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Super Library Marketing: All kinds of marketing ideas for all kinds of libraries.

Expert Advice on How to Work Diversity Into Your Library Marketing

A few months ago, the Urban Library Council’s Marketing and Communications team organized a conference call with library marketers across the United States. Part of the conversation focused on diversity in library marketing. It’s an important topic and frankly, I had nothing to contribute to the conversation. In fact, I’m embarrassed by my ignorance. Libraries serve a diverse population. Why haven’t we done a better job of working that into our marketing?

This year, my staff began a concerted effort to include more diverse faces and stories in our marketing. But I had this nagging feeling that there was a lot more we could do. I just didn’t know where to begin or how to frame my thoughts. The ULC conference call made me realize I wasn’t alone. It also made me realize that there is an expert in this area; a library marketer who has pushed her team and her library to look for ways to be inclusive on all fronts of marketing.

Kim Crowder established a communications department as Director of Communications for the Indianapolis Public Library. She is the winner of multiple national awards for her work and has spoken on panels and given talks covering a variety of marketing and communications topics. Prior to her role at the library in Indy, she spent 15 years working in marketing and communications for several Fortune 500 companies and was a published journalist for one of the largest newspapers in the United States. Her experience includes working with national and international media on outlets such as Conde Nast, The Oprah Winfrey Show (Yes, she met Oprah!), MTV, BBC London, CBS News, The Learning Channel and more.

Kim believes diverse points of view, flexibility, and creativity are keys to producing the best marketing and communications strategies possible. Kim took a lead role in the conversation on that ULC conference call and afterwards, I asked her to share her thoughts on diversity in library marketing with us.

Libraries inherently serve a diverse population, yet we don’t always include diversity in our marketing. There’s a bit of a disparity there! Why is diversity in marketing important for libraries?  The populations we serve are diverse, and our marketing efforts should be inclusive and truly represent our audiences. This is basic marketing 101. And I’m not talking about only focusing on certain populations for certain services and events. That should happen too, but this is more a conversation about overall strategy. Typically, public funding pays for libraries, which means acknowledging citizens of ALL backgrounds, because it is their dollars that keep our lights on. And we are all (or should be) aware of campaigns such as #weneeddiversebooks. Also, the American Library Association cites equity, diversity and inclusion as key action areas. For us to be unified on this topic, we must embrace it fully.

As our country becomes more diverse in a plethora of ways (not only regarding race) and knowing that it is predicted that in 2040 we will be majority-minority nation, libraries must plan now to stay relevant in the future. To do that, we must demonstrate our necessity and make as many people as possible aware of our benefit to their lives; it makes good business sense to be inclusive. Diversity in marketing is a needed and necessary aspect that must be earnestly examined and executed. And frankly, it’s the right thing to do, period.

Diversity in marketing is more than just making sure we include people of different races, religions, and abilities in our marketing photos and campaigns. What other ways can we market to a more diverse audience? This is a great question! Here’s where nuances matter. For instance, knowing what is important to certain populations and targeting specific programs and services to those markets by using the language, messaging, and imaging that most speaks to them is imperative.

An example of this would be to create marketing campaigns that are translated into different languages and really working with a native speaker (if possible) as well as a translator, to be sure the interpretation is correct, including knowing which regional dialects are most common in your market. Also, being aware of the vernacular that is correct when addressing the LGBTQ+ community, such as using sexual orientation instead of sexual preference. Making sure that you are aware of holidays and times of celebration and using social media to point to those is paramount. These are only a few ways to reach audiences in ways that are respectful and inclusive. It really is about intentionality and research to respect different groups within your service area and to make sure you have a real sense of who those segments are.

Will diversity in library marketing help to change the mindset of communities and how people view their fellow citizens? What an interesting thought! My answer is that it could help, absolutely. Change takes time and a village, and libraries can certainly contribute to the greater conversation. And remembering that diversity includes more than race, disabilities, socioeconomic status, gender, etc., but also includes experiences as well, should be acknowledged and considered. The more commonalities within humanity that are highlighted, the better.

Think on themes such as wanting great educational tools and programs for kids; a place anyone can feel safe to learn freely; and the ability to find books, movies, music, and more that speak to people’s core values. All these are ways to make library services more connected on a human-interest level to the populations in which we serve. The more stories that are shown using real customers, the more engaging. Finding a way to create emotional connection, whether through video, a news story, social media, community partnerships, print materials, blogging, etc., is key, and can certainly create an environment of shared interests. At the end of the day, we are all people, and finding that common thread using diverse representation is the way to go.

