We love our new (well, new-ish) neighbors RiverRun Bookstore. Their knowledgeable staff loves to help customers find what they’re searching for, and the store’s vibrant schedule of author appearances is a true gem of the Seacoast cultural scene. (Past visitors include Justin Cronin, Paul Harding and Chuck Pahlaniuk, and in partnership with the Music Hall they’ve brought literary heavy hitters like David McCullough, Jennifer Egan and Neil Gaiman.) RiverRun was facing financial struggles last year, and nearly closed down, but the community pulled together to support the store and in February RiverRun reopened at a new location on Fleet Street–conveniently just across the street from Vital. We stopped by on a rainy Monday to chat with owner Tom Holbrook about how RiverRun uses social media, email marketing and blogging to stay engaged with the community.
Right away, it’s clear that Tom Holbrook is one busy bookseller. As we’re talking, an 11 or 12 year old boy comes up to the counter holding a sci fi book.
“Is this by an American author?” he asks, “I need to read a book that’s not by an American for a project.”
Tom quickly skims the inside flap of the book and answers that yes, the author is American. He recommends H.G. Wells and directs the young reader towards copies of “The Time Machine” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” He turns around and fields questions about an order of Karen Russell’s “Swamplandia!”–they’re out because of her brush with a Pulitzer–and retrieves special orders for two customers.
Almost everyone who comes into the store greets him by name, and no one leaves without something to read.
It’s this same kind of tireless, passionate and personal customer service that makes RiverRun’s social media presence work so well.
RiverRun tends to use Twitter more than Facebook, and Tom finds that it is both a great place to ask and answer questions. He calls Twitter the “communication of choice” among booksellers.
“My first job in bookselling was at the original Border’s in Ann Arbor [Michigan],” he said. “There were over a hundred employees and when we had a question about a book, we’d get on the intercom and ask all the booksellers in the store if they could help–I find that Twitter allows me to do kind of the same thing. I can get on and say, ‘I’m looking for a book about bees that has an orange cover…does anyone know the title I’m thinking of?’ and I’ll have an answer within seconds.”
RiverRun uses Twitter and their popular Constant Contact email blast to stay in touch with the community, build relationships with authors and grow their audience from across the U.S.. Booksellers who are engaged and active in the social media sphere mean a lot to the authors who visit their stores, says Holbrook. Tom picks up a copy of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. “When this was first published, the publisher really gave her no help at all with a tour,” he says. “So she set up her own tour, and because we were Twitter friends, we got in touch with her and she made a stop here–and by the time she visited, her book had gotten a ton of press and went number one on the New York Times bestsellers list.”
As a small business owner, Tom finds that social media allows him to push out an update quickly across many different channels–leaving him free to run the store. “I like to put out an event or press release over Constant Contact, Twitter and traditional news outlets quickly and easily. If I were constantly updating all of these channels with different content all the time I’d never get to anything else.”
RiverRun also has a blog that they update with news, sales and staff picks. “I try to get the staff posting, but I usually have to pester them,” Tom says. “But we love to get people on there just talking about the books they care about.”
Reaching out to both authors and customers is essential in the changing world of bookselling. In the age of Amazon, real booksellers provide experiences that the Internet simply can’t touch. RiverRun has just launched its own small press, Piscataqua Press, that will allow local authors to self-publish their books. “We have over 200 self published books in the store right now,” says Tom. “And so often, authors just go online and pick one of these self-publishing companies at random. But we’re real, we exist–we want to help writers on the Seacoast not get screwed.”
From the full schedule of author readings and special events to RiverRun’s exceptional customer service and relationships with the community, the bookstore goes above and beyond. “With this kind of business, you can’t just open the doors and expect people to come to you,” Tom says. “We need to find these ways to work outside the four walls of the store, and social media is one of the many ways we do that. It’s all about getting your personality out there, keeping yourself in front of people all the time.”
The result is more than a great retail experience–it’s a real community for the readers, writers and book lovers of the Seacoast.