5 ways independent bookshops can win at social media

5 ways independent bookshops can win at social media

In June 2009, a small library on an island off the north coast of Scotland began tweeting. Somehow, it started to gain a following. By the time I left at Christmas 2016, and handed over control of the @OrkneyLibrary Twitter account, it had over 32,000 followers (now 66.7K) and had seen J.K. Rowling pop in for a slice of lemon drizzle cake and a chat with our book club.

In a strange twist of fate, I am now working in the former Orkney Library building, which today houses a record shop, café/bar, gallery & music venue. We also sell books at The Old Library, and while there are notable differences in doing social media for an independent bookshop instead of a library, a lot of the basic principles remain the same.

Do it well or don’t bother
An occasional Instagram post will not cut it. If your Twitter feed is nothing but automated links to your Facebook updates, delete your account and take a long, hard look at yourself. If you aren’t interested in your own output, nobody else will be. People are social media savvy these days, if your account has a whiff of ‘This’ll do’ about it, nobody will feel their life quality is going to be diminished by not clicking the follow button. Post regularly and keep it interesting.

Pick the right platform
Think carefully about what you want to achieve and who you want to reach, this will help you decide which service to use. Don’t feel under pressure to sign up for everything; social media changes and advances all the time, so you couldn’t possibly keep up. At The Old Library, we use Facebook, Instagram & Twitter. I have never Snapchatted and am of a generation for whom TikTok is the robot thing from Return to Oz played by that guy from Blue Peter. Apparently, these days it is also an app for creating and sharing short videos.

It’s not all about you
Getting across the message ‘Buy our bloody books’ is definitely a major reason for using social media, but your feed shouldn’t be a constant stream of trying to flog your wares. Use it to connect with others in the business; authors, publishers, publicists. Interact, comment, make them aware your business exists. Following other bookshops is also useful; if their feeds are amazing you may pick up tips for promotions or displays that you can use in your own shop. If their social media is awful you can enjoy a moment of smugness while discovering how not to do it.

Books are brilliant
Doing social media for a well-stocked library was the easiest job in the world. There was no news story or pop culture event that couldn’t be linked in some way to a book. It’s slightly trickier for a bookshop, because you want your followers to give you their cash in exchange for those books, so ‘Look at the guy on this cover, with his unfortunate trousers and hair like a cream horn’ probably isn’t going to have the tills ringing. However, if you are imaginative in what you say about them, books are perfect for use in producing engaging online content, and there are so many beautiful book covers that are ideal for a beautifully composed Instagram pic.

Flaunt your assets
Yes, you have a great selection of stock, but you also have real, live humans. You aren’t a faceless, corporate machine. Show the people who work in your bookshop; posts featuring staff always get a good response. You may only have one person who posts online, but get everyone in the workplace onboard with thinking of ideas for content. Your business plays an important role in the community, use your social media to reflect this. Signings, author visits, book launches, these are all things the online retailers can’t do, so if you have an event, make sure you share updates, photos and videos. You can offer an experience, make your followers feel they want to visit your shop.

Make ‘em laugh
A little humour goes a long way. Social media, Twitter especially, can be full of the noise of idiots shouting at each other and trying to drain every ounce of joy from life; anything that raises even the slightest smile is a welcome break from this. Part of the success of @OrkneyLibrary came from being funny, cheeky and occasionally controversial. I have continued this at The Old Library; a recent post featured a Donald Trump book surrounded by stretchy poops and poop emoji bath bombs. We do toys & gifts too; link in as many strands of your business as possible. It was by no means sophisticated or clever humour, but it reached almost 50,000 people across our three feeds and increased followers to each.

If all else fails
Cats.