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Tapping Into #BookTok: A Case Study, Part I

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by Desireé Duffy, Founder, Black Château —

Desireé Duffy

In the first installment of this two-part series on the TikTok community #BookTok, the founder of a marketing and PR agency discusses the launch of a focused campaign on the social media platform.

Article Synopsis:

  • Understanding the platform, the audience, the impact, the nuances of how the #BookTok community interacts, and the etiquette are some of the key points researched before launching the campaign.
  • The company’s strategy for #BookTok was less about creating a profile and becoming creators and more about connecting with influencers who already had audiences brimming with book lovers.

In early 2021, if an author asked me if they should be on TikTok, my answer would have been: “Only if you’re ready to become a dancing author.” The social media platform that came onto the scene in late 2017 captured the attention of a young demographic that seemed to mostly want to dance, lip-sync, and make cute emoji-infested videos that didn’t have too much to do with books or reading. We had #bookstagram on Instagram, genre and reader-centric groups on Facebook, and the writing community on Twitter for authors. While some book lovers found a small niche there, TikTok wasn’t capturing enough of an audience to tap into—at least not yet.

Then Along Came #BookTok

As a marketer and public relations professional, I keep my eye on trends, especially as they pertain to authors and the publishing world. When #BookTok took off, I took notice. There was something happening that had a lot of potential. It was a convergence of influencer marketing + book reviews + book lovers + creativity that all was coming together in a way that marketers, publishers, authors, and everyone in the reading and writing communities could enjoy.

Wait, What Exactly Is #BookTok?

Let me explain what #BookTok is to help put this case study into perspective. Within the TikTok world, there are many trending topics, or hashtags, that users follow. #BookTok is like a community within a community.

If you’re on #BookTok, it means you’re a fan of books, are following #BookTok trends and hashtags, and getting book recommendations from the influencers and fellow bibliophiles.

The #BookTok community has quickly become powerful. It has single-handedly taken backlist books and made them bestsellers. Savvy bookstores are creating displays of popular #BookTok books. #BookTok has not only tapped into, but created, a whole new market. Young, eager, vivacious booklovers who want to dance and cry and celebrate books are there waiting for new #BookTok books to fall in love with.

Research for Our Case Study

The first step for any campaign is research. Understanding the platform, the audience, the impact, the nuances of how the #BookTok community interacts, and the etiquette are some of the key points we researched. The team at Black Château did their homework on TikTok and #BookTok before venturing too far into uncharted waters. Siddhi Jahagirdar, who is our content and search engine optimization expert, spearheaded the research to give us a solid foundation on which to develop a strategy. Bree Swider, Dave Duffy, Tianna Marinucci, and I had a TikTok brainstorming meeting and came up with ideas for our #BookTok adventure.

One of the crucial things we found—and this is important for any media platform (meaning any social media platform or even traditional media)—is that one needs to understand the audience. Getting to know who was in the #BookTok community was pivotal in deciding how we’d develop our strategy.

Creators and creatives on #BookTok, and on TikTok as a whole, are the core of what the platform is all about. TikTok is less social media-like in the way Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram are. While people do comment, share, and have conversations, TikTok is mostly a space for people to express their creativity. It is for people who want to tell and share short-form content with others who are like-minded.

We also discovered some great news about TikTok from a marketing perspective. The shareability and viralness one can achieve far surpasses what one often finds on other social media platforms. One can quickly share TikTok videos on their other social media platforms relatively seamlessly. One can easily allow other creators to use parts of their video. Called “stitching,” if enabled on a video, others can snip a part of the video and stich it into their own. This, along with memes that catch on like the “Oh No” trend, can not only be fun but can have a viral impact far beyond what one post can achieve on platforms like Twitter or Instagram.

We researched many #BookTok trends and challenges. For example, there are #TBR, or To Be Read list challenges happening in the #BookTok community. There are fan moments when bewildered authors enter the #BookTok world to connect with their readers. There are viral moments and #BookTok happenings that outpace anything happening on typical social media platforms.

