This was originally published on the Digital Book World Expert Publishing Blog on June 5, 2017. When DBW was sold the blog was taken down. We have reprinted here.
Over the past five years, the strength of the platform that authors and publishers use to connect with and engage their audience has become one of the critical factors in the commercial success of their books. Today we are seeing the evolution of the author platform to include chatbots, a conversational interface to the web that employs artificial intelligence (A. I.) to engage with consumers. Here are the topics covered in the article:
- Current Author Platforms: Connecting With Audiences Via The Conventional Web
- A New Communication Model: Chatbots
- Have You Have Already Interacted With A Chatbot?
- The Conversational Web
- Early Experiments: Successes And Failures
In the publishing industry, you are starting to see some brands experiment. HarperCollins launched its “BookGenie” book recommendation bot on its Facebook page earlier this year. Riffle is using a combination of chatbots, big data and human recommendations to drive book discovery. Bam Mobile launched Authorbot which is being used by Pan Macmillian.
We are still in the early days, but it is not too hard to envision a platform that will enable authors and publishers to replicate the conversations you had with the bookstore owner or librarian when you were searching for your next read.
Over the past five years, the strength of the “platform” that authors and publishers use to connect with and engage their audience has become one of the critical factors in the commercial success of their books. There are many views in the publishing industry of what a “platform” is, but I think the definition enunciated by Dan Blank, author and founder of WeGrowMedia, is one of the best. Dan defines the “platform” as “the ability to connect, in a meaningful way, with people who would appreciate your creative work. It means having a sense of who may resonate with it, why, how to reach them, and ways of doing so that feel as though like minded people are connecting in ways that are positive.”
Based on this type of clear understanding of who the optimum audience is and the best ways to communicate with them, successful authors and publishers have leveraged a range of technologies to accomplish this. A website, email list and one or more social channels have become basic “table stakes” as the foundation for an effective “Platform.” These have been enhanced with SEO programs and search/social advertising investments by those wanting to optimize these basic investments. Those focused on developing meaningful communications have developed a solid content strategy, a consistent editorial calendar, and a comprehensive analytics program. The most advanced authors and publishers are making continuing investments to optimize their platforms for speed and responsiveness across all device types and some have built custom apps to create more meaningful experiences for their readers.
As daunting as the time, effort and money to scale their “platform” up this continuum may seem to many, it is an absolute necessity to create awareness and differentiation in a market where more than 700,000 new titles are published each year. You must also be aware that the competitive playing field where you are marketing and selling your books is not static. How people are using the Internet to communicate and how they expect to interact will continue to evolve and change.
One of the clearest examples of this is the dynamic shift over the last 24 months to mobile messaging apps as the preferred way many people are sharing and interacting. There are over one billion users on WhatsApp and on Facebook Messenger already. Since connecting with the readers you want to talk to where they already are is much more effective than trying to drag them to you, this is not a trend authors and publishers can ignore.
This new communications model offers unique opportunities for personalized, one-on-one communications with consumers for brands (yes, authors and publishers are brands). Of course, this does come with the challenges of scale. Fortunately, we are seeing the development of enabling technology in the form of chatbots. Not sure what a chatbot is? The folks at Chatbot Magazine define them like this: “A chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface. The service could be any number of things, ranging from functional to fun, and it could live in any major chat product (Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Text Messages, etc.).”
Have you have already interacted with a chatbot? If you favor pizza watching a late night movie, Pizza Hut now accepts orders through Facebook and Twitter chatbots. Baron Concors, Pizza Hut’s Chief Digital Officer, explained Pizza Hut’s strategy. “We are committed to our servicing our customers in the most convenient way and meeting them in the channels they already prefer,” said Concors. This new addition to the Pizza Hut platform will also allow customers to connect their Facebook Messenger accounts to their Pizza Hut accounts so that the chatbot will have access to their order history. This enables Pizza Hut to personalize offers and make it easy for customers to quickly reorder their favorite menu items. Not to be outdone, Pizza Hut rival Dominos also has added a chatbot to their platform.
One of the leading industry voices that is focused on this area is Jeff Pulver. Jeff is an entrepreneur and investor who has focused on emerging Internet communications trends for over two decades. He helped drive the development of Internet voice communication industry that all of us benefit from every time we use Skype or Hangouts. Jeff talks about this as the “evolution of the Conversational Web.” Jeff believes this will be “a world where we are much less dependent on websites and apps, a world where we are speaking and listening more to both machines and people. Summing up the change, the interface between humans and computers is rapidly changing from an “operational” interface (Websites, apps) to a “conversational” interface (ChatBots, voice interfaces). This is revolutionary, given that the “operational” interface has been the standard way to interact with computers since the earliest computers came on the market.” Jeff has launched a new conference series called MoNage. You can get more information about it at www.monage.io.
Like any new marketing medium, there have been some successes and there have been some failures. As with many things that are initially over-hyped, some of the enthusiasm has started to cool. The underlying enabling technology is still immature. Because it was simple and fast, some brands developed and deployed without a clear understanding of their business objectives, end user benefits, and the end user experience. A recent article in Digiday outlined some of these. You can read that here. Don’t be put off. We have seen this before with new mediums. This is an important marketing strategy because messaging is important to people.
In the publishing industry, you are starting to see some brands experiment. HarperCollins launched its “BookGenie” book recommendation bot on its Facebook page earlier this year. Riffle is using a combination of chatbots, big data and human recommendations to drive book discovery. Bam Mobile launched Authorbot which is being used by Pan Macmillian. It is still early days, but is is not too hard to envision a platform that will enable authors and publishers to replicate the conversations you had with the bookstore owner or librarian when you were searching for your next read.