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Schedule Your Tweets and Other Lessons for a Houston Bookshop

This store's small social-media team will need to divide, conquer and strategize to turn social-media followers into customers.
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Though Houston’s Brazos Bookstore was founded in 1974, the shop created its website, Facebook profile and Twitter feed just two years ago. As with many small businesses, the social-media team is learning by doing. Two staffers, floor manager Keaton Patterson and publicity manager Mary Allen, control the store’s profiles and pen posts while helping with the shop's daily operations. With some advanced planning and strategizing, however, our experts expect the shop can increase foot traffic and maximize its social-media minutes.

What’s working
Tweets with "voice." Witticisms are common on the Brazos Twitter feed with posts like "Printed books. Helping you think since the seventh century A.D." Such bite-sized, tweet-able lines showcase Patterson's and Allen’s humor and quirky personalities. Rory Martin, a Seattle social-media expert, likes the approach and suggests the duo sign their posts with their initials for an added personal touch. He says that signed tweets can forge a bond with followers, much like lists of staffer-recommended books did in an era before social media. Says Martin, "It’s not just about the message. It’s about relationships." Since humor can be hard to gauge, he suggests the store track the response to jokes and quirky tweets to make sure they’re connecting with readers. Any account holder can view basic analytics for free through Twitter Advertising or Hootsuite, with more in-depth information available through subscription services (with programs from SproutSocial or HowSociable, starting at about $100 a month).

Leveraging its network. For a local bookstore, Brazos has some prestigious followers, including the Paris Review and McSweeney’s, well-respected literary magazines. A recent reading by Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson was immortalized on the shop's Twitter with a Vine of the book's first line. Patterson says he attracts high-profile visitors and followers in part by tagging them when the store touts their books or events at Brazos. The shop also builds relationships offline, including at industry conferences such as New York’s annual BookExpo America. Martin adds that the store can strengthen its network by identifying a core group of customers who respond most to its brand on social media, turning them into informal brand ambassadors to amplify the company’s message.

What the experts advise
Create a content calendar. Right now, Allen and Patterson tweet when they have a moment but Martin suggests using a scheduling tool, such as HootSuite, Buffer or TweetDeck. This will create an online content calendar they can review both weekly and monthly to ensure that important promotions and events are getting proper coverage. “Scheduling keeps you accountable to your own goals and social requirements. It’s about making sure you stick with a consistent message,” Martin says. Some content, like author quotes, could also be planned in advance, freeing the duo for strategizing and live-tweeting during special events or when inspiration strikes. Posting during in-store events ensures anyone can virtually take part, and whets appetites, so those who couldn’t attend will make sure they don’t miss out again. Says Martin, "Always leave them with something. But leave them wanting more."

Allen and Patterson currently each spend about a half hour daily on social media, a number they might consider doubling. John Jantsch, marketing consultant and founder of Duct Tape Marketing in Kansas City, Mo., says an extra 10 hours a week between them can help them strategize and analyze response. "Likely right now, there’s little payoff," but he says with a targeted plan, "you’ll get more followers and sell more books."

Engage with customers. Martin suggests Brazos spark conversations with its users, whether they are moms, local university writing programs or book clubs. Facebook posts could quote lines from a visiting author or best seller and ask readers to guess the writer, paying attention to which genres do best on which platforms. Special group pages for active book clubs could help users come together virtually, with organizers given moderation rights for those pages.

Integrate the store's website and social profiles. Right now, Brazos doesn’t have links to its social-media accounts on its homepage. Icons that link to Twitter, Facebook and other relevant accounts should be prominent on the homepage, says Jantsch. The store should consider adding features that allow users to "like" its Facebook page without leaving the website or read its Twitter feed from the company site. Jantsch also suggests the social commenting plugin be added to the company website so that if readers comment on books or events, the comments will be pushed to Facebook, fueling discussion. He says, "The goal is to embed into as many places as possible that your customers and prospective customers might be."

Martin agrees, adding that Brazos should cross-pollinate posts across its website, Twitter feed and Facebook wall. "Whether your customer is on the bus, online or on the phone, you need to be speaking to them on those channels." Brazos says its website is currently being revamped and a new page will incorporate its social platforms.