Social Media

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Without meaning to, retailers spend a lot of time telling their customers to go elsewhere. This is an old problem, broadly excused/justified by the “can’t please everybody” manta. Recently, I’ve realized that technology is giving us new ways to be rude to potential customers. Last year I bought an iPhone; so I’m now one of those people who checks email quickly while I’m walking somewhere, am sitting stuck in traffic or while waiting for another family member to finish their transaction in a store. (If this is making you feel smug and superior, stop—there are many people who use their smart phone to multitask like this — more every day — and we’re all potential customers.)

eat read tweetWhat I notice through this iPhone’s iview of the world is that every time I come within range of a wireless router I see it on my phone. A window pops up to tell me the name of the wireless network and whether it’s open or locked. Essentially, every one of these windows is a popup ad for your store, an opportunity to get me inside your doors or create a positive impression for your business. If the window says “XYZ Store” and has the open network symbol, I have a good impression of that store planted in my mind or maybe I remember I wanted to buy something and go inside. If the network is locked, I get a negative impression of that store because I feel like this locked network message is essentially telling me to go away, and nobody likes to be told to go away. It feels like you don’t want my business. I know that’s not the intention, but nobody likes to be told to go away. I’m constantly multitasking through my phone (again, like so many of us these days) so I’m constantly seeing these go away messages from stores, and through repetition they make an impression and are making me less inclined to shop at some places.

Think about it this way: if you spend good money on branding and PR intended to build a positive impression of your business, but potential customers are being told to go away every time they walk by the store, you’re throwing your money away.

Another way we create poor impressions in the eyes of our customers is online, through an infrequently updated or slap-dash online presence. A MySpace site where the only new content is the random wall postings of teenagers suggest the store doesn’t care about the impression it creates, and makes you wonder what other corners it’s cutting? A Facebook site that hasn’t been updated in over a year, might make you wonder if the store is in trouble – anyone can find 3 minutes to update Facebook once a week. Opening hours that turn out to be inaccurate when you try to find the store are the kiss of death. A map or address info that is incorrect makes the store hard to find for people using their phones as a GPS, and tells them you really don’t care about the customer.

There are so many small things that create a bad impression and are so easily fixed that not to do so looks like complete laziness and indifference to the customer.

The physical environment of a store isn’t immune to turning off customers, too. Think about all those No signs: “No Cell Phones,” “No Food,” “No Unaccompanied Children” or “No Dogs Allowed.” We don’t like to be told no. We might not have a dog, be eating any food or be inclined to let our children out of our sight, but the sight of all those negative messages makes a bad impression.

With the holiday season coming up, take a few minutes to think about what your store’s layout, your wireless network (or lack thereof), and your online information says about your business. In a tight economy, nobody can afford to be seen as unfriendly towards families, dogs, online shoppers or anybody with a phone. If you’re sending out signals that these customers aren’t welcome, you aren’t going to have many customers left.

A few ideas how booksellers can combat negative messages:

  • If you have a wireless network that you cannot or prefer not to open for public use, make sure it does not have your business name on it.
  • If you can open your wireless network, do so, and use the network name to your advantage. Consider a message like: “Fresh coffee inside,” “We’re Dog Friendly,” “[bestseller of the day] Now Available Inside,” or  “Eat, Read, Tweet.” The network probably doesn’t extend much past the sidewalk in front of your store, so your business name is probably unnecessary.
  • If you don’t have a wireless network, invest in one. It’ll build goodwill and encourage people to linger longer in your store.
  • If you install or open your wireless, let people know. It’s one more service to the community, and  creates a positive impression, even among those who’ll never use it.
  • Take out your own phone (or an employee’s) and walk around your store. Any black spots? Move the router until you have optimum coverage.
  • Look at your Facebook, Indiebound or MySpace profiles. Make sure the store address, opening hours, and any other basic info is correct. Make sure there is an inviting, recent store photo.
  • If you have given up on Facebook, your blog or any other social network, add that fact to the page. Say you’re no longer updating it, and link to your store website. Customers who want to do business shouldn’t have to guess or search to find this info.
  • Look at all your signage. Does ‘no’ predominate? If so, rewrite everything in more positive terms. “No Cell Phones” becomes “For the comfort of those reading, please take all calls outside.” “No Food” becomes “Sticky fingers and books don’t mix. Please keep all food in the café/outside.” “No Dogs” becomes “Working dogs only.”
  • indieboundappExcessive rules and instructions make your store feel more like a school or institution, and most of us chaffed under those conditions as teenagers. Don’t evoke those feelings in your customers.
  • Download the Indiebound app (or ask a friend/employee with an iPhone to do so) and look at your store’s info. Thumb the address to bring up the map to your store. Is it correct? If not, correct the address. Make sure you know that any directions to your store posted online are correct and updated.
  • Not on Indiebound/Facebook/online? Most other bookstores are. You look out of touch and less professional in comparison.

