The phenomenon of social media and the unwavering influence it has on society is always a fascinating study. There are always new trends for people to jump on and have a go at. TikTok dances, Twitter (sorry, we mean X… a new thing to get used to!) threads and hashtags to join, Instagram story activities. Everyone’s doing something new on these platforms everyday.

Well, there’s a new interesting phenomenon that is actually getting people off their phone and getting stuck into a book instead. There’s a large presence on TikTok where people are reigniting their love of books, getting others onto their favourite authors and series, and having community discussions about the stories.

What does this say to us about the power of social media in sparking new retail trends, and fostering community spirit?

Where did ‘BookTok’ come from, and what does it say about customer communities influencing each other? 

If you’re an avid TikTok user, you might have been asked by others similar, “what side of TikTok are you on?” If you’re not aware, you’re probably baffled at how there can be different “sides” to one social media platform. And what does this even mean?

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TikTok currently has 1 billion monthly active users. With all these people, there is a huge variety of content being created and viewed. This is when the TikTok algorithm – seen for the consumers via the ‘For you’ page – comes in. The algorithm gives video recommendations based on a user’s interactions (likes, comments, shares) on these videos that they like.

This means that people with similar interests eventually end up on one “side” of TikTok, seeing similar content and following users like themselves. The algorithm has created different communities of like-minded people.

And there’s an absolute plethora of “sides” to TikTok, all been named to keep it TikTok-exclusive too. There’s the likes of GymTok, Make-UpTok, FoodieTok, and even sides for different aesthetics, such as ‘Cottagecore’. But that’s a different conversation for another time!

A key example of one of these sides of TikTok influencing the world around them, and which can teach us valuable lessons in our CX approaches, is BookTok. This community discusses book recommendations, authors, and shares their top favourite books, their ‘to be read list’ and more related content. Through doing this, though, we have seen an exceptional new experience in retail and a shift away from digital consumerism. The world of physical books, bookstores, reading for fun, and story discussions is alive in a totally new way it never has been before. This is especially the case for younger generations – those who are typically seen as the ‘digital natives’.

What does ‘BookTok’ mean for retail? 

Because of BookTok boosting the presence of fictional stories and the need to physically own the books, there were 669 million physical books sold in the UK last year. This is the highest overall number ever recorded! For 2023, the global book sales revenue was estimated to be slightly over $78 billion. This is a 2.53% increase on last year.

And these stats can infer a direct link to BookTok. More than half of young readers (16-25 year olds) credit BookTok for helping them find the passion for reading, and using the subcommunity for recommendations.

Through this, we have seen the boosting of authors such as Taylor Jenkins-Reid (author of popular book The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo). I’ll even admit that I too bought her books because of the hype and attention I saw them getting on TikTok. If nothing else, using TikTok to promote stories and authors is a really clever way to re-market and re-surface physical bookstores.

There’s now sections in-store at Waterstones dedicated to BookTok’s current trending favourites. Amazon has taken to adding TikTok into the titles of some of their best-selling BookTok books. In this digital age where we saw the introduction of digital reading platforms (take Kindles as a prime example), it’s great to see the rebirth of the physical book.

This phenomenon is like a human algorithm and group thinking. This can be applied to anything, not just books as our main focus here. Someone will buy a product just because someone else is buying it and talking about it online. This is how social media marketing works. And this has huge potential for retail – different industries, specialties, etc.

Our future with social media – how do we know what’s next?

It’s near enough impossible to keep up with social media trends, which side of TikTok you’re on, and which platform you need to move over to next. By the time you’re used to one thing, it’s already changed to the next. So there’s no point in us saying “do this trend”, “join this platform”. In a year’s time, the ‘BookTok’ community might have died down, or it might be the biggest aspect of TikTok. Final line – we just never know.

But what we do know, and what this all boils down to, is that the power of social media is incredible. In the way that it has reignited old passions, helped authors, boosted book sales in a way it hasn’t been for years. This is something that says to us that social media is more powerful than we could have ever predicted.

And the communities that these platforms foster are incredible. These groups take the time to share their thoughts, give similar recommendations in these “industries”, and keep going until something new trends within this. What if this is the new space to find raw and authentic customer feedback?

Like I said, we will truly never know what is next with social media. I mean, no one could’ve predicted the rebranding and downfall of Twitter. But the things it can highlight are what we take forward. If there’s just one thing we can learn from ‘BookTok’, it’s that there is a great power in customer communities with a common interest when they come together.

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