Moderator Kirsten Hess, director of events and marketing at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn, kicked off Wednesday afternoon's panel by observing that "two to three years ago, social media was not important enough to bring up in a business plan." In 36 months, quite a lot has changed, as social media was the central concept of the panel "Being Social: Reaching Your Customers and Community."
The panelists, who including Twitter's Andrew Fitzgerald and Ingram Group Content's Amy Cox Williams, varied in their preferred method of social media, though all agreed it was a 24-hour job. They also agreed that booksellers and authors should understand the viral forums before attempting to navigate them. The Booksmith's Amy Stephenson noted, "Different platforms have different cultures. Learn the cultures first." Fitzgerald, an obvious advocate of the Twitter and Vine forums, said, "Twitter is a platform you can experiment with because it's in real time. It gives booksellers the opportunity to interact and engage with customers in and out of the store."
Customers and community were a strong focus in the hour talk. "The whole idea of ‘who are we talking to' is ‘are we talking with them or at them,' " said Hess. Readers want to know why booksellers recommend a book, and why it's important to them, rather than having titles pushed at them. The experts explained that this, in a nutshell, is what social media affords those willing to use it and use it wisely. The various avenues of social media are wide. Williams noted, "Social media is a stream, and it can be easy for your audience to miss your message." An expert in e-mail and e-mail marketing, Williams advised using a call to action, "whether it's asking for a feedback or someone to like or follow you."
Choosing a social media platform is an often daunting process. "Pick a goal," said Lynette Young, owner of Purple Stripe Productions. Young, who also chaired the panel "Hosting a Global Book Tour Using Google+," advised, "Determine first what you want to get out of social media." When the purpose is determined, it's easier to choose relevant topics to support it. Fitzgerald suggested booksellers use cross-promotion and generate online word of mouth to reach goals. "Create cooperative relationships with publicists and authors, and bring your community together."
Whichever social media platforms booksellers or authors choose, the panel agreed that consistency of involvement is crucial. "Once you're in, stay engaged," said Stephenson. Transparency is vital, and the aim should be to keep content authentic. Booksellers should be geared to inform, not shout, at their audience. Williams summed it up: "The key is to have something relevant to say to your audience."