Social Media: Make it Personal

[This is the second in a series of posts about social media and bookselling. The original post, about the reasons indie retailers need to engage with their customers online and how to begin, is here, and the third post, about the role of reputation in social media, is here.]

“It’s not personal, it’s business.” – Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), You’ve Got Mail

You've Got Mail

I happened to catch part of You’ve Got Mail the other day, and I was struck the contrasting attitude to business reflected in the two protagonists, corporate bookseller Joe Fox and feisty indie bookseller Kathleen Kelly. Naturally, I began to wonder what their views on social media would have been.

The crucial thing to understand about social media is the thing that prevents many people engaging in the first place: it’s personal. Some people consider blogs and social media to be all ego and self-aggrandizement and full of irrelevant personal detail. Social media appears to run counter to what colleges have taught generations of students: be professional, be impartial, leave your home life at the door — exactly the attitudes Joe Fox represents. What traditional business doesn’t understand is that it’s that personal connection that makes social media attractive to a growing number of people. We’re sick of slick, professional marketing that hammers its message relentlessly. We don’t trust it anymore.

In the offline world, we prefer to get our advice from friends, we call around if we need a plumber, a chimney sweep, or a carpenter. “Who installed your water heater?” “Were they good?” We can find testimonials on manufacturer’s websites and “real customers” are featured in ads on TV all the time, but we trust the advice of our friends over all the slick, focus-grouped advertising money can buy. It’s the same with book bloggers and booksellers. People come into your stores to talk to you about what’s new and what’s good — they want to talk with the Kathleen Kelly’s of the world.  Similarly, people return to blogs they like because those bloggers share something of their lives with their readers; their reviews and opinions take on more weight because the blogger has kids that interrupt her reading, just like you, or lost a whole shelf of favorite books when his pipes burst.  People can get more emotionally invested in the  connection when the blogger is also on Twitter/Facebook/Friendfeed/any-other-social-network and shares some of their daily travails and joys in real time.

Kathleen Kelly might have had an old-fashioned children’s bookstore, but she was clearly embracing new technology. If they remade Who’s Got Mail today, I’m sure Kathleen Kelly would have a kid-lit blog.

“What’s so wrong with being personal anyway?” – Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), You’ve Got Mail

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