Community Engagement in the Digital Age
They were the two most discussed topics of the ABA conference: "Community" and "How The Internet Can Make Or Break Books".
In this session they came together with altogether wonderful results. Pip Lincolne of Meet Me At Mike's fame joined Becky Anderson (who I talked about here), Kate Eltham and Suzy Wilson (the owner of Riverbend books) and each gave a presentation on the ways they are using and taking advantage of BlogTumblrTwitFace, blogging and the real world to cultivate vibrant communities around their businesses.
It is important to think "outside the shop"
What is important when starting to establish a community is not what we are retailing, but what we believe in.
When blogging (or tweeting or facebooking) engage with your followers in your own voice - a personal touch - and make sure you interact with people. If someone leaves a comment, make sure you reply. Pip cautioned us not to limit ouselves to just blogging about your product (ie. books) but to engage with the world and all kinds of topics that create a unique identity around your business.
Remember to link to other people and things that you talk about, that you find interesting. And if a competitor has done something good, give them a thumbs up - credit people who are doing great things. Share the love around.
If you don't know how to use all these strange internet tools - never fear! Suzy at Riverbend has been running social media classes from her shop so that people of all ages and interests can get connected.
A Community That Cares
Meet and get to know your customers (they are your people). Create events on- and offline where your customers can meet.
The Queensland Writers Centre supports around 30,000 writers local all over that massive northern state. Kate discussed how the Queensland floods were a real "coming of age" for social media and the disaster collapsed social and emotional distance. The writers centre, along with the Australia Council, has recently launched The Three Cs Project, which will support the development of arts and community projects in flood-ravaged towns like Rockhampton.
There are so many worthy community projects to be a part of. Meet Me At Mike's began Softies for Mirabel four years ago to support the Mirabel Foundation and they provide toys for children whose families have been affected by drugs and alcohol.
As well as their social media classes, Riverbend Books hosts incredibly popular, themed foodie nights and a knitting bookclub called Knits and Novels. They also offer great little "My First Book Bag" book starter kits for their smallest shoppers and local customers can even get their purchases delivered by bike!
Anderson's Bookshop hosts events, - such as blood drives to coincide with any vampire book release - supports local not-for-profits and involves the whole community, including local restaurants and other retailers.
Anderson's Bookshop hosted J.K. Rowling in 1998 to celebrate the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone* with around ninety local kids...but nine short years later thousands upon thousands of Harry Potter fans turned up for the street party. Isn't that the most wonderful thought? As a massive HP fan myself I just keep thinking: if only we could do it all again...for I don't think another series will ever match its wonderfulness.
Aren't these beautiful sentiments? Sharing, caring, being interesting and interested. All wonderful ingredients for a happy world and happier lives. And the internet can help!
What's important is to remember that it's more than retailing. As Pip said: "sincerity is the thing".
Pop on over to The Cultured Animal to read her post The Times They Are a-Changin'.
*Though of course they were reading the Sorcerer's Stone...