Reader engagement is the most important thing we do as authors. We love the idea of readers buying our books, loving them, and putting us on the “auto buy” list. However, most of us are not on their auto buy list, even if they love our books. We also need a way to remind them how much they love us.
Engaging with readers is hard work and time consuming. Not that I hate it. In fact, I LOVE my readers. I’m fortunate in that I have received emails from them early in my career–emails that helped me to keep writing even when sales were not very robust. I could easily spend all day, every day chatting with them on Facebook and Twitter. I love hearing what they are reading, what they liked about my books, which other authors they are excited about the next book and why.
I also love to hear about their own lives, both the ups and downs. It is a difficult time in the world right now and I truly believe that sharing a little love, support, and empowerment is important. I try to do that in my books. But I also try to do that by sharing it more broadly with positive memes and communicating with those who wish to engage in that way too.
Time management. Here is the problem for me. Where is the best place to spend my time and how much time should I spend? In the social media environment, I find most of my readers engaging with me on Facebook. I have my regular author page. I have two reader groups. One is a general reader group and the other is my launch team group. I also have a Messenger Bot that provides lots of information answering common questions about me, what I write, and where to find my books (kind of like my website on messenger). It also gives away my first in series free books when people subscribe (similar to mailing lists). But I do need to regularly send news through Messenger too. And because of messengers perceived intimacy, I have a lot more people sending me messages back telling me about how they loved the book, asking questions about the series, and sometimes just saying thank you.
I also have a very large Twitter following, though I’ve found that it is quite difficult to actually converse in Twitter unless you set up a specific time and space. For me, Twitter has been more about sharing of what’s important to me and my brand and networking with other authors.
Some of these things I can automate through tools like Buffer for posting to various platforms, or a variety of Twitter tools for curating shared content and automated reposting of my own reminders. However, even with that automation assistance in scheduling posts, or retweeting curated Twitter posts automatically, I still need to deliver good content every day. Yes, I can do it all at once for a week or month and schedule it. But I still have to take the time to find it, create it, and schedule it. Haven’t yet found a bot for that. 🙂
Sadly, there is no ONE way that fits how all of my readers prefer to communicate and get information. I do see a trend in mailing list saturation. I have a substantial mailing list. However, my open rates and click rates have dropped by about 20% in the past 18 months. I used to regularly get 70-85% open rates and 45-50% click rates on my call to action. Now it is more like 45-50% open rates and click rates are in the 17-25% range. I haven’t become spammy. I haven’t changed my approach. So what is happening?
Recent Email Results. I had a fairly significant unsubscribe rate on my last broadcast email. It was a broadcast email to my romance segment, which is my largest segment and my readers who have always engaged really well with me. It was the typical email that most readers want. I told them about the release of my boxset at a significantly discounted rate for one week. In the past this would have received a 70% open and a 50% click rate. This time it received at 45% open and a 17% click rate along with nearly 200 unsubscribes. This from a list that has been stable for a year.
So, I went back to those unsubscribes individually and asked if they could tell me why. Of course, not everyone responded. Those who did respond tended to fall into one of five categories. Though not everyone used the exact same words, I grouped them by similar concepts.
“I love your books, but I can get the information through your Facebook postings.”
“I prefer to learn about your new book through your blog or website. I don’t like email anymore.”
“Do you text? I’d love to text with you.” (Note: I asked all these responders to subscribe to my messenger bot so they could receive “text” messages whenever they wanted)
“I just have too much email now. I can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t, so I’m unsubscribing to everything except my friends and a few authors I read automatically.” Side note: I had to restrain myself from not writing back to this group and asking why I’m not on their auto buy list. 🙂
Reading all the above, one might assume I shouldn’t do email at all anymore. However, These are 78 responses out of the approximately 200 unsubscribes and a current total of 11,586 people on the list. What do the rest of the people think? I don’t know. My last poll was a year ago and they told me they wanted emails somewhere between every two weeks and three weeks. They open emails based on what interests them at the time.
I prune my list once a year to unsubscribe anyone who hasn’t opened in a year. Maybe it’s time for another poll? I’ve seen some other ideas floated around about improving email engagement. But I need to try it before I recommend it. Watch for another post on this topic in a month or so.
Messenger Bot. I recently implemented a messenger bot using $5 per day on targeted FB ads to grow my subscriber list in Messenger. In a little less than a month I now have over 300 people subscribed who read in the genre I’m targeting. It continues to grow by 8-12 people a day. So far, the open rates are astounding–continuously above 90%. I’ve only done one broadcast so far and that was when the subscribers numbered closer to 200. The click rate in that case was 77%. I love the engagement rate there.
It has been so successful, that I will next target another genre I write with the same techniques to see if that genre also has readers who use/like messenger.
Even though messenger is getting great responses for me, I know that not all my readers use Messenger. In fact, there are readers who don’t use Facebook or any social media because of the time suck in their lives. How many? I don’t know. I only know those who have told me that individually when I’ve asked them to join one of my reader groups.
For now, I need to still use ALL my reader engagement tools. I think our communication methods are in transition…again. New technology has great impacts and readers move in bunches to embrace it. Watching MY readers move over the next year will be interesting.
However, based on my early results with messenger, I am going to look at converting my email subscribers to Messenger and/or my FB group pages where the engagement is measurable and I can use that engagement more effectively. I’ll be placing a messenger widget on my website to get people to try me in messenger. I’ll also email my list with information on how to engage with me in messenger.
With email alone, all I know is who opened and who didn’t. I don’t know why people don’t open unless I ask them. Even if I ask them, only those who respond give me information. Pools to email subscribers, in my experience, do not get high engagement to start with. With Facebook and Messenger, I not only know exactly who engaged but I know how they engaged. I know who clicked like or love or a smiley face. I know who shared a post. I know who clicked to download a book and who clicked to my buy page. I know who is actually talking to me and asking questions, DAILY!
It’s pretty amazing. And sometimes overwhelming. I need to determine how to stay engaged yet not eat up all my writing time. Ultimately, what my readers want is the next book. Yes, they also want to talk to me, meet me, engage on social media. But, more than anything, they wish I would give them a new book every week. 🙂 Not possible for me. I’m working on training my cats to write write short novellas to keep my readers engaged while I’m writing the next novel. It’s not going well. I have not learned to speak “cat” except for a few rudimentary words.
Is it possible emails are going away? I’m thinking maybe they are. My own family–from my 85 year old mother to our mid 30s children and to my teen nieces, nephews, cousins, all NEVER email anymore. Seriously, never. If I send an email they don’t respond. If I send a text they do respond. If I send a private message in FB they do respond. They all respond to pictures I post in FB or Instagram. But email seems to be lost to all of them. They want short and quick. They don’t want to think about writing more than a couple sentences (unless it’s a rant).
As a long form writer, I LOVE email. I’m beginning to realize that short-form folks outnumber me. I suspect that a large part of my readership has moved on to different ways to communicate, get information, and engage. I better change my emphasis too.
What’s been your experience with reader engagement and changing platforms for communication? How do you keep up and how do you manage your time? I’m all ears.