New Virtual Roundtable Gives Booksellers Chance to Trade Marketing Tips

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    Booksellers across the country are sharing tips on a wide array of online marketing strategies in a new bimonthly videoconference series hosted by the American Booksellers Association’s IndieCommerce team.

    Facebook Live video streaming, Google Analytics, and promoting Indies First with customized author links were among the topics discussed in the third “online marketing roundtable,” held on Thursday, November 16.

    “It’s really helpful. I got an idea from my very first discussion. Now we’re going to implement it,” said Carol Spurling, owner of BookPeople of Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, who has participated in all three events.

    Getting booksellers to share ideas for effective strategies was why IndieCommerce Director Phil Davies started the live videoconference series. E-mail, social media, blogging, and advertising are some of the subjects that have been covered so far.

    While ABA also offers members access to webinars on a wide variety of topics, Davies said he wanted to try a new approach that got booksellers talking directly with each other.

    “We try to do something different than the webinar that’s much more interactive,” Davies said. “You don’t have to be an IndieCommerce or IndieLite user. As long as you’re interested in marketing for your website, that’s all we care about.”

    The 30-minute marketing roundtables are held at 11:00 a.m. EST on two Thursdays a month. The next roundtables are on November 30 and December 14. ABA member stores can send an invite request to Phil@bookweb.org. The invite will include a link to download Zoom videoconferencing software, which is also available as a smartphone app.

    Suzanne Droppert of Liberty Bay Books shares details about making Facebook Live videos.
    Suzanne Droppert of Liberty Bay Books shares details about making Facebook Live videos.

    There is room for eight to 10 participants at each event. Davies said that if demand exceeds availability, he may offer additional dates.

    In order to participate, booksellers need an Internet connection and either a computer or smartphone with a camera, microphone, and headphones or speaker. As people join the Zoom conversation, they appear in a small box alongside other participants. “It looks like The Brady Bunch,” Davies said.

    The idea Spurling received at the first roundtable was asking local authors to promote Indies First on Small Business Saturday on their own social media. Then, at the next roundtable, Spurling said Davies taught her how to create customized URLs to track the response to the authors’ tweets.

    “We gave them customized links to share, so I’ll be able to measure what kind of traffic we get online,” Spurling said. “I won’t be able to track how many people that brings into the store, but we’ll be able to tell if those authors’ book sales get bumped up.”

    Spurling said it’s a strategy she might not have employed had she not attended the videoconferences. “I would definitely recommend people try it out because I’ve gotten an idea every time for something that would be good,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing you get when you go to Winter Institute and talk to people.”

    Emily Stavrou Schaefer, promotions coordinator for Schuler Books & Music in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has attended all three events and said the 30 minutes twice a month have been worth her time. “I encourage people to at least try it once, to pop in and visit and see if it works for them,” she said. “It’s a small commitment and perhaps will garner big returns.”

    Schaefer said her own understanding of Google Analytics has increased because of the roundtable conversations. “There’s been information that’s come up that seems so simple, but we’d overlooked it,” she said. “It’s been great to get feedback and to get helpful tips and tricks to increase traffic on our site.”

    The small group size makes it possible for Davies to interact with each bookseller, Schaefer noted. “What I like about it is it’s giving personalized advice for digital marketing efforts for each store,” she said. “I like the accessibility to Phil and his expertise and his team. I really like the opportunity for bouncing ideas off other booksellers who might have done something similar.”

    Participants in the virtual roundtable review an online marketing article shared by the ABA's Phil Davies.
    Participants in the virtual roundtable review an online marketing article shared by the ABA's Phil Davies.

    She also likes how Davies includes a link to an article related to online marketing along with the videoconference call reminder. “I don’t have time to scour for great articles,” she said. “So far, he has been very diligent in providing us with great resources.”

    Suzanne Droppert, owner of Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo and Bremerton, Washington, dropped into the videoconference for the first time last Thursday to get social media tips.

    “I feel that we do OK on social media, but I love to learn from my fellow indie bookstores because I think some of them are great at it,” Droppert said. “I hope [Davies] continues doing this because we need all the help we can get keeping up with everything. We wear a lot of hats, especially in a small store.”

    Droppert shared her own experience using Facebook Live video streaming, which she did in partnership with HarperCollins Publishers. Liberty Bay Books is one of 50 stores the publisher is highlighting in a series of Facebook Live videos this year.

    The experience of creating the 13-minute video, which generated 1,800 views, emboldened Droppert to make more videos. “Everybody is on their phone or computer and it’s a great way to reach more people,” she said.

    While Droppert said she enjoyed sharing her experiences with video, she also gathered new ideas for her own store.

    “I liked Carol’s idea, and I’m going to see if I can get some of my authors who are coming for Indies First to tag it on their page,” she said. “My whole idea is to learn something and take it back to help my little stores do better and get more business.”