How do we convince our library colleagues that diversity in all areas that the library touches, like programming, exhibits, and services is important to our mission and to our cardholders? Everyone receives information differently, so think about the myriad of ways in which this fact can be demonstrated. Whether it is through anecdotes about individuals we serve or looking at pure data to find out the population breakdown in your service area, this case is best won by combining these different forms of information so that people can get a full view of the importance of diversity and inclusion.

And having them think through target audiences as they are planning services, exhibits, programming, etc., allows real dialogue about who these different groups may be so that the conversation of diversity is immediately valuable to the person doing the planning. And convey the message again, and again, and again, throughout your department and the system overall, as well as finding staff who will be ambassadors who speak to this as well. The more managers who are on board and empowered to pass along this information to staff, the better. Particularly, we have an African American History Committee and a LGBTQ+ Committee, run by staff members, who plan events and speak on behalf and are allies of minority groups.

What role does diversity in staffing play in the way libraries market themselves? Let’s start by acknowledging the elephant in the library world. Most of the workforce in libraries only speak English, are women, white, and not considered disabled, so naturally, there are going to be blind spots. Blind spots would be so no matter who the majority were. There are, however, some real statistics about why a diverse workforce is so important. And diversity is at its most valuable when gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation are combined with acquired diversity that is gained from experiences like living and working abroad or regularly interacting with a marginalized group. There are also statistics that state a lack of diverse leadership means women are 20 percent less likely than straight men to receive support of their ideas; LGBTQs are 21 percent less likely; and people of color are the most vulnerable at 24 percent.

The impact is that staff who would notice missteps in the way a group is messaged to or represented in campaigns, including recognizing lack of representation, may go ignored because they do not have the support when they do speak up. Having several points of view in any situation is extremely helpful, and a more diverse staff who can contribute and truly be heard, naturally creates an environment for this.

Can you give us some examples of how you have worked diversity into your marketing at the Indianapolis Public Library? We are constantly working on this, and it isn’t always simple, comfortable, nor easy. In 2018, all my staff participated in a racial equity training given by a third-party community partner that was extremely eye-opening for all of us. I wanted us to have context as to why we were focusing more heavily on this topic and to be able to has some real data on the issues. The first step was to be willing to openly have conversations around this, and to invite others to do so, resulting in bettering our marketing and communications efforts.

Regarding marketing tools, social media is a big part of how we do this; particularly focusing on highlighting diverse materials and topics in posts and event listings. Using kid-focused materials is a great way to introduce diversity to wider audiences, as it tends to disarm people a bit more. Also, making sure that we use videos to tell stories about our patrons being touched by library services is major strategy. We highlight users from all walks of life, knowing that stories connect on a human level, even beyond initial differences.

We are extremely conscious of this when in situations such as building a new branch or closing one in a neighborhood that is largely minority or has high numbers of residents below the poverty line (this is happening currently, and it’s not easy nor pretty). The goal is to always respect and honor people and that community overall, no matter what. And equally as important, being sure to position the Library as a support to those communities, not a savior or a “fixer.” We must be sure we are always viewed as a partner coming alongside those who are already doing great work and living in these communities. We are supporters who are always actively listening. That means our messaging must uphold that secondary position in the most respectful way possible, and if we miss that mark, we are immediately transparent about it and ready to learn however we need to. We are here to serve.

Kim is a native of Houston, TX (and VERY proud of it), and a lover of music and social issues dialogues. When Kim is not enjoying her professional endeavors, you can find her singing at church or jazz at a bar (with the occasional musical and national anthem at a sporting event sprinkled in here and there), listening to podcasts and audiobooks, Latin dancing, brewing tea, attending an artsy event or live concert, shopping, enjoying the sunshine, or laughing hysterically with family and friends. Her Instagram is the bomb! You can also email Kim at Kimberly.Crowder@live.com and say hi!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

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Five New Fantastic, Easy Holiday Library Marketing Ideas

Nearly a year ago, I shared my top five holiday marketing ideas for libraries. These ideas work for any size library, in any part of the world. It was one of the most popular posts on this blog.

We all need to be inspired near the end of the year. So I’ve spent some time gathering new ideas for library holiday marketing. The busy holiday season is a great time to try new things. And its important to be on top of your game during this time of year. Our for-profit competition is getting a lot of attention. Libraries are also competing with general customer busyness. Everyone is rushing around so much that it doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in the day for a trip to the library.

