May 09, 2013
Case Study

Social Media Marketing: Doubleday combines geocaching and Facebook to boost sales 23% for John Grisham book

SUMMARY: Social media has been a tremendous opportunity for marketers to learn more about their audiences through interaction. In particular, Facebook offers a forum where many companies and customers can communicate.

Read how Doubleday gained 72,000 new Facebook fans and a 220% increase in reach for author John Grisham by engaging current fans with a geocaching contest. Plus, learn how the organization used targeted Facebook advertising leading up to the release of Grisham's new book.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter


"Publishing has a lot of challenges," said John Pitts, Vice President, Marketing Director, Doubleday.

For years, Doubleday has been selling its books through retailers, but now "Amazon is as much as 25% of our sales. But, they've never shared any demographic information with us, so we’ve always been kind of shooting in the dark a little bit," he said.

While one digital revolution taketh away, another digital revolution giveth. Enter social media.

The embrace of Facebook in the publishing world, Pitts said, "has just been tremendous because, for obvious reasons, we can now not only engage with our audiences but also learn something about them, and actually target them in our advertising."

In promoting John Grisham's latest book, The Racketeer, Pitts and his team used Facebook as an avenue to excite the current fan base for the release, while reaching out to expand their audience.

With only 10 days of targeted advertising on the social media website, the team had to boost audience awareness and engagement for the thriller and increase Grisham's Facebook fan base, as well as reach Pitts' overall goal of driving the author to his expected number one spot on The New York Times bestseller list.


"Grisham writes a book a year, more or less," Pitts said. "Word of mouth and buzz are important in the book business."

At the beginning of the marketing process, bookstores are buying the book "on the basis of his track record, and then for consumers, once I’ve read it and I know a little bit about it, I can start talking about it on Facebook, and give away copies," Pitts said.

Pitts was giving away copies of the book and posting excerpts and reviews, promoting Grisham's appearances for about a month before the release. The Racketeer went on sale October 23, and Pitts began building buzz with current John Grisham Facebook fans using related posts and a photo contest in September.

Sponsored Stories and Page Post ads didn't begin until much closer to the release, 10 days before "the ad campaign started in earnest then," he said.

For a product launch, whether it is for a new book or a new software, computer, car or service, building buzz and gaining early testimonials and social proof is crucial. So, let's take a look at the steps Pitts took in his campaign to use social media marketing for this product launch …

Step #1. Build buzz steadily on fan page

In the days leading up to the release, Pitts posted a countdown clock to get fans excited for the release, and encourage them to pre-order books. The countdown clock was actually turned into an ad serving various targeted segments.

Aside from the countdown clock, Pitts was regularly:
  • Asking fans to send in pictures of themselves holding Grisham books

  • Posting those pictures, "I collected a whole bunch and they became the cover photo for the page," he said.

  • Posting reviews of The Racketeer, also turning reviews into cover photos

  • Promoting Grisham interviews and appearances

  • Posting Grisham interview videos

Pitts also released and posted a book trailer for The Racketeer.

"There are a whole lot of things that you can't really plan on … but as they come in, you’re re-posting those," Pitts said.

Step #2. Launch unique contest to energize fans

Some marketing opportunities are simply a matter of serendipity. For this campaign, Pitts stumbled upon a service called geocaching one day at a park near his office.

"I was sitting there reading and I saw two people come up, and there's a railing around the park, and they reached under a part of the railing and they pulled out this little capsule," he said.

He watched as they opened up the capsule, unraveled a piece of paper, wrote on it and then put everything back the way they’d found it.

Pitts went over to investigate after the group left the park, and found the geocaching logo. He contacted the company and "from there, I just thought it was a good fit," he said.

Geocaching is "kind of a high-tech treasure hunt," Pitts said.
The basic idea is to locate the hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. They are placed around the country by members of the geocaching website, and their locations from there are posted up on a log on the geocaching website.

Pitts believed this would be a perfect tie-in to the suspense-filled brand of John Grisham, and fans would be excited to participate. He launched this about a month before the book was released.

He sent 5,000 golden "Grishman Geocoins" to be placed in the geocaches across the United States specially created for The Racketeer, as a nod to the role gold plays in the novel, where characters "are actually hiding it because they don't want to be found with it," he said.

Those coins went out to the first 5,000 people who signed up to participate, who then hid and registered their locations for others to track down. All of the coins were enabled with GPS trackers so participants who found the coins could keep the game going, placing them in a new geocache location others could track down on the website.

