Children’s booksellers have long been active on social media, finding clever ways to promote their stores and engage with readers. This practice has never been more important than it is now, as the pandemic has forced an even greater shift to online shopping and virtual events. We asked some children’s booksellers who have mastered Instagram and TikTok to share their secrets for successful posting.
Advice from a seasoned social media bookseller
Kathy Ellen Davis—author, bookseller at Bards Alley in Vienna, Va., and the social media coordinator for NAIBA since 2019—is an expert in this arena. She is frequently asked to present and moderate panels about bookstores and social media, and her personal TikTok account has more than 93,000 followers. She recently created accounts on both Instagram and TikTok that are designed to help booksellers master social media, and she says she will be launching consulting plans and products soon.
Davis advises that booksellers think about what they hope to get out of a specific social media platform, and to have a plan for the tone, content, and frequency of posts. She reminds booksellers not to compare their accounts to others. “This never leads to anything good,” she points out.
She also says it’s important to engage via these accounts. “You don’t have to respond to every single comment right away, but it’s a good idea to respond to people who take the time to talk to you. This is how you can build community.”
And lastly, she emphasizes, “Remember there are no rules. I think a lot of people think they’re not doing social media ‘right.’ There is no one out there who is judging bookstores on their social media accounts. Do what you can do at the pace you can do it.”
Below is additional advice from Davis on social media for booksellers:
“1. Follow other active bookstore accounts. If I see a bookstore that is following zero people, I know they are not there for the community.
2. Use captions in your videos.
3. Keep an eye on your analytics so you know what content is doing well.
4. Tag publishers, authors, and illustrators when you post, and when you share your post to your stories. If they see it and love it, they may reshare!
5. Don’t only post picture of books. We need to see the booksellers, too! More people in pictures, please!
6. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person.
7. Don’t expect to go viral and grow a huge following overnight. Social media is a long game.
9. Don’t feel like you can never take a break. Social media never takes time off, but it’s important that you do.
10. Have fun!”
On Instagram, Davis notes that children’s booksellers are not afraid of the platform’s new(ish) features. “I am seeing more and more bookstores utilizing stories, which yes, are not new, but are still being underused in my opinion; reels; IG Live/IG TV; highlights; and guides,” she says. “Whenever a platform announces something new, they usually will put more weight behind that type of content. This doesn’t mean that booksellers always have to be doing the latest thing; it means it’s a good idea to eventually check the new features out.”
Davis has noticed that booksellers are laudably mixing up the types of content they post. “While it’s tempting to want to share only photos of books and only photos of book stacks, it’s more engaging to have different types of photos and videos in the feed,” she says. “This does not mean reinventing the wheel each time, though! Booksellers can create types of posts or templates that they rotate through.”
Davis also praises booksellers who are using the stories feature as a way to connect with customers and support other bookstores and their community. “It’s so easy to share in stories, and I love when I see bookstores hyping up other bookstores. Stories can be used as a sort of a community bulletin board that expires after a day.”
In comparison to Instagram, Davis says, “TikTok is definitely getting more attention these days. Many people are still using Instagram so bookstores should not abandon ship, but it’s also important to not get discouraged by low views or engagement there. Instagram engagement has been down across the board lately.”
Both Instagram and TikTok allow users to add a link in their account bios, which can be used to direct people to websites to purchase books, according to Davis. Because both platforms can attract a global audience, she says it’s important for bookstores to note whether they ship, and if they do, whether they ship internationally. “If not, make it clear that fans can support you via Bookshop.org or Libro.fm,” she adds.
One of TikTok’s greatest selling points, in Davis’s view, is that “the content created there gets pushed out much longer than Instagram’s content. Instagram feed content usually gets pushed out by the algorithm for about a day; reels seem to have a slightly longer shelf life. TikTok videos can get a similar boost with viewers for up to 90 days after they’ve been created, and sometimes up to months and years later.”
This feature is particularly helpful to booksellers “because it’s easy to create evergreen content that will still have value days, months, and weeks later,” Davis says. “For example, posting a book recommendation about three books you love is a video that anyone can see at any time and still learn something from and connect with.”
In the end, Davis suggests, “there are many readers on both Instagram and TikTok, so both platforms are great places for bookstores to be.”
Getting personal at Curious Iguana
At Curious Iguana in Frederick, Md., marketing and events manager Bonnie Monnier has three main goals for each of her social media posts: “selling books, reaching new customers, and extending our store experience. I have tried-and-true posts that I repeat on a regular basis. I scroll through Instagram and TikTok to get inspired and to check out what’s trending, and I talk to my coworkers and customers to see what they enjoy seeing on social media. From this, I create a running list that I pull from each week.”
