Monthly Archives: June 2012

Internet Privacy

Suspicious about how Big Brother is using ever more sophisticated tools to track your use of the Internet? Google, Amazon, the FBI, Facebook, the company that owns your work computer can all monitor what you do online. But it may be the lesser of two evils.

Each organization would claim they have good reason for their surveillance, and to some extent it’s arguable they really do, assuming they can be trusted to act responsibly. In the case of Google their knowledge of almost everything we look at on screen helps them target highly individualized adverts, which increases effectiveness for advertisers, makes lots of money for Google, and keeps all those incredibly useful services like search, email, storage, free to use for everyone.

Even so I can’t blame people for feeling uneasy, even paranoid, about the intrusion behind the screen, even when the only obvious result is advertising popping up on my computer for mail-order Creative Writing degrees, Cellphone packages and Shelving Systems, all connected in some way to stuff I’ve done online.

The European Union, an odd organization that champions consumer rights when not busy bankrupting small member nations, has recently banned web sites from dropping cookies in secret on visiting computers, legislation now insists they must, if they’re hosted in Europe, explicitly get a user’s permission beforehand. Additionally browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer have introduced ‘Do Not Track’ settings – though usually buried in the options and compliance by websites is voluntary. You can even tell Google you want to stay private if you dig deeply enough into account settings.

So I tried becoming anonymous recently. It took a few hours delving through technical advice sites, ironically relying on Google, before I had every system, browser and cookie setting switched to protect my online identity from prying eyes. I don’t have anything to hide, honest. I simply believe in a right to privacy.

Google and it’s surveillance buddies however seemed to draw their own conclusions about the type of person who’d want to become anonymous in this way. My targeted (and admittedly appropriate) adverts for shelving systems and the classic books of John Dickson Carr were promptly replaced by larger and much more colorful banners for agencies representing attractive Russian brides, and for sun-soaked Gay vacation resorts in Palm Springs (I’m broad-minded, but both at once ?). Clearly they weren’t tracking my financial status any longer.

And of course it wasn’t what I wanted anyone physically looking over my shoulder to see on my laptop (okay, I’m really narrow-minded). I went back to allowing widespread surveillance. They’re tracking me again, probably even as I write. Google, if you’re reading this, tell Anastasia from Podolsk to email me, I’ve lost her details. FBI – friend me on Facebook?

For technical details here’s how the experts explain it: How Websites Track You Online


Internet publicity

Usually authors who want to publicise their books are recommended to use social media. I’m sure it can be effective but it’s not a quick fix, it needs work putting in.

Facebook is probably the most versatile tool, but I’m not sure about it’s reach – it only communicates to people you already know, or those who deliberately seek you out then find you in the throng of others across the world who share your name.

Twitter has potentially a much wider potential to attract new interest with judicious use of hashtags. But how many billions of users are there now? The competition for attention is enormous unless you’re a major celebrity. Sure you can say something profoundly attention-grabbing in 140 characters, then a minute later you’re number 1000 in the profound twitter stream. Building a significant audience is a steep mountain to climb.

Instagram looked the most promising marketing tool to me. It’s the photographic equivalent of Twitter that got a lot of publicity when Facebook bought it for an astronomical sum just before the public flotation. Not yet as oceanic as Twitter, but sharing the hashtag basis so more focussed than Facebook.

Since the book I wanted to publicise, Watching Marilyn, featured Marilyn Monroe it meant I could base the marketing campaign around photos of her – of which there must be thousands to choose from, she was constantly photographed over a period of almost 20 years. And photographs of her, some well known, some rarities, are still hugely popular among an army of fans on the internet (I share the opinion that movie stars ain’t what they used to be). Definitely pictures of Marilyn attract more attention than photographs of the Cuban Missile Crisis which is one of the other major themes in my book, or photos of American political corruption (everyone just takes that for granted).

So my instagrams were photos of MM, where possible with an appropriate quote from the book for publicity purposes (Instagram allows more than 140 characters), and a #MarilynMonroe as well as a #WatchingMarilyn hashtag. And it did seem to work. My first instagrams attracted a handful of likes. Before long, as my audience grew, they were getting 50 or so likes each. I can’t tell what proportion of people who view the instagram (aka advert) bother to press the like button, but I assume most don’t, so the 50 likes represent a lot more views.

I was feeling reasonably pleased. Then I looked at the output of one of my fellow #MarilynMonroe hashtag users called @welovemarilyn. He/she (there’s no personal info associated with the account) was posting the same kind of photos as I was, putting up one or two every day, and was by then up to number 425 – probably over a year’s worth of dedicated uploading. For @welovemarilyn it was really working. Within 25 minutes of putting a picture online he was getting around 2500 likes.
That’s a hundred people a minute hitting the like button. How many more viewing? Within a couple of days, as dawn swept around the globe, he was regularly accumulating over 10,000 likes per photo, and for some photos where Marilyn is wearing an especially décolleté dress over 25,000. By daily posting of a picture of Marilyn Monroe @welovemarilyn has accumulated over 200,000 followers. And why not – Marilyn was a very attractive woman.

So if I kept up the campaign to promote my book for a year would I accumulate that many followers? Equally important, since instagraming is not my main occupation, how many book sales would it translate to? The followers of the #MarilynMonroe hashtag seem, in the main, to be nice people, sincere in their fandom, mostly gentle souls compared to many on the internet. But I don’t get the impression they’re great book buyers.

So would it be more effective to target my marketing at a more serious audience? There are currently 107,088 posts on Instagram with the hashtag #MarilynMonroe. There are 18 with the hashtag #CubanMissileCrisis.


The Free Weekend

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The weekend of free Kindle downloads has just finished. So far it looks to have worked well. With a mini publicity campaign on Twitter to alert as many people as possible, the eBook version went free just after 1am Pacific Time Friday morning – yes, I was up to watch the computer screen. Amazon do say their servers can take a couple of hours to roll out a price change. It went free on their European stores at exactly the same time (I monitored that too) which would be about 9am local time.

Really I didn’t know what to expect. Would no-one download or would tens of thousands grab the freebie? I’d associated the marketing with Marilyn Monroe’s birthday so June 1 was the big day. By Saturday about 350 people had downloaded and it was showing as number 13 in the top 100 of the hardboiled Mysteries list. I was happy with this as a viral seed so I halted the tweet campaign. It would have been good to try for number 1 but I didn’t want to discourage the tens of thousands from paying for the book later.

On Monday morning the final results were in: a total of 455 free downloads from the US store, 40 from the UK, and 2 from the German store. Italy and France zilch, although they do have the excuse of not speaking the language. The English don’t, and going by population they seem only half as likely to read a book as an American. Wonder why?

In total though I’ll call it a round 500, some of whom may recommend it to their friends, and some, most importantly, may give it positive reviews on Amazon. I’m anticipating those will take a while to come through, so it could be a month before I can really assess how successful the marketing tactic was.