While mobs of booksellers and others thronged BEA booths Thursday afternoon, about 100 booksellers focused their attention on representatives from four indies— Bookpeople, Literati, Parnassus Books, and Tattered Cover—who have led the way in integrating social media into their stores' business models.

While the four booksellers emphasized using social media to promote the store and engage with the community in an irreverent and fun way, finding the right balance is of supreme importance, as what is posted online reflects upon the store.

Mike Gustafson, the owner of Literati in Ann Arbor, Mich., who opened his store two years ago, was the first speaker and his remarks set the tone for the panel. Gustafson emphasized that the best way for a "business that sells stories is to reach customers through storytelling."

Gustafson said he uses social media to tell stories about the store and its staff as a way for the community to become familiar with both. He mixes comments about store news and events with personal anecdotes, such as one about his wife and store co-owner being commended by the police for preventing a mugging that almost took place outside Literati.

"I wanted people to know that she might be a bookseller by day, but she's a bad-ass crime-fighting ninja by night," he joked.

Gustafson also uses social media to engage his customers. "People love to see creativity run amuck," he said, explaining that he posts notes that are left by customers typing on the vintage typewriter inside the store, photos of customers wearing store apparel in exotic places, and photos of a stuffed teddy bear that had been abandoned in the store doing such things as "washing dishes or typing on the typewriter."

Austin, Texas' Bookpeople is a community fixture in a city that is struggling to "keep weird," and Julie Wernerbach, the store's marketing director, said that social media is a tool that is used to both introduce customers to the store and to provide "a window into the book world."

The Tattered Cover also uses social media to promote the store and the 550 events is does annually. Heather Duncan, Tattered Cover's director of marketing, noted it's important to actively engage with the customer, and the store works hard to intersperse "things we find interesting" with event promotions meant to pull people into the store.

Laura Philpott, who maintains social media for Nahsville's Parnassus Books, agreed with the other speakers, noting that social media is about building community. Social media, Philpott said, is a way to "extend our store hours" and "extend our store footprint."

While it's difficult to gauge how effective social media outreach is, except anecdotally, Philpott noted that since Parnassus started aggressively using social media to reach out to customers and to potential customers, online sales were up 9% in 2014 and up more than 16% during the holiday season.