Demystifying Social Media
“Social media” may very well be the single most pervasive yet misunderstood term of the last decade. I would be pointing out the obvious to say that over time, social media has fundamentally changed the way we interact; it has also raised the bar for businesses, altered the way we construct communities and discussion, and given birth to some pretty cryptic lingo (be warned: LOL does not mean Lots Of Love). Furthermore, a bewildering number of social media platforms exist, from the mega-networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to media sites like Youtube and Pinterest, and everything in between. And then there are the endless blogs, and tweets, and apps…oh my! Feeling overwhelmed yet?
While I think it is safe to say that most booksellers have a website and use the internet for research, buying, and selling, my sense is that there is some lingering hesitation when it comes to using social media as a tool for business. And no small wonder! How does one even get started, let alone navigate all the interfaces and etiquette required across various websites? More importantly, how does one use this new technology effectively?
Social media engagement has become such an important aspect to doing business these days that bigger companies will hire people expressly for the purpose of creating content and monitoring their presence across multiple platforms. While that might be necessary for companies with hundreds or thousands of employees, where does that leave the rest of us? In my experience, learning to use social media wisely (and without pulling out your hair) involves three strategies: having a plan, following through, and not being afraid to take it slow. The latter may seem counterintuitive in an age of lightning fast response times, but I think it is a vitally important practice when it comes to building momentum and avoiding burn-out. But that’s just one misconception of many when it comes to social media and networking. Let’s debunk a few other myths that might be lurking out there:
Myth #1: You need to be on as many social media networks as possible in order to reach your audience. This is, in fact, the surest way to get frustrated and give up. Trying to be everywhere at once straight out of the gate will not only split your focus, it is downright impractical. If you are trying out social media for the first time, I recommend channeling your inner tortoise: go slow and steady. In future posts I hope to guide you through the first steps of creating a social media plan, but in the meantime, why not pick one new network that intrigues you and create a personal account? (That is, as opposed to an account that you will use for your business – yes, you can have both). Play around, use the features, and get a feel for how it works. It takes the pressure off “getting it right” and will help you become familiar with the basics.
Myth #2: Using social media puts huge demands on your time. Don’t get me wrong, using social media for your business will require some time and effort on your part, particularly in the beginning; but it needn’t be a time suck. An hour or two a week will be enough (depending on how involved you want to be). That’s about 15-20 minutes a day. The most important thing to realize is that once you start, you need to commit to keeping your social media presence up to date. You wouldn’t leave sold stock languishing on your website for months before taking it down, right? Right; because it looks unprofessional. The same principle applies to social media – your customers want to see that you are engaged and attentive. It is better to have one social network that you update consistently than half a dozen that you update a few times a year.
Myth #3: Only young people use social networks. Not true. According to the Pew Internet Research Project, 73% of all adult internet users also use social networking sites regularly. The percentage of users versus non-users has been growing steadily for every single age demographic since 2005; 65% of internet users aged 50-64 use social media too. Adults aged 65+ are also adopting technology and social networking habits more widely, according a recent report also featured on the Pew site. This growth trend promises continue in years to come.
Myth #4: Social media isn’t relevant to what we do as booksellers. Given the growing number of people who use social media regularly, not to mention the number of educational institutions, libraries, and museums that are now online, why wouldn’t you want access to that treasure trove of information? The truly amazing thing about this technology is the ease with which it allows you to connect to peers, colleagues, and potential customers, whether they are across town or across an ocean. Social media isn’t all about posting pictures of your cats wearing cute sweaters (though please send those straight to me if you have them); there are serious and interesting exchanges taking place all the time. At the very least, becoming proficient at using these websites is an important way to stay in the know and understand the interests and trends of the people and clients that matter to you.
Myth #5: Social media is just another way to sell your product. Let it be known: Facebook and Abebooks do not function in the same way. Although you can and should use Facebook to promote your business (Facebook now offers merchant services to encourage just that), clearly it will not be your primary digital marketplace. I will go into more detail about this distinction down the line, but IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) social networking is first and foremost a chance to engage with the community, share your knowledge and passion, and stay relevant. As an example, although I post links to our catalogues and do a “featured item” from our stock every week on Facebook, if you visit our page you will see that I post a wide variety of material from fun or unusual pictures to interesting news articles. Again, it’s about engagement; bombarding your audience with a constant stream of offers and ads ensures that you are talking at them, not with them.
In future posts I will be discussing very specific aspects of the social media game and offer concrete advice about how to get started and thrive, but I do hope this first entry has piqued your interest and got you thinking. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not one of those professional social media gurus that I mentioned earlier. I will be learning a lot about this technology right alongside you, and I welcome any comments and suggestions that you may have. Although I consider myself pretty tech savvy and have a certain amount of practical experience using social media for business, I am, like you, first and foremost a bookseller; one who is trying to juggle many duties and projects at the same time. As such, my intent with these blog posts is to provide a perspective on social media that is straightforward and relevant, while also keeping in mind the challenges and realities of the book trade.