Almost any books I have bought have been recommended to me through someone I know. They were not from a paid or promoted post (in fact, most of my paid or promoted posts are from Airbnb, which as you can imagine has been more than frustrating since about March). That is not to say, though, that if an Instagrammer recommends something to me, it will have me foaming at the mouth. There are plenty of artists and creatives that I follow that, if they pulled out a book and said “get this” I would probably let it sit in my head rent free until I purchased it. It is, though, a matter of authenticity. And I am not against promoted posts or paid-for content. That would be counterproductive for me as an Illustrator. However, being paid to say something for a company is one thing. Genuinely recommending something, while it might have been sent to you for free, you believe in is another.
Word-of-mouth marketing is the most trusted form of marketing. But do booksellers utilize it? There is plenty of opportunity to send out copies of a book to people that have just the right audience. An authentic recommendation not paid for, but genuinely meant could mean more people expressing an interest. And there might be people who had not considered purchasing the book before.
In those terms, I am far more likely to purchase a book recommended to me from someone that I trust. It goes in this order: my mom, and then my sister. Admittedly, I am not into self-help books, but I will at least consider it before I turn myself to the fiction section of the store. I might even browse. But they are trusted family. After my mom and my sister, the list then goes: that artist I really like on twitter. Personally, I am far less receptive to recommendations from paid and promoted posts on Instagram or Twitter. An ad interrupting my YouTube video usually leads to me being irritated and annoyed, and less likely to ever bother remembering it.
Publishers have a lot to gain from using trusted sources of media users to promote their books. Word-of-mouth marketing produces 5 times more sales than anything that has been paid for. Instagram and Tumblr drive aesthetic movements of well-produced photographs of books and softly lit spaces, and people follow these accounts in droves. The hashtag “bookstagrammer” has over 7.5 million posts on Instagram. Hashtags can be followed, and posts appear on users’ timelines. Utilizing these influencers to genuinely review a product can amount to trustworthy market research and genuine thoughts. Whether something is loved or hated can give the publisher feedback they need – and bad feedback can be just as useful, and even necessary.
Fortunate enough to be able to attend the Booksellers Children’s Conference this fall, one talk that struck me was Giles Harris’ talk about marketing– and influencers. It is partly why I chose this topic, as someone who generally does not like paid advertisements. He runs Come Round, a marketing firm that uses 100% word of mouth to promote products. They work with Campbell Books to send products directly into homes, maybe make it a bit of an event, and take the feedback back to the company. It is nothing paid for– its kids reading kids books. And kids are not often shy about what they think. Harris noted that “if someone hates a book, then they will influence their friends by telling them. If someone loves a book, they will influence their friends by telling them. In no case will that person have been paid to do that influencing”. The use of influencers is not going anyway anytime soon, not by any means, but how and what they provide can provide a basis for genuine and authentic content.