The following article by Janet Geddis, the owner of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia, was written for Booksellers New Zealand and appears here with permission.
My name is Janet Geddis, and I run a bookshop in Athens, Georgia, USA. I’ve been using social media to promote my store and help with sales since years before my storefront even opened in 2011, and I’m hoping I might be able to share some tips and tricks that will help you get more results from your stores’ Instagram feeds.
I cannot tell you the number of times we have people come in and say something to the effect of, “You had this book on your Instagram the other day…” Sometimes “the other day” was weeks ago, but with some sleuthing, we figure out what book the customer is in pursuit of! We sell a lot of books and gifts after highlighting them on Instagram.
So what’s the best way to use Instagram if you have a bookshop? Here are some tips that help me curate our Instagram feed. Just so you know, I mean ‘curate’ in the loosest sense — my staff and I get inspired in the moment and don’t have a formal “social media plan.” I assure you: it doesn’t take long to post on Instagram. It’s like handselling in a digital way: Your images and recommendations go straight into your customers’ lines of vision, no matter what time of day they’re looking at their phones.
Have fun! Remember that, even though you may be on your smart phone in an empty bookstore, you’re socializing with people who have opted to follow your business online.
- Use hashtags with each picture, but don’t overwhelm the audience. We try to use between three and 10 hashtags with each post. (Not familiar with hashtags? Thank of them as digital file folders that help you categorize the type of post you just shared.)
Use both general and store-branded hashtags. We often use very general ones like #book, #reading, #bookstore, and #independentbookstore, and we almost always use hashtags I created just for Avid Bookshop: #avidbookshop, #avidreads, #avidrecommends, #avidgifts, etc. We also use community-focused ones like #princeave (our street’s name) and #buylocalathens.
Take photos of books, but make sure your feed isn’t just photos of one book after another. Mix it up! Include pictures of staff, customers, cool sidelines, your storefront, a section you just revamped, a real-time author event, flowers in your neighborhood, another indie bookshop you’re visiting in another town, and the like. (Hint: Remember to ask permission to share photos of customers’ faces, and ask parents before putting a photo of their child online.)
Post three to four times a day. (This is a tip from my staff members.) Try posting when people will be goofing off on their phones during food breaks: breakfast, lunch, and dinner — and maybe one last late-evening post! This frequency won’t overwhelm people and cause them to miss content or — dare I say it — decide to unfollow you. And you’ll be posting often enough that you continue to pique followers’ interest.
Support your local business community and neighborhood! Share a picture of your store’s owner wearing a lovely new dress from the boutique next door, or take a staff photo of some of your team enjoying dinner or beers at the pub nearby. And remember to tag those other businesses to share the love!
It’s worth the effort to tag publishers, authors, illustrators, and sales reps when you share a photo of a book. Same goes for sharing photos of sidelines: if you can find the sideline company on Instagram, tag them. Very often they’ll “regram” your post, which gets you more exposure!
Make sure your staff members show up in plenty of photos! Customers who love your store already probably love your staff, and those who can’t visit want to get a feel for what it’s like to actually shop at your store in person. Include pictures of your staff being silly, meeting authors, holding up their staff picks of the week, and more.
See how much fun our #callmeishmael phone is? Right now if you want to try it you can visit us here in #AthensGA or the @nypl in Manhattan! We're guessing Avid is more convenient for most of you. Try it and snap a selfie while you do--tag us and @callingishmael! Here you can see sweet mama MB inside the shop with her son O looking in from the sidewalk outside. #mothersday #latergram #bookstoreday #payphone #books #booknerd #reading #bookstore #independentbookstore #princeave
Encourage customers to be involved with your store online. If you see someone taking a photo in the shop, try to curb your showrooming suspicions and instead stay positive: “Oh, if you post that on Instagram, will you tag us?”
Try to keep up with comments by checking them each time you log in to post a new photo. Very often, customers will respond to photos and it makes them feel good to see that you are replying to them, even if you just send them a little book or smile emoji! We often have customers ask questions about items in the picture, but sometimes they ask about something totally off-topic — we risk accidentally ignoring those customers if we don’t review our comments whenever we log in.
- Sometimes I look at the number of likes and comments we’re getting on our posts and I think to myself, “Why has there been a drop-off?” You know what always cures my low-engagement woes? Posting a picture of my cat, Satchel (aka #homeofficekitty or #SatchelCat), doing something weird and cute — a picture of an adorable animal will bring back the likes faster than you can imagine, and you now know for sure that people are still paying attention to your feed.
Satchel and I are listening to @elizabeth_gilbert_writer's #BigMagic. Fascinating and inspiring! We have the hardcover at Avid, but if you want us to order you the audiobook on CD, we can do that for you with ease! - @janevie // #SatchelCat #homeofficekitty #bookstorecats #catsofinstagram #books #inspiration
It won’t hurt to experiment a little while you get your footing, and — at least for now — Instagram is free for businesses and extremely popular for users of all ages. Give it a shot, and let me know what your Instagram handle is so I can follow you!
Perhaps you've been "meaning to drop by" for awhile. We hereby invite you to make today the day--we are excited to say hi! Even if you can just dip in for a moment, get a feel for the shop and then come back another day when you have time to browse. #avidbookshop #athensga #princeave #buylocalathens #book #bookstore #reading #independentbookstore
Avid Bookshop is a neighborhood bookshop in a college town that focuses on a well-curated collection and excellent customer service. Though the shop is small (approximately 750 selling square feet), it keeps nine people employed and serves fairly extensive markets. Geddis is a member of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Advisory Board and is on the American Booksellers Association’s Booksellers Advisory Council (BAC).