I love my library’s print publication, Library Links. It’s full of stories about the library, its staff, and its cardholders. It’s fun to write. It fun to watch it transform from a bunch of Word documents into a legitimate magazine. It’s satisfying to put it into the world every three months.

But for all the personal satisfaction I derive from creating it, I sometimes wonder if it’s a good use of my time. How do I know that it’s actually something people want to read? How do I know if it’s effective? It’s impossible to track the return on investment of print promotions. Or is it?

I know many library marketers face this same dilemma. Most libraries have a newsletter or magazine of some form. The strategies for each of these print pieces vary. The audience varies. The budget varies.

But we must measure the return on investment of all of our marketing, including print pieces. So how do you do that? Here are some of the ways I use to measure the effectiveness of my print magazine.

Track who actually wants to read your publication. Many libraries print thousands of copies of their publication. Then they send them out automatically to all the people living in their service area. They might also send copies home with each child in their school district. I totally understand that tactic. But my bet is that more than half of those publications end up in the trash. It’s like sending un-targeted email messages. If someone isn’t already engaged with the library, the sad truth is they aren’t going to read your newsletter. That’s a shame, because it’s a waste of money for the library and a waste of time for you and your staff.

A better approach is to ask readers to opt-in to the publication. There are a couple of ways to do this. Ask people to sign up for it, either when they sign up for a library card or through an email campaign. You could send your print publication to anyone who donates your library’s fundraising groups. You can put copies out in your branches. You can also distribute copies to partner organizations with locations that have a lot of foot traffic, like museums and theaters.

Then, quite simply, count how many copies you have to print to meet the demand of your mailing and distribution lists. If people are seeking out your publication–if they are making any kind of effort to get a copy– that’s a good sign that it’s effective.

I’ve noticed that if my library releases a great issue of Links with a compelling cover story and lots of great content, people clamor for copies. We might have to visit our partner organizations again to give them more copies for distribution. We sometimes have cardholders who approach branch staff to ask when the next issue is coming out. My goal is always to run out of copies!

It’s not entirely scientific but an opt-in approach to your print publication can give you an idea of whether the publication is effective. And why spend money and time printing something that isn’t read?

Hashtags and emails: Ask readers to post a social media comment on a story or an event in your print publication. Give them a unique hashtag to use when they post their comment. Then count how many comments you receive. You can also ask readers to send an email with their comments to a special inbox. Then you can count the number of emails you receive.

Custom URLs and sub-domains on your website: I like to create Bit.ly URLs for sub-pages on my website that allow me to track traffic to those pages that are specific to readers of my print publication. For instance, my library has a web page that explains our passport service. For our upcoming issue of Library Links, I created the URL cinlib.org/passport. I’m not using that URL in any other promotions. So once the issue is out, I can see exactly how much of the traffic driven to that page came from my Links readers.

If your marketing department is also in charge of your website, create vanity sub-domains and use those URLs only in your print publications to help you track readers. If you decide to go that route, you can use Google Analytics to watch traffic to those sites. Create a custom tracking URL (How to Track Library Marketing with Google Analytics URL Builder). This will let you sort out the traffic coming to that particular webpage and determine what percentage is directly driven there by your print publication.

Secret: This same idea can be used on all your library’s print pieces, including posters, bookmarks, and other handouts. If you feel like your library is doing too much print marketing, you can get some hard data to back up your claim by tracking it through digital means.

Re-purpose your content and track engagement. Many of the stories we publish in Links are re-purposed a month or so later for social media posts, blog posts, and other content purposes. This helps us to get more out of the stories and gives us another way to measure whether the story is interesting to our audience. Plus it gives us a way to reach new audiences and make people aware of Library Links so they’ll want a real print copy.

Ideas for More Engaging Print Content

Amazing Content Marketing Stories About Your Library Are Right Under Your Nose!

How My Library Pivoted Its Event Newsletter Into a Content Marketing Magazine

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