Okay, here are seven more ideas for targeting the elusive teen and bringing them into your library.
Showcase the library’s value. This generation is the product of tumultuous economic times. The recession hit during their formative years, making the circumspect about spending. In addition, they’re big into supporting socially conscious brands.
A few years ago, my daughter and her friends and every teenage girl I spotted on the street started buying and wearing shirts from a company called Ivory Ella. This online clothing store is affiliated with the Save the Elephants campaign and they give a portion of their proceeds to that group. My daughter and her friends loved the designs of the shirts but what they really connected with was the cause.
Libraries are a socially conscious organization but I don’t think we spend enough time explaining that to teens. And we should.
Keep up on technology and trends but don’t chase the shiny new toy. Tech and trends change every day. We need to be aware of what’s new and how it works but we don’t necessarily have to use every new tool that comes our way. Set aside 30–60 minutes a week to research tech trends, YouTubers, and the world of teens in general. Take a step back and think about your strategy for every new piece of technology or social media platform that comes along. Before you decide to put some time into something, ask yourself–what is your goal?
Two years ago, we bought our teen an iPhone. I was psyched that I would be able to find her anytime, anywhere thanks to texting! It went smoothly–until she stopped answering my texts. I got mad. I confronted her. “Mom,” she said calmly, “No one texts anymore. We Snapchat.” Does that mean I should immediately go start snapping on the library account to connect with teens? Not necessarily.
Instead of running to work the next day and posting, I talked with the teen librarians, did some research, and decided to move forward with Snapchat. We would post only twice a week and our goal would be brand awareness. We’re not taxing our resources and we’re experimenting to see what works. And we’ve left ourselves room to pull back if it becomes clear that it’s not working.
Shiny new toys are awesome and fun. But sometimes the fun is short-lived. Be smart with your resources and make the right decisions for your library cardholders.
Be fluid with your marketing strategy for teens. Library marketing is about serving your cardholders needs. That means we need to let go of our ideas about where we think communication should be happening and what it should look like. We must be customer-focused. What do they want? What do they need? Where do they need us to deliver it? Library marketing is not about us–it’s about them! Teens at one branch might be super engaged. Teens at another branch might be apathetic. You’ll need to be aware of the way teens in your system are engaging with your library and try to be as flexible as possible with your strategy.
Remember our homework help example from part two? A couple of the teens with whom I shared these ideas thought it would be even more helpful to have homework help late at night. They pointed out that most teens get to their homework after sports and extracurricular activities are finished… between 8 p.m. and midnight. So what they really need is a way to connect to a person after hours. They also suggested that libraries schedule teen programs later to accommodate their schedule. Another teen suggested libraries bring the portable elements of their Maker Spaces into classrooms to do demonstrations, instead of asking teens to come to the library to check them out, at least for the first time. And the teens all said that they prefer to do things in groups with other teens, so they wanted us to do more group-oriented programming and to market to their group of friends.
All of these suggestions have a common thread. These teens are asking the library to meet them where they are with the kind of experience they want. We really need to be more customer focused if we’re going to win them over.
Don’t forget the adults in their life. My library received a grant for a program that teaches teens how to handle their finances wisely. 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 and their other adult connections, especially if it’s educational. Kids are more likely to attend those programs if a parent or teacher makes a commitment for them. Encourage teachers to offer extra credit to students who attend educational library programs.
We did a promotion for our Teen Art contest, which ran through October, and we promoted the program to teens but also to educators and to parents. We had 136 entries this year, about 50 more than last year. Adults encouraged reluctant kids to participate–they even offered incentives for them to do so–and that’s valuable marketing for us.
You are competing for their time… their schedules are jammed so make your programs really count. Less is more. You’ll want to do programs that kids can’t find anywhere else. They can play video games and make crafts at home. But the Library has points of differentiation. You may have a Maker Space with equipment that kids don’t have access to elsewhere. Create programs for teens around that. My library did this kind of program as a kickoff to our Summer Learning program. We let the kids come into the library after hours to use the MakerSpace equipment and we turned it into a party. The party was full and the kids had a blast. In addition, we held two teen writing camps, partnering with a local university to bring in instructors who did a free week-long workshop with teens who want to learn how to write. BOTH were filled up in a matter of days.
Don’t overlook visuals. This is the age of Instagram, Snapchat, and infographics. These kids have grown up in a world of photos. Make sure your messages include a visual component. Take a photography class or train one of your staff members to take great photos and use those in your marketing. This is what teens expect. They don’t want clip art and they don’t want all text.
Don’t forget the collection! Kids still love to read… don’t let anyone tell you any differently. And teens want to know about new books and stuff coming to the library just like adult. You can hook up with a company that does targeted email messaging for your library, or build and email lists of interested teens who want to hear about the latest books first. Create a new reads shelf in your teen section inside your physical branch and get teens to work with you to create fun book lists.
Teenagers are an enigma but they are not unreachable. And they are certainly a group we need to focus more energy on if we want our library to succeed now and in the future.
These kids are worth it and it is up to us to make sure that they walk into adulthood with a personal connection to their library because, as you will know, a library is the door to all kinds of success in all stages of life.
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