Following from yesterdays’s post on pacing your Free Promos on Facebook to avoid getting banned, here is a second post on the subject. As you may recall from my Call to Arms survey, Facebook didn’t do well in promotions. Because of their high cost, Facebook ads ranked pretty low when it came to paid ads. Here is a relevant post from Digital Book World, originally found in the excellent – and free- Passive Voice newsletter. It claims that Facebook cannot help you sell books, unless you’re already a celebrity with a mass following.

Author, book marketer and social media specialist Michael Alvear, makes the following points:

1. You Need at Least 20,000 Facebook Followers to Move Product

This number is based on his extensive experience. 20,000 followers seems to be the minimum amount you need to make any real headway. The average person, though, has just 338 friends.

It can be really hard to get to 20,000 “friends” or fans as an unknown or midlist author. What can one possibly post on a regular basis that would be so compelling, entertaining or informative that people would flock to “like” your page or become a friend?

Michael has hosted a TV show on HBO and England’s Channel Four. He’s well known in his niche market, yet after five years he only has 5,000 Facebook followers. What nobody tells you is how extraordinarily difficult it is to establish and grow a fan base on Facebook. It is so difficult, that even small companies outsource the job to experts.

Facebook Charges You to Reach Friends and Fans

This is always the biggest shock to most authors and even publishers: Facebook will not allow you to reach “friends” or the people who like your page unless you pay them. On average, Facebook allows less than 16 percent of your fan base to see your posts. You have to pay to reach the remaining 84%.

Michael’s Experience

Michael has generously shared his marketing results. He has a niche book that’s spent the last 12 months on Amazon’s Top 10 gay nonfiction category. It is often #1. He has 5,000+ Facebook fans and recently spent $60 to reach them plus another 8,000 like-minded folks. The result? He sold three books.

In case you think his post in the news feed wasn’t very effective, he’s shared his numbers with us: 188 post likes, 20 comments and 23 shares. The response was actually so good that Facebook sent him a message congratulating him on the fact that his campaign did better than 93 percent of others like it.

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Image: Michael Alvear

But wait again: maybe a broader market behaves differently? His latest book is Eat It Later: Mastering Self Control & The Slimming Power of Postponement, which is in the weight loss category—a massive market that cuts across age, gender, income and class. So how’d this campaign do? Take a look:

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Image: Michael Alvear

A $344 Facebook expenditure to reach nearly 13,000 overweight people interested in losing weight got him zero book sales.

Why Facebook Struggles with Direct Sales

  • People don’t “like” your page so they can be sold to. They signed up because they want free entertainment, gossip, information, advice and insight. You can only talk about your book so many times before you start sounding like an infomercial.
  • Facebook has a low click through-rate for posts. His first campaign, the one that outperformed 93 percent of others like it, achieved a spectacular 3 percent click-through rate (the number of fans who actually clicked on his post).
    Three percent is spectacular? Yes. Facebook’s average click-through rate is less than two-tenths of 1 percent. Of these people, the ones who actually both saw the post and clicked on the link to see it on Amazon, only about 13 percent will actually buy the book. This is Amazon’s conversion rate.

But what about brand-building?

Although I agree with everything that Michael says, there are two important caveats.

First, Michael does not mention the old sales vs. brand-building aspect of marketing. So, yes, Facebook may not create direct sales. However, it can help you build your author brand. For example, Michael says that he’s well known in his niche market. This is partly because of his online platform.

If you do choose to use it that way, one thing to do is create a nice ad. Here is a free PDF with 500 Facebook ads examples you can analyze and model after. I use these to come up with ideas from time to time.

Mark Dawson’s Experience

Second, there is some pretty impressive contrary evidence as well. Author Mark Dawson offers courses on using Facebook to sell books. His advertising methods are complex, involve special landing pages, boxed sets, carefully worded ads, etc – but seem to have tremendous success.

For a small-scale example, author Seeley James (with only 85 Likes on his profile) ran an ad for one boxed set and grossed $48.93, at an ad cost of $20.

Scaling this up, Barbara Hinske spends $1,200 a month and gets sales of $2,600-$3,800. HOWEVER, she does have some 20,000 likes in her page.

Visit Digital Book World to read Michael’s article in its entirety, and make sure to read the comments to get both sides of the argument.

By the way, I’ve been attending a marketing course on Facebook, so in the coming months I’ll be experimenting with it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share a more positive experience than Michael. Watch this space!