What a difference a year makes. While booksellers may not feel like social media masters just yet, a majority of those in attendance at a packed social media session at the Winter Institute were at least in the game.
Examining the social media experience in the world of books were author John Green (whose The Fault in Our Stars, just published by Dutton, claimed the #1 spot on both the IndieBound and New York Times lists), and booksellers Andrea Vuleta of Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop in La Verne, Calif., and Ann Seaton from Hicklebee's in San Jose, Calif.
American Booksellers Association content officer Dan Cullen began the session by citing pertinent statistics from PEW Research. "Sixty-five percent of adult Internet users use social media," he said. "Fifty percent of all Americans use social media." In fact, the only segment of the population for which half of its population were not using social media is those 65 years old and older. Still, "Wired seniors are growing in usage the most," said Cullen, who quoted James Joyce's Finnegans Wake: "Here comes everybody."
A quick poll of the room showed that nearly everyone present uses Facebook and Twitter, a majority use Linked In, and a handful use Tumblr and Google+. "The static web is dying so fast," said Green, who thinks within a year or two social media will dominate the Internet. "Tumblr is way better than all of the other ones," he said.
Instead of trying to sell his latest book with social media, Green said he uses social media to build a community. "I included my community in the process," he said--sharing the good and the not-so-good on the way to book publication.
For Vuleta at Mrs. Nelson's, the social media puzzle began to take shape when she started to challenge her staff to get involved. "To say to someone, 'You're my Twitter person,' just doesn't work," she explained, "because your client base may not love one person."
Twitter can lead to surprising results. This past fall, Oliver Jeffers did an event for Stuck (Philomel) at Mrs. Nelson's and was so taken with the idea that bestselling author Chris Van Allsburg would be at the store soon that he bought copies of Van Allsburg's books, including his most recent, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), for him to sign. Vuleta tweeted and updated the store's Facebook page about it. The result: the store sold 38 Van Allsburg books through Twitter and 11 though Facebook. "[Social media] has a life of its own, and its own energy, if you just keep going," said Vuleta.
Seaton said a local blogger has helped Hicklebee's step up its social media efforts. "She wants us on Tumblr as well," said Seaton, who admitted the store is focused more on Facebook at the moment. "If you have an IndieBound website, you can post directly from there."
One of the first questions from booksellers concerned how to manage staff on social media. "You have to trust and have the right people," said Vuleta. At Mrs. Nelson's, a range of staffers post, including a 76-year-old, and Vuleta said most customers can discern who is posting. "Staff members have their own little following," she added, comparing the situation with customers who follow shelf talkers by their favorite staff members.
The panelists agreed that lightening up on the exactness of a post helps. The ease of Twitter is a generational thing--and to use it well, Cullen suggested that people take a look at how younger people are communicating. "I compose a post," said Cullen. "The way they are using it is actually truer to the experience of the medium."
The ability to be more relaxed and human work to the indie bookseller advantage on social media. As Green pointed out, corporations like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are unable to produce an "authentic voice" for social media. "Having a soul is one of the most important tings in social media and on the Internet," he said. "We don't have a bunch of lawyers telling us what to say." --Bridget Kinsella