One of the most important parts of our research was following numerous #BookTok influencers. They are creating captivating, funny, brilliant, and exciting content. As we followed them, we curated a hot list of our favorites. Our strategy quickly developed as we looked for #BookTok influencers who not only had a strong following, but who also were in alignment with our brand and mission.

Strategizing Our #BookTok Campaign

Dani Lopez is one of The BookFest BookTok Brand
Ambassadors. Her TikTok handle is: @booksdanireads.
She has 165,000 followers and 2.6 million likes on TikTok.

Our strategy for #BookTok was less about creating a profile and becoming creators (though we begrudgingly did that with surprising initial results, which I’ll get into later) and more about connecting with influencers who already had audiences brimming with book lovers. Tapping into what these creators were already doing was the big thrust of our strategy.

We reached out to our hot list of #BookTok influencers in search of a brand ambassador to collaborate with. To our delight, we received responses from two of our top three choices. And since we couldn’t decide between them, we invited them both to work with us. After a few Zoom calls, we quickly came to agreements with our new brand ambassadors.

We further developed our #BookTok influencer strategy around The BookFest®. A virtual event that is presented twice a year by Books That Make You—Black Château’s consumer-facing brand—The BookFest always features a Big Bundle of Books Giveaway. We decided this contest would be the perfect campaign for our influencers, The BookFest BookTok Brand Ambassadors, to promote.

Goal Setting for The BookFest BookTok Brand Ambassadors Campaign

Every BookFest has a report, which means we know what key performance indicators (KPIs) we want to measure. For this campaign, we raised them 10-20 percent. In addition to measuring the number of entrants for the giveaway, some of our KPIs included: traffic to The BookFest website, traffic to the Books That Make You YouTube channel, the number of subscribers to The BookFest email list, the number of opens and click-throughs on the emails, and the views, shares, and engagements our social media platforms receive.

Implementation of the Campaign

Brands often get in the way of their own best interest if they make things “too commercial.” If a product placement or endorsement feels forced or sounds too salesy, it will fall flat with the intended target audience. We don’t want to do that. So, we did the hardest thing that a brand can do: We gave our influencers a lot of creative freedom to do what they do best, which is come up with #BookTok videos for The BookFest Big Bundle of Books Giveaway.

We sent them all the books included in the giveaway and several bookish goodies from Books That Make You like a coffee mug, a candle, a BookFest hat, and more. Along with some information about each book and author to help them, they are now in the process of creating those #BookTok videos to promote the event, which takes place October 23 and 24.

We also invited our influencers to join us at The BookFest to talk about #BookTok. As this is a burgeoning new platform for authors and publishers, we want them and the literary community to learn as much as they can about opportunities on TikTok.

What’s Happened So Far?

Remember when I said that we didn’t really want to focus on building our own TikTok presence but begrudgingly did so? Well, we created a Books That Make You TikTok profile, made it a business page to tap into the features and benefits that TikTok offers brands, and posted a simple “unboxing video” to kick things off. Unboxing videos, by the way, are just that. It is the opening of a present or package for all to see. People love surprises, so these types of videos tend to do well.

We had just received the Webby Award placard for The BookFest and opened the box on TikTok. In just a day, it got over 600 views. For anyone doing social media, you know that isn’t too shabby for one post.

This morning we did our second Books That Make You TikTok video. Now, just a few hours later (at the time I am typing these words), it has 207 views.

What’s Next?

This is a two-part case study for a reason. At the time of this writing, not only did we just post our second TikTok video on the Books That Make You profile, but we are also smack in the middle of The BookFest BookTok Brand Ambassador Campaign.

The results, the outcome of the campaign, as well as ideas and thoughts on future campaigns that not only Black Château can use, but authors, publishers, and others in the literary community can use, will be revealed in part two. Watch for it in the next issue of this magazine.

Desireé Duffy is the founder of Black Château, a marketing and public relations agency; Books That Make You, a multimedia brand that promotes books and authors through its award-winning website, podcast, and radio show; and the Webby Award-nominated The BookFest® Adventure, a biannual online event that brings together book lovers from around the world.

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