Marketing Meetup Recap: Live at BookExpo 2019

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The latest Marketing Meetup hosted by the American Booksellers Association covered managing digital marketing campaigns and carrying them out successfully across newsletters, blogs, social media platforms, and websites, while at the same time maintaining a consistent store brand and ensuring that all the pieces tie in together seamlessly.

The May 30 Marketing Meetup, hosted by ABA live at BookExpo 2019 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, was titled “Carrying Your Digital Marketing Campaigns Across Multiple Platforms,” and featured guest speakers Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia; Alex Houston of Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books in Chicago, Illinois; and Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia. The PowerPoint from the session is available now on BookWeb.

Bookseller attendees at this year’s live Marketing Meetup especially enjoyed the event. “The live Marketing Meetup at BookExpo was the best event I attended this year,” said Cathy Fiebach of Main Point Books in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The booksellers on the panel were social media experts, happy to provide both large ideas and small details about how they were creating successful content. I look forward to partaking in more marketing meetups all year.”

Panelist Geddis kicked off the Meetup by explaining how Avid took its social media to the next level after a staff member came up with some ideas for how to expand it last year; now, Geddis said, the store has a marketing team composed of three staff members, including herself, all of whom work on marketing part-time in addition to their other responsibilities.

Recently, Geddis added, the store began using Loomly, a social media calendar similar to Hootsuite; while it has the ability to set schedules for six different social media platforms, Avid uses it primarily for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Occasionally, Geddis said, she’ll also add a post to her LinkedIn if it’s business-related. Avid also uses Basecamp, a tool similar to Slack, to bring the rest of the staff’s voices into the marketing process.

Loomly allows the store to have a very loose social media calendar, Geddis said. While the store uses it to keep track of what they’ll post each day of the week, it’s also a helpful tool for the store’s photography, as it gives her an idea of what she should take photos of for the week. “It’s a good way to make sure that you’re spreading different messages, that you’re focusing on different parts of your business,” Geddis said. “It’s also really good for event promotion because we can [schedule posts for] four weeks out, two weeks out, one week out, and one day before.”

“We use those three main platforms for virtually everything we post,” said Geddis. “I’m not a huge fan of that, but in the interest of time, that’s just kind of what we have to do. If we had a full-time marketer, we would post different content on each of those things and only overlap sometimes.”

While the content of each post remains the same, Avid tries to tweak each post to better appeal to the audience of each platform. Their Facebook followers, Geddis said, generally skew older and like to read longer content, so they adjust accordingly. However, on Twitter they tend to keep posts short.

As far as tagging is concerned, Avid combines popular book-related tags, such as #bookstagram, with brand-specific tags, such as #petsofavid. Geddis said it’s also worth looking up which tags have been marked as spam; posts that included #books, she added, may be hidden from Instagram’s algorithm because the tag has been marked as spam.

When it comes to content, said Geddis, “My store is known for being social justice-oriented. We don’t shy away from making political statements, as long as we are endorsing human rights, the right of anybody to walk in our store and feel welcome, so for posts that have to do with that I write them as the store owner...I also have the clearest vision of what our store’s mission is and what I feel comfortable with the brand representing.”

Geddis shared that recently, she responded in an Instagram post to a one-star review of Avid that was based on a Black Lives Matter poster featured on the store’s window. “The review said, ‘Hey, note to business: Don’t ever put your political statements on your store,’” said Geddis. “I put a picture of [the poster] and made a statement on behalf of the store that is why we’re political about this issue. This is not us preaching our politics to you, this is us saying every human deserves the same amount of dignity and we have no shame in preaching that, so if that isn’t your jam then we’re probably not the right store for you. And it got tons of likes and engagement.”

Houston shared that the Seminary Co-op Bookstores brand can get complicated, as the Seminary Co-op is a more academically-minded bookstore, while 57th Street Books is a general-interest bookstore that has an emphasis on children’s books.

While the two bookstores are referred to together as the Seminar Co-op Bookstores, Houston said that they are still working on how to talk about them separately. And as the stores have grown, it has presented the challenge of “standardizing, articulating, and making sure that we continue the voice that we started across our platforms with a growing team,” said Houston.

One of the ways the brand distinguishes each store is by using different fonts, one austere and one playful, Houston said. The Co-op brand is more serious with an unapologetic emphasis on scholarly work, while 57th Street Books has a world-class children’s section and is, she added, the only general-interest bookstore in an underserved part of Chicago. Said Houston, “In messaging, we invite readers of all ages to consider our space one of joy and discovery.”

