Instagram Book Marketing

How to market your book without a budget, quickly and easily.

If you don't have a following, you can use this strategy to collaborate with someone who does!

MORNINGTUNDRA | August 2020

The Spring of 2020 turned out to be a sub-optimal time to launch an independent self-published book. Especially a nerdy, non-fiction, technical reference for a narrow niche.

The launch-timing was locked-in before the arrival of COVID19. By the time I knew significant disruption was inevitable, it was too late to reschedule or defuse the demand and expectation I had shamelessly built. I had little choice but to let the dice roll and watch my modest budget go up in smoke, or down in flames, or a damp squib, or... choose your disappointing analogy.

So I found myself with no budget and only a modest amount of time to commit given my increasingly precarious day-job. It was time to take stock of my options. The book was essentially sound having received a warm reception from early reviewers but I was dead in the water for marketing or advertising. I would have to pursue some asymmetric, guerrilla campaign if I wanted anyone to know about my work, let alone buy it.

The EPUB (US$30.00) was always a tickler for the hardback print edition and I knew I could discount it and give away as many as I wanted without actually incurring any direct cost. And given the EPUB reading experience, I wasn't worried about it cannibalizing print sales. If anything, it was just a lead magnet.

I don't mean to dismiss the whole EPUB reading experience. It's just that my book didn't shine in this format due to all the detailed drawings, charts, tables, lists, and callout panels. It was designed to be a physical book and presented best that way.

I took inventory of all the assets and resources I had to work with. The two that stood out were my Instagram account @morning_tundra with ~1000+ engaged followers, and 250 free promo codes courtesy of Apple Books. It made sense to combine the two somehow.

While it might have been too optimistic to think this could generate a boat-load of sales, it might be enough to create some of that all-important social proof. Specifically, ratings, reviews and testimonials. The best place to get them would be the actual bookstore, but I could also capitalize on any positive social media signals. Even screenshots could be reused on my website or in future campaigns.

But Why The Apple Bookstore?

  • My audience demographic is more of an iPad than Kindle crowd
  • iPads dominate the tablet market and geography I'm interested in
  • Most Kindles don't support Fixed Layout EPUBs, so KDP is not viable
  • Apple issues, administers and tracks the codes at no charge
  • Google Play Books offer promotional pricing but not promo codes

Designing a Campaign

I hatched a plan for a marketing campaign that involved giving away promo codes for a free EPUB every day for the first 10 days of August, plus a couple of days to broadcast the competition and rules.

Gamifying a marketing campaign is a great way to encourage engagement and interaction. Otherwise, it's just an ad. And ads are just sooo 20th Century. The simplest way to gamify your marketing is to use a strategy from the playbook of pro copywriters which emphasizes urgency πŸƒ and scarcity πŸ¦„ — but not too scarce! To avoid demotivating and discouraging players there should be multiple opportunities to win, supported by the social proof of people actually winning. 💰 πŸ•ΊπŸ½

The urgency could be created by posting on a fixed schedule so participants would have to be quick off the mark if they wanted to win. They would be up against the clock as well as one another. And with only one code per day, they were certainly scarce.

With some punchy copy, I hoped these posts would convert into downloads. And with some engagement and prompting (shamelessly asking) I could get a few reviews. I decided this would be the ultimate goal and the measure of any success. These reviews would persist long after this campaign was forgotten about.

In internet marketing parlance this type of campaign is known as 'targeting the bottom of the sales funnel', where audience interest and intent are already validated. They are followers actively engaging with my post content.

Any subsequent 'conversion' would be a review as opposed to a sale.

While the size of my IG following is OK, it's not substantial. I would need to goose the visitor traffic by engaging at 'top of funnel' to generate interest and awareness of my campaign.

I decided to leverage two other Social Media channels - Reddit and Facebook. I would post additional promo codes to these affinity groups referring them to the IG feed for further daily opportunities to get more free stuff. The prospect of FREE stuff is a great driver of human behavior. πŸ€—

A few important notes on Apple Promo Codes

  • Each book has a limit of 250 codes
  • Codes are administered through your iTunes Connect account
  • Codes are generated and exported for your promotional use
  • The minimum number of codes you can export is one
  • Codes expire after 4 weeks from the date of generation
Screenshot of Apple Author Console
Screenshot of Apple Author Console

August is a notoriously quiet part of the business cycle, with all aspects slowing down and not just in Europe. If you want to set a performance management baseline this would be the month to do it. So assessing the performance of any future marketing campaign, August would be the month to compare to.

With things being so quiet, I didn't have much to lose. If the campaign flopped, few would notice. And if it worked even modestly, it would be an improvement over sitting out the entire month of August.

I decided to use the same ad image throughout the campaign, in an attempt to achieve some visual consistency across social platforms. I also wanted to keep my effort to a minimum as I didn't have a lot of time, and my expectations were low. So this is what I came up with.

iPad Promo Image
iPad Promo Image

I uploaded this image into my free account on Later.com and wrote some IG-friendly copy. Later.com allows you to pre-program and automate all the posts in a campaign. I would set up all 10 posts and then leave it to do its thing. I also used Zapier.com to copy these auto-posts to my Pinterest and FB Page. I don't have much of a following in these channels but when the volume is so low, every visitor and view counts.

