Book buyers and social media: reaching your readers in the right place

A lot of attention has been paid to TikTok and its effect on book sales in the past few years, and rightfully so, as the app has had a demonstrable effect on sales of particularly romance, young adult and fantasy books. But it’s important to remember that there’s more to the social media world than BookTok, and for many consumers, you’re more likely to reach them on platforms that have been around longer. For UK book buyers overall, Facebook remains the most used social network, although that has dropped over the years, with Twitter/X also levelling off. Instagram overtook Twitter as of 2019 and has continued to grow, albeit at a more gradual pace than TikTok, according to results from Nielsen BookData’s Books & Consumers survey.  In the first few months of 2023, 44% of UK book buyers reported using Instagram, while TikTok has nearly reached 30%.

Of course that will vary by age, with Instagram above 50% of book buyers aged 16-44 and TikTok highest among 16-24s, and the age differences certainly impact the patterns in book buying behaviours if we compare consumers who use each of those four platforms. Our recent report UK Book Buyers and Social Media in 2022 examines those behaviours with a broad age split, but here we’ll stick to all ages, as we can still see some interesting distinctions.

At the risk of already disproving my earlier statement that there’s more to pay attention to than BookTok, the higher impact of book content on TikTok can certainly be seen in the results from the Books & Consumers survey: in 2022, a third of book buyers who are TikTok users remembered seeing book ads/videos on the app, compared to 29% of Instagrammers remembering book content on Instagram, 25% for Facebook and 19% for Twitter. So these book videos are either more memorable or delivered to a wider audience across the TikTok base, or most likely a combination of those two.

But there are other signs of higher engagement among TikTok users, so there is probably also a factor of seeking out those book videos; nearly a third of book buyers who use TikTok reported visiting book-specific social media sites at least weekly, and they’re the most likely across the four groups to discuss books online, to have written comments/reviews of books (although Instagram users are more likely to discuss books in person, and Twitter users are more likely to participate in blogs/forums in general) and to say that they recommend books. Having said all that, they’re not necessarily spending more time than others actually reading the books. More Twitter users reported reading at least weekly, although TikTok users listen to audiobooks in higher numbers. Book buyers using TikTok and Instagram are ahead of the other groups in wishing they had more time to read, highlighting that aspirational side in what we watch and follow online.

Aside from different levels and preferences in online engagement, we can also see variations in leading genres across users of Facebook, Twitter/X, Instagram and TikTok, providing insight into what campaigns can work best on which platforms. Crime/thriller emerges as the favourite genre for all four, but both Instagram and especially TikTok users under-index compared to overall book buyers. As you can see in the graph below, romance and young adult fiction are especially popular for consumers on Instagram and TikTok, as well as self-help, where Instagram is slightly ahead. Twitter and TikTok users are the biggest fans of SFF, while Twitter also stands out for many leading non-fiction genres. Facebook has the highest share of users who like crime/thriller as well as cookery, with Instagram close behind for the latter. On the other hand, despite all of the viral food trends and hacks that have emerged from TikTok, those book buyers are less likely than the other groups to be using cookbooks.

Overall, social media is a great source for reaching book buyers as well as driving conversations around books, but it’s important to understand how the consumers you’re reaching are interacting with books in general, and how the messaging and content, and sometimes even the types of books being featured, could be adjusted to reflect the different audiences. There’s plenty more covered in the UK Book Buyers and Social Media in 2022 report; for more info, please contact