So this year’s list includes some easy ideas that don’t take much time to plan and execute. But these tactics are just a bit out of the ordinary from the usual library marketing strategy. And each can be planned ahead of time to help ease the stress of your own job and that of your staff, because I know you’re just as busy as our cardholders!

Create and release a series of tips for your cardholders on how they can use your library to make their lives a little easier during the holiday. Brainstorm a list of ways your library helps ease the rush and craziness of the holiday season. Then decide on a sequence and schedule for releasing those ideas.

This one can really be planned way ahead of time. You can do everything-create graphics, write social media posts, and shoot and edit your videos ahead long before the holidays. Then, about a week before you start your promotion, tell your cardholders you’re going to be helping them out this holiday. Reveal your plans and tell them exactly when you’ll be releasing each tip, and on what platform. Create excitement and anticipation, then pay it off with your content. Link each tip with the others in your series and get more play through cross-promotion on various social media platforms and your website. Be sure to include an email message or two as part of this campaign.

Try a contest. To drive visits to your buildings during a time of peak busyness, a contest can do the trick. Keep it simple. Solicit some local businesses to donate the prizes… a gift card or a gift basket of goodies. It doesn’t have to be anything big or fancy. Then, encourage people to come into the library to enter. Make it incentive-based. I like to require that people check out an item. When they do, they get an entry from our front-line staff. Then, draw winners! It sounds too good to be true but I’ve done this for three years to drive visits during National Library Card Signup Month and I am here to tell you that it works.

Try Facebook or Instagram live. People are using their devices during the holiday season. And they’re looking for good content. If your library has never tried doing a Facebook live chat or a live Instagram video, you can surprise and delight your cardholders by doing so during the holidays! Have a librarian on hand to answer questions coming in live through the comments about any topic–books, gift-giving, recipes, job hunting… whatever the staff member feels comfortable discussing. It’s free, it drives engagement to your social media platform, it takes very little time to set up and execute, and it is exciting! Be sure to send an email message to your cardholders to let them know when you’ll be going live.

Show what goes on behind the scenes at your library. I’ve talked to a lot of library marketers who have had great success with behind-the-scenes (BTS) content. And if you’ve never done it, the holidays are a great time to start. It can be as simple as showing how you book drop works from the back side. You’d be surprised how fascinating that is for your cardholders.

Showcase your staff. Here’s another simple idea that fascinates cardholders. Interview a diverse group of front-line staff about how they celebrate during the holidays. Or ask staff to name their favorite book of the year, and release that as a special end-of-the year book list. You can cross promote these staff picks on your social platforms and include an email message to cardholders.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

One Gigantic Library Email Marketing Mistake To Avoid

This post is a short. That’s because I want to share just one tip this week. No need to blow up the wheel or create a whole new strategy or have a bunch of meetings. This week, there is just one thing I’m asking you to do. But this one thing will completely, utterly, and totally change your library’s email marketing effectiveness for the better. Are you ready? Here it is.

Change your marketing emails from opt-in to opt-out. That means every cardholder who gives your library their email address, in the past or in the future, is on your marketing list. They need to start receiving your marketing emails… immediately. If they want to opt-out, they can (but they won’t!).

Now, I know many libraries will find this to be a radical shift. I’ve been in conversations with libraries as they evaluate the pros and cons of opt-in versus opt-out. It’s clear that many library marketers, particularly those who come from a library science background, are deeply concerned about creating the best experience for their cardholders. They worry about angering their cardholders by sending them emails. They are convinced that library marketing emails are spam and they don’t want to be one of the “bad brands” that sends spam.

I do understand. I don’t blame them for their fears. But I know for a fact that those fears are unfounded.

A library is NOT a normal company. The rules about spam do not apply to you. I don’t mean legally. I mean that your cardholders want your emails.

People love the library. They love what you offer them. They want to know to know what’s going on at the library. They want to know when you have new books. They want to know when you add new services. They want to know when you’re improving buildings. They love watching stories about library workers. They want to know when you publish a podcast. They want to buy tickets when you bring a big author to town. They’ll come to community events where the library has a presence. THEY LOVE YOU.

You are not going to spam people or make them mad by sending them emails. Unwavering cardholder loyalty is the one, big advantage libraries have over their competitors in the profit world. And we should use it!

My argument for opt-out emails comes from lots of experience. My library is fortunate to have a good-sized staff in our marketing department. We send marketing emails nearly every day of the week. These emails do not go to all cardholders. We segment our cardholders based on several factors, including how they use their card, where they live, their age, and more We have a rather large service area. So, most weeks, I send tens of thousands of my cardholders. And my library’s unsubscribe rate is ZERO percent.