The holidays are when many customers enter your store for the first time, or use your website for online ordering/information gathering. First impressions count, so take a few minutes to make sure your store and online presence creates the best first impression.

[This is the last in a series of posts about social media and bookselling — at least for the time being. You can read the original post, about the reasons indie retailers need to engage with their customers online and how to begin, here and second, about how social media needs to be personal and not corporate spin, here.]

Your personal and professional success is tied to your reputation. We may not realize it, but we live in a reputation economy. We may have qualifications and exams and grades and all the statistics and data you could ever want, but reputation trumps everything — that’s why we ask for (and call) references before hiring anyone.  Social media builds reputation (for good or ill). In fact, social media can enhance your reputation in ways it wasn’t possible to before.

You might be a book buyer at a medium-sized store in a moderate-size city. You sales reps might know you have an uncanny gift to pick the season’s great reads, your regulars might have a sense that they always find good books on display in your store, and your co-workers might think highly of your opinion, but while that’s a good reputation, it’s a very localized reputation, with very localized rewards.

No bullIn another scenario, you might buy books for your store, write a weekly column on great new books for the store’s email newsletter, post it on your store or personal blog, tweet about it, link to it on your (or your store’s Facebook page), but that would only be half the story. In this scenario, what you’ve been doing up to this point is broadcasting. Yes, your reviews and opinions are being seen by more people than in the first example, but they have no more weight than all the other reviews and opinions out there. You might be using some of the tools of social media, but you haven’t been using it to be social. This is broadcast, the old way of doing business, the media part of social media.

The social part starts when you enter into conversations sparked by your broadcasts. That’s why blogs have comments (if you turn them on). That’s why people get on Facebook or use Twitter. If you’re not exchanging opinions with people through these electronic forums, you’re not being social.

Social media means that at each step, you have the opportunity to enter into conversations with people interested in the books you’re recommending. This is no different to the conversations you might have in your store with customers, except that these are public conversations, taking place on Twitter, in blog comments or wall-to-wall on Facebook and thus they have the potential to influence far more people than you could before. Now, assuming your store has ecommerce, your recommendations will have the potential to bring sales to your store from outside your area.

Taking it one step further, if you regularly livetweet your events, you now have an additional reason for publicists to send their A-list authors to your store: your ability to inform and influence more than just the customers who walk through your doors. Assuming you are proactive in friending local people on Facebook, following locals on Twitter, and commenting on blogs you admire (both book- and locally focused — nobody likes a monomaniac, which is why this is my last social media post for a while) you’ll be introducing yourself and your store to new potential customers. Significantly, many of these local customers will be people who were exposed to your previous advertising and branding (your physical store and any old-media advertising/outreach you do locally) and were not converted.

When you think about it, you’re not necessarily having to write more than you already did to recommend books to your customers. You can take the same newsletter reviews, the same staff reviews you now write on bookmarks in the store, the same event copy you prepare for the event listings in your local paper, and use the tools of social media to get that writing in front of more people than before — leveraging benefiting from the ease of interaction and retransmission of info online to generate new conversations about those books/events with new customers.downout

So get online and enhance your reputation (and/or your store’s reputation) and bring in some extra sales.

Cory Doctorow did a lot to spread the idea of the reputation economy with his debut novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. If you could never, not ever, read a business book, you should check out Down and Out for the wealth of ideas about social networks and society (and it’s a fast, fun story, too).

Fantastic TED presentation by Larry Lessig about the revitalization of our creative culture that technology has brought about and the way copyright law is lagging dangerously behind. I’ve been meaning to read his book Remix for some time. Must read it soon.

[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

[Background: I’m taking part in a panel on social media at the SIBA trade show next weekend. So this post is what I’d like to say about social media there and fear I won’t (because I tend to ramble — stop laughing at the back — and panel discussions aren’t the place to give speeches, anyway). So here is what I think about social media and the indie bookstore (at least this week).]

