Follow Friday: Harvard Book Store

Featuring Kafka the dog and the Harvard Square turkey.

harvard book store exterior

Harvard Book Store / Photo by Lisa DeCotis

Follow Friday, At a Glance
Connect with Harvard Book Store on social media:

facebook Facebook
twitter Twitter
instagram Instagram
youtube YouTube
google calendar Google Calendar

Harvard Book Store has good everything: Good name. Good history (since 1932). Good location. Even a good domain name ( What else is good is the bookstore’s connection with the Harvard and Cambridge communities. Its many big-deal author events, including one this year with Hillary Clinton, are buoyed by its everyday presence on social media, where the team tweets, Facebooks, and Instagrams fresh news, sights from around the store, hashtag promotions, and more.

Here, HBS marketing manager Alex Meriwether shares some of the bookstore’s top social media moments, which include a dog named Kafka, the Harvard Square turkey, and B.J. Novak’s antics.

How many people run Harvard Book Store’s various social media accounts? How do you manage all of them?

I started managing our social media in 2010 and did most of our social media work until last year when I took over management of our events series and marketing team. Doing it solo ensured a consistent voice—and it was so fun to be the online voice of Harvard Book Store and, especially, to be the one culling all the nice things people said about us on the internet. However, it’s been fantastic having a team working at it now. There are three of us who split up the tweeting, Facebooking, and Instagramming. Events coordinator Bethy Atkins tweets about all of our events, and marketing assistant Serena Longo contributes Instagrams from around the store, #FridayReads roundups of what staffers are currently reading, and other fun bookish news. I still throw in plenty of Instagrams and tweets along the way. In our recent #IceBucketChallenge, I dumped water on my head alongside owner Jeff Mayersohn.

What are the goals for Harvard Book Store on social media, and where does your content usually come from?

As with our weekly email newsletter, our audience is particularly interested in the authors who are coming to discuss their latest books as a part of our award-winning event series. Social media is a whole new way to keep everyone informed, and we post regularly about our upcoming events calendar. Our social media networks are also a great way to communicate the flavor and feeling of this independent bookstore for those who don’t walk through Harvard Square every day, those who don’t get a chance to visit us on a regular basis. It’s an opportunity to remind them how great it is to be in a real bookstore, surrounded by fellow book lovers and endless browsing possibilities.

harvard book store

Image Provided by Harvard Book Store

In three words, describe the voice and tone of Harvard Book Store’s social media.

Author—and Twitter superstar—Susan Orlean once commended our “droll” Twitter voice, so we’ll take her lead and say: smart, droll, and neighborly.

Which social media account is the strongest channel for the store? If you had to pick, which one is the “must-follow”?

Twitter has always been our most energetic platform, ever since we started tweeting way back in 2009. We have since grown to over 33,000 Twitter followers. Our Instagram has also really taken off lately, but don’t worry, we tweet a lot of our favorite Instagrams.

You encouraged some fun fan interaction before and during the recent Warehouse Sale. Can we look forward to more of that sort of thing in the future?

We’ve been doing the #HBSWarehouseSale promo for the last couple years in conjunction with our twice-yearly Somerville Warehouse Sale, which offers thousands of discounted used and remaindered books. It’s always a huge, fun, popular event, and the hashtag is a way for customers to share all the cool books and bargains people find there. We reward two of our favorite tweets with a gift card to the store, and round up many of the tweets on Storify. Insider tip: getting a cat into the photo with your warehouse sale haul is usually a good way to win.

For our latest sale this summer we did a new contest, a customer’s idea submitted to us on Twitter. Those with the best haiku about book browsing got a golden ticket, a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–style early entry into the sale. It also meant I got to photoshop bookstore owner Jeff Mayersohn’s face onto a frolicking Willy Wonka:

harvard book store willy wonka

Image Provided by Harvard Book Store

Other fan promotions: Last fall we did a Twitter giveaway of 30 books over 30 days to celebrate reaching 30,000 followers. This season we’re launching our #AuthorsAtHBS hashtag so those in attendance at author talks can live tweet some of their favorite moments and help us create a Twitter archive of our events series.

What’s the approach when a high-profile figure is coming—for example, politicians like Hillary Clinton, celebs like B.J. Novak?

It’s great to engage with the authors and publishers directly on social platforms. @BJNovak and @HillaryBook tweeted about our events with them throughout the promotion and aftermath of their sold-out events. Online interest is always high for these sorts of figures, so we’re sure to take lots of photos for Facebook albums and Instagram. We got some great shots of B.J. posing with our signed Mindy Kaling poster. For our Hillary Clinton signing, we rounded up the media reports, fan photos and tweets, and our own collection of photos into Storify and Facebook albums.

harvard book store bj novak mindy kaling

HBS captioned this photo of B.J. Novak, “Move over, Mindy Kaling!” / Image via Harvard Book Store Facebook

Some people say that book events, especially readings, are just too boring. How do we fix that?

What?! These people should have come to our event with novelist Andrew Sean Greer. His reading concluded with a ukelele performance, and he handed out kazoos so that the audience could join in. Philippe Petit had audience participation involving hundreds of forks in his discussion on creativity. B.J. Novak wandered over to Bartley’s to see if he could get a burger named after him. All of these special moments have been chronicled in our social media.

What’s the weirdest, most surprising, or most outspoken feedback you’ve gotten via social media?

Last May we noticed a tweet:

Of course it was our Instagram maven Serena who had announced this in the store. We happily tweeted back:

We got a new follower, a visitor from Canada!

We also learned from our followers on Twitter that our staff’s Top 100 Books was a Jeopardy! category. That was exciting.

And who can forget the Harvard Square turkey browsing our window display, in a picture submitted by one of our followers:

harvard book store harvard square turkey

The Harvard Square turkey window shops at HBS. / Image by @Diane_XY Provided by Harvard Book Store

Since you’ve been with HBS, what has been your personal favorite story to share on social media?

We’re a dog-loving store with a dog-loving staff. When a staffer got an adorable little dog named Lucy, we made a video where Lucy predicted the Booker Prize winner. She was wrong, but she was just a puppy, after all. When another staffer got an adorable puppy named Kafka, we shelved Kafka in the “K” section and posted the photo (below). The image was then shared on Facebook by over 800 people, including Franz Kafka “himself.”

harvard book store kafka dog

Everything in its proper place. / Image Provided by Harvard Book Store


Playing with our iconic storefront image has been a lot of fun as well. When we announced our Stephen King event in 2013, we did so with this image:

harvard book store stephen king storefront

Image Provided by Harvard Book Store

It went viral on Facebook and was seen by nearly 300,000 people.

When the Sox made it to the series last fall, we made this:

harvard book store red sox storefront

Image Provided by Harvard Book Store

Though not even our legendary facade can help them this year.

Finally, what is your favorite book?

Remainder by Tom McCarthy. I wrote a staff recommendation for it a while back. We regularly tweet a lot of our staff recommendations too!


Responses have been edited and condensed.