No kidding.  I see about 10-15 unsubscribes for every 10-thousand emails I send. Across the non-profit world, the average unsubscribe rate is about .19 percent, according to Smart Insights.

I worked the library outreach table at a book festival last week. Without prompting, customers asked about the library’s marketing emails. One lady said she heard her friends talking about them and wondered why she wasn’t receiving them! Several others mentioned they learned about new books and services from our emails. I had people GIVING ME their email addresses to check their status.

Do you think customers of other companies ask about their emails or talk about them with fondness to other customers?  I never have, and I sign up for A LOT of marketing emails from other companies.

Change that one thing and start sending your emails to every customer. They want to hear from you!

Now, I need your help. I want to write a post about self-care for the library marketer. What do you do to make sure you don’t lose your mind when you market your library? Please fill out this form to share your tips for other library marketers. What do you do at work and at home to maintain your sanity? If you don’t wish to share your name or where you work, just say so in the appropriate lines. Thanks!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

How to Unlock Empathy to Make Library Marketing Mean Something

Imagine the worst day you’ve ever had on the job. You probably remember what happened and the emotions you felt as you tried to deal with the situation. What helped you to work through it?

It’s likely you pulled aside a friend, a co-worker, or called your spouse or parent and vented about the day. Maybe you had an adult beverage and cooked your favorite food when you got home. Perhaps you took a bubble bath or went on a walk. Maybe you did all those things! In any case, the talking part–where you shared your day, the way you handled the situation, and your frustrations–is likely the one thing that made you feel significantly better. Talking with someone who sympathizes with you is infinitely more helpful than a bubble bath or a beer.

Margaret Magnarelli of Monster ran us through that mind exercise during this year’s Content Marketing World in her session on empathy in marketing. It’s so simple. But it made me realize that libraries are uniquely positioned to put empathy marketing to work. Magnarelli says by using the psychology of caring, we can amplify our content marketing results. It’s not that we shouldn’t use data to make more informed decisions, according to Magnarelli. But if we don’t combine facts with feelings, we’ll sacrifice relationships.

Research shows empathy in marketing increases engagement. Think about your personal Facebook feed. Every day, you are responding emotionally–with emojis, comments, and shares–to the thoughts, struggles, celebrations, and memories of your family and friends. Marketing with empathy is the same thing. When you respond with emotion to your cardholders, you create a bond that builds trust and loyalty.

Libraries have the resources, staff, and training to put empathy into our marketing–more so than many brands. It’s not a new concept to us. We do it every day, in every interaction with cardholders. You probably never even considered it. I certainly didn’t! Magnarelli says we can transition from day-to-day empathetic interactions to empathy in marketing. It’s really kind of easy. The first step is to listen to our cardholders.

Marketing advice always includes a line about how listening to your customers is important. But most of us are not actually practicing deep listening with our cardholders. Deep listening requires you to shut off the internal voices that start defending your library and your marketing while your cardholder is trying to make a point. Shut off that inner voice that says “Yes, but…” when a cardholder explains a problem they have a problem, concern, or a need. Don’t listen for the things you or your library board or the front-line staff want to hear. Listen with no preconceived notions.

The more you’re exposed to your cardholders’ feelings, the more you can mirror them. When you mirror their feelings, you can create solutions to their problems. Then you can market those solutions. Magnarelli explains it like this: When a good friend listens to your problems, they usually ask you questions about your issues. They don’t try to insert themselves into your conversation. They want to understand your challenges. They validate what you say. “Yes, your boss is a jerk.” “Yes, your co-worker is acting inappropriately.” “Yes, that way of doing things seems very inefficient.” Then the friend will usually suggest a solution. You feel better. The next time you have an issue, you open up to that friend again because you remember they helped you solve the first problem. That’s what we want in marketing–for our cardholders to come back to us because we listen, validate, and solve problems!

Once you’ve listened to your cardholders, you need to validate their concerns. This action builds trust, according to Magnarelli. Be sure to say, “I understand the problem.” Magnarelli says that simple phrase, called the echo effect, is scientifically proven to increase rapport and likability. Magnarelli also suggests using the word “you” in your blog, email, and social media post headlines. Insert sentences that show they understand where the customer is coming from.

Once you know what the problem is, and you’ve validated it, you can take marketing action. Your marketing messages can teach cardholders about solutions to their problems that incorporate your library. You can inspire your cardholders to do good works. You can focus on the positive aspects of your library–not the negative aspects of your competitors.

