have paper under their hands, something they can read without getting glare-ache from the screen.

And yes, I guess there’s a bit of that in all of us.

But.

It’s a strong time for Geek Chic – literary uber-agent John Jarrold quoted that sf and fantasy count for up to 11% of total UK book sales… and that figure would be impressive had I not walked past Zavvi this morning. The rise in new ways to access non-format literature, music and film is driving major labels out of business. Adapt or die. That ‘11%’ is a lot less convincing when the overall total starts to plummet.

Dave Hutchinson rather wisely said that it isn’t ‘a future of literature, more a future of delivery’. Writers need to move into new mediums, adapt their skills to different platforms. They’re at last appearing on twitter; they’re venturing into audiocasting or writing plots for major game releases. Maybe it’s time to add a new award to the Hugo and Nebula – one for innovation, for successfully breaking new ground.

And why stop with the professionals. From the letters page of the fanzine to today’s LiveJournal, fans won’t just be told what they can read. They like to take control of the characters they love and put them in new situations. Fan-fiction, both on the web and off, has become huge and very successful, writers gaining sizeable credibility in their own right. In the greater world of social media, the potential for author/reader collaboration is blown wide-open – why tell a story when you can create a world?

Who writer Paul Cornell stood to champion sf and new media. Arguing my beliefs for me, he talked about web visibility, versatility, mass appeal and the importance of viral marketing. He gets a round of applause for the immortal line, “There will always be the novel, but that novel may not always be a book.”

For the moment, then, the new and the old complement each other – a presence on the web will boost visibility of a book – and vice versa. But in ten years? When the CosPlayers, the X-Box generation, are in their thirties, are they going to be sitting in a corner with a pint of Theakstons and a paperback?

I don’t think so.

My thanks to the NewCon panel for the inspiration. Entitled ‘Does the Future of SF lie in Media other than Traditional Literature’, it featured Uma McCormack, John Jarrold, Steve Longworth, Dave Hutchinson and Paul Cornell.
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Gorilla Marketing: Measuring the MonQee’s Success

We know the Litany: spam bad, personality good, front your Brand with your face and you’ll win friends and influence people… far more than if you blindly blanket-bomb with endless crap.

Putting a simian in the rocket’s pilot-seat at EasterCon was both whim and gamble, lunacy born from Bart’s breakdown. Fearing a rerun of Curious George, I sat myself in the co-pilot’s chair… we had a blast at the Con – and then had to dodge the incoming missiles on the flight home.

The first salvo: ‘How much money will it make?’ Accounts don’t want long-term Brand visibility; they want pound coins. Sod idealism, how many woman-hours equal how much cold cash? If that’s your criteria for judging the project, then the MonQee didn’t raise as much as I’d hoped.

The second salvo: solid traditionalism. Flyers have design costs and print runs; you can measure the return of ‘money-off’ vouchers or count up new victims on your email list. Solid, easy-to-comprehend numbers calculating investment versus effectiveness; why take a chance on something wacky when we can do stuff with a reliable return?

The MonQee was wacky – but how good were his piloting skills?

At the Con, he was a magnet. His arrival on the Forbidden Planet Vinylsplatter website rippled out through the Art Toy world generating links and interest from here to New York to Singapore. Raymond Choi at Toy2R got behind the project personally – as did the Urban Vinyl guru himself, Toysrevil, and many of my Twitter friends – thank you to @linksmonkey, @Herne, @digitalmaverick, @loudmouthman, @deCabbit, @lproven, and @Loaf.

He crept out through LiveJournal, springing at me from fandom’s random blogs. He turned up in the Discworld newsletter and in the Orbital post-Con write-up. He was tracked, listed and reposted by over a dozen aggregator sites. And the authors and artists I’d shamelessly shanghaied were there for him as well –throwing their own blog support behind his success.

Watching the MonQee’s viral spread has been an exercise in astonishment. Some of science fiction’s leading lights now remember me because of him – (did I have to be MonQee girl?) – and he’s proclaimed both FP and the Alzheimer’s Research Trust wherever he’s seen been.

The MonQee, it seems, is a good enough pilot to land the rocket safely. I genuinely wish he’d raised a little more for the Trust – but I feel his ROI is off the scale. Should I ever be crazy enough to attempt this again, I’ll know what to change.

A final word – after his adventures, he was actually bought by someone who’d been at EasterCon and had watched him change from virgin whiteness to the character he became. My friend Zoe is his guardian now; she’ll be carrying him to more Cons and more fan-gatherings, continuing to get him signed – and continuing to tell his story.

Which benefits the Trust in its own simian way.

MonQee MagiQ: may his legend long continue.
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People Like Us… Like Schwag!

The cornerstone of successful retail marketing is simple.

When you break from branding, veer from visual merchandising, lose your leaflets and put off your promos, you come back to the basics: –

Free shit.

There’s nothing people want more than the chance to grab schwag.

In its thirty-year history, Forbidden Planet has seen every kind of geek – and an advertising campaign based on ‘something for nothing’ guaranteed that our nationwide birthday party greeted all of them. From Trooper to Pirate, Bored Bird to Lone Loon – they braved rain and roadworks and came down to see what they could seize.

Dedicated Opportunists were queuing on both mornings. There were Families, dads and kids together buying toys from Doctor Who. There were lifelong Collectors, less worried about the freebies, using their vouchers to secure big toys they’d been eyeing for months. There were Pirates, cheekily wondering if they’d wait an extra hour for the next batch of give-aways. There were Geek Girls, stocking up on their manga and Pro Geeks, disdaining the lesser-spotted high street geek and buying only the Limited Edition stuff from the San Diego Comicon.

Numbers of comics-readers were unchanged – but more people braved the Heart of the Department and returned, enthused, with a handful of free Batman badges and a shiny-new copy of Watchmen.

The Lone Loons were happy and harmless; the Cool Teens were everywhere and the Cosplayers were back – fabric-sodden but unstoppable.

Braving the weather, the Troopers from the 501st did, as ever, a storming job of creating energy – and much giggling embarrassment. Prevented from too much mischief by pavement barriers and soggy concrete, their spirits remained undampened – and their collective eye for a victim as sharp as ever,

And yes, even with wet armour, the ladies still can’t get enough.

And if the Trooper Groupies were many, then the Bored Birds were few – I did chuckle on seeing one of the girls of Vader’s Fist stocking up on her Stargate stuff while her husband rolled his eyes in mock-despair. Who says the missus can’t do this too?

A party may kick off with a fountain of freebies, but unless a retailer can put its mouth where its marketeering is, even generous goody bags are just so much biodegradable plastic.

When the bags have gone – what’s left?

I like making people happy – from the small child smiling at the balloon to the blushing girl cuddling the Trooper to the delighted hoarder with the bagful of new toys…

…seeing Thirty Years of Geek in one place, people spanning every type, archetype and (occasionally) stereotype is the ‘what’s left?’ question answered.

The cornerstone of successful retail marketing? It isn’t the company. It’s the customers.

Seems that Brian Bolland’s ‘People Like Us…’ brand from 1978 is still wonderfully true.