Breaking down BookTok: What brands can learn from this social-literary phenomenon

18 Jul

This summer’s hottest pastime isn’t sports or patio dining. Thanks to BookTok, it’s reading.

You read that right. TikTok has made reading certifiably, undeniably cool.

If you’ve been scrolling through your feeds and wondering how everyone knew to pick up a copy of “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover or “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas, don’t worry. Keep reading to learn more about how TikTok is shaping the literary industry and what brands can take away from this trending subculture.

What is BookTok?

BookTok is a TikTok subculture where book lovers discuss the books they can’t stop talking about.

On TikTok, #BookTok has over 61.9 billion views, with some individual videos reaching upwards of 100 thousand likes. This hype isn’t exclusive to the network either. As of July 17th, 2022, ten out of the 15 books listed on the New York Times Paperback Trade Fiction Best Seller list are #BookTok recommendations.

A screenshot of the top seven New York Times Paperback Trade Fiction best sellers. Six of the seven on the list are BookTok recommendations.

BookTok has revitalized the publishing and bookselling industries by allowing a new generation of readers to share recommendations without the backing of a media outlet or column. Now, anyone can have the power to make a book fly off the shelves and brands are taking note.

How 3 brands are promoting popular BookTok recommendations on TikTok

Popular BookTok books are a major opportunity for literary brands. Sellers, publishers, book clubs and even authors are tapping into the subculture to attract new fans with the latest page-turner. Here’s how they’re making it happen.

1. Barnes and Noble BookTok: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

If you were in junior high school during the early 2010s, you probably saw this title getting passed around your homeroom class by a devoted group of young adult (YA) fiction fans. Thanks to the recent Amazon Prime TV series adaptation, the novel is more popular than ever on BookTok.

“The Summer I Turned Pretty” is a YA romance that follows a pivotal summer in the life of Isabel Conklin. The coming-of-age novel and television adaptation beautifully capture the vibes of those final few summers between childhood and adulthood.

It pairs perfectly with a TikTok trend that’s inspiring users to ponder personal truths sandwiched between two unrelated sentences.

@bnbuzz

This series was so much more than I expected. I highly recommend reading it. #thesummeriturnedpretty #thesummeriturnedprettyseries #booktok

♬ original sound – fiona’s gf

BNBuzz, the official Barnes and Noble TikTok account, jumped on this opportunity to take an empathetic look at why this book continues to resonate with teen audiences more than a decade after its original publication. The TikTok combines a trending audio with a subject that’s currently surging in popularity, creating something that’s timely and relatable for younger readers.

2. Penguin Random House BookTok: Lapvona by Otessa Moshfegh

Otessa Moshfegh is a BookTok darling. In 2021, her novel “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” became an aesthetic-defining TikTok hit, inspiring new fans to tear through her other works with zeal.

Readers had been counting down the days until they could get their hands on her most recent release “Lapvona” since August 2021. When popular BookTokers began sharing initial reactions to advance reading copies, excitement swelled to new heights.

The novel’s publisher, Penguin Random House, tapped into this spike in conversations with a good old-fashioned social media contest.

@penguinrandomhouse

Enter the giveaway by posting a video on TikTok sharing why you want Lapvona, tagging this account, and using #lapvonagiveaway in the caption! No purchase necessary, US residents, 18+, ends 4/15. Link to official rules in bio! #ottessamoshfegh #lapvona #ottessamoshfeghisbae #myyearofrestandrelaxation #bookgiveaway #reading #balloonbreath

♬ In My Mind (feat. Crystal Waters) – Never Dull

The giveaway was simple. To enter, users had to share their own TikTok explaining why they should receive a copy of the book. This call for user-generated content inspired quite a few TikTokers to share their Moshfegh libraries, promoting even more Penguin Random House publications in the process.

@urbabykenz

ottessa moshfegh is the gatekeeper to my soul; the entire essence of my being. i am delusional with or without her, but desperately need her to breathe #lapvonagiveaway

♬ original sound – 777

3. Reese’s Book Club BookTok: Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

“Seven Days in June” was published during the summer of 2021 and has remained a #BookTok mainstay ever since. TikToks discussing the novel have reached over five million views and BookTokers can’t stop talking about it. It’s a hit endorsed by several literary influencers—including Reese Witherspoon.

Reese’s Book Club is a monthly book club dedicated to elevating stories centering women. “Seven Days in June” was the club’s June 2021 pick, providing readers with a month’s worth of exclusive content from author interviews to book-inspired playlists.