The problem and the solution don’t have to be something profound or grand. It can be something simple. I have an example of this from a recent email campaign. My library has a personalized reading recommendation service called Book Hookup. Cardholders use a form on the website to tell a librarian what books and genre of reading they like. Then the librarian gives them three personalized reading recommendations. When we send the emails promoting this service, I try to use empathy in my subject lines. To parents I say, “You’ve got a lot to do. Let us pick out your next favorite book.” To teens I say, “Read something YOU want to read for a change. Let us pick something based on your favorite books.”

It sounds silly and basic. But empathy in marketing is effective. To your cardholder, it feels less like promotion and more like help. You can lead your cardholders to a solution. That makes the world a better place. And knowing that you’ve made the lives of your cardholders a little better will make you feel good too. After all, we work in a library because we want to help people and change the world!

Now, I need your help. I want to write a post about self-care for the library marketer. What do you do to make sure you don’t lose your mind when you market your library? Please fill out this form to share your tips for other library marketers. What do you do at work and at home to maintain your sanity? If you don’t wish to share your name or where you work, just say so in the appropriate lines. Thanks!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

Make #GivingTuesday Work and Raise Big Money for Your Library!

Boy, library marketers sure have a lot of responsibilities. We’re expected to drive attendance to programs, increase circulation, plan big events, provide outreach support, and make sure everyone in our community knows about all the services we provide. In addition, most of us are also expected to help market fundraising efforts for our library friends or foundation groups. Our libraries need money. That fact arguably makes this directive the most important of all our jobs.

The fundraising portion of library marketing has always been difficult for me, if I’m being honest. I think most of us feel queasy about asking people for money, even for something as important as the work of the library. I get the same feeling in the pit of my stomach when it comes time to market my church’s stewardship campaign. It’s hard to put into words why it feels weird to me to ask people to give to either organization, though both are incredibly worthy.

But worldwide giving campaigns like #GivingTuesday help. This global movement happens every year on the Tuesday after the American Thanksgiving holiday. It’s meant to motivate people to donate after the excess of spending that happens when the traditional Christmas shopping season kicks off.

The website for the movement has all kinds of ideas for fundraising organizations. The “holiday” is a prime opportunity to reach your library’s fundraising goals. According to NonProfit Pro, in 2017, #GivingTuesday campaigns raised over $300 million online for charities with an average gift exceeding $120. That’s a 64 percent increase in the amount of money raised in 2016. And NonProfit Pro also says that nonprofits raise 14 times more in their end-of-year campaigns when they take part in #GivingTuesday. And if that doesn’t convince you, the most recent study of #GivingTuesday donations conducted by DataKind shows that educational causes received nearly 40 percent of all donations made. Cultural organizations saw the greatest increase in donations, in some cases receiving nearly 20 percent of their annual donations from this single day. Libraries can be considered both education and cultural organizations. We’ve got so much to gain!

My library started doing campaigns around #GivingTuesday about three years ago. We’ve seen trends in giving that match NonProfit Pro’s numbers. Even better, we grow our donor lists. That gives us a new audience to market to throughout the entire calendar year.

Your library should participate, and you should plan your promotions ahead of time. Don’t just send out an email and put up a couple of social media posts on #GivingTuesday.  Start promoting #GivingTuesday with content marketing at least a week ahead of the actual holiday, sooner if you are able. You’ve got to prove your library’s worth and get the idea of giving into your potential donor’s head space before the event. I start about three weeks before the “holiday” with motivational content like quotes from customers, brand-awareness videos, and motivational photos with clear donation calls to action. I like to tell our cardholders and community that #GivingTuesday is part of a busy time of year and I work to get them to donate early. This method increases the chance that our campaign is successful.

Of course, incentives always help with donations, and it doesn’t have to be something that costs your organization. This year, we’ll be emailing a graphic to anyone who donates early. Donors can use it on their social media profiles to show that they’ve given to the library. They can have the pride of saying they’ve participated when the day arrives and use their influence to encourage others to do the same. Early promotion creates momentum.

Of course, we use email as part of our campaign along with social media and our website. Here’s the message we sent last year about a week before #GivingTuesday. It’s clear and easy to understand.

We did a similar message to members of the Friends organization. The audience for that group is different. But you’ll see we integrated the heart from our Foundation message into this message, to draw a subconscious message to our audiences about their love for the library. This one also has a clear call-to-action.

