Social Media as Community Building and Goodreads
It is widely accepted that with the evolution of social media also came a new way to connect. Whether it is a company trying to boost-up sales, a media platform spreading awareness about a variety of topics or, of course, in its simplest form, people interacting between themselves, social media has become a powerful and useful tool for human connection. Arguably, nowadays, when browsing distinct platforms, it is even possible to not just differentiate them by the type of content and users, but also by more subtle aspects, such as jargon and humour. Essentially, people who live on opposite sides of the world and that are likely to never meet in person, but that share the same interests and ideas, are now building communities online. Some social media platforms have even been built around these communities, like Goodreads, a platform dedicated solely to books and readers.
The power of social media
Firstly, it is imperative to understand some of the behavioural concepts that explain this phenomenon. As humans, we are highly influenced by behaviours that we observe in others – after all, humans are social creatures. If, when shopping, we see that a particular store is significantly fuller than the others, we are more likely to also be interested in it. This is based on the assumption that, if that store is so popular, then it must be worthy. This phenomenon is called social proof (the psychological concept that people are influenced by others in their decision-making process). Online, it can be observed through influencers: if they, and their followers (which often are on the thousands), promote a given product we are more likely to, at the very least, look into it (and maybe even buy). This reliance on others when making decisions is one of the main reasons why online communities come to be.
Moreover, it can also be escalated through social exchange theory (which defends that we tend to maximise benefits and minimise costs wherever possible). That is, an organisation or person that is trying to create a community online can use nudges to increase participation by showcasing what are the benefits of joining, such as special discounts on brands with whom they have agreements, exclusive information and reviews, or just quality content. Alongside that, they should also showcase the minimal costs, such as free access to the community (which already happens for most social media platforms, anyway, since it is free to join the platform and to interact with other users). Of course that this assumes a very intentional community building, when in reality tends to be more organic: people with shared interests and personalities will interact similarly with the same content and follow the same trends. As time goes by more people will end up joining, creating an online community without a big entity behind it.
Goodreads, a community for readers
Goodreads is an app and website designed for book readers. It works as a form of social media, since you can follow and befriend other users and share what you are currently reading, what you have read, or what you plan to read. It also allows users to publish reviews. What is more interesting about it, though, is that it has become an online community where other communities, often originating from other platforms, collide and intertwine. To put it simply: “Book Readers” works as a big community of people with a shared interest. However, inside said community, there are various platforms that users tend to be a part of: for example, some people use YouTube to share reviews (creating “BookTube”), others use Instagram (“Bookstagram”/“Bookgram”) and, more recently, TikTok (“BookTok”). Often, people use more than one of these platforms. It is also possible to differentiate these communities by member profile and content. Nevertheless, a lot of these users across platforms have one aspect in common: they use Goodreads. This makes Goodreads a broadly popular app that promotes books that are trending on each platform (and, of course, books that are trending in the market in general, outside the online “space” – people do not need to be reliant on other platforms to enjoy Goodreads) and with a wider, more cohere community of people who simply like to read.
Because of its popularity, the app has changed the publishing industry. In 2022, it reported 125 million members (and this number has been growing ever since it was built). It has also created an enormous shift in the market’s entry barriers for new writers. Not that many years ago, publishing a book implied, first off, being lucky to find a publisher and, then, managing to get said book noticed by one of the few book reviewers for newspapers and magazines. Goodreads, on the other hand, allows authors to interact with their readers, making the whole process much easier. Furthermore, the app recommends books based on each person’s profile, not only creating personalised suggestions that simply would not have been possible on newspapers, but also sharing books and authors that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, creating a more diverse industry.
From an economic perspective, social media has also created a big impact on the industry. On the platform TikTok, for example, the hashtag #BookTok had a combined 42 billion views in 2022 and some books associated with this hashtag reported a drastic increase in sales. Some of the most popular are It Ends With Us, by Colleen Hoover, with an estimated 4 million total copies sold, and The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Millers, with an estimated 2 million total copies sold. It is interesting to note that these books were first published in 2016 and 2011, respectively, and #BookTok is relatively recent (created in 2020), making the current increase in sales even more impressive. In fact, the economic value of the online community of readers has even generated interest outside the industry, as Amazon bought Goodreads in 2013.
In conclusion, online communities are becoming an inevitable part of having an internet presence as, perhaps without even noticing, people tend to gravitate towards at least one, usually related to the type of content they consume. While Goodreads and the “book communities” on other social media platforms have become a big example of how individuals can connect and build mutually beneficial relationships around a hobby they are passionate about, this type of community building can also be valuable for businesses. In fact, having an online identity is proving to be more and more promising for brands, not just due to the marketing potential, but mostly because of the sense of community that can be built around it (and, consequently, brand loyalty).
Written by Margarida Catarino
Brandtrust. (n.d.). Nudge Theory. Brandtrust Blog.
The Decision Lab. (n.d.). Creating a Superfan: The Behavioral Power of Online Communities. The Decision Lab Insights.
Bernick, M. (2017, March 15). What Goodreads' Explosive Growth Means for Writers and the Broader Economy. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelbernick/2017/03/15/what-goodreads-explosive-growth-means-for-writers-and-the-broader-economy/
How Goodreads is Changing Book Culture. Kill Your Darlings. https://www.killyourdarlings.com.au/article/how-goodreads-is-changing-book-culture/
Impact of Social Media on Book Publishing Industry. Words Rated. https://wordsrated.com/impact-of-social-media-on-book-publishing-industry/
Social Proof. Sprout Social Glossary.
Goodreads Facts and Statistics. Expanded Ramblings. https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/goodreads-facts-and-statistics/?utm_content=cmp-true