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Teenagers are the future of my library and yours. But traditional marketing fails to reach these media-savvy kids. So how do libraries build the foundation for a life-long relationship with this demographic?

Here’s the thing: It’s not all about technology!

Teenagers are not alien beings. I have a teenager and an almost teenager… ages 16 and 12. And they are growing up in a different world but they’re not that much different from the adults I interact with. They are not aliens. They’re just people in progress!

But I do 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. A study recently released by the McCarthy Group that showed teens trust their closest friends the most–and marketers the least! So right off the bat, we’re in trouble.

Building the foundation for a life-long library relationship between libraries and teens is tricky. But I’m not giving up and neither should you! Marketing to teenagers is an important job for our libraries–maybe the most important task we face right now.

Why do teens matter to a library? Duh, they’re the future. Of course, we worry about hooking teens and converting them into lifelong library users. But let’s break that down a bit. Why is it so important that we get teens to use the library and to understand the importance of the library as part of the community?

They are a big segment of our population. More than 12 percent of the people in the United States are between the ages of 10 and 19 years old. That amounts to almost 42 million people… enough people to fill my hometown of Cincinnati 49 times over. We can’t afford to allow a population segment that large to lose interest in the library.

Teens are the gatekeepers to modern trends. They have more information than ever. Style is no longer dictated to teens by TV, movies, and magazines. Teens are deciding trends for themselves. And they’re influencing older generations, passing taste and technology to their parents. They are the driving force behind their family’s technology shift. Why does this matter to libraries? Because a teen who believes their library is an important part of their life will exert an influence over the rest of their family and will affect the library behavior of the entire family.

What are we up against? The internet. I don’t have to tell you that today’s kids are connected. If they want to know something, they Google it. They find directions and order food and clothes online. They watch movies and TV shows online. They research papers online. They live online. A survey from Business Insider found that teens spend an average of 11 hours a day in front of some kind of screen. You can look at that as a constraint or a strength, and your perspective may affect the success of your library marketing efforts. We need to make sure our websites are mobile friendly, that our apps have the best design possible to make it easy for teens to use, and we need to make sure we provide as much content as possible online because that’s where kids are.

They think we’re old-fashioned. I did an unscientific survey of my daughter’s friends, about 15 kids. I asked them which of these words best described their image of the library.  The choices were: reliable, cheerful, trendy, old-fashioned, successful, stodgy, imaginative, and intelligent. The good news is that none of them answered stodgy! But the most frequent answer was old-fashioned. We have an image problem. So part of our approach to marketing to teens is to solve that.

Teens are insanely busy. The American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that teens spend the majority of their day, an average of nine hours, sleeping, seven hours a day in school, two hours of sports or extracurricular activities, two hours watching TV or texting with friends and four hours are split between work, religious activities, eating, grooming, and leisure activities, which includes reading and writing. If you’re having trouble getting teens to attend programs, this is why. It’s got to be really, really good to get them to make time for you in their schedule.

Teens are less loyal to brands and businesses than older generations. They’re not as nostalgic. Teens aren’t just going to use your services because it’s the thing that their parents or grandparents did.

Alright ,so now that you’re completely despondent and you are ready to throw in the towel… let’s figure out how to make this work. We don’t have to give up on teens and, as we mentioned, we don’t want to give up on them! We want them to be a part of the library. So how do we do that?

Next up, I’ll share a total of 13 easy tips that will help you market to teenagers. All of these tips cost little or no money and can be implemented right now in your library! Here’s the first set of tips. 

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