Great Barrington business

BookLoft attends Communities Summit at Facebook headquarters

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GREAT BARRINGTON — If your business is only posting about its product on Facebook, you're missing the point — more importantly, you're likely missing the "engagement" everyone is driving for on social media.

Or at least, that's what BookLoft owner Pamela Pescosolido says.

And she ought to know. The independent bookseller located along a Route 7 strip mall has an international online more following of more than 8,000 Facebook users — a stat that caught the eye of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and snagged the BookLoft an invitation to Facebook's third annual Communities Summit on Feb. 6 and 7 at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., earlier this month.

"A lot of small businesses around here post only things that are potential moneymakers — we've got this on sale or this is the latest line or whatever — rather than just trying to interact with their followers," said Pescosolido, who purchased the 44-year-old BookLoft in 2016.

"`Treat your followers as your friends' is what has made our page more accessible to more people than if we were taking the business-only approach," she said.

The summit was attended by nearly 500 people representing 200 American businesses that are using Facebook in unique and successful ways. People there applied to attend the summit and were selected by Facebook following interviews with the selection team.

The summit featured addresses by Facebook higher-ups Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg (author of "Lean In"), and VP of product partnerships Ime Archibong. The goal was for Facebook to learn about the innovative ways business people are using the company's platform and introduce attendees to new products.

The most exciting of the new Facebook products, Pescosolido said, is a "subscription" tool that will allow people to pay a fee for exclusive content from various user-designed Facebook groups and/or pages.

"It sounds like it could be more of a fundraising tool than a commercial tool," she said. "We were thinking maybe we could do a first editions club or some other form of book club with a subscription."

There were a number of other Facebook updates announced at the summit, but not yet available to the public, including:

- a feature allowing Facebook pages to join and create groups and have discussions;

- a major upgrade to the the pages management app that will allow users to do more to their pages remotely, as well as send and receive messages through the app;

- a new tool to better organize blood donations.

Pescosolido and Tim Oberg, who's in charge of social media and marketing at the BookLoft, sat down for an interview with The Eagle when they returned from the conference.

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Why do you think the BookLoft was chosen by Facebook to attend the summit?

Pam: They were looking for businesses that were using Facebook in unique ways. We try to do more than just be a bookseller. Like, for instance, last summer at The BookLoft one weekend we gave all sale proceeds to a group in Texas that was working with immigrants at the border being locked up in detention centers. We raised $6,000 for that weekend for RAICES [Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services].

And we also do a lot of stuff with local projects. Like the Berkshires Baby Boxes; we gave them [a lot of] books. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but that's what all the small businesses [at the summit] were doing — things beyond running a brick-and-mortar store, reaching out and improving our communities.

You all have 8,000 followers [on Facebook] and a lot of engagement — it's something a lot of people would want. How does a little independent bookseller in Great Barrington build a following like that?

Pam: The way we use Facebook is we occasionally post `This is the new book we have in stock and you guys should come and buy it' because we are, in fact, trying to run a business. But more than that we post things our followers would like. [Our] followers are from all over the world, including India and Australia and Great Britain and in the U.S. When Tim posts things, he posts links to interesting stories that have to do with books. I often just post silly memes, which seem to be very popular. I posted one yesterday morning that said "It could be drugs," I whisper to myself as I buy 37 new books with no shelf space and a tight budget. "At least it's not drugs." And people went for it. [The post received 500 likes, 300 shares and 26 comments.] It has to be enlightening and entertaining.

What did you all learn at the Facebook summit?

Pam: My takeaway was all the access users have to [Facebook page] analytics. You can see who's looking at your content.. It turns out 70 percent of our followers were women. I didn't know that. So maybe we need to change our posts a little bit to appeal more to men so that we can have a broader follower base. Or maybe we stick with the things women like.

Facebook has been in the news lately over some controversy — questionable use of users' data, data breaches, [users] spreading false information — was that a consideration when you applied for the summit?

Pam: I never really had negative feelings about Facebook. Yes [someone] sucked Facebook data out, but I don't think it was Facebook's intention as an organization for that to happen. I think they're trying to do everything to make that not happen again.

Tim: Having had a real face-to-face connection, it was a reminder that although they're a big massive ...

Pam: Faceless.

Tim: ... mega corporation, in a sense, they're just a bunch of humans in that building running Facebook.

Any parting shots for people in the Berkshires who want to better use Facebook for their business?

Tim: The type of content that gets a lot of views, has visibility and shares, is if something is really pretty, really beautiful, and that can still go along with your marketing and business. It's got to be really visually engaging or it has to be funny. If you ignore either of those two things, people will stop paying attention.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini, 413-629-4621.


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