[Edit: There have been two follow-up posts with more social media musing. The first, about why social media should be personal is here, and the second, about the role of reputation in social media, is here.]

pdQ: Why do we need social media?
A: Our customers buy most of their books elsewhere!

Have you seen the documentary Paperback Dreams? (If not, I urge you to watch it!) When Kepler’s Books in San Francisco was in trouble, they discovered that their “best customers” only bought 25% of their books from them. Before you sneer and think reflexively that your store is doing so much better, consider that the average for indie bookstores is 40%. So even if your store is capturing the nationwide average, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Imagine the difference an extra 5 or 10 percentage would make to your bottom line.

My own realization that loyal customers were shopping online more than I thought came in 2005, on the Sunday after Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince came out. After church that morning dozens of people, teenagers and their moms, were holding, reading, caressing their brand-new copies. The main topic of conversation was not, however, the contents of the book. Everyone was talking about where they ordered it and how much they saved. People were bonding over their thriftiness. Now these were people I saw in the bookstore every week. Many were regular buyers. If they were seduced away by the savings on the biggest book of the year, I wondered, how many other times were they buying books elsewhere?

You don’t have to lose 50% of your business to be put at risk, you only have to lose 10% – 15% of your business to be put at risk.
— Michael Powell (in Paperback Dreams)

So there are your customers, browsing in your store, purchasing occasionally, and buying most of their books elsewhere (and increasingly online). How do you strengthen your bond with those customers and even bring new customers in? For me, the answer seems to be you need to go where your customers are and engage them, and that means online. The fact is customers are coming into our stores less often than before. They’re getting their book fix online: reading about books, talking about books and buying books. This is where social media can help booksellers.

How do we utilize social media?
crush itThere are many experts offering rules and guidelines for successful use of social media. My gurus are Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk; however, there’s no way I can copy them or follow their guidelines fully — but go read their blogs & watch their vlogs, they will really help you understand the world of social media. The thing to consider it this: Chris Brogan and GaryVee are building multiple brands, launching companies, writing books, etc. Social media is their work! I have two book industry jobs and do a bit of freelance graphic design on the side; for people like me (and you) social media is a set of tools to help me get my work done.

Here’s what works for me:

Blogs
A year ago I thought a good blog should be updated daily (more than once a day for a really good blog — boingboing was my ideal). Since then I’ve begun a regular blog, joined Twitter, Facebook, Indiebound and several other online social networks (most using Ning), and I’ve learned something: social media is about being part of the conversation, not simply broadcasting your POV. If you participate daily, you can help shape the conversation and move it in directions that interest (and potentially benefit) you. If not, well it’ll move on just fine without you. To participate you don’t actually need your own blog — I think it’s better if you have a homepage, blog or store website to link back to because it’s a place for the conversation to continue and grow – but it’s not essential in order to get involved in the conversations you want to be involved in. The conversation (or uber-conversation if you prefer) takes place all over the world: in blogs, publisher websites, on twitter, at trade shows and any time two book-people get together.

There is not one central conversation to get involved with, so trick number one is to create a common identity across the platforms,  so that your persona, your online personality, is consistent and easily identifiable across the web. At a simple level, this can be achieved by using the same userID and avatar across platforms. At a more advanced level, there are two really interesting services/apps that facilitate this: Disqus & Glue.

dc-inlineDisqus aggregates your comments across blogs, and can be used to moderate comments on your own blog, essentially collecting all your blog conversations in one spot, and under one ID. Glue is a pop-up menu that tracks the books you view online and any ratings you give them (ditto for movies, music, and other things, but I’m talking about bookselling). It then shares your opinions with your friends when they in turn encounter these same books, and shows you what they thought of the same books and suggests other titles that they liked. Glue is brand new, and has real potential to  inform buying decisions on participating websites (including Indiebound) in real time. (I’ll try to go into more detail about these in a follow-up post.) Sign up now and you’ll have a chance to really understand how itGetGlueLogo can be used to help your business by the time it becomes the next Twitter or Digg.

Rich’s rule: Participate in the conversation everyday.

In business, you shouldn’t go to a meeting if you’ve got nothing to say. In school, you shouldn’t go to class if you aren’t ready to participate. In sports, you shouldn’t get on the pitch unless you’re prepared to play. Social media is no different. Don’t set your store up on Twitter, Facebook or with a blog if all you’re going to do is push info at people — just like on a date, nobody likes a guy who only talks about himself. You must be prepared to converse with your customers. Aim to have one conversation about books with at least one person online everyday. That’s through blog comments (on your own or someone else’s blog), via tweets, or wall-to-wall on Facebook.

