I set up inclusive and representative children’s book company, Little Box of Books, almost three years ago and we have since enjoyed plenty of media attention, appearing on BBC Breakfast, Channel 4 News and Loose Women. We have also had wonderful support from a number of celebrities and social media influencers who have shared our book boxes on Instagram and Twitter, driving sales, supporting the cause and increasing awareness of what we do.
The effect is magical. Giovanna Fletcher shared information about our business and orders were ringing through constantly for days, likewise Rochelle Humes’ support of our business and our crowdfunder last year brought in hundreds of orders and helped us raise £57,000, supporting us to get 10,000 inclusive books into primary schools all over the UK.
We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the generous support of people with huge platforms believing in what we do and amplifying our message through their social media megaphones, helping us to reach huge audiences with information about diversifying chidlren’s bookshelves. We live in a time when Influencers and celebrities have incredible power over our spending habits and our purchasing decisions.
Which is why when out of nowhere last week, when transaction notifications started pinging through to my email and sale after sale was coming through on the website. I assumed one of our high-profile supporters had shared a glowing review of our business.
Laurence Fox was not on my potential supporter list, despite my Mam describing him, until last week as "that lovely man from the inspector Morse programmes".
If you don’t know who Laurence Fox is, you can get a thorough understanding from a quick glance at his Twitter account. He’s had a fairly busy time politically in recent weeks and he’s not shy of sharing his opinions.
But he is definitely not looking to be an ambassador of an inclusive and representative children’s bookshop.
However, it turns out that he was the source of all our website activity. Like some kind of anti-influencer, he had shared a screenshot of our website and tweeted to his quarter of a million followers, “Please fuck off you moronic, narcissistic middle class white birds.” And far from sending hate in our direction, it opened up loads of generous unexpected support.
I can’t lie. When I first saw his tweet my heart sank, I know how these things go.
We’ve all seen it play out a hundred times. Thousands of people like the tweet, they cyber scream ‘woke’ at you, but when you take that as a compliment, they try and make you cry by laughing at your face or your voice or a picture they’ve found on the internet from 2001. Then they threaten you and you have to spend 23 hours of the day blocking people who are really angry about you selling children’s books.
That is not how I wanted to spend half term.
But that wasn’t what was happening.
I saw the tweet a few hours after it had been posted (it has since been deleted).
But by then the comments were full of messages of support for us. Our loyal customers and supporters had identified our website from the screenshot and were pointing people in our direction to go and buy books.
A large anti-racism organisation had shared the tweet, poking fun at this unprovoked fury directed at a children’s bookseller and our web address had been shared multiple times by people who wanted to buy the very books that were creating such anger.
As a former PR person, I know the dangers of engaging with trolls online but also know the importance of showing public support and speaking up for what is right. And this was a masterclass in that.
On social media, it seems there is nothing more powerful than refusing to engage and instead doing the exact opposite of what the haters want you to do. A bigot is screaming homophobic abuse? Donate to LGBTQ+ organisations and tell everyone why you’re doing it. A journalist writes a racist tweet about a newborn baby? Give money to anti-racist educators.
In our example, vitriol was pointed at Little Box of Books, a business that exists to promote social justice, fairness and kindness, to counter it, we created a discount code that gives 10% off subscription and school orders (It’s still live) LFOX10, so everybody could more easily support the cause he was so against.
While the anti-influencers aren’t going to be a formal part of our business strategy any time soon, this experience - in between the blocking and reporting - has emboldened me to look for the opportunities to turn online hate and nastiness into opportunities for good.
Lynsey set up award winning company www.littleboxofbooks.co.uk in 2018, to provide inclusive and representative books to families and schools. With celebrity and corporate support they have donated almost 20,000 books to schools and to their charity partner Doorstep Library.