One of my favorite moments at this year's BEA occurred when Wine Library TV guru Gary Vaynerchuk addressed the issue of finding precious time away from our "real jobs" to handle online duties like blogs, e-mail or social networking sites.
"When the hell is interacting with clients not your real job?" he asked in his logical, passionate and conclusively rhetorical way. Another relevant question: Who is doing that interaction? I'm going to start this discussion by focusing on bookstores and blogs, but will necessarily open it up to include anyone in the book trade who "goes public" in the numerous online venues.
First, a quick history lesson: I started a blog in 2004 called Fresh Eyes: A Bookseller's Journal while I was still working full-time for a major indie because the shop wasn't quite ready to do one in-house. There were few booksellers online then, though Megan Sullivan's Bookdwarf was an inspiration.
It seems odd to feel a little nostalgic for a past that isn't even a half-decade old, but at the time I was excited to move from the information confines of a single bricks-and-mortar bookshop into an ongoing conversation about the industry with the likes of M.J. Rose at Buzz, Balls & Hype and the then-pseudonymous editor Mad Max Perkins at Bookangst 101.
Others soon joined in this exchange of ideas. On Thursday, October 20, 2005--long before she became the Jessica Stockton Bagnulo who coordinates events at McNally Jackson Booksellers and co-owns the soon-to-be dazzling Greenlight Bookstore--an initial post appeared on Jessica's new blog, the Written Nerd:
"I am so excited about bookselling, as the place where literature hits the streets, and as a possibility for the creation of community which is grounded in tradition but looking forward to the most exciting developments of a new age, that I bore even my bookseller friends. I do so much talking about this stuff that I finally realized I'd better start talking to more people. So here's the beginning. There are a wealth of fantastic literary blogs out there--I'll link to some of my favorites. There are even some booksellers getting into the act. This will be a place to record cool experiences in the literary biz, to talk about books that I'm excited about, and to speculate and plan endlessly for my own bookstore, a goal that I'm working toward with embarrassing giddiness."
The rest, as they say, is history, and Jessica is still recording that history online as it happens, in a passionate voice that reflects her commitment to books, bookselling and this crazy industry.
Going public can also feel like a highwire act sometimes. I wasn't writing a "bookstore blog," for example, yet I was fully aware that I represented the bookstore whenever I posted something on Fresh Eyes, especially if the topic was controversial. That didn't stop me from discussing such issues, but I knew I wasn't flying solo.
Now it's an even more complex book world online and that's why I'd like to open a discussion about it with a few questions:
- How difficult (or easy) is it for business owners to turn loose staff members as "the voice" of their companies?
- How much freedom do staff members feel they have to "write what they know," as it were?
- Is there a carryover effect (positive or negative) between personal blogs and company blogs by the same staff member?
- How do we avoid Gary V.'s wrath and find the time to make blogging (and social networking) part of our "real job?"
Patrick Brown, webmaster at Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, Calif., is one of several gifted "online practitioners" we'll hear more from in upcoming columns. Like many of us, he's been thinking about this subject a lot as the tools evolve and the borderlines dissolve.
"Should an employer be able to fire you for remarks you make on your personal Facebook account, for instance?" he asks. "Is it now your responsibility to monitor your own privacy settings so that such a situation never arises? Is there such a thing as 'private' space online or only 'personal' space? It's pretty fascinating."
He cites Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody to try to "explain the dissonance" people are feeling: "In the book, he says until the Internet era began, it was easy to identify a message meant for private consumption (a phone call, a letter) and something meant for public consumption (TV, newspapers, books). The Internet has really destroyed those two categories and many people have yet to catch up."
Who's your company's voice on the virtual borderline?--Published in Shelf Awareness, Issue #952