We live in the age of social media. It influences the way we dress, the things we eat and, most importantly, the books we read. The vibrant, colourful and personal nature of book-influencers’ accounts has made platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Twitter key tools for finding book recommendations. ‘Bookstagram’ has become a familiar term to anyone who is passionate about reading or writing and has a social media account. 

Recently, another term has emerged: ‘BookTok’. TikTok, the long-existing platform that has grown immensely throughout the pandemic, is recognised for its large-scale potential by both influencers and publishers. While Bloomsbury and Penguin Random House are attempting to use the platform to promote new releases, most publishers do not have an active account yet. Why have they not jumped at this new opportunity? 

On the 13th of October, BookMachine hosted the event “Book Influencer Secrets: Maximising your Social Campaign Reach”. Liv Marsden, Marketing Manager at 4th Estate and William Collins, and Hannah Paget, Senior Marketing Manager at Simon & Schuster joined influencers in the conversation on the industry’s use of social media and, specifically, TikTok.

Publishers are aware of the benefits TikTok offers readers, but express a certain hesitance towards employing the platform themselves. Hannah Paget admitted that her team mostly used the platform to explore and see what other publishers are doing, but is not actively using it for marketing purposes. One reason for this is the platform’s unpredictability. Is it just a trend that will pass? ‘We can’t predict what the next trend will be and I think that’s hard as a publisher’, Liv Marsden said. 

It is at the moment this being that we’re all a little bit frightened of and not quite sure how to tackle.

Liv Marsden, Marketing Manager 4th Estate and William Collins

Another reason for the lack of activity on publishers’ behalf is the nature of the platform. Liv Marsden recognised that TikTok is successful because it is reader-driven. ‘I think it’s a little bit unknown whether a brand, a publisher’s account, will have that same effect’, Marsden explained. This is connected to what marketing-expert Georgia Henry said during the Bookseller Children’s Conference on 21 September. She explained that TikTok is a peer-to-peer platform and made an important distinction between TikTok’s emphasis on the content of books, as opposed to Instagram’s focus on aesthetics. Publishers will have to find new ways of presenting their material to adapt to the new platform, which can be a daunting task.

Influencers are optimistic. Kevin, who runs a successful YouTube account called Irish Reader explained that the pandemic increased people’s reliance on social media for book recommendations. Now that more people have experience with using the existing platforms, the influence of social media on consumers’ behaviour will only continue to grow. Bethan, who runs the successful BookTok-account ‘doriansbooks’, agreed: ‘even with everything going back to normal I feel like people will still use social media, probably even more than they used it in the pandemic’. It suggests that the growth of TikTok was not just a lockdown-driven trend.  

So, should the tables turn? Just as publishers are using influencers to encourage readers to step out of their comfort zones and try new titles or new genres, should influencers encourage publishers to change their take on social media? As TikTok continues to grow and expand, I believe publishers will have no choice but to follow the trend and evolve with it.  

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