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Before you read this post, read this one.

Okay, now you’re ready to tackle marketing to teens. It’s an important demographic and we need to focus our efforts on them to secure the future of our libraries.

And if you are wondering, I actually ran these ideas past a group of teenagers ranging in age from 14 to 18. So you know I’m not just making this up. I got approval from real teenagers.

So, the number one most important rule of marketing to teens is…

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Don’t market to them.

They HATE marketing messages and they are masters at dodging them. They pay for Spotify, Netflix, and YouTube Red to avoid ads. They can spot an ad or a pitch a million miles away and they run screaming when we try to reach them through traditional marketing messages.

A study by the McCarthy group showed 84 percent of teens don’t like advertising and are much more trusting of information sources that are not actively focused on selling messages.

Well, that’s not very encouraging Angela. What do we do?

We build personal relationships with our teen cardholders. If you’ve spent any time with marketers, this is one of those things you heard them say all the time, particularly if they’re a student of content marketing. It sounds new-agey and difficult. I mean, they’re teenagers… can you even connect with them?

Yes. You will have to be patient and build a relationship with them over time in many places, including social media and in-person. This kind of marketing is counter intuitive to the traditional marketing mind. The traditional marketing mind pushes out messages like a machine. Have a program, create a flier, poster, bookmark, give them out to everyone who looks like they might slightly be within the realm of possibility as a participant, and hope that they show up.

If we really want to succeed, we need to focus our efforts and be more personal in our programming and our marketing. It takes more time but they’ll remember how that connection makes them feel every time they think about the library and that’s what we want… that feeling will be a thread through their lives.

Example: School work is hard. A lot of teens are taking advanced college level classes and their parents can’t help them with the material. They need help. Your library probably has some kind of homework help service and you probably market it the traditional way, through print poster and fliers that give out at the library or at their school saying, “Come use our homework help program!” What normally happens? They read it and they throw it away.

What if we offered to come into classrooms and teach teens how to find resources online, both from the library and from other sources, which they can use to help them with their homework. What if we showed them how to find research sources online that are vetted… not Wikipedia and not Google.

Number one, you’re creating a valuable partnership with your local school district. You’re helping the school by helping their students to improve their grades. You’ve solved the problem of getting teens to come to your library for a program on homework help because you’re catching them at school, where they have to be anyway, as part of their normal day. And you’re showing teens that the library is a place where people care about them and want to help them succeed in life.

There are dozens of innovative ways to market to teens through content marketing and in-person events. This kind of more personal marketing helps them to figure out solutions the main problems in their life. This sounds counter intuitive because you’re not directly marketing your library. But here’s why it works: you’re building trust and trust is the basis of any long-term relationship. We want young adults to know that when they have a problem in life, they can turn to the library to help them solve it. This is how we hook teens for life.

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Don’t try to be cool. Teenagers know that other 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 and it might come off as corny or insincere. Instead, be direct, be conversational, and don’t talk down to them.

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. Also they are diverse in age… a 13 year old’s interests are vastly different from an 18-year-old. So we do we lump all teens into one marketing group?

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.

And keep your messages age appropriate. You may also have to narrow the focus of your teen program or event. The more specific you can get, the more your event or message will relate to an audience and the more than audience will engage with your library.

Build relationships with people who can help you. 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 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. Leverage the trust that the teen librarians have with the kids by asking them to make personal pitches for marketing initiatives for teens. 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. Listen to their ideas and opinions, then base your decisions on their original input blended with your marketing expertise. Teens want to be respected and treated like an adult. They want their opinion to matter.

Here’s an example of how this worked for us. Teen Read Week happens every year, and I’ve never really been able to get teens to engage on social or on our website with marketing messages for that week because I’ve always been very general with my marketing message. “Hey teens, it’s Teen Read Week. You should… read.”

This year, I decided to create a specific book list for teens. Really, it was a list of reading recommendations for them put together by other teens. I sent an email out to our teen librarians with a form, asking them to ask teens at their library to fill it out.

We compiled the responses into a book list which was our main promotional focus during Teen Read Week. We did social media posts and we created an email that we sent to our teenagers with a direct link to the list. The email gave us a 29 percent increase in circulation for the books in the list. This list did well because teens love to be asked for their opinions about books and they’re more likely to read something suggested to them by another teenager.

Use brand ambassadors because teens care about what other people are thinking. If you can convince influential teens to use the library, then their influence will spread and going to the library becomes cool.

Next Monday, I’ll send the second part of this list of marketing tips to target teen cardholders!

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.

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