Smart phones, ebooks, and now 3D printing makes life a lot more like Star Trek, but even Jean-Luc Picard still reads physical books from time to time. For years journalists have been asking if small bookstores can survive in the age of the Internet, but bookstores continue to exist, and succeed, despite competition from companies like Amazon. Heck, local bookstores have been doing just fine in Seattle, where Amazon not only lives but employs a huge number of people. Instead of thinking of the Internet as the enemy, or of social media as a boogeyman that steals readers away to click Like buttons and reblog cat pictures, you should be thinking about how you can use it to grow your business.
Content Is King
You know this, as a bookseller: people buy books because they want to read the words within them; they want the substance that a book offers, and your store’s website should be the same. Post, post, post! If you don’t have a blog on your site, put one up and make sure to post on it frequently, at least weekly, possibly daily if you can manage it. Its not enough to simply give customers your contact information and hours, give them a reason to come into the store.
“Blog” is short for “web log” and that can mean pretty much anything. Although early blogging tended towards personal, journal entry type content, the model has grown into an essential aspect of many businesses. You can use a blog to share news about events in the store, such as signings or sales. When you get a new shipment of books, be sure to mention some of them, or at least some of the authors or genres you had delivered. Write reviews or synopses of books; get interviews with authors. Just make sure that it’s interesting, original content. You can share links to other sites that are relevant, sure, but you want visitors to value your content so they come to your store. One exception: when customers share their stories or photos with you, pass that along and give them a shout out. Knowing that your favorite bookstore appreciates your patronage ensures that you keep shopping there!
Sharing photos on the Internet is pretty much the easiest thing you can do to promote your store. Take pictures of the store, of new books, or of guests and customers enjoying your hosted events. Share them on your blog from time to time, but a better place to put them is on your store’s Facebook page or Instagram account. These sites make it easy to share your photos with others, and easy for them to pass them on to other Internet denizens. It’s a good idea to watermark your photos though, something you can easily do with just about any photo-editing software. Try using your website’s URL (and it’s a good idea to invest in a .com while you’re at it!) so people can simply type that into their browser if they find your photo on a friend’s Twitter or see it on Pintrest.
YouTube has made it easy to post video content on the Internet. Vine has managed to combine the visceral feel of videos with the brevity of Twitter. Both can be useful tools in promoting your business. Did you get an exciting new book delivered? Make an “unboxing” video and share it. Post clips of visiting writers at signings or readings. You don’t want to share footage of entire events, because then people don’t need to come to the store, but if a famous author comes to visit, give the people who missed it a glimpse so they’ll want to be there next time!
The end goal of using social media in this way is to connect with your existing customers, and use that network to reach out to even more customers. Put your Facebook, Twitter, or website on your business cards. Post signs at the registers or near the door with the information. Let people know that you have an online presence, and they’ll pass it on to their friends. And when you get to busy running your store to create new blog posts, use Content Runner to find brilliant writers who can help you out with that!