 

You can increase the effectiveness by extending the fundraising campaign through the end of the year. We create campaigns that run every two weeks beginning in November through the end of the year. Appealing to the tax deduction incentive is a major point of the campaign as we near the end of the calendar year. This is the email we sent last year about mid-December. Again, it’s clear, it concise, and it has a major call-to-action.

 

I’d love to hear about your successful library marketing fundraising efforts and campaigns. Please let me know what you’ve done right (and wrong!) in the comment box. We can all learn from each other. When one library is strong, it makes the whole industry stronger.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

 

 

The Best Thing You Can Do is Leave the Safety of Your Desk

I had an amazingly and scary experience this week.

My library is in the very first stages of comprehensive facilities plan. With money from a levy passed by our county voters in May, we’re going to renovate or rebuild ALL 41 library locations.

I’m trying hard not to not have a panic attack reading that sentence back to myself.

When complete, these projects will likely change the course of our library forever. As a first step in that massive undertaking, our board of trustees hired an architectural consulting firm to gather ideas and insight from our cardholders. As part of this opinion-gathering process, our library is holding community forums and structured question-and-answer meetings at each branch over the course of the next year. If you’re counting, that’s 80 plus chances for us to interact with the public and ask them directly what they want their library to be. MY GOSH, what a gift. Am I right? It’s a huge task but it’s also a huge opportunity!

I volunteered to work the forum boards during the first of our community meetings, and to help with logistics at the second one. Both opportunities gave me the chance to get out of my basement office and actually talk face to face with the people who receive, consume, and respond to my marketing messages. And it was amazing.

I’m serious. I learned all kinds of interesting stuff just from talking to people. I found out what they think about the layout of libraries, the frequency of email messages, the reasons they got a library card, their favorite parts of the collection, their impression of our staff, and their dreams for the services they want us to provide. It was gold mine of information.

Honestly, I’ve never actually done drugs, but I felt high was I left my first shift. I ran into one of my good friends who works as front-line staff and I gushed to her about how amazing it was to actually talk to people. She said, “Hey, you should just come hang out at the desk with me. People will tell you exactly what they think of our marketing if you ask them, and you’ll learn so much about our cardholders.”

And I realized in that moment, for all the research and thinking and strategic planning and data analysis that I do, I might be missing one of the most important aspects of library marketing–my cardholders. I *think* I know what they want and need. I’ve got survey results and conversion data and social media engagement statistics that tell me about the people our library serves. But, before last week, I cannot remember the last time I actually talked to a customer about the library.

That changes now.

I don’t really have to worry about forcing myself outside my comfort zone over the next year. All I must do is sign up to be a part of each of those community forums as they are scheduled. But after that, I’m going to have to make sure that I get out and talk to people. I have learned that direct interaction with customers is exceedingly valuable.

I hope you are better at this than I have been. Maybe you’re reading this and saying, “Duh, Angela.” If so, my hat goes off to you. I’m learning this lesson late. But I thought it was important to share it with you.

Don’t be a dummy like me and stay locked in your basement office, separated from your cardholders. Get out of your comfort zone and talk to your cardholders. Set up a regular calendar reminder and spend an hour with your front-line staff. You could just observe. Or you could ask questions. You’ll learn so much. You’ll make the cardholders feel valued. And you’ll be demonstrating your commitment to customers to your fellow staff members. You can’t be any more engaged than that!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

Five Insider Tricks To Improve Your Library’s Voice Search Ranking

One of my most vivid class memories from college happened during my freshman year. A woman visited our communications class to talk about this new thing sweeping the nation: the internet. She said that someday companies would be able to send us information on any product or service we could ever want or need, based on our previous purchases or on search.

Was she psychic? Nope. She was forward-thinking. The internet, and later the introduction of smartphones, caused a huge shift in the way libraries interact with cardholders. And now, we’re about to enter another era of technology change. We’ll need to re-evaluate how we interact with cardholders. Because voice search is going to change everything.

My library is now dabbling in this technology. We created an Alexa skill that allows cardholders to do some very basic things: find out what’s going on at a branch or ask about our hours of operation. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to voice search.

At Content Marketing World 2018, I attended a session led by Courtney Cox, who is manager of Digital Marketing at Children’s Health. She talked with us about the Google Search box. You’re probably familiar with it. It looks like this:

The answer box is text-based but it’s an important key to getting your library information in front of cardholders doing keyboard-based search inquires AND those using voice search options like Alexa or Suri. How is the answer box connected to voice search? Cox explains that voice search technology reads whatever answer appears first in the Google search. So, if you’re in the answer box, you are in first position and you get read by the voice search technology. That means if you live in the second or third results on Google, you won’t get read out. EVERYTHING ELSE underneath the answer box is ignored. There’s no glory in second place.