Create an incentive to help the campaign go viral

He created a photo contest to revolve around the geocaching campaign that would involve Facebook fans. Those who found the bars could upload their picture with the

Grisham Geocoin they found onto Facebook for a chance to win a real gold bar.

"I asked them to post photos of themselves with the coin in really unusual places, and we created a little app for the Facebook page, where they entered the photos and entered the contest," Pitts said. "It created its own little buzz within that world. Then I drew them to Facebook to enter the most unusual photograph, and the best photograph was the one that won the gold bar."

He also asked Facebook fans to vote for their favorite photo even if they had not participated. The winning picture was of a young boy who was posed with the "Grisham Geocoin" as a character, Theodore Boon, from Grisham's series of young adult novels.

"It was just such a great picture, and it was just so charming. I awarded them the first prize … and the boy was ecstatic of course," he said.

There were 500 total entries, and even if they hadn't won the contest, many of those were used in a collage as the cover photo of Grisham's page.

Step #3. Launch Facebook advertising

"We front-loaded it to build momentum because what you're trying to do at that stage is get a lot of sales," Pitts said.

Pre-order sales by fans are especially critical in the week leading up to the release, he added.

"We want to get a lot of sales that first week so you jump right up to number one, which Grisham has routinely been doing for 20 years."

Launched 10 days before the release of the book, this step relying on Facebook advertising sought to boost audience awareness for the thriller and the Grisham brand by increasing the author's Facebook fan base, as well as growing his audience engagement.

For its Page Post campaign on Facebook to increase traffic and fans to Grisham's page, Pitts said the key was to keep it simple.

"We tried to put just The Racketeer and John Grisham, and John Grisham particularly large, in a whole variety of fonts and colors," with Grisham's headshot and the tag lines. From there, those few elements were mixed into a variety of combinations.

Advertising on Facebook is somewhat limited with regards to their pre-set format, and "there is not a lot of room for great creativity … you can't style the copy in any way. The line breaks are not always so great," Pitts said.

Facebook ads limit marketers to having a maximum amount of characters that can be used, so Pitts and his team focused on playing up Grisham’s name as well as some of his established tag lines, such as "America's Favorite Storyteller" and "The Suspense Never Rests."

Also, a nod to The Racketeer in particular, and playing on the gold plot point, the tag line, "999.9 pure suspense" was also used in the ads.

The main component of this aspect of the campaign is who those ads were being shown to. A variety of Page Post ads were targeted towards fans of:
  • Thriller novels

  • Similar and competing authors

  • Country music stars

The latter group was targeted after the realization by Doubleday's vendor many current Grisham fans were also engaged on those pages.

Sponsored Stories were also utilized, the objective of which was to expand Grisham's fan base by leveraging social connections, reaching out to friends of current fans.


"[Grisham has] to be number one or else I'm in trouble," Pitts said, adding The Racketeer did debut at number one on The New York Times bestseller list.

The most important objective was to increase sales, Pitts said. Presale activity and one day sales for the book (both hardcover and e-book) were up 23% over the prior novel, and he attributes this success to the Facebook activity.

For a brand that has been publishing legal thrillers "for a long time, that’s a real achievement to bump it up that much,” he added.
  • Over 72,000 new Facebook fans delivered at a "Like" rate of 47% from advertising

  • A 220% increase in reach over the length of the campaign

  • Clickthrough rates as high as 2.9% and cost-per-clicks as low as $0.14 for placed ads

  • A 402% boost in the "People Talking About This" (PTAT) engagement metric

"It's not the best acronym I've ever heard," Pitts joked.

To calculate PTAT, Facebook calculates the number of people who have created a story from a page post. Those stories include:
  • Sharing, liking or commenting on your post

  • Answering a question

  • Responding to an event

  • Claiming an offer

"We have lots of great content to work with," Pitts concluded about all of the efforts surrounding the release of The Racketeer. "As a result, our advertising metrics are so much better than they are in other industries, because we have interesting content to put out there."

Creative Samples

  1. Countdown clock

  2. Grisham books cover photo

  3. Reviews cover photo

  4. The Racketeer Book trailer post

  5. Geocaching contest details

  6. John Grisham geocoin

  7. Photo contest post

  8. Geocoin photo contest winner

  9. Geocoin cover photo

  10. Page Post campaign

  11. Sponsored Story



Compass Labs — Doubleday’s vendor for CLIQ Ads Manager

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