Bookshops. Social engagement starts at the door.

There is an independent bookshop not far from me which has a way to go before they are properly socially engaged. There is the local engagement with the customers, there is Twitter and of course Facebook but let’s not forget Foursquare, Gowalla or any of the other location based services.

One of my gripes is that when walking into the shop they will happily sell you a book, as long as they don’t have to break off their conversation with each other for too long. This isn’t really how to get the best out of your relationship with the customers who support you.

I’ve spent a lot of time, in the past, working in a retail setting where I was taught that you don’t sell anything unless you communicate with the customer. This was my father’s shop where he sold antique furniture (mostly restored Pine, much of it restored by me) to people from all over the world. Engagement with and education of the customer were vital to keeping the money flowing in.

I also used to sell second-hand cookery books in a local cookshop and it was remarkable how the decision to buy is affected by how attentive you are to the customer. Too much attention and you can lose the sale, too little and the customer will just wander away money unspent. You know your subject why not help you customer with that knowledge.

This is my checklist for bookshops that want to fully engage using the social media:

  • Make the link between talking with customers, creating loyalty and the online equivalent of finding new followers/fans.
    You get lots of chances as a local bookshop. People will always be passing by. However, have you created a strong bond with them so they think of you, not Amazon, first. Online you may not be so lucky, once you’re unfollowed that’s usually it, you have to maintain the conversation.
  • Check out what others are up to. An excellent example of an independent making good use of Twitter is @gutterbookshop in Dublin. Lots of chat and they always respond to mentions on Twitter. What are the big guns like @Waterstones up to and check out the smaller chains like @Foyles.
  • Does your literature show your social networking places? Whether it is bookmarks, postcards, posters or flyers you need to tell people in the ‘real’ world about your presence in the virtual marketplace that is the Web.
  • Are you on the map? Can potential visitors get your location and directions easily? This is where your website, or Facebook page can come in very useful.
  • How well do you support local authors? Not all local bookshops do as much as they can for their locally based writers. It may be down to the writer, their publicist or the haughty response you give them which puts them off. Do yourself and your community a favour and promote local writing.
  • Don’t just chat to your colleagues, it’s downright rude. Quite often people will want to talk about what they are buying. You can help validate that decision and ensure repeat business.
  • Unfamiliar face? Say hello, make yourself available to chat. Not very good at that sort of thing then employ someone who is. Remember, first impressions last. If you get the double entendre there then you will know that it works both ways!
  • If you’re on Twitter or Facebook then make sure you are keeping the conversation going. @Foyles have fun competitions running every week and people just adore winning books!
  • There is a distinction between organic growth and SEO based growth so it is worth discovering what they differences are. I’m largely organic myself.

I should run a course on this really.

What is your experience of independent bookshops as a customer and if you run an independent bookshop you can use the comment forms to tell me I’m wrong or that it’s just too difficult and you’ve given up. Success stories to inspire others are encouraged!

 

How do you choose your next book?

I’m sure we all choose our next books in different ways.

My favoured method for a long time has been to just start reading the book, sometimes after I’ve read the blurb but not always. This works really well particularly when browsing in bookshops or someone’s bookshelves. If I find that I’ve got to the third page of the book without any effort then I’ll probably read the whole thing.

Familiarity with an author is a great way to choose as well. It doesn’t always work out so well though when you find you prefer their earlier work to their later output. Short stories are a potent way of discovering whether you like an author’s style, I’ve sometimes found that the short stories are better than the full length ones or vice versa. What is interesting about that is that the short stories are often about the author finding their ‘writing self’ so you can see development and experimentation going on.

Recommendations are another useful way of finding out what to read. There are the algorithmic, computerised, methods used by Amazon, Goodreads and LibraryThing on the one hand and personal suggestions on the other. Personal recommendations might come from friends, colleagues or family or via FridayReads or forums/discussion groups on places like Goodreads and LibraryThing. It’s interesting how people will ‘sell’ you the book that they really enjoyed, they might not even realise you hate romantic fiction – but there’s a first time for everything.

I’d love to know how you discover what you want to read next. Join the conversation using the comments below.