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My Internet 2.0 Paradox April 24, 2009

Posted by Galaxy in Musings.
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Written by Sandy

No doubt about it, the Internet rules our current culture. Look at you–you’re reading a blog online, where you once might have been reading a column in a newspaper or magazine. Look at me–I’m writing a blog post instead of a diary entry or a letter. How many people do you know that have never used Google to search for the answer to a question? I’m guessing the answer is few to none.

In the business world, the common thinking is that you need to have an online presence in order to stay competitive. At bookselling seminars over the past ten years, this message has remained constant, even while the dialogue changed to fit the current trend: get a website, send your newsletters by email, get on MySpace, start a blog, get on Facebook, start Twittering, start a vlog.

At the same time, independent booksellers–for that matter, all independent retailers–are trying to focus on the things that make us different from the “big guys.” The number one feature that we pride ourselves on is our customer service.  What you won’t find (or, at least, I have never found) at any online discounter or big box retailer is the personalized attention that you can get when you go to your neighborhood bookstore (for example) where the booksellers know you–and vice-versa–where the staff knows the inventory and takes time to help you find exactly what you want, where you can engage in conversations and bump into friends and neighbors, where you can have serendipitous moments of coming across a book you weren’t even aware of, but which turns out to be exactly what you were looking for all along.

Basically, it’s all about the in-person/personal experience, as opposed to the self-serve model of online retailers and the solitary experience of interacting with a computer screen. So, how do these two seemingly disparate approaches work together? I’ve resisted jumping on the “social media” bandwagon for several years, even while people many years my senior were telling me that “this is the way that the next generation is connecting. We have to be a part of this (insert trend here) thing.” I guess I’m a little old fashioned. We had a website. A few years later, we started a regular email newsletter, and that did allow us to reach out to our customers in an affordable and simple way that we hadn’t been able to accomplish before. Still, I wasn’t interested in joining MySpace or blogging or any of that other stuff. To me, it felt antithetical to our way of being. After all, we love interacting with people in the store, we love the neighborly, old fashioned feeling of seeing people we know and talking to them, face to face.

And yet, I succumbed to the peer pressure: I put Galaxy on Facebook and started a blog. As it turns out, the internet is a great way to make connections with people. I’ll even go so far as to admit that it can be a fun addition to those face-to-face meetings.

Why the sudden reversal? I suppose it was a slow realization–recognizing my own growing use of those social media outlets and becoming aware of the potential for reaching out to people in a new forum, hopefully in a way that will keep them engaged and invested in continuing this friendship between the bookstore and the reader. Through Facebook, we can keep people updated about events in a timely fashion. Here on our blog, we can share the thoughts that might not come up otherwise, and maybe get some conversations started. I’ve also discovered that people like to talk in person about their online interactions. We’ve already had a few fun discussions about our online ventures with some of our Facebook fans who stopped by the store to do some shopping.

So, while I still think that people should write more letters, talk in person more often, and stop texting every living minute (a serious pet peeve of mine), I’m enjoying our small digital evolution. Change, as they say, is good.

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