Given those two definitions, Houston said, the Seminary Co-op Bookstores put together a style guide for staff working on the stores’ social media platforms. For example, she said, this is a guideline for creating Instagram posts: “Of all three platforms, Instagram is, in many ways, the most casual, portraying the lives of both stores in a spirit of openness, spontaneity, and above all, curiosity...our main goal on Instagram is to highlight and sell the experience of our stores, less the stores or books in and of themselves.”

To do all of this, the Seminary Co-op Bookstores has a marketing leadership team, Houston said. She works with two managers and a coordinator, but the team also coordinates with store managers, buyers, and the director to make sure the marketing is in line with the frontlist buying. The marketing manager, she added, writes copy in addition to supplying guidance for posts as needed. All responsibilities are delegated through a task sheet on Google Sheets, she noted, which helps to quantify the amount of time needed each week to complete each task.

Houston said the team has also explored different posting and scheduling technologies by meeting with other cultural institutions in the area to find out what works for them. The Seminary Co-op Bookstores now use AirTable, which helps to organize an editorial calendar; the service hosts a broad template for each week for each store, and its contents are discussed at weekly leadership meetings. Houston said that the store also uses Slack to communicate as a team, and HootSuite to schedule posts.

In addition to social media marketing, the Seminary Co-op Bookstores also have a newsletter, which publicizes certain events and relevant upcoming titles, and a podcast, which is promoted on social media. “Between our newsletter, social media, linking to our Facebook RSVP page, and our website, we have four or five platforms for promotion for every event, which is a really nice thing to be able to tell publishers,” said Houston.

Justice said that at Fountain Bookstore, the store divides marketing responsibilities on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter according to interest and passion among a small team of booksellers. She added that the store uses Edelweiss to manage review-based content and keep it all in one place and Slack to easily communicate with all staff members. Fountain also uses Buffer to schedule its posts, which, she said, is similar to Hootsuite and Loomly.

Additionally, Fountain works with Matchbook Marketing, a company dedicated to providing booksellers with promotional services across print and digital media. With Matchbook, Fountain Bookstore produces a print newsletter that is very popular with customers, Justice said.

“Our newsletter is also available in a digital format in a little flipbook,” Justice said. “I’m a firm believer in the paper newsletter. Our customers really, really love it, but for those who can’t be with us or are not near us, digital works great for them. About every two months, we also send an industry-only newsletter to sales reps and marketing folks and anybody in the industry who requests it.”

The store also has a style sheet that specifies aspects of the store’s overall marketing, such as font. “We have this font called Veteran Typewriter,” Justice said, “it’s a nod to our past — the bookstore is 40 years old and we’re in a historic district — and it’s also a nod to the bookstore’s tagline: ‘The quirkiest, heartwarmingest bookstore on the planet.’ Everything is in this tone.”

Justice said that her store has two distinct brands: one that’s customer-facing and one that’s industry-facing. To customers, Justice said the store is what its tagline touts it to be — the cute, fun bookstore. To the industry, she said, “we’re kind of crazy, [but] bring us your weirdest ideas and we get the job done. The evidence is here.”

Fountain also markets its events in places beyond the typical social media platforms; Justice recommended Meetup, a website people use to make friends in their city, as well as Eventbrite, which promotes events listed with its service to users in the area. Eventbrite is also helpful because it can give booksellers and idea of who will actually be attending events, Justice added.

Fountain has a variety of ways the store markets itself to its customers, but Justice noted that consistency in both imagery and messaging is key. To help, she recommended finding “mentors” online. “Define mentors and people that you aspire to that you can model yourself after, to say, That’s the bookseller that I want to be, this is what I want the personality of the bookstore to be,” she said.

Justice said her own role models are Barbara Corcoran, Oprah Winfrey, Anthony Bourdain, and Ru Paul. “In between these four people,” she said, “that’s my best self. That’s the bookstore’s best day.”

Visit to sign up for an upcoming Marketing Meetup, which are held at 11:00 a.m. on Zoom two Thursdays a month, or to learn more about previous sessions.

Marketing Meetups are part of the organization’s aim of delivering educational opportunities to member bookstores; visit BookWeb’s Education Resources section for even more educational content.