Ten tips on using social media for independent booksellers
Following independent day at the Booksellers Association Book Industry Conference 2010, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on using social media — this isn’t about selling eBooks, but about reaching customers and building relationships with customers on the Web.
- Be yourself. People have relationships with people and not shops. Create profiles that are true pictures of what you do and who you are. The more open you are about your interests and passions the more people will connect with you. When people visit the shop, the most important thing in it is you or your colleagues. Most bookselling is about people and books are social. The more open you are about what you do, the more people will join up and stay with you. Don’t take yourself or what you do too seriously. Lightness of touch is everything. Remember that Corporates cannot be human, they’re designed from the bottom up to avoid it.
- There’s no one stop solution. Social media is about using a range of tools and not one tool. Find what works for you. That might be Facebook (which is great for events, for interest groups, for building networks), it might be Twitter which is about nattering, it might be YouTube: videos can be powerful ways of reaching people. Use all of them and find out what suits. Don’t forget Flickr — upload snaps of everything you do.
- We live in a visual world. Don’t forget to use imagery in all you do. How your shop looks, what customers look like, showing events in pictures is an important part of sharing and belonging to something. You’re building a community and communities have to see each other. Take lots of pictures and even film your events. It’s easy. Grab images of authors, books, signings, audiences, places (especially local interest spots). Show new displays, new décor, even create visual backstories. Why not create a movie of how you pull a new event together from start to finish? And use video spoofs, too. Here’s one we did riffing on Amazon’s coverage of its distribution centres. Oh, and remember lo-fi triumphs over hi-fi.
- Join everything up. Link your online efforts together. For example, if you have a shop blog (and you should) feed it to Twitter (WordPress blogs have scores of plug-ins to do this). Link Twitter to Facebook, and your blog will feed from Twitter to Facebook. Use links in your tweets to take people to the right place on the Web — that might be the page to book an event, to buy a book, to discover more about a genre, or your specialism(s), or other services you offer. Keep your expertise and your shop centre stage. Make that the hub. Link Flickr to Facebook, too. Show people what you do.
- Find the right tools. Don’t tweet from Twitter.com — use a third party tool like TweetDeck (there are scores of tools to make tweets). You can even link Facebook, MySpace and Twitter together with some tools, so one status change can reach all your profiles in one go. Use all the features of each tool, create groups, lists, use Notes and Events in Facebook. Download automatic upload tools for Flickr. You can email photos to your Facebook profile.
- Think of having more than one profile. You might have a profile for children’s events, one for local history, one for adult events, and so on. You can have fun with different personas, or use them to deal with different customers. Remember that social media has a personality, too. Audiences behave differently with each form of social media as well, so use the right approach. Twitter is conversational and chatty. Facebook is more considered.
- Ask questions. Social media is about conversations, it’s not about pushing information out, but drawing information in. So ask open questions and get people involved in your bookselling life. Ask about what people like, what they want for Christmas, what events they’d like to see. The more you know about your customers, the more you can make your business relevant to them. Let your customers feel they have a stake in your shop, that they belong and that they contribute. Thank people for their feedback. Give presents.
- Run competitions and surveys. Use social media to run a competition and have regular giveaways. But folk have to come into the shop to pick up their prizes. Let every respondent to a competition have a coupon code to give them an extra discount when buying their next book in the shop. Coupon codes are great ways to get people buying. There are some great survey tools, too. You can use these creatively to find out more about what people want. Check out Survey Monkey.
- No hard selling but be clear that you’re there to make a living. Run a recommendations surgery online. Hold an advice session every Friday on Twitter. Work with your specialisms and niches. Talk about what you know. Talk regularly, but not too frequently. Play to your strengths. For many people it’s about having company and sharing experiences. Be interested in other people’s interests and work with them to give them what they want. Social media is all about the conversation and building relationships that can be developed in the physical world. Just like everyone else in the world, you have to make a living, and the best way to do that is to be there for people when they need you and to play a part in their lives (bookshops matter to communities and communities don’t want to lose their bookshops — and you can ask for support). You’re not always flogging your wares, but you want to let people know, subtly, that you’re not a charity shop and you’re there to run a business. But the most important thing is to have some fun along the way. I don’t know any successful booksellers who have no sense of humour. Life’s too short. Also, remember that no one buys from Amazon because they’re a good laugh or nice to be with. We can’t compete on price and discount as it leads to ruin. So let’s compete on being human.
- Remember, like the real world, it’s about putting in the hours. Don’t despair if people don’t join you in floods. Keep testing out ideas and remember that everyone gets bored at some point, so mix things up. Change tone or change tack. Talk about the stock room. Talk about slow days and about busy days. Be positive. Everyone buys into optimism and enthusiasm. Keep going. Get excited about things. Use humour in what you write. Above all, find the right time to reach people. Talk to them when they’re there. Mornings, lunch times, and evenings. It all takes time, but it really is worth it.
I could go on, but this is a start. Remember that the Web is passive, and social media makes it active. If you want to ask me about advice on how to get your independent bookstore working online, just ask. The answers are free and I’ll do my best to help you. We’re in this together for the future. Oh, and remember that using social media and concentrating on your specialties gives you a global audience, so make sure you have a robust ecommerce engine on your Web site. Did you find this helpful? Leave me a comment.