Wow. That’s depressing.

Comscore estimates that by 2020, half of all web browsing sessions will be done without a screen. So, what’s a library to do? Here are five steps to take now to move your library into the first position on Google search. These tips will increase the chances that your library will appear in the answer box and connect with more users.

Keyword research: Cox says you need to do real-world keyword research. That means you can use online tools like those I talked about in this post. But you must also talk to customers, face-to-face. Talk to front-line staff. Talk to the call center staff. Find out what customers are saying when they ask questions. What specific words or phrases do they use? Then start incorporating that language into your web content, social content, and all your marketing messages.

Competitor research: Cox suggests you do periodic searches for competing services offered by Amazon, your local bookstore, and online databases. What phrases and words do they use? How long, in words and characters, are their answers? Do they use bulleted lists, tables, or graphics to convey information to their customers?  What aren’t they doing well? All of these questions will inform you as you write searchable text for your website. You should feel free to copy what others are doing well. You can improve on what your competitors are doing poorly! You don’t need a big budget to write more searchable content.

Stop dictating your own content. Cox says we all need to stop brainstorming internally about what you want to write about. Start focusing on what your customers want. We must be answering the questions our customers have.

Create a FAQ page on your library website. Make the page easy to find and promote it throughout the web with blog posts, social media, emails… every marketing method at your disposal. The more people who go to the FAQ page, the higher the search ranking for that page will be, and the more quickly you’ll get into the answer box.

Re-purpose your content–with a purpose. Many libraries are creating videos for marketing purposes (HOORAY!). Now it’s time to take those videos and make them work to improve your search position. Take each of your videos and turn it into text. Post the text on your library blog and promote it in other ways. The more eyes that read the content in its written form, the more likely it is that the content will make its way into the answer box!

We’ve got our work laid out for us. After the conference, I started doing random searches to see where my library shows up in the answer box–and when it doesn’t. In some ways, we’re doing okay.

And in some ways, we have a lot of work to do.

So I’ll be looking for ways to make these five pieces of advice work in my content. And I’ll be paying more attention to the words we use on the website, making them local and specific. I’ll start thinking about what people will say when they use voice search to ask questions about my library. I’ll check these searches again in a few months to see how I’m doing. I urge you to do the same!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

Avoid Email Vanity! Here Are the Results You Should Measure

I love email marketing. It’s one of the most effective tools in the modern library marketer’s toolbox. Emails are a direct way to interact with your cardholders and your community. They are easy to create. You can share stories, collection items, explain new services, and promote events directly with your audience. And library cardholders love getting emails from us. We don’t have to worry about unsubscribe rates the way other industries do.

Many libraries are now emailing their cardholders. And they’re reporting success with those campaigns. I’m so happy! But I’m also worried about something I hear often in conversation with other library marketers. I’m worried that we’re focused on the wrong measure of success–open rates. I’ve attended two events with other library marketers this summer. At both, there were deep and interesting discussions about success in email marketing. But at both events, the conversation about success centered on how to raise open rates.

Now, I have a confession to make. When I started targeted email marketing back in January of 2015, I was obsessed with my email open rates. And so were thousands of marketers in industries across the world. During my first trip to Content Marketing World, I attended several sessions on email marketing and every speaker mentioned open rates as a measure of success.

Open rates do mean something. They are a sign of customer loyalty. A high open rate means that your cardholders are eager to see what you’ve sent them. And that’s good. But it’s kind of like buying a house because it’s got a beautiful exterior. You may sign all the paperwork, open the front door and find all the walls are unfinished! Open rate is a vanity metric. It makes you feel good. But it’s what happens AFTER your cardholders open your email that counts.

I’m not suggesting you ignore open rates. They do give you information you can use to improve your emails. If your open rates are high, and your click-thru rates are low, you can be certain that you are writing compelling email subject lines (Good job, you!). You have a loyal and eager audience. But the content you are sending to your cardholders isn’t what they want. Now you can fix that problem!

Keep tabs on your open rate. But you should focus on two other valuable ways to really measure the success of your emails.

Click-through rates: The higher this number is, the more excited I get. It means that my cardholders opened an email, saw something they liked, and took an action! Most of the time, my library emails direct cardholders to do one of two things: click a link for a specific item in our collection or go to the event calendar where they can register or put an upcoming event on their calendar. Convincing a cardholder to take one of those actions is a huge victory. It also gives me data about what that particular cardholder is interested in. And I can use that information to craft future emails that are also compelling for that cardholder.