Twitter/Facebook
I may not have the time to write a blog post daily, but I can tweet practically everyday — and do: 2800 tweets as of last Wednesday. That’s about 390,000 characters, or 40,000 words (40% of a novel or a complete screenplay, for comparison purposes). I’m a light Facebook user: I tend to only ‘friend’ family or real-world friends. I add a few books to my Indiebound wish-list during the course of the week (which are also effortlessly added to my Glue profile as I browse), comment on a few blogs as the inspiration arises (and as workload allows), and return innumerable emails daily. Even though everything isn’t book-focused (I chat with a large group of neighbors–mainly about a bear that’s been raiding our birdfeeders; parents at my kids’ school; and eclectic local twitterers) it is all participating in the realm of social media.

jetsThe point I’m trying to make here is that you can’t be afraid to be personal, to show some heart and share your individual interests and point of view: that’s what makes social media compelling. Gary Vaynerchuk nails this point in his book Crush It!; his success selling wine online isn’t something he’s achieved despite the fact he’s an opinionated guy from New Jersey who loves the New York Jets, he succeeds precisely because he’s an opinionated guy from New Jersey who loves the New York Jets! People can relate to him because he’s real, not some scrubbed and scripted spokesmodel. We’re done with the age of slick scripted drama; reality sells.

Twitter isn’t the be-all and end-all

I like Twitter. I tweet a lot. Twitter is probably the best medium for me because it forces me to be succinct and focus my message in 140 characters or fewer. But just because it works for me, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Gary Vaynerchuk’s medium is the vlog, the video blog. The thought of watching myself review books in a video makes my skin crawl — but I’m sure there are booksellers out there who could excel. It works for GaryVee (he built his family’s wine store into a $50million business!), but wouldn’t work for me. Other people love Facebook’s combination of status updates, games and lots of photos. Musicians bond and network through MySpace. Different mediums suit different personalities; play around with what’s out there before you reject social media as not for you.

Communal Communication

I had begun to notice that some of the things that used to be communicated over email are now being communicated through Facebook wall posts or tweets, when I came across a study that recently confirmed this. These previously private conversations are becoming  public, and this often increases the number of people involved and the impact of the conversations. (Compare the results if you were to send an email to your best friend from high school to ask if she is going to the reunion next month, versus if you left her a message on her Facebook wall. Chances are some of your (and her) listening earFacebook friends also went to your high school, and are interested in the reunion.) I think of this as akin to the way you handsell a book to one customer in the store, but several others are usually listening and sometimes buy the book, too. Some people seem to judge these overheard conversations as more trustworthy than if they asked you outright “What’s good right now?” (I suspect this may be a reaction to the way some booksellers (and not just at the chains) automatically respond with something that’s just out in hardcover – but I digress.)

For example, as I’ve struggled to understand the emerging role of ebooks over the past  year, I’ve blogged my imperfect understand and chatted with online friends who understand these things better on Twitter. Frequently, I’ll get into a conversation with one person about how the Sony Reader works or how ebooks need to be formatted, and will see other people joining the conversation, answering my questions, posing new ones or offering different points of view.

This is the core value of social media: bringing people together quickly and cheaply around points of shared interest.  Check out the #followreader hashtag for numerous examples of these conversations of interest to booksellers.

What’s the benefit to me/you?

Well, obviously there is the personal satisfaction of having all these interesting conversations (if they’re not interesting you shouldn’t initiate or respond), there’s the wealth of information you gather during the course of these interactions that you can use in your job, and then there’s genuine opportunity to drive additional customers to your store. You can bring in customers from outside your geographic location who want to support you because you’re personally becoming an important part of their online world (note: another recent study suggests that Gen-Y considers their online friends to be more important, more ‘real,’ than their local friends – think about that!). You can get to know people who live nearby but never entered your store before, and bring them across the threshold. You can strengthen your bonds with existing customers who may then forgo the apparent savings at AMZN and buy more of their books from you. You’ll also discover interests that you never knew your customers had, and be able to adjust your stock to fill this demand — but only if you’re part of the conversation.

Links

Directory of Book Trade People on Twitter

ABA Guide to Twitter (.pdf)