Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Bookstores are being taught about Social Media

BEA Panel: Social Media and the Independent Bookseller

"People want to do business with people, not companies," said Ann Kingman, district sales manager for Random House, a member of the BEA panel about Social Media and the Independent Bookseller. "I want to know who I'm talking to." Kingman twitters to communicate with booksellers, about 20% of whom also subscribe to her blog. (Just last week, Kingman posted an informative blog, "How I follow 1,700 people a day on Twitter in only 20 minutes a day.")
Heather Gain, marketing manager at Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., uses Twitter to prepare for buying appointments by "talking" with booksellers, and she tweets about events at the store and sends people to the Harvard Bookstore's Web site. But, she said, she also tweeted recently about a muffin she bought from a local bakery and received a flood of responses saying, "I want your muffin."
On that note, moderator Len Vlahos, ABA chief program officer (and now ABA's COO), observed that social networking is "not about marketing but about building relationships. Your professional and personal lives blur."
Stephanie Anderson, manager of WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a Shelf Awareness columnist, said she, too, uses Twitter to get recommendations from booksellers. For example, while recently putting together an order for Europa Editions, she tweeted bookstores to find out some good Europa titles and wound up placing an order for 10-15 books. She also "gets a read on events" through the store's Facebook invitations.
Anderson has both a personal and store account on Twitter. When she writes in the persona of the store, she said she does not talk about what she had for lunch, for instance, but as "Bookavore," she does.
Vlahos said that a lot of people wonder how booksellers can do so much social networking and keep up with their work. The answer is finding a way to weave social networking into "the fabric of your day." Anderson pointed out that people had the same worry when e-mail became widespread. "You just find time for e-mail; it's the same with Twitter." Anderson communicates with roughly 100 booksellers each day, and maintains "a minibuzz all day, just like the one I get at the Winter Institute," she said.
Vlahos also pointed out what a powerful tool Twitter can be in spreading information, citing the #amazonfail headlines-maker (the Amazon controversy surrounding the disappearance of gay-interest books from the online bookseller's rankings) as well as the groundswell of support for #buyindieday, which promoted the idea of buying at an independent business. (And of course the BEA tweetup, which began on Twitter.)
Audience members also chimed in. When one bookseller asked if Anderson was able to do her work at WORD while maintaining her Twitter pace, WORD owner Christine Onorati said emphatically, "Yes!" She also said that Anderson had used social networking to start a basketball league at the court across the street from WORD Bookstore (with league names such as the Virginia Wolves, Purple Pros, the Elements of Style and Mrs. Ballaway), and, giving her own plug for the powers of social networking, Onorati said she received 80 resumes in response to a posting about an open position at the store.
However, Vlahos acknowledged the need to manage productivity, and Kingman suggested that in larger stores it might be necessary to "come together and discuss a strategy" for social networking. Kingman also emphasized that "blogs have staying power," and "give you Googlejuice," meaning that blogs get picked up by Google's search engine (Facebook and Twitter entries do not).
Someone else in the audience asked about online book clubs. Vlahos suggested, which is still independently owned. Both Shelfari and Library Thing are now owned by Amazon.
Another bookseller cajoled Vlahos: "Len, whatever happened to Second Life?" Vlahos chuckled and explained to the audience that this was an avatar universe set up by the ABA some years ago. But Vlahos also took the opportunity to make a larger point, "retweeting" a quotation from NACS's Mark Nelson at an earlier panel, attributed to Wayne Gretzky: "You have to skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is." Last year, it looked like My Space was gaining ground; this year it's Facebook and Twitter. Who knows what the future may bring? Whatever the future holds, Vlahos suggested, booksellers have to be there.--Jennifer M. Brown


Valerie Ipson said...

Interesting post!

Rebecca Talley said...

I don't think I know how to use Twitter effectively. How can I learn?