Aligning Acquisitions and Marketing to Create a Seamless University Press Presence
A social media presence is, by now, a standard component of most university presses. Almost every press spends time and money on social media efforts, attempting to create a presence that befits the overall mission of the press and conveys it to the wider world. But which part of the press should drive social media? To my knowledge, most presses push social media through their marketing departments. Thus, social media becomes a function of marketing, quickly taking on that department’s characteristics and sensibilities. Running social media through marketing makes the most sense. It would be difficult, after all, to argue that social media is not a marketing tool. But what other roles does or should social media play in a university press world? And who else should be involved in the creation of social media content?
To my mind, the symbiosis between marketing and acquisitions seems most relevant to the overall social media presence of a university press. Acquiring editors have been using the precursors to social media for a long time in order to stay in touch with their authors, be a part of the communities interested in their lists, and even to sign books. These traditional forms of communication include letters, email, phone calls, websites, conference attendance, and so on. Each of these was or is a form—to one degree or another—of social media. As such, contemporary social media constitutes another opportunity to engage with those same authors, communities, and books.
Many acquiring editors are actively engaged in social media. In fact, I think it probable that more acquisitions editors have their own Twitter accounts than do marketers. I applaud acquiring editors for being ahead of the adoption curve, for actively pursuing their own platforms from which to position themselves within their fields. I urge marketers across the UP world to do the same thing. Just because we do not sign books does not mean each of us does not have a thriving community of which to be a part or a thought-provoking message to share with our peers, authors, and beyond.
The social media activity of individual acquiring editors and marketers is not, however, individual—at least not entirely. Many acquiring editors and marketers tweet or post to Facebook as themselves, but they also connect that activity to their work. Their individualized efforts are, in fact, part of the larger social media presence of their presses. Aligning those individual-but-connected messages to the overall social media strategy and tactics of the press thus becomes increasingly important.
As individuals, we follow social media accounts that are of interest to us. We post about things that matter to us even if they don’t necessarily matter to our business. What does it say about the press for which we work, particularly if our personal accounts are closely tied to our work personas? What messages are we extending through our social media activity—both inadvertently and proactively? Perhaps the key question is who at the press, if anyone, should oversee what we’re all doing as individuals on social media? Each press will likely have different organizational structures that create their own answers to some of these questions. But if we accept that marketing is the natural place for social media, then we should also accept that marketing should be providing guidelines and oversight for work-based activities taking place on personal social media accounts so as to present a seamless image of the press to the outside world. Not a monochromatic image, but a seamless one in which all the individual voices are brought together to form a beautifully choreographed choir of marketing/branding messages.
At the micro or personal level, each user’s opinions are his or her own. Taking away the immediacy and individuality of social media would negate the point of it in the first place. Rather, it would actually be ideal to have as many beautiful voices—including acquiring editors, who by their very nature are at the forefront of much of the university press world—providing constant streams of social media content and developmental ideas. These streams do not need to be formal, process-oriented streams sent through the official in-house systems—although they certainly could be. Instead, the streams should be message-driven and brand-consistent, and they should assert individuality but provide a unified or seamless voice from the press in the world of social media. This is where marketing should come in. Marketing’s role is, I think, to use all the various individual social media presences within the press to develop content, ideas, reflections, and opinions that disseminate a consistent and seamless brand message and image. Under this model, the guidelines under which that voice is expressed are the responsibility of marketing, but much of the day-to-day content generation becomes the responsibility of the acquisitions team.
Collaboration is key to the success of this aligned social media presence. There is no point if marketing creates social media parameters that don’t work from an acquisitions standpoint. But, equally, the content coming from acquisitions should be tied into that larger vision for the on-brand message of marketing.
Should this collaboration be seasonal, by title, by genre? How specific should such guidelines be? At this stage, university presses are generally not ahead of any curves. This isn’t a bad thing; it allows us to learn and experiment at our own pace, and it allows us to start answering these kinds of questions in our own unique ways as they come up.
In fact, constant experimentation within a defined set of social media goals and parameters is likely to be the best way to achieve alignment between acquisitions and marketing on the social media front. Bringing together the two departments to create that seamless social media presence will, in the end, make for a much stronger social media brand, with dynamic content that engages authors, buyers, readers, and the rest of us in the university press world.At the University of Nebraska Press, we’re slowly forging through this shallow-but-wide stream of departmental alignment in social media, taking constant but careful steps with the occasional leap of faith in the hope that we don’t land in a deep but hidden part of the stream. It’s hard to say at this point how far we’ve made it toward the far bank, where the goal of a seamless social media presence seems to reside. But half the fun is in testing the waters yet wading anyway!