PhotobucketI’ve written a great deal about why social media might not sell books, and how your efforts at audience development impacts your career.

I’d like to take a new twist on this familiar topic, and speak specifically about why your online marketing might not be working—assuming you’ve reached the point where your intent is to sell something.

1. It’s not personal. None of us like impersonal message blasts. I’m going to assume you’re already smart enough not to do that. But you can still be impersonal with a one-on-one message. How? You don’t actually personalize the message, or think about the needs of the person on the receiving end. You might be using a stilted or sales-y approach that turns people off. You may send messages based on the bullhorn approach, where you yell, and everyone else is supposed to listen.

Instead, try something interactive, engaging, or personalized. Try being a human being. Don’t change who you are or what you do when you market. Better yet, don’t see it as “marketing,” at which point you might turn on your fake marketing voice.

2. You’re too noisy. Are you tweeting the same message every hour? Are you posting the same call to action on Facebook every day? Are you constantly on social media asking people to do something for you? It might be time to shut up. Instead, think about: creating new and valuable content, sharing interesting articles, answering people’s questions, listening to what the community is saying.

3. You’re hitting up the wrong crowd. When you’re starting from ground zero, it can be tough to know who or where to go first. You might not know if Twitter or Facebook is better for calls to action—or you may find it’s really about being on GoodReads for your particular book.

The best 2 pieces of advice I have: (1) Try to identify at least 2-3 other successful authors in your genre, and see where they’re active. If you have a relationship with them, ask what has worked and what has failed. (2) Experiment widely at first, then slowly narrow things down to maximize return on time spent. Whenever possible, measure the impact of your efforts through analytics tools, e.g., Google Analytics or tracking links.

4. You’re bad at copywriting. You must always have an answer to the question that your audience will instinctively ask themselves: What’s in it for me? If you can’t answer that question effectively, then you better be very entertaining (like Carolyn Parkhurst in this YouTube video). Good copywriting is something you can learn, and it’s not about smarmy sales tactics. Rather, it’s about being clear on what makes your stuff unique—its benefits and promises. You sell the sizzle.

5. It’s working, but you’re not patient enough for it to pay off, so you quit too soon. Whenever anyone asks me how I became so successful doing [insert social media tool here], I say two things: patience and persistence. I was never immediately successful with anything until I better understood it, knew what I wanted out of it, and what made sense for my audience. It took practice and paying close attention.

Through it all, you have to be willing to adapt and change your approach as online behavior and tools change. Yes, it’s a bit of a game. But I hope you come to see it as a fun one. No. 6 Bonus Tip: Don’t take it too seriously. That kills it for everyone!

Image courtesy Flickr’s drothamel

About Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman is the co-founder and publisher of Scratch, a quarterly magazine focused on the intersection of writing and money. She teaches digital publishing and media at the University of Virginia and is a full-time publishing consultant. Find out more at her website.