The most effective, free marketing tactic in the library marketing professional’s toolbox is social media. Personally, I love it. I think it’s fun. And interesting. And despite the trolls, I’ve made some actual friends and professional connections in the social space.

For my library, it’s the easiest way to get our message to the masses. But with so many platforms intended for different audiences, it’s also overwhelming. Should you post on every channel?  What should you post? How often do you have to post? If you work alone, you need to be efficient. You don’t want to spend a lot of time experimenting with social media. You want to know what works, and how to be successful. You need goals.

A few months ago, Marcy Timblin, Public Relations Specialist at East Bonner County Library, sent me this email: You always have such timely, comprehensive advice for getting the most out of social media marketing for libraries. I dream of putting it all together to formulate an amazing social media plan that I can implement – even though I am the “numero uno” social media marketer at my library district.”

I appreciate the vote of confidence. Really, any success in the social media space centers on strategy. A strategy lets you take your library’s overall strategy and use social media to make those goals a reality. But telling you to have a strategy and putting one together are two totally different things.

I am blessed with a social media specialist on my staff. Part of her job is to create and maintain our specific social media strategy. And it’s a big job. We’re a large library system (41 locations, 600,000 cardholders) and we post on multiple channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Tumblr). It takes time to sort out how to make each channel work for us. But we do have a process for creating a strategy. Here is how we do it.

Consider what you already know. Go through each of the social media platforms that your library already uses. Look at the analytics for those platforms. How are people using the platform? Which kinds of posts do they respond to?

Most platforms now offer analytics (Facebook is best by far) so you can evaluate success. And if your library is using a scheduling platform to manage your social media posts, you can use those analytics. For those libraries posting organically on platforms without the use of scheduling software, there are options for free analytics. Read this blog article to find one that works for you.

In this step, you are looking to replicate past success and trim past failures. You may find a platform you are using that is not working for you. Drop it. You may also discover a platform that is working really well for you. Concentrate your efforts there.

What are your library’s goals for the year? As with everything you do in library marketing, your social media work must be in service of advancing your library’s overall goals. So, get that list in front of you for the next two steps.

Create a mission statement for each social media platform. Look at your library’s goals for the year and what you know about each platform. Then write a one to two sentence mission statement for each of the social media platforms, lining up your library’s goals with the current audience for that platform. This mission statement should be something your staff and your cardholders will understand. Here’s an example:

LinkedIn: Discover career advice, business tips, and free resources that will help you succeed at work.

Twitter: Get regular updates on our collection, library events, and the literary and entertainment world.

Instagram: Photos tell the library’s story, one snapshot at a time.

And so on. Once you have created the mission statement for the platforms, you can create a persona for the people who will follow you on that platform. The mission statement and persona will help you visualize your audience every time you post. You’ll be able to connect with them because you’ll know who they are, and what they expect from you.

Experiment with scheduling. Look at your current analytics to see which time of day and day of the week work best for social media posts. Use that as a starting point for deciding when and how often you’ll post. Be consistent with your posts. And set a cadence that you know you can keep up with.

Track metrics and be flexible but not overly reactive. It takes time to achieve your library goals using any kind of marketing. The exception is social media. That’s because the platforms themselves are transforming and changing at a rapid and unpredictable rate. Algorithm adjustments and new features can throw off your strategy.

Here’s my general rule: keep an eye on changes in the social media landscape. When a big change occurs, like when Facebook changes its algorithm, sit tight for a while. Give it a month at least and see how the platform’s change affects your reach. Watch to see how your audience reacts. Watch to see how other brands adjust based on the change. Then, if you see your reach is changing negatively or positively, make the adjustment. Don’t wait until your strategy cycle (six-12 months maximum) is over to make your change. You’ll lose months of audience reach if you wait.

Never stop researching. I follow a couple of websites and podcasts religiously to keep up on social media trends. Of all the marketing tactics, that’s the one that takes the most personal learning upkeep! I rely on the Social Media Examiner Podcast, Social Media Today, Social Media Explorer, and Rebekah Radice.

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