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Q&A with Onalee Smith, Marketing Assistant for the ‘Divergent’ book series at HarperCollins

If you’re an avid reader, or just someone who’s watched TV in the past few weeks, you’re probably familiar with the Divergent book series and the new movie based on the book that launches March 21. We recently had the opportunity to meet and chat with HarperCollins Marketing Assistant Onalee Smith about her experiences serving as a community manager for the book series. Here she shares what it is like to be responsible for keeping fans of the book engaged online, how she promotes the Divergent movie to readers, and the challenges she faces as community manager.

Q: Tell us a bit about your background, and how you ended up in your position of marketing assistant at HarperCollins!
A: I started at HarperCollins as an administrative assistant in the Marketing department and after about a year, I was promoted to my current role as marketing assistant. Before moving to New York, I studied editing, writing and media at Florida State University and had a part-time job marketing university events. I always knew that I wanted to work in publishing, but I surprised myself with how much I loved the marketing side of things, as opposed to working in editorial.

Onalee Smith, Marketing Assistant at HarperCollins

Onalee Smith, Marketing Assistant at HarperCollins

Q: You serve as the community manager for the Divergent series. Could you tell us about what an average day looks like as community manager?
A:  A large chunk of my day is spent crafting and posting our messages and scheduling items for our peak hours of engagement. But beyond just posting, I also try to respond to any comments or direct messages and answer any questions. I also spend a lot of time tracking #Divergent on different platforms looking for fan art or fan conversations about the series.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a community manager? Least favorite?
A:  My favorite thing is feeling responsible for such a passionate community of fans, especially in the YA world. The fans just feel things so deeply and react in such dynamic ways. My least favorite thing is that I never feel like I’m done with work as I’m always tuned in to the social channels. I start to feel like my job never ends. 

Q:  What has been the most memorable thing that has happened during your time as community manager?
A:  Allegiant, the conclusion to the series, going on sale and the fan reactions to that story. Fans of the series were very divided about the ending to the book. Whether positive or negative, fan reactions were very intense and it took some strategic posting and wording to try to ameliorate the angrier fans. I also had to be vigilant in deleting or responding to anything that was a major spoiler.

Aside from that, I recently was able to attend the Divergent screening and red carpet in Chicago, which was amazing. The red carpet was lined with fans of the book who were already very familiar with the community, and I loved getting to have a rare face-to-face interaction with the readers and dedicated fans. Working on a social platform, sometimes you forget that there are real screaming teens beyond the screen.

Theo James

Meeting Divergent movie star Theo James on the red carpet and screening in Chicago.

Q: What challenges have you faced with the Divergent community transitioning its focus from the book to the new movie? Has it caused you to change your strategy?
A:  Yes, absolutely. With all of the excitement building for the movie, I wanted to make sure that our channels were supporting those efforts, but still speaking directly to our fans about our books. My strategy has been to share movie news directly from the movie channels and pick up their language but add an editorialized version of it to use our page’s voice. I also try to create book-related and author-related content as much as possible to ensure we don’t lose our book branding in the midst of all the movie-related content.

Q: What tactics do you use to keep Divergent’s loyal fan base engaged?

  • Post consistently, at least once per day
  • Be timely and share breaking news as soon as it’s available, be the “first on the scene”
  • Share exclusive, original content whenever possible
  • Actively engage with the audience through reblogging, sharing, commenting, liking, etc.
  • Maintain a distinct voice. For this fan base, I strive to find a balance between being the official publisher and sharing the same rabid fan enthusiasm.
  • Engage in conversations that fans are already having, become a part of existing moments as opposed to always creating your own moments.

Q: What is your best advice for managing a large and strong community?
A: Develop a unique voice and remain true to your audience. Brand managing can always toe the line between sounding too corporate or not sounding “official” enough. If you can find the right balance in content while maintaining a distinct voice, fans will want to keep engaging with the community.

Tags : social media

About Brittney Lane

Brittney Lane is a writer for the Cision Blog. She is also a reporting specialist in Cision’s Managed Services department and founder of Learn It Lab, a blog about learning new skills. When she isn’t writing, Brittney enjoys traveling, going to concerts and eating bagel sandwiches. You can find Brittney on Twitter at @BrittneyLane.

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