Does Social Media Affect What Books You Buy?

A little while ago, The Intern had an interesting post on how much (or how little) social media promotion efforts affect sales. She challenged her readers to take a look at how many books they'd bought because of social media efforts vs. traditional methods (like, say, word of mouth).

So I did.


Of the books I've actually paid money for since 2008:
  • I chose 45% because I knew the author (meaning I had read one of their books before and liked it).
  • I chose 35% because of word of mouth (meaning a trusted friend told me I should read the book).
  • I chose 20% because of social media (meaning I discovered the book independently, from twitter, facebook, blogs, book trailers, etc).

I thought that might be a little misleading, since many of the books in that first category were purchased after I discovered the author via other means (for example, after I discovered Brandon Sanderson and read MISTBORN, I bought three more of his books). So I looked at how I discovered these authors.

Of the authors I've discovered (and bought their books) since 2008:
  • I heard of 70% from word of mouth.
  • I heard of 30% from social media.

So does social media work? Well, it worked for me, but there's one statistic I haven't mentioned. Why did I choose 2008 as my cut-off? Because I wasn't even on social media before then. Before 2008, 100% of the books I purchased were authors I knew or discovered by word of mouth.

So does social media work for reaching readers? I think it's a starting point. But I don't think it's worth plunging hours and hours and days into.

I do think it's a fantastic tool to network with other writers though. I got my ill-fated referral that way, along with some of the most awesome critique partners in the business. And Jay Kristoff recently blogged about how both Beth Revis and Scott Freaking Westerfeld discovered him and offered to read his book for a possible blurb (which upsets me, because I wanted Scott F. Westerfeld to blurb my novel, but I guess you have to have a book deal first).

Man, this publicity stuff is complicated. Does it ever work? What do you think?


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

The thing that always twists up my head about these surveys is that, to me, social media and word of mouth are the same thing - I hear about books by word of mouth from my friends on social media. The books I find on social media that weren't rec'd by my friends? Um, that number's like zero (granted, there are differing levels of friendship).

Do I have friends outside social media, you ask? Why yes, I do. But we don't talk about books as much, and if we do, it's usually books I've already heard about before that.

Upshot: I think social media is just another way to spread word-of-mouth. And like you say, that's the biggest factor.

Adam Heine said...

Excellent point! Let me clarify that when I say "word of mouth" I do mean I heard it from a friend, regardless of the method.

And when I say "social media," I mean it wasn't a friend who told me, but someone I don't know, or a contest retweet, or the equivalent of an ad got my attention.

But yeah, there is a fuzzy line between the two.

Iliadfan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iliadfan said...

I checked Goodreads, and this year so far I’ve finished 20 books I hadn't read before: discovered 7 from blogs, 1 from a book ad, 1 from browsing a bookstore, 1 from browsing the library, 1 for book club, 7 from 3 authors I’d read before (first heard about all online), 1 recommended by a face-to-face acquaintance, and 1 from browsing a book swap web site.

My math sucks, but looks to me like 2/3 to 3/4 of my books come from online people I don’t know, whether the author’s own blog, guest posts, John Scalzi’s Big Idea posts, or the author’s friends (e.g., I read Susan K. Quinn’s book because I read about it on your blog). I have no idea if I’m closer to the rule than the exception, but social media definitely works in my life.

sally said...

I'm with Susan. My real-life friends don't ever tell me about books I read, because they don't read children's books. But many of my social media friends have become real-life friends.

Matthew MacNish said...

How do you account for when I bought a book because of both word of mouth AND social media? For example, I bought a book recommended by a friend I know only online? Because that's probably 90% of my purchases these days.

However, I see that Susan stole my thunder on this point.

vic caswell said...

yeahhhhh... the people i know in real life don't read for the majority. there are a couple strictly romance readers (which i don't read) and one strictly murder mystery reader (which i don't read). i have ONE friend with similar interest in book as me, but all our reads i lend to her... sooooo... i pretty much pick up books by finding them on amazon or reviews or blogs or online recs. (we don't have any bookstores here)

Myrna Foster said...

It does a little bit, but not much. If I haven't read and loved books by the author, I check it out through the library. I usually only buy books I've read, whether the book is for myself or a present for someone else.

Steve MC said...

I've wanted to do that, too - go through all my books and chart how I heard about them - but right now I figure my chart would look much the same as yours.

Social media might get me aware of others books, but they still have to interest me enough to check them out.

Deniz Bevan said...

I like maine's comment. The specific way social media has affected me is that I've bought a lot of books written by blogging friends, which I otherwise never would have heard of. But I still don't usually buy books based on recommendations - whether from friends or fellow bloggers. I'm not sure why...

daniellaprice30 said...

Social media platforms works pretty much the same as the word of mouth in terms of it's influence to us. This is the reason most people refer to it when they need to buy a book or anything. That's why the SEO in Perth also use this to advertise their client's websites.