I reused a variation of this copy for each of the 10 posts and made some minor customizations. These included changes to vocabulary, emojis, and hashtags. Urban legend and prevailing opinion on r/instagram suggests the IG algorithm objects to repetitive posts and favors judicious use of emoji over hashtags. While the evidence is subjective, it couldn't hurt to throw a few in.

Feel free to go ahead and Swipe this and reuse it in your own campaigns...

Day [X]! Here’s the promo code for a FREE digital edition of The Vintage Rolex Field Manual Chevalier Edition.⁠ πŸ€“β  Hit the link, and use it now in the Apple Bookstore:

[APPLE PROMO CODE ##]⁠

Get this US$30 ebook for FREE with this single-use promo code!⁠ If it works, drop a comment below (and flex a lot!).⁠ πŸ•ΊπŸΌπŸ’ͺ🏽⁠

https://books.apple.com/[BOOK ID]

Good luck! And remember to leave me a 5 * review for a chance to win a hardcover print copy in September!⁠⁠ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐⁠

If you're not an Apple-fan, head over to the Google Play Bookstore and get it half price throughout August.⁠

I used essentially the same post on Reddit r/rolex and r/vintagewatches. I tried to do the same on FB but group moderators appear to have stolen the codes and never approved the post. The codes got redeemed but the posts never appeared in the group feeds.

Implementing a Campaign

By the end of DAY 1, I learned that even seasoned Apple users were unfamiliar with how to redeem a coupon in the bookstore. I had to DM the Apple link with instructions and provide tech support.

Apple instructions for promo codes
Apple instructions for promo codes

The Instagram analytics for the inaugural first-day were modest, to say the least.

analytics screenshot
Instagram Analytics

By DAY 2 all the initial coupons had been claimed and people were leaving appreciative and enthusiastic comments and feedback on both Reddit and IG. Perhaps most encouragingly, my goal of bookstore reviews was being met, and still with 8 days to go. This felt promising.

Apple book rating and review
Apple book rating and review

By this point, I had posted 10 coupons to Reddit, 10 to FB, and one to IG, for a respectable 4.7% conversion rate (1 / 21 * 100).

For the next few days, I would give out a further 10 codes to people who approached me directly requesting one.

By DAY 3 users were getting the hang of things and the posts were getting shared, forwarded, and upvoted. Increases in Profile Visits and Website Clicks were an indicator that campaign awareness was growing.

IG Analytcs
Instagram Analytics for Day 3

By DAY 4 it was clear that there was an appetite for free coupons and those that redeemed them were reading the book (one reader forwarded a typo in an obscure reference number). It turns out diligent proofreading is no substitute for crowd-sourced scrutiny.

Users began tagging me in posts and Stories sharing pictures of the EPUB on their iPads (along with their preferred tipple). Several readers reach out with direct messages requesting codes.

Posts on DAY 6 began showing declining reach and engagement.

IG Analytcs Day 6 Actions
IG Analytics Day 6 Engagement
IG Analytics Day 6 Reach
IG Analytics Day 6 Reach

Presumably, the IG algorithm didn't like the unimaginative, cookie-cutter post style and began to mute the impressions. It seems my followers were getting tired of the same content too.

CONCLUSIONS

By the end of the campaign, I spent zero dollars and invested about 4 hours of my time doing campaign design, setup, monitoring, and user interaction. My user engagement ranged from as little as a 'like' or smiley emoji to technical support. So roughly a half-day of focused effort spread across 12 days. This article took longer to write and format then the entire campaign!

With readers reading the book, (rather than just abusing the offer of free stuff) I suspected there might be a delay before seeing reviews appearing in the Bookstore. I guessed it would take someone about a week to work through the ~270 pages.

So by day 14, I closed the book (pun intended) on this marketing experiment. Any late arriving reviews would be excluded from this evaluation and just consigned to the long-tail of internet marketing.

Apple reported the codes were being redeemed almost as soon as they were released with reviews showing up shortly after in regional Apple Bookstores.

performance chart
Apple Bookstore performance chart
another customer review
Another customer review
  • Investment: 4 hours and 31 Promo codes
  • Return: 6 positive reviews
  • Campaign conversion rate: 19% (6 reviews / 31 codes * 100)

While not an overwhelming viral sensation, I consider it a success. The technique will likely translate to other SM channels such as FB and with a larger following the conversion rate could extrapolate to more worthwhile returns.


VRFM book image

The Vintage Rolex Field Manual
Hard Cover Chevalier Print Edition

ISBN: 978-0578630823
Size: 8.5 x 0.9 x 11 inches
Weight: 2.5 lbs
Format: Hardcover
Published: 2020


196 vintage models
1,400+ distinct references
Timelines, charts, tables
Examples, photos, history
Watchmakers, restorers, dealers

What To Do Next

If you're interested in running your own similar campaign, feel free to reuse any of the ideas outlined here. If you're interested in collaborating on a marketing campaign feel free to reach out.

If you're feeling generous or just curious, buy the book now from your favorite bookstore or right here.

To purchase a vintage Rolex contact

Scott Baratz
+1 (617) 968 7100

To restore a vintage Rolex contact

Philip Ridley
+1 (817) 821 2118

To refinish a vintage Rolex contact

Mike Hui
+1 (408) 800 3244

To relume a vintage Rolex contact

James Hyman
+44 754 825 2335

To service a vintage Rolex contact

Tanner Morehouse
+1 (701) 840 3287