So you’ve written or are in the process of writing a strategy for your library content marketing. Now what?

You need to build an audience. Without someone to actually listen/read/respond to your marketing, what’s the point?

The easiest, quickest way to do this is to use the most effective, most underutilized marketing tool in the library world–the email list. Libraries have been collecting email addresses along with new card applications or card renewals for years. Are you doing anything with those email addresses? You should be.

But fear is holding us back. That includes fear of increased workload:  adding an email messaging tactic to our overstuffed to-do list feels like self-sabotage. Some library marketers also fear the process of writing a great, engaging email. We’ve all received more than our fair share of spammy, uninteresting, or obnoxious emails from brands or institutions, and we fear making the same mistake.There is also a fear of alienating customers. Many library marketers worry that customers will be turned off by email messaging–that they’ll think worse of the library which sends them messages.

I totally get it. I was there once. I’d never done planned, targeted email messaging before I came to my current position. It’s a science… but it’s not brain surgery and if I can do it, and do it well, so can you! The key is to be focused, targeted, and simple. Here’s how to start.

Divide your cardholders into segments based on usage. There are some great companies that will help you do this. Orangeboy has a program built specifically for libraries, but your library could also buy services at a relatively inexpensive rate from Constant Contact and MailChimp.  All three services have great analytic dashboards for easy comparison of data after you start sending messages. You can monitor the results of each email campaign and adjust your tactics as you learn more about how your cardholders respond to your messages.

Start simple. Segment your email list by how the cardholder most often uses their card. Are they a lover of print books? Do they mostly check out DVDs or CDs? Do you they download exclusively? Are they a fan of audiobooks? Do they have kids?  Are they over the age of 65? Are they in college? There are about 100 ways you can segment your audience. Look at your strategy and then decide how you want to divide up your existing pot of users.

Pick one or two segments and start creating messages targeted specifically to them. Why am I encouraging you to focus on 10-20 percent of your cardholders and ignore the others? Because, to work effectively and avoid our fear of alienating customers, email marketing needs to be specifically targeted to a niche audience.  Get a good handle on one specific segment of your users and get really, really good at talking to them before you move on to the next segment. To decide which segment to focus on first, identify the most important part of your library strategy and align the cardholder segment to match that goal.

Schedule three months of emails to this segment, one email per week. Align your email schedule to your blog editorial schedule. Create emails to support your blog and to entice the recipients to go to your blog for more information on a particular topic. You should also try collection-based action emails, driving customers to your catalog to check-out or place holds on items you know will be of interest to them. This is a great route for any library looking to increase circulation. It’s worked at my library!

Keep your email text short and make your email visually appealing. Use bright, primary colors and bold graphics-I am a huge fan of Canva for any library without a professional graphic artist on staff. Keep your message simple and direct. Don’t include every single bit of information you want the recipient to know about the particular topic. Write a few lines that will spark the curiosity of the recipient and then give them an easy way to get more information–like a link to your blog.

Put your call to action in more than one place in the email. I put a call to action in the text area above the graphic, in the graphic, and again in the footer of the email. My recipients are sure to see and understand what I want them to do next.

Test your emails both on desktop and mobile. My library has about a 50% mobile open rate. That’s pretty standard for any industry. Make sure your emails look and react as well on a mobile device as they do on the desktop.

Keep track of the really important metrics. Open and click thru rates are good to watch and they can help you understand how inviting your email is, but focus on the results of the call to action of your email. If you want people to go to your blog, track the number of people who read the page to which you linked, how much time they spend on the page, and whether they bounce to another page on your site. If you’re sending collection-based emails, track how many items are put on hold or checked out as a result of your email. I use Google’s url tracker to embed trackable links to the collection in my emails so I can see exactly how many people click on an item and match that to the number of check-outs or holds that happen in the 24-48 hours after I send the email.

Once you’re ready, learn more about when to send your email messages.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn, Slideshare,  Instagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.