Embracing BookTok

Embracing BookTok

Marketing books during a pandemic brought about many challenges, including re-directing campaigns, getting cut-through and navigating the suddenly massive world of TikTok. Conversations began this time last year, with more and more publishers becoming curious about what exactly TikTok had to offer, and whether it was the right fit for their brand.

I doubt I’ll ever say that TikTok is absolutely a social platform that works for every publisher or author. What I will say is that it’s unique, exciting and fast-paced - and if you do it right, you’re onto a winner.

It’s imperative to make sure your content is age appropriate and that you’re reaching your target audience. The majority of people I speak to are convinced that TikTok is a platform ruled by 13-year-olds dancing to pop songs. While this may have been largely true a year ago, it is no longer the case. In the UK, only 16% of the users are between the ages of 13-17, and the largest percentage from one age group is 18–24-year-olds – who make up 40% of the demographic.

When it comes to content, there is definitely something for everyone. Despite most videos being under 30 seconds long, the average user spends 50 minutes at a time scrolling. There’s comedy, dancing, politics... and BOOKTOK! The hashtag #BookTok currently has 3.4 billion views. The space is filled with creative individuals sharing book recommendations, running their own book clubs and posting content inspired by current trends.

Unsure of whether your campaign is a good fit for TikTok? It’s all about identifying ‘of the moment’ trends, and which genres are being discussed by voices of note.

A simple way to test the waters is to run a small in-feed ad campaign. This will allow you to measure the success of your title against other social platforms before you commit too much of your marketing spend. If you see strong engagement, you can be certain that a wider campaign will gain substantial traffic.

The titles that are getting the most coverage on TikTok fall largely under the umbrella of either YA or Fantasy. The hashtag #RickRiordan has 94.6 million views and #SarahJMaas has 198.6 million. There are exceptions outside of these genres; Ready Player Two (sci-fi) saw incredible engagement in Cornerstone’s recent campaign for its publication - the reason being  thatthe influencers they worked with were able to connect the book’s themes with ongoing trends. Kelsey Ellison created a video using a track that had 5.1 million views, so was much more likely to appear on users’ For You Page.

More recently, the classics have been gaining traction on TikTok too. This is likely down to the trend of Dark Academia, as well as the fact that lockdown has readers trying to catch up on those 100 books to read before you die lists.

There are some books that by default won’t work. It’s (for the most part) a liberal, politically in-tune space, especially among younger users. For this reason, content relating to authors who have been publicly ‘cancelled’ is safest to stay clear from.

Middle grade titles can do well. I would say try to find the humour in the book, and partner with influencers who are older than the bullseye audience, but whose audiences are made up of those much younger than them. This is due to the fact that TikTok will shortly be making all profiles of users under 16 private. There will be those who will lie, but in the name of brand safety; best to avoid.  

It can be tricky knowing where to start with TikTok, particularly if it’s a platform you’re not familiar with. The best way forward is to let influencers lead. They have successfully built a substantial and loyal following, so they know what the audience wants to see, what they’ll respond best to. Rocket collaborated with AbbysBooks for the launch of Bloomsbury’s TikTok page, and she created ‘books as outfits’, using Sarah J Maas books to inspire her video. On trend as ever, Abby positioned the series among an audience of young people by implementing her learned creative insight. With TikTok, it’s best if you take a step back on creative control. Accept that the creator knows the platform better than you do, that they know their audience and want to keep them truly engaged. Therefore, content you create with them will feel genuine, on brand and well-executed.

Social content should be directed by the platform itself. This is particularly true of TikTok. It’s key to ensure that content you’re making for Instagram stories should not be repurposed, TikToks should appear authentic and homemade. They’re most likely to gain attention if real people are featured, as the platform is so inherently based around the individual creators. Michael Joseph recently harnessed this with their campaign for Eve of Man. Their TikTok campaign features a video of Tom and Giovanna Fletcher introducing their book personally, from their home. This kind of personal touch to an ad is what will see the most success on TikTok. 

The main thing with TikTok is to enjoy it! Sharing videos with friends and colleagues has been a great pick me up during lockdown, and you'll find most success if you understand the appeal of the platform in your own bones. As a first step check out the channels below for insight and ideas - then get planning. This is no longer a niche platform, and for the right books, it's rocket fuel.