Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fix Your Billboard

I've been housekeeping for the last few weeks, tweaking my website, blog, and various online billboards.

An "online billboard" is a place on the Internet where you have a little bit of property people pass through.

I've been collecting online intersections lately, and have found I own a few beyond the obvious blog and website:

Joe on MySpace:
Joe on Facebook:
Joe on Wikipedia:
Joe's Amazon blog:
Joe on Shelfari:
Joe on Goodreads:
Joe on CrimeSpace:

Are writers really expected to keep up with all of these online billboards? Has it become part of our job description to maintain and stay active in all of these social networking forums?

Well, no. Unless you want to attract more readers.

As writers, we have to go where the readers are. That's why we have websites in the first place, because a lot of people have computers and Internet access.

But when writers try to figure out how to maximize their Internet access, laziness seems to kick in. There are a hundred other things they could be doing other than strengthening their online billboards, and there's no real tangible evidence that a Facebook pages helps sell books in the first place.

Or is there?

Let's take a step back and consider the history of the old-fashioned billboard.

Billboards, for the uninitiated, are those large advertising signs posted along highways. They're usually target specific, announcing an upcoming store or attraction several miles ahead. Unlike TV and radio commercials or print ads, billboards actually lead you to the item they're promoting.

Being a Chicagoan, we often vacationed in Wisconsin, and driving up I-94 was billboard mania, announcing dozens of attractions at the resort town the Dells. Some of those Tommy Bartlett Watershow boards still exist 30 years later, and I can't help but wonder if Tommy is now doing his ski jumps with the aid of a walker.

The point is, unlike other forms of advertising that suggest a product or service and then require you to make the effort to seek out that product or service, billboards require little effort. All you had to do was take the proper exit.

As a result, roadside billboards continue to be a powerful source of revenue.

You see where I'm going with this.

Your MySpace page, your Shelfari profile, even your blog and website, are all billboards, pointing directly to links where your books can be purchased.

The more billboards pointing to your books, the more roads they're on, the more people you'll lure in.

So, yes, you should take a few minutes every few days to check to make sure your billboard is still up, attracting people. You should perform some basic maintenance, just as replying to questions and updating information. You might even make the billboard larger by participating to a greater degree. And naturally, your billboard isn't about what you're trying to sell. It's about what you're offering: information and entertainment.

Don't want to do that work? No one says you have to. But I never would have seen Tommy Bartlett if he hadn't made a similar effort. Me and 20 million others. Pretty good traffic for the cost and maintenance of a few dozen billboards.

If you're a regular visitor of this blog, you'll notice the Blogs I Read sidebar has gotten smaller. That's because, in the course of housekeeping, I got rid of the dead links.

Over thirty of them.

Those billboards were dead. No longer luring anyone to anything. Worthless, even though they may still be linked to by many search engines and places on the world wide web.

Blogging isn't for everyone. Social networking sites aren't for everyone.

But why put up a billboard and then leave it to fall apart and whither away?

When was the last time you updated your blog or website? When was the last time you visited that forum, or networking page, or any other billboards you took the time to build?

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. If you don't see the value to billboards, that's fine. But to fully understand the value of something requires you to try your best and give it a fair shot.

Are your billboards all they can be?