This content didn’t lose steam once the month ends. The Reese’s Book Club TikTok account reused clips from exclusive interviews to celebrate the novel’s paperback release.

@reesesbookclub

“I just want Black love to look iconic.” -Tia Williams #SevenDaysInJune is now out in paperback! 😍 Have you gotten your copy yet? #booktok #summerread #summerbooks

♬ Aesthetic – Tollan Kim

Repurposing content can keep your TikTok schedule packed with content that breaks out on the For You Page and into the hearts of potential followers.

What other brands can learn from the success of #BookTok

On the surface, trends in this subculture may seem exclusive to brands in the literary space. However, you should never judge a book by its cover. TikTok is a great place to find and connect with your niche audience, no matter what industry you’re working in.

Whether you’re a homeware brand looking to capitalize on #CleanTok or a children’s retailer trying to get in on #MomTok, here are a few things you can learn from the rise of BookTok.

Count on creators to lead the way

Every TikTok subculture has its own circle of niche internet celebrities. On BookTok, these creators publish reviews, memes, observations and more.

Penguin Random House capitalized on this by hiring two content creators— @kimmybookss and @balloonbreath—to create custom content for their channel. This takes their partnership a step further than collaborating on sponsored content. Instead, these creators are fully incorporated into the Penguin Random House brand content strategy.

A screenshot of the Penguin Random House TikTok profile.

The Barnes and Noble TikTok strategy also approaches creators in a unique way. Instead of searching their feeds for the next TikTok star, they search their stores.

A GIF of the TikTok search results for Barnes and Noble

Several Barnes and Noble locations manage their own TikTok account, promoting content that’s specific to their stores. A Barnes and Noble location in Westminster, Colorado has over 30K followers, making the store’s staff seasoned creators in their own right.

While each scenario is unique, together they prove that a creator’s place is in the driver’s seat. If you want to tap into a TikTok subculture, you need to give them space to lead the way.

Don’t be afraid to keep it casual

If you search through the trending videos on #BookTok, you’ll see a lot of recommendations given to the tune of popular audios, front-facing camera chats and countless literary memes. They all have an effortless quality that fits in perfectly with the casual vibe of TikTok.

A screenshot of a TikTok search for BookTok

As a marketer, it’s tempting to only want to post polished, brand-approved visuals across all networks. On TikTok, you have to try doing things differently.

The secret to going viral on TikTok won’t be cracked using expensive video editing software. Loosen the reigns and lean into experimentation for quicker wins.

Pro tip: Just because a TikTok looks effortless doesn’t mean it was easy to make. In reality, even the most organic-looking TikTok can take multiple takes to get right. If you’re creating content for your brand, give yourself time for trial, error and editing. If that doesn’t fit in your schedule, then you may want to consider outsourcing to a creator.

Create easy paths to purchase

The path to checkout is rife with hurdles and distractions. To keep BookTokers on the right track, retailers like Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million created #BookTok-specific sections on their websites.

A screenshot of the Barnes and Noble website, highlighting the link to a BookTok landing page

(Source: Barnes & Noble)

These landing pages guide readers to their intended destinations quickly for a smoother conversion at checkout. The Books-a-Million BookTok landing page even sorts books by what’s trending, what’s gaining traction and genre.

Any retailer that’s ever had a product take off on TikTok can learn from this play. Consumer interest is powerful but fleeting. Make sure your business is ready to capitalize on every opportunity by giving TikTok-approved items their own easy-to-find location on your website.

Bring online experiences IRL

It’s official: “As Seen on TV” is now “As Seen on TikTok.”

Your website isn’t the only place that needs a “Trending on TikTok” section. Brands that manage brick-and-mortar locations can lean in further on social hype by creating dedicated displays to items trending on the network.

If you want to go the extra mile, follow Barnes and Noble’s lead and use TikTok to attract followers to your store. Their summer partnership with the network encourages BookTokers to buy popular BookTok books and read alongside their favorite creators for a combined online/offline experience.

Lose yourself in a good BookTok book

BookTok can introduce you to your next favorite read. It also serves as a meaningful marketing lesson: Your industry’s TikTok community may already be out there. You just have to look.

If you’re in need of a starting point, check out this primer on the trends that are shaping TikTok. You’ll be on your way to finding your brand’s niche in no time.

The post Breaking down BookTok: What brands can learn from this social-literary phenomenon appeared first on Sprout Social.

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