Friday, November 14

Entering Social Media: A Book Store Example

Demonstrating the general validity of social media is easy; applying it to small business is case specific.

After coming away from what became an hour-long presentation and discussion about social media with the Southern Nevada Chapter of SCORE, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, I believe the above statement has never been more true. The buzz about social media is overshadowing its practicality as a viable communication tool. The remedy is a reminder that simple beats social.

What if an independent book store wanted to add social media to its marketing mix?

The existing mantra — find people who read/sell books online, listen to them, join their conversation, inflate your presence, and become an expert — falls short in terms of answering the most basic of questions … "to what end?" For small business, it's always better to consider social media especially as a communication tool that augments other marketing efforts rather than as a manifesto of magic beans. Using an independent book store as an example, here are ten basic considerations in adding social media, specifically a blog, to the communication mix.

1. Assess the business. On the front end, never mind listening to other people as social media experts recommend. Like any business, the book store needs to determine its value proposition, unique selling point, core message, or whatever else it might employ to help determine how it differentiates itself in the marketplace. While the message will evolve over time, all companies need to start somewhere.

2. Define the marketplace. Unless the book store is considering an overtly lofty goal to knock off Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, or AbeBooks, the marketplace is not defined as the entire world. Most brick and mortar stores need to think about proximity — the radius surrounding any retail establishment. Not only are people who live in close proximity the most likely customers, they are also those people who are critical to achieving brand dominance, which is partly defined by a 90 percent awareness within the establishment's proximity.

3. Determine The Voice(s). Before starting a blog, the book store would need to identify and determine who the voice(s) will be. With the exception of basic communication and announcements, individual voices tend to work best. It could be the owner, manager, or any number of staff as guest posters. Just keep in mind that the voice(s) need to be chosen like any spokesperson — with extreme care.

4. Bring An Audience Online. Never mind looking for people online. Try looking and listening to the people who are already in your store! They are your customers and, very often, the best online promotion is done offline. Even in-store fliers tucked inside book bags as they leave might be all it takes to introduce them to the store's blog, providing an opportunity to engage existing customers when they don't have time to visit in person.

5. Differentiate The Communication. Before starting a blog, determine what communication assets might best lend themselves to the audience without adding to the noise. Almost every company or individual has a unique voice or perspective, but the most successful online communication efforts also find common ground between a value proposition and the conversations already taking place.

6. Original Content Is King. Original content remains the king of online communication. Book reviews (especially those that are missed by the mainstream media), book signings, special promotions, rare titles, and author interviews are just a few content ideas that no other book store could provide. Local, independent stores (or even local stores that belong to the big chains), also have an opportunity to identify and promote lesser known local talents. Over time, this may help develop a secondary audience that exists only online, but never lose sight of those primary customers — those folks who come in once every two weeks or so.

7. Don't Drink The Kool-Aid. The biggest mistake being made in social media today is reinforcing the idea that the bigger the buzz, the better the communication. Almost every online measure reinforces this idea with "reach, reach, reach" being heralded as the new "location, location, location." Baloney. No one needs to reach all the people. They only need to reach the right people. Complementing that misconception is the other mistake that leads people to be trapped by industry bubbles: while it may be beneficial to share ideas with other book store owners, they are not your customers and they don't know your customers. Never forget that.

8. Expand The Online Presence. As a book store establishes its online presence, then it might be worthwhile to explore other social media options. Since there are so many social networks, it becomes critical to pick the right ones where the target audience is most likely to be, not simply the most popular ones. One of several reasons I frequently advise a blog as the most appropriate starting block is because it provides a useful home base, allowing future social media connections an opportunity to learn more about what the individual or the store is about.

9. Evolve With Opportunities. As the book store establishes its presence, other opportunities might present themselves. As long as those opportunities are consistent with the original core services established by the owner, it might make sense to pursue them. Of course, sometimes those opportunities fall outside the boundaries of success. For example, someone contacted me yesterday to discuss writing a pilot for a network television show and we set an appointment. Someone also contacted me yesterday to serve as their literary agent. I understand the work, but I'm not a literary agent so I declined. I also can deliver pizzas, but I'm not likely to add that to our services anytime soon.

10. Outcomes Determine Success. Outcomes do not have to be merely measured by sales alone. Outcomes could be as simple as a book store owner never hearing a customer say wish they had heard about a book signing that took place the week before. It all depends on how you define outcomes on the front end.

See? Demonstrating the general validity of social media is easy; applying it to small business is case specific. Simply put, these considerations were drawn from some basic tenets of strategic communication and not a social media manifesto. The difference might seem subtle at times, but the approaches, objectives, and results are vastly different. Always keep that in mind.



Anonymous said...


This makes a lot of sense. I think businesses that tell us what they are doing without all those emails makes sense. I delete most of them and sometimes wish I hadn't.


Rich on 11/14/08, 5:55 PM said...

Hey David,

I don't blame you. :) I sometimes employ the practice of declaring e-mail bankruptcy. After I scan for people I know, I select all and delete them all.

There are 3,700 emails in my private account now, waiting to be sorted. :D

Meanwhile, I seldom miss my favorite blogs, visiting them at least once a week ... or sometimes catching a a tweet about one of their upcoming posts.



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