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The Pros and Cons of Street Teams

Lately I’ve been giving some thought to creating a street team for my novels. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, a street team is a group of fans that (ideally) helps an author promote her work. What authors ask of their street teams varies, but may include: Posting reviews to major sites, posting on social media, talking up the author to create buzz, helping to organize/populate author events, or requesting that local libraries or bookstores order the author’s books. Most street teams offer rewards for their members. This may include special swag, blog badges, early access to ARC’s, exclusive content like outtakes from the book or preview chapters, signed books, or access to special giveaways.

There are many ways to organize a street team, but the bottom line is that the team is a way for the author to connect to their most loyal fans and receive a marketing boost in the process. However, as with anything, there are pros and cons. I’ve spent the last few weeks evaluating these in my quest to figure out if I want/need/can handle a street team. Here’s my pro/con list (and verdict) as it stands right now.

Pros

  1. Low cost. A street team is inexpensive compared to some other marketing efforts. You can set up a free group page on Facebook as a place to host group discussions and activities. Beyond that, you’re only out the cost to send swag and prizes to your members.
  2. Create personal relationships with fans. To be honest, this is the thing that appeals to me the most about a street team. It can give you the chance to really connect with fans of your work and make some new friends. Street team discussions don’t have to be all about your work; you can discuss anything and learn more about each other.
  3. Wider marketing reach than you can achieve on your own. A street team gives you access to locations and social media followings that you can’t reach on your own. They can pass your work along to people, bookstores, and libraries that you, as just one person, could never hope to reach.
  4. Gives fans a place/chance to discuss your work. A street team gives ardent fans a place to discuss your work. I know there are times that I just want to fangirl over a book or movie, but sometimes there aren’t places where others will really understand what I’m so gaga over. A street team gives fans that place to go nuts over your work with others who will appreciate the sentiment.
  5. You can gain insight on things you can improve, or what fans like about your work. You can ask for opinions on what’s working in your books and what isn’t. You can use your street team members as beta readers or get help with research. You can poll them for insights on what project they’d like to see you tackle next, character names, or anything else you want feedback on. (Of course, you’re not obligated to do what they say, which can lead to con number 6, below.)
  6. They can be a built-in support system. Street team members can come to events (either in-person or online) so at least you’re guaranteed to have someone show up. For in-person events not in your hometown, a reliable street team member can be a useful go-between for you and the venue. They can also help set up the event and recruit other attendees.

Cons

  1. You have no control over members’ behavior (and that behavior reflects on you). It may not happen often, but sometimes street team member behavior can cross the line from enthusiastic to troublesome. They may pester bookstores too often. They may drop your swag off in random places where such things are not allowed. They may slander other authors/write mean reviews of their work in the mistaken belief that this is helping you. They may be too pushy when they try to sell your work. Unfortunately, all of this behavior reflects back on you, the author, and not the street team member. Bad behavior can drag your reputation down and make people leery of doing business with you.
  2. Requires time to set up and maintain. Authors have a lot to do as it is and a street team is another thing to set up and maintain. Posting and talking to readers takes time, even if it is rewarding. So does running contests, sending out swag, hosting events, and policing the group. It may be worth it, but it’s going to cut into your writing time.
  3. Can be seen as cheesy or sleazy marketing. Some people have the perception that street teams are just a way for the author to pawn their marketing work off on someone else. They are also sometimes seen as an “under the table” way for authors to pay for favorable reviews through the exchange of gifts, ARC’s, etc. While this certainly isn’t all that street teams are about, that perception can linger in some people’s minds and may make you come across as less-than-ethical, or lazy.
  4. Can lead to nastiness if some don’t feel included, cliques form, or some are seen as “queen bees.” Any social group is subject to problems. There are always going to be some who feel left out, or like others are getting preferential treatment. Some are going to have differences of opinion that can get nasty. This can all become problematic if it goes too far, or it can lead to the author feeling like they have to police/censor the group to keep everyone happy. If it goes seriously awry, you can have unhappy members slagging the group and the author to anyone who will listen.
  5. You can lose money. It’s sad but true that some people will sign up to get the freebies and then never be seen again. You will have spent that money on swag or books and received nothing in return. It’s up to you how much of that you can afford.
  6. An entitlement mentality can develop. If your fans are giving input into your work, they can come to feel like they “own” a piece of that work. Consequently, when your project doesn’t go in the direction that they wanted or they feel “betrayed” by the author in some way, they may lash out at you or belittle you on social media.

After considering all of this, I think that right now isn’t the time for me to start a street team. For one thing, I’m too new and I doubt I’d get anyone to sign up. For another, I just don’t think I have the time right now to devote to the upkeep a street team would require. I still have to work my day job. Maybe if the day comes when I can just write fiction or I have the funds to hire an assistant, I will revisit the idea.

However, I think there is another way to interact with fans that might not require so much time or cause as many potential problems. I think I will look into setting up a Facebook group for fans of my work so they can feel free to discuss my books and ask me questions. It would be sort of like a street team, but without the expectation that members will “do” anything for me. I can still run contests or give exclusive information, but without the expectation that it’s a formalized thing with obligations and responsibilities on both sides. It would just be a place to chat, meet each other, and have some fun. All the fun of a street team without some of the problems.

 

(Photo courtesy of geralt)

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