Eva Chen, director of fashion partnerships at Instagram, led a discussion titled “Amplifying Your Presence on Social Media” at the American Booksellers Association’s sixth annual ABC Children’s Institute.
While Chen — known to her 950,000+ Instagram followers as @evachen212 — primarily works on content strategy with models, designers, stylists, and fashion houses, she has a background in books as well. A loyal customer of New York City indie bookstore Books of Wonder and an avid YA reader, she is also the author of the forthcoming Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes (Feiwel & Friends, November 6).
During the Children’s Institute session, Chen covered the basics of Instagram and provided deeper insight into how booksellers can use the services included in the Instagram ecosystem to help attract new followers and potential customers to their store.
For booksellers who do not have an active Instagram profile for their store, or for those who might not be aware of the benefits of having a business profile, Chen shared statistics and a few basic tips for new users.
Instagram is a powerful marketing tool for booksellers because it allows them to reach beyond their local community, according to Chen. “Think of it as the [world’s] largest book club...There are one billion monthly active users on Instagram alone, with half a million users active each day,” she said.
Of the one billion total Instagram users, 80 percent of them follow a business, Chen said. “People want to feel connected to brands they love...Instagram is a way to further that relationship,” she added.
Here are Chen’s three basic recommendations for bookseller accounts:
- Be consistent
- Engage your followers
- Have a local flavor
“My analogy for [being consistent] is it’s like watering a plant. If you want a plant to grow, you can’t water it three times a day sometimes...and then go one month without watering,” Chen said, adding that she recommends posting at least once a day. Posts should use appropriate hashtags and ask followers questions to increase engagement, which, in turn, can help increase a bookstore’s visibility.
Chen noted that booksellers should also make their bookstores feel like part of a destination. “If you’re a bookstore in Charleston, take a picture outside of a Charleston landmark. Don’t feel like [your posts] have to be confined to your bookstore,” she said. “Let your Instagram be a tour guide for the city or state that you live in.”
Instagram Feed and Profile View
The screen users see when they open up the Instagram app is called the “feed view,” and it shows content from the accounts that a user follows, explained Chen. From their feed, users can view their own profile or the profiles of accounts they follow. When viewing their own profile, users can see their follower count, bio, and grid layout. Some users can become obsessed with how their grid looks, Chen noted, because they think that it attracts followers to their page.
“You, as a business owner, probably look at your own profile to see how many more followers you got, and you want to see how pretty your grid looks. I’m here to tell you that it’s not worth it,” Chen said. “Ninety-nine percent of the impressions you get, which is when someone looks at your content, don’t come from the grid view, they come from the feed.”
To best attract new followers, Chen recommended that booksellers ensure their store’s profile looks bright and cheerful and is reflective of the kind of books the store sells.
Booksellers can also put custom hashtags in their bio, which can connect them to a wider bookselling community, Chen added. The hashtags should include the name of their store and revolve around a theme, such as customers holding their favorite book. This helps to create a content franchise that can be repeated daily, weekly, or monthly while also designating a space where followers could potentially contribute content.
While posts are permanent unless deleted by the owner, Instagram Stories are considered disposable content because they disappear after 24 hours.
Instagram Stories are great for when a bookstore hosts an author event, said Chen. Booksellers can post from the moment that person walks in and follow the event all the way through to the end. She added that the age group for Instagram Stories tends to skew a bit younger, so to reach all potential customers, booksellers should post Instagram Stories in addition to regular content.
“Instagram Stories and the Instagram feed are symbiotic,” said Chen. “The more you post to your feed, the more it will help your story visibility; the more your post on Stories, the more it will help your feed visibility. It goes hand in hand. I tend to compare your feed to your meals. You want to do one to three each day. And you can think of Stories as snacks.”
Booksellers can also save Stories to their Highlights, which can be accessed from the profile view, Chen explained.
“If there’s a story that you want to last more than 24 hours, you can save it to your Highlights,” Chen said, adding that highlights can be deleted, edited, or changed at any time. “So, you might have a Highlight that’s called Children’s Institute and it’s all [about] the authors you’ve met and the books that you’ve taken.”
Highlights are a way for booksellers to showcase their store’s involvement in the local community and beyond. Chen shared that on her own Instagram, she saved a Highlight for every city she’s been to, as well as ones for different events. This feature helps to catalogue content and makes it easily accessible for followers to view.
Instagram also offers the option for users to post disposable video content. “Instagram Live is the most ephemeral,” Chen said, as the videos can only be viewed in real time. Once a user ends the video, the content can no longer be accessed.
Chen added that booksellers could use Instagram Live to record author events. “Even if only 10 [followers] watch, you are reaching 10 people who couldn’t be at the bookstore and you’re developing a deeper relationship with them,” she said.
Search & Explore
The Search & Explore function on Instagram can connect content on bookstore accounts to followers who might not know about the store.
“You want your content to show up on Search & Explore because 150 million people look at it every day,” said Chen, adding that the most important thing booksellers can do is create content that’s likeable. “If you’re posting content that your followers are liking and making comments on, then your content will show up in their followers’ Search & Explore.”
When posting photos from author events, Chen recommended that booksellers tag the author. If the author sees it, they might like the post, which could attract their followers to the host store. In addition to tagging authors, booksellers should also use community-based hashtags to increase visibility.
“#Bookstagram has been used 21 million times,” Chen said, adding that tags that have a large following are built-in communities of like-minded people. Rather than only using general tags, such as #books, booksellers should look for more personalized choices, such as #bibliophile, which Chen said could help booksellers reach a targeted audience.
IGTV, which allows users to make long-form video content, is Instagram’s newest service. Unlike Instagram Stories and Instagram Live, IGTV videos remain accessible to all users unless deleted.
Chen recommended that booksellers use this service to create what she calls “content franchises,” or repeatable content. One example she gave was to have a list of standby questions that booksellers can ask authors during a side interview at an event; this can be repeated with multiple authors, which creates repeated content that followers can watch out for.
An advantage of creating a content franchise, Chen said, is that it makes the time-consuming task of posting to social media quicker and easier because booksellers will have pre-planned ideas for posts and IGTV videos. Chen recommended finding a theme for posts, whether it’s showcasing moms and their favorite books each week, conducting side interviews with authors and customers, or repurposing popular hashtags like #throwbackthursday to be more book-focused.
Instagram and Product Promotion
While Instagram is an excellent tool for raising awareness about a brand, Chen recommended against posting cut-and-dry product promotion because the app is primarily lifestyle-focused and users do not want to feel that they are being sold to. Instead, posts should tell a story.
“I think [product promotion] can be quite successful if you do it in an organic way,” Chen explained. “If you post a picture of [a book] that’s clearly a promotional image from a publisher...that looks really sterile. It doesn’t move product. If you post the newest book from Marie Liu, Warcross, against a video game console, it’s better.”
Instead of focusing on product promotion, Chen urged booksellers to focus on the content they’re creating. She also shared some successful bookstore Instagram accounts, such as New York City’s Strand Bookstore and McNally Jackson, which offer unique, curated content for their followers to view. “You have to make your content stand out,” she said.