Teenagers. I have one. I’m blessed. She keeps her eye-rolling to a minimum and only asks me to stop embarrassing her about once a week.  I also have a pre-teen and she’s even more generous, giving me a heads-up on new slang terms and Vine videos I should watch, and patiently explaining the back story and bios of YouTube stars I’ve never heard of.

I often look at my girls and think about how their generation is the future of my library. And then I feel anxious–because traditional marketing fails to reach these connected, media-savvy kids. Building the foundation for a life-long library relationship is tricky and confusing.  But I’m not giving up–and neither should you!

Both of my girls are often the subject of mini marketing surveys administered by yours truly. The older one rarely goes to the library and has read one book for pleasure in the last year. The other has a library card and is a voracious reader. But neither of them ever glances at their email and both are super-savvy about ads and marketing messages on their favorite social media sites. So what’s a library to do?

Don’t try to be cool. Kids know that teenagers are not running the marketing department of the local library. They recognize that adults speak to them in a different tone and manner than their peers.  So don’t try to work slang or cool phrases into your marketing–they’ll see right through that. Instead, be direct and keep messages short.

Teens are diverse, so your marketing must be. Walk through any high school cafeteria and you’ll realize that teens have widely different tastes in just about everything-music, movies, clothes, etc. That makes it hard for a marketer to do their job and this is where focus can really help you. If you can pinpoint exactly what kind of teen will be interested in the program or service you need to promote, you can do a better job of marketing. Before you print anything or create any graphics, create a persona. How old is the teen you’re targeting? What kind of student are they? What do they like to do after school? Are they a regular library visitor or do they barely ever walk through your doors? These questions can help you create a narrowly focused target audience so your marketing will be more effective.

Use connections and relationships. For my library system, the best marketing tool I have to reach teens is the teen librarians. These men and women interact with our young people every day. They know their names, their interests, their transportation situation, their struggles in school… all the things I can never uncover even with the best marketing survey possible. Keep your teen librarians in the loop about new programs and services you are promoting and ask them to make one-on-one contact with some of the more influential teens at their branches. Word of mouth and influencer marketing is a successful tactic for teens. If you have time, ask your teen librarians to run ideas by their customers to get some preliminary feedback. It takes more patience but it’s worth it!

Keep up on technology and trends. This is hard. Tech and trends change every day and it’s not like we don’t have enough to do in our daily schedule already. But if you are really invested in your library’s future, set aside 30–60 minutes a week to do research on tech trends, YouTubers, and the world of teens in general. You’ll start to connect more with this target audience if you know and understand them. And you may find a connecting point that you can use for marketing.

To begin your research, there’s  a podcast segment I’d love for you to listen to. On an episode of the popular NPR show/podcast “This American Life,” host Ira Glass interviews three teenage girls about their obsession with Instagram.  The girls are pretty open with him, and the role the social media site holds in their lives is both fascinating and shocking. I won’t dissect the segment for youyou can listen to it here.

Don’t forget the adults.  My library received a grant for a program that teaches teens how to handle their  finances widely.  During the first round of this two-year program, we tried targeting our message directly at teens.  And while we did have teens attending the programs, the numbers were not as high as I wanted.

So when round two came, we pivoted and started targeting the parents and  teachers. We used mainly the same tactics-fliers, posters, emails, social media posts, and a few ads.  But we changed the message, and it worked–attendance rose.

It makes sense to market a teen program to parents, especially if it’s educational. Kids are more likely to attend those programs if or teacher makes a commitment for them. Encourage teachers to offer extra credit to students who attend educational library programs.

And don’t forget–marketing is akin to science. Experiment, look at your results, adjust, and test again!

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