Courtney Eckerle

Social Media Marketing: Penguin’s Twitter book club nets 14 million impressions for its hashtag

November 6th, 2012

Some fields seem more resistant to social media than others, and the transition strategy isn’t always readily apparent. Marketers in these fields know the benefits social media can bring, but need to find a way to engage their consumers in a way that is familiar and will breed genuine excitement.



Reading, for instance, is usually a solitary pursuit. It is cherished by the people who love curling up in a comfy chair in a sunlit corner with a worn Penguin classic, or who craft their own alone time while in the middle of a crowded subway or city park.

Readers emerge from this private world to connect with other readers in two ways – local book clubs, and lining up to meet authors at book signings.

Penguin Group (USA) found a way to integrate the book world’s most social activities into social media. 

This past February, they announced the launch of a monthly book club, with the author of each month’s chosen book as the guest of honor. Not surprising for one of the largest book publishers in the country, but the interesting part is that the club would exist entirely on Twitter.

Now, a few times a month, social media-savvy Penguin fans are curling up on that comfy chair with their book and are making room for a laptop.

The Twitter book club allows Penguin readers the opportunity to both connect with other readers and to interact with the author of that month’s chosen book. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown was the inaugural title covered when the Penguin Book Club launched, and the chosen title for November is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.



So instead of circling their chairs in a local bookstore, these Twitter bookworms can gather via the hashtag #readpenguin.

Once a book is chosen, Penguin team members lead regular discussion throughout the month on Twitter with members of the book club through the @PenguinUSA account, which culminates in an hour-long session where the author answers questions submitted with #readpenguin.

The first week after it launched, the #readpenguin hashtag had more than 24 million impressions and reached 1.5 million people, and the club has become increasingly popular since then.

One of Penguin’s Twitter book clubs this past spring generated more than a thousand newsletter subscribers, reached 630,031 Twitter accounts, and saw 14 million impressions for #readpenguin.


Expand upon what your followers are talking about

Obviously Penguin has a large following of book lovers, and Jeff Gomez, Penguin Group (USA), Vice President of Online Consumer Sales and Marketing, said Penguin had previously had success in encouraging conversation on books among its followers.

This encouraged the idea to drive conversation on a specific book, while giving authors a chance to participate in the discussion.

“We thought that this would be something our followers would get a kick out of, not to mention that our authors would also have fun,” he said.


Act quickly when the light bulb goes off

Once the idea was hatched, the process of starting the Twitter book club was fairly simple, Gomez said. Really, it is only a matter of utilizing the opportunity to quickly connect that the social media platform provides.

“One of the things that I like about social media is how fast you can move from an idea to launch – the platform already exists, so there’s no need to create a website around it, or some complicated Flash animation. Instead, it’s just about coming up with an idea that you think would work with your fans.”

Gomez said that after the initial idea, the project was up and running “just about a week later” after getting the go-ahead from executives and publishers.


Find a topic and thought leader well suited for the social media platform

The biggest step, according to Gomez, was choosing a title and author that would thrive in social media. The key was making sure all involved were a good match.

“Not every book or writer is suited for this medium. In fact, that’s a lesson that I think doesn’t really get taught to marketers. Too often there’s a kind of marketing ‘flavor of the month’ mentality … it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, and not every social media [network] is going to be a good fit for every brand. Instead, brands need to have a good match between themselves and the platform, the same way the content has to also be well suited to the platform.”

The Twitter book club is “something we’re definitely going to continue to do,” Gomez said. Going forward, he re-emphasizes the importance of picking the right material when starting this kind of endeavor. It is an aspect they will continue to consider greatly as the project progresses.

“One of the biggest takeaways is that you need to choose the right material. Not every book is going to invite this kind of discussion, and not every author is going to want to participate in something like this,” said Gomez, pointing out that even if an author or subject did want to participate, they might not do a good job.

Choosing the right author to connect with their audience on Twitter made “a huge difference,” he said. It has been a lesson learned through other media outlets, as well, and was applied to social media.

“Not all authors are good on TV, or the radio, or in person, so you choose the platform that plays to that author’s strengths – otherwise, it’s bad news for everybody.”

November’s author, John Green, well fits these criteria. He already has more than a million followers, and updates followers on his speaking events, random thoughts (what would Twitter be without them?), as well as promoting videos he creates.


Click to enalrge


Nine months into the project, Gomez says the response has been “really great.” Not only does it foster stronger, more personal relationships between Penguin and its followers, who enjoy and benefit from the experience, but also “the writers we’ve asked to do it have all enjoyed it,” he added.


Related Resources:

Social Media Marketing: 5 tips to optimize your Twitter opportunities

How The Big Six Book Publishers Are Using Social Media (via ReadWrite)

Growing Email Lists with Social Media: KFC’s Facebook tool adds subscribers

Social Media Marketing: Going viral is so easy it’s hard (via MarketingExperiments)

Watching Concrete: YouTube channel saves time, drives revenue for Mid Atlantic Concrete Equipment

Social Media Optimization: Engineering contagious ideas (via MarketingExperiments)

Courtney Eckerle

About Courtney Eckerle

With a focus on aspirational, customer-first marketing, Courtney’s goal has been to produce clear, interesting and actionable external content for MarketingSherpa readers. This has included writing over 300 case studies, moderating live event interviews, and producing video content. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Mass Communications and Film Studies from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and was a correspondent for USA Today College prior to joining MECLABS Institute.

Categories: Social Networking Evangelism Community Tags: , ,

  1. November 12th, 2012 at 04:09 | #1

    Really great post! I really liked the idea of how a book publishing company has come forward to utilize the already existing marketing platform provided by the social networks to interact with book-lovers. They have really set an example from which others can learn. I also like the way they have created discussions between the authors and the readers which may give the authors some brilliant idea to pursue for their books in the future which comes from a good discussion.

  2. Courtney Eckerle
    Courtney Eckerle
    November 12th, 2012 at 11:20 | #2

    Thanks Mark! Penguin’s program really is a great example of a company utilizing social media in a way that works for everyone, and is especially engaging for the audience.

We no longer accept comments on the MarketingSherpa blog, but we'd love to hear what you've learned about customer-first marketing. Send us a Letter to the Editor to share your story.