Voices of Social Media in Conversation at BEA

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The American Booksellers Association’s educational session “Being Social: Reaching Your Customers and Community” at BookExpo America 2013 welcomed four panelists, who discussed using social media to enhance the communications reach of independent stores.

Kristen Hess of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut, moderated the discussion among the panelists, who covered such topics as choosing a platform, finding your audience, crafting content, and managing the time investment of social media.

Amy Cox Williams, the director of product marketing at Ingram Content Group, works mainly with e-mail and print marketing on behalf of publishers.

Lynette Young, owner of Purple Stripe Productions, helps companies to develop marketing and social media strategies and spends much of her time on Google Plus. “I’m a huge fan of any social and digital platform that allows people to talk to each other,” said Young.

Andrew Fitzgerald, a senior partner manager at Twitter, works with authors and publishers to help high-profile users and organizations focus on generating Twitter content.

Amy Stephenson, the social media and events coordinator for The Booksmith in San Francisco, California, is the manager of seven e-mail addresses, five Twitter feeds, six Facebook pages, and three Tumblr blogs for the bookstore.

When planning social media content across several platforms, Stephenson strives to shake up the message. “I definitely do different messages for different platforms — I think it’s really important so it looks like you’re not a just a robot,” she said. “I really like to have different content and voices for each platform.”

Young acknowledged that when she is perusing social media sites, she may see the same message on all platforms — but it will be the one that’s worded properly or paired with the right picture that will catch her. It’s important to change up the content, she says, because “if you dump it the same way everywhere and you’ve missed the mark, you’ve missed it everywhere.”

With each platform having a very different audience with its own specific culture, it is important to look around before committing to one platform, said Stephenson. Make sure to choose the one that reaches your audience, and that you feel comfortable in using. “It really makes the difference between being a part of that culture versus sounding like you’re marketing to that culture,” she said.

Twitter is a real-time stream of information, and that makes it easy to experiment in order to discover what works, says Fitzgerald. “Because it’s real time, it gives you an opportunity to interact and engage with your customers without them necessarily being in the store at that very moment,” he said. As an example, he noted that booksellers might live Tweet an author event to share what’s happening in the store and to engage customers in the conversation.

By its nature e-mail guarantees an interaction, said Williams, but she recommended that booksellers work to use it for the right sorts of communication. “E-mail might be a good way to send an e-newsletter and have some kind of promotion, but that might not be the right message for Twitter or for Facebook,” said Williams. “You have to look at your medium and choose what message fits best.” Another important consideration is to integrate all forms of media so the customer can interact with you in the way they choose, she noted.

It’s also critically important to talk with an audience rather than talk at them, noted Hess. “If you just tell people what to read or tell people why they’re going to like this book, they don’t want to know about that,” she said. “What they want to know is why you liked that and why it might be good for them to read it.”

Stephenson related how she had made an effort to find out from the store’s social media followers what exactly it was that kept them tuned in to The Booksmith on Twitter. “You can just ask and get real, live responses that matter and that you can use from people who care about what you’re saying,” she said, noting that The Booksmith had discovered that its Twitter followers are interested in hearing about events, promotions, staff picks, and seeing store pictures.

When creating content, Stephenson also considers the “people who love us and who fetishize local independent bookstores, and what is happening in my day that is interesting and relevant to them,” citing such examples as a new shipment of books, an author doing a drop-in signing, or an interesting article about an author.

If looking to draw customer attention to an upcoming title, Stephenson recommends unleashing the excitement when the pub date is approaching, rather than when reading the galley: “The Internet has a memory of a goldfish. Do it the Monday before that book comes out,” she said. Young suggested writing about the book right away to capture the enthusiasm and keep the draft post on the back burner until the title in question publishes or it’s time to start preorders.

Enthusiasm for a galley can be a good indication that it’s time to connect with the author and publicist to get a jump on coordinating an event, said Hess. Fitzgerald encouraged booksellers to follow authors and publishers on all social media platforms, and to be sure to make a connection with any authors that are coming to town by Tweeting about them and suggesting that they re-Tweet about the store. Hess also suggested building cooperative relationships with authors’ publicists.

Young talked about the importance of coming up with a social media goal — be it to broaden the customer base or to bring in new authors — and executing the steps that lead up to achieving that goal. One of the advantages of social media is that there’s a wealth of performance information, noted Fitzgerald, so it can be helpful to work at increasing the number of followers or re-Tweets on Twitter.

To manage The Booksmith’s social media, Stephenson spends some time at the beginning of her shift to set up what will be posted that day on TweetDeck, and then checks in as needed throughout the day. Fitzgerald also suggested signing up for mobile notifications or text messages to stay appraised while out of the office or store. “There’s a learning curve and then once you hit your stride, it takes almost no time at all,” said Stephenson, but, she said, taking the time to get to know the audience can help with that learning curve.

Booksellers also have to recognize that social media is becoming part of the natural flow of conversation, noted Young. “Don’t think of it as this digital divide,” she said. “If I come up with a great piece of content that I need to share or talk about, if the people are in front of me, that’s who I’m going to tell. If the people are in my magic phone, that’s who I’m going to tell.”