Interview with Victor David Giron of Curbside Splendor Press
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Founded just a few years ago by former corporate-employee-turned-arts-administrator Victor David Giron, Curbside Splendor has quickly risen to become one of the premiere small presses in Chicago, with their releases now gaining national media attention and with their many popular live events being the talk of the community. I recently spoke with Victor over email on how social media plays a part in these successes, and how other small artistic groups can take advantage of such activities as well.
Like many small presses, Curbside essentially started from scratch when first opening, having no real connections yet to the traditional publishing industry. How did social media help you first get established with your audience?
It was huge. I can’t imagine not having done what we’ve accomplished thus far without it. When I first started using Facebook it was out of passing curiosity. Once I learned that I could connect with other writers and publishers its purpose changed for me. When I first had the idea to start publishing work on the Curbside website, and then further on books by other authors, the major sites that put out calls for submissions wouldn’t list Curbside as we had no history, and at the time it was nothing more than a vanity project (I started it to publish my first book Sophomoric Philosophy). So I had to go and build history by finding people to publish. And that’s what
Facebook allowed me to do. I not only started making ‘friends’, but actively got to know the people I was meeting and started to find those whose work I wanted to publish. I looked up authors that I was a fan of, like James Greer, and asked them to send work. I did all this through my personal page and subsequently through the Curbside fanpage once that started.
One of the things Curbside is particularly known for is the large amount of popular, enthusiastic live events you hold around Chicago every year. What are the things that best help you “convert” your online social media audiences into actual physical paying customers at these events?
Social media only works if you make it an engaging experience for the users. If all you do is post links and advertise you’ll quickly be lost in the large void of attention seekers. So we’ve tried to provide content that users react to, that they comment on and share along with ‘liking.’ The important number on FB business pages is not how many people ‘like’ a page, but how many people are ‘talking’ about it, which means how many people are actually engaging with it. We’ve been successful in driving that number up and maintaining it. It requires a lot of discipline though and a strategy aimed at providing consistent messaging. But if people are engaged, they’ll tend to pay attention when you put up messages you want them to read about events you’re throwing, and therefore the more likely it is they’ll come. But making the events successful goes beyond social media. We’ve been careful to come up with events that appeal to a diverse crowd, beyond just a core literary group. Thus the events we’ve had that have been successful are multi-faceted, combining literature with music with just plain old fun like karaoke, and drinking of course. In fact at our recent events I’d say the folks in attendance that you’d coin as ‘literary’ were in the minority.
Conversely, what are the aspects of social media that have turned out to be more of a burden for Curbside than a benefit? In a world where all companies are now expected to have a blog, Facebook group and Twitter account just as a minimum, do any of these feel more like “catch-up” than a legitimate help?
There’s new forms of social media sprouting up all the time that it’s a bit daunting to figure out what will be the next big ‘trend’ in the space and thus which to focus attention. Now there’s Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, etc. Though we have a good grasp on Facebook, there’s still a lot to learn and a lot that we can do to be even more engaging. Regarding the other sites, though, it feels like a burden to figure out how they can work for you especially with limited amount of time in the day, with all this still being a ‘passionate hobby’ for me and the others involved. Also, one of the activities on social media pages that draws engagement, especially for large companies, is doing promos or product giveaways. We’ve tried to do some of that, and it definitely results in large engagement, but as a small start-up company it can be a financial drain to do that regularly.
Given all the tentacles of Curbside’s operations, what rules do you have in place for maintaining brand consistency across all platforms? Do you have guidelines for your social media employees to help them “stay on message?”
One of the keys to our consistency is that we limit the number of people that work our pages. It’s pretty much me with the help of one of our junior editors at the present. And we communicate daily on what we’re posting and when. We’ve experimented with different kinds
of posts and have developed a feel to what people are most engaging with—what they are commenting on, what they’re sharing—and that has helped us fashion a strategy. So we don’t just post, we also monitor to see what the reactions are from users. We’ve also tried to incorporate a heavy degree of humor, which seems to help with whatever it is you’re doing.
Out of all your social media activities, which do you find are of particular benefit to small creative groups, versus large corporations? If you could recommend just one of these activities to other small arts companies, which would it be and why?
We’re still pretty comfortable with Facebook and it works for us, being a small arts-oriented business, and I know large corporations use it as well and it works for them, so if I had to choose one that would be it. But like I said before, the space is evolving and it’s important to try out the other options and learn to use them in order to see what works best, in terms of which best results in active customer engagement.
Interview by Jason Pettus, owner and executive director of Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.
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