Conversion rates: A conversion rate is the most accurate way to measure email effectiveness. It is the percentage of people who take an action after clicking through an email. For example, let’s say 100 people click-through to look at a book I’ve promoted by email. If 50 of those 100 people put the book on hold, my conversion rate is 50 percent. Once I know what my average conversion rate is for a certain type of email, I can set goals to raise that conversion rate. I can  accurately compare my emails to one another.  I might see a high conversion rate for a certain genre of book and look for similar books to market to that cardholder. I might notice a spike in registration rates for a particular kind of program coming from an email and look for similar kinds of programs to market to my cardholders. Conversion rate is the most accurate measurement for determining the likes and dislikes of your cardholders.

For more on tracking the success of your email marketing, you can also read this article. And if you want to learn more about targeted email marketing and get more secrets for library email success, don’t forget the free webinar 

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

Be the Best Library Marketer! Take These Free Courses

I love to learn. I’m lucky that my library ties performance management goals to learning. So, I am professionally rewarded for doing something I love. But the real value is seen by my cardholders. When I learn new ways to do my job, I do a better job of connecting with my audience. There is also a value for my staff members. When I learn new marketing techniques, I can pass that knowledge on to my direct reports. Learning has a ripple effect–everyone benefits!

Most library marketers face two major obstacles to continuous learning. The first, of course, is time. We’re all so busy that we can’t setting aside the time to take an online or in-person course. Also, most libraries don’t have a budget for professional growth and development (unless you want to get your Library Science degree.) But continued professional learning opportunities are a priority. If your library is going to stay competitive and creative, you need to be a continuous learner.

Time and money are no problem with this seven websites I’ve discovered. Each contains free classes where you can learn new marketing skills. Almost all take about an hour a session. So now, you have no reason not to keep up to date with changes in the industry, become a better writer, improve your email skills, and practice content marketing strategies!

Lynda.com. My favorite website for professional development courses, because you can basically learn anything you need to do a better job at library marketing. There are courses on social media, GDPR, photography, graphic design, ideation, time management, generational marketing, using Excel… etc. Thousands of libraries across the country offer Lynda.com for free to their cardholders. Your library, or one near you, probably offers access. It’s under-utilized. USE IT!! Courses are well-constructed. Skill levels are marked so you can gauge whether the course is right for your needs. Most classes run about an hour and a half. If you only watch one a month, that’s more than 12 hours of training you’ll get over a year!

Hubspot Academy. I’ve completed two courses in the Hubspot Academy–Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing. They were free. Each class is about 45 minutes and comes with free downloads to supplement the online portion. At the end of each class, you take a practice quiz to test your skills. At the end of the course, you take a test and if you pass, you receive a certification that you can put on your resume, social media accounts, and LinkedIn profiles.

Copyblogger’s Internet Marketing for Smart People. I just learned about this! It’s a free, 20-part course that covers four areas of digital marketing: relationships, content marketing, copywriting, and product marketing. I’m planning to take this course in a few months and I’m super excited. It comes with weekly newsletters. And I’m familiar with Copyblogger from their blog and social media presence, so I know their expertise will add value to my library marketing.

edX: I also love this site, which offers free online courses from top universities around the world. Their marketing course offerings are impressive! You can take classes in market segmentation, data analysis, and social media. There’s even a public library marketing course offered by the University of Michigan. Most classes are free, but you can pay about $50 and work toward a certification, which is great for your resume! Courses take about two to three hours a week for about a month to complete.

Udemy: Here’s another site I just stumbled across. Filter the search options to show you free marketing classes. There are pages and pages of options, from evaluating digital marketing statistics to how to write your own social media strategy.

Facebook Blueprint: That’s right. Facebook offers a whole host of free courses to help you figure out the best way to use their product. They’ll teach you pretty much anything you want to know about Facebook and Instagram, including how to use Messenger, build awareness, and promote your Library’s app. I know it’s easy to be cynical about anything Facebook offers for free. But this is legit, and it makes sense for them from a business perspective. The better you are at using their platform, the better the experience will be for your user. So take advantage!

Skillshare: I like the “trending marketing courses” section, which contains new and popular course. If you want to see what’s changing in the industry and be current on your skills, start with that section first.  Courses take about an hour and are easy to follow with beautiful graphics. Some courses are taught by well-known marketing professionals, like Gary Vaynerchuk and Rand Fishkin.

For more ideas about how to improve your marketing skills, read this post about How to Become a Better Library Marketer.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

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