Monnier notes that “posts that show the personal side of our business always perform well because folks want to get to know the people behind the business—it’s one of the major things that sets us apart from big box stores!” More specifically, she cites short video clips, such as reels and TikTok posts, as the best performers at the moment. “For this format I show what’s going on behind the scenes—unboxing books, day in the life—staff reviews and recommendations, candid shots of the store, and videos of staff reading the first line of a book—I’ve got to thank Kathy Ellen Davis for that idea.”
As every store has a different customer base, Monnier points out that there is definitely trial and error involved in figuring out which types of posts will work best. “But my biggest piece of advice,” she notes, is “don’t be afraid to try out the new features on social media. You don’t need fancy equipment—I use my iPhone for every post—or elaborate ideas. Just give it a shot!”
Monnier also advises, “Find good lighting, don’t push your employees to participate, edit your photos consistently to give your feed a recognizable look—this includes cover images for reels—and post the same content on TikTok and Instagram reels! It’s efficient and effective.”
To date, Monnier has tracked more sales from Instagram reels than from TikTok, but she believes both platforms are necessary at this point. “Insta-
gram is incredibly difficult to grow on, making it challenging to reach new customers—not that your follower count dictates how successful your business is,” she says. “On TikTok, it’s a lot easier to reach potential customers, and it has helped us grow our Instagram following. TikTok as a whole has a huge influence on the books people want to read, so we have to stay up to date on the books that are trending to make sure we have them readily available for our customers.”
There’s no question that these social media platforms have been an effective tool for Curious Iguana. “Instagram reels and TikTok have been a game-changer for us,” Monnier says. “We have customers who come in the store or email us almost immediately after we post videos, asking for the books featured,” she adds. “The posts undoubtedly help us move our inventory at a faster rate.”
Monnier notes that, although creating and posting videos is time consuming, “it’s worth it based on our increase in direct sales. And, sales aside, this content resonates with our customers and helps me extend our store experience to the virtual world. It’s a win-win for me.”
Building a community at High Five Books
Lexi Walters Wright, owner of High Five Books in Florence, Mass., considers social media platforms to be integral to her shop’s operations. “For our small kids’ bookstore, social media is our main advertising and, perhaps most importantly, community-building platform,” she says.
Caretakers of children up to age 18 are High Five’s key clientele, and Wright says, “We know that they’re spending lots of time on Facebook and Instagram both for personal and professional reasons throughout the day—especially during the pandemic, with everyone looking for ways to stay connected to the world outside our homes.”
With that audience in mind, Wright notes, the team at High Five tries to make its social media feeds “useful to caregivers, inclusive of our existing patrons and possible new ones, and engaging and entertaining for shoppers, authors, and folks in our physical and creative communities.”
High Five launched its Instagram and Facebook in the weeks before the shop opened in October 2019. “We loved hearing from folks when we finally were open that they liked the behind-the-scenes feel to it,” Wright recalls. “We have patrons visit who say that they’ve followed us for some time and are excited to finally visit us and our collection.”
On Instagram, High Five does not have the selling feature turned on, Wright says, so the store is not generating sales directly from the platform. “What we hear more often,” she notes, “is caretakers who come in and say, ‘I saw your post about graphic novels for new readers. Where are they?’ and the like. And that’s awesome! It’s a great way to begin a book chat with a reader, if they’re along for the trip.”
Even though she doesn’t derive a measurable sales increase from social media, Wright says that “without question, Instagram and Facebook have been successful tools for discovery, both of our shop in general and specific books and series. Social media costs only as much time as my bookseller and I are willing to put in—for us, that’s easily 10-plus hours per week. But we both really like the process and are comfortable with the tools.”
As for TikTok, Wright says, “We know that entering TikTok means talking directly to readers, not necessarily just their caretakers any longer, and we want to be mindful of that and their needs when we move forward with the platform.”
Additional advice for booksellers from Wright based on her experience thus far includes the following:
“1. We do know that our posts with readers’ faces in them perform better, algorithmically. But as a parent and community member, I find that tricky. We’re working on a couple of ideas soon!
2. Social feeds that only feel sales-y get old. What else is your brand ‘selling’? For us, it’s positive family and social connections around books and art. We design our feed accordingly.
3. Building relationships with local authors is great for a million non-sales reasons, but we definitely see bumps in purchases when authors and illustrators tag us in posts—and then work with us on community initiatives, ask us to be their book launch partners, and fill their signed school copy orders.
4. Canva is your friend. You don’t have to master Photoshop to create sweet social graphics. Canva is the best, cheapest tool out there for the purpose!
5. Authenticity matters most. Any big-box online retailer can post about books. But how does what you say about them reflect your shop and your brand? That’s a question we ask ourselves a lot.”