Amazing Stories

I love content marketing for libraries and I believe stories are the best way to build a life-long relationship with cardholders. Many of you share my belief. But the real chore of finding and telling those stories can seem a bit daunting. This post is here to help!

There are a couple of things I look for when I am in search of a good content marketing library story.

  1. Emotion. The joy of finding a book, the fear of not getting a job, the frustration of another night of homework without any help… these are all emotions felt by our library’s customers. Other customers can relate to these experiences and empathize. A good emotional story activates many portions of the brain, including sensory, memory, and empathy sectors. The more active the brain is while reading, the more likely it is that the listener/reader will remember the story. Emotion is the most important criteria of a good story. If it makes you feel something, it’s worth pursuing.
  2. Conflict and a resolution. A good story includes some conflict, whether minor or major, and a problem or situation that is resolved.  Without conflict, a story is flat and unmemorable. Look for stories with a beginning, middle, and end including a story arc that leads to a resolution.
  3. Simplicity. A story that’s direct, with less adjectives and more heartfelt and straightforward language is more likely to be remembered by the listener than a complex story with a long, winding narrative and lots of details and unnecessary description. Save the in-depth perceptions for your novel. When writing content for marketing purposes, draw a straight line from beginning, middle, and end and keep the story moving forward with clear language. Avoid industry speak.

Now, here’s how you can find stories that fit these criteria.

    1. Ask library workers to be on the lookout for great story ideas. I find a personal approach gets you better results with your fellow staff members. The next time you’re at an all-managers meeting, visiting another branch, or enjoying lunch with a fellow employee, ask them about life in their branch. Ask them to describe their customers. Inevitably, they’ll have one or two specific examples of people who have an unbridled enthusiasm for their location, or whom the branch staff has helped with a specific problem. Ask open-ended questions like, “How did that make you feel?” “Tell me how the situation was resolved.” Or make open-ended statements like, “That must have been a terribly difficult question for you to answer.” Then be silent as a cue for response. When you’ve identified a story with emotion, conflict, and resolution, ask if you can email the staffer later for more details.
    2. Crowd sourcing. This is a fancy way of suggesting that you periodically ask your cardholders specific questions like “Tell us about a time when your library helped you find some information you thought you’d never be able to uncover.” Or “Tell us your favorite library memory from your childhood.” Set up a form on your website and solicit cardholder stories on social media and in your email and printed newsletters.
    3. Social listening. This technique brought me a cover story for the next issue of Library Links published by my library. A Twitter comment flagged by our social media specialist led us to a man who planned to visit all 41 of our library branches in one day with his son. We immediately reached out to the man and interviewed him about his experience.  It’s an amazing story that other cardholders will enjoy reading when Links hits homes on Aug. 8.  And they’ll likely remember this crazy guy who drove all over the county in the space of a day, taking selfies and checking out a book at each location. It’s great library awareness for us! And we would have missed it had we not trained our social media specialist to flag tagged comments for potential stories.
    4. Library calendar events. Most library marketers have the regular calendar year events, like National Children’s Book Day, National eBooks Day, and National Summer Learning Day penciled in and marked for promotion. But instead of promoting mere calendar events, go one step further and tell stories by finding cardholders with an interesting angle. I do this through social listening. Here’s an example: we had a woman tweet us to thank us and share a photo of her child at a storytime. I tweeted her back and asked her if I could contact her offline. Then I sent her a couple of interview questions via email. I also asked for a photo of her family. I came away with a story about how our new evening storytimes meant that she and her family could enjoy a trip to the library together after work. This story appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Library Links (check page three). I also troll the program calendar periodically for unusual events but, instead of just writing about the event, I contact the speaker or presenter and interview them about in-depth questions about their program, their life, and their work. Our staff also does interviews with popular authors about their new books, their lives, and their writing process. Our cardholders love those profiles. They promote our library without promoting our library!

Content marketing gives you a chance to tell your library’s story without making a direct pitch. It increases brand awareness and improves your library’s image. And stories are fun to tell!

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