I need your help! In a few weeks, I’m giving a short online seminar to library directors about marketing! I have 15 minutes to convince them to throw their full support behind library marketing. I really want this talk to impact the way library directors think about your work. So… please let me know what you want library directors to know about library marketing. Fill out the form before you even read this post. It’s anonymous! Thank you!

Librarians are busy folks. You’re on the front lines, trying to work with cardholders and community members. You’re looking up information. You’re connecting people with social service resources. You’re filling out paperwork, creating curriculum for story time, and putting up displays. And you’re doing about 100 other things that I don’t know about because I’m not a librarian.

I worry about how much libraries lean on librarians to do their own marketing. Senior staff might believe spending money to hire staff for marketing is not a good use of their limited funds. But it’s not good for the librarians and it’s not good for the library.

I also can’t change the world in one blog post. What I can do is help the librarians in my readership to strategize to make marketing part of their regular duties. Here are four things that you can do that are already part of your job. These are marketing tactics, though you may not have thought of them that way before!

Merchandising. Merchandising is a form of marketing that focuses on presenting the items in your branch in the way that will compel people to interact with them. Every display, every sign, every decision on the arrangement space in your branch is a chance to market your library.

I know that the decision many libraries made to switch from using the Dewey Decimal system to a more categorized approach for arranging items pains library purists. But it pays off.  Library visitors are accustomed to browsing in stores by categories. By mimicking that display effect, libraries make it easier for people to find the items they want and need. We want to be as easy to use (or easier) than our for-profit competitors.

It’s a time-consuming process but I’ve put merchandising first on this list because it is the most important and impactful way that librarians can market their branch. If you haven’t thought about re-arranging the materials in your branch, now is a great time to start. And to get some help, I recommend the slides from a presentation from Allison Fiscus of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. She recently did an online seminar. Her presentation includes data that shows how merchandising positively effects the customer experience. She included a lot of visuals to help you understand her concepts. You can find them here.

Exceptional customer service. A lot of big brands have focused on improving customer service as a marketing tactic. If you are working on the front-line of your library, you have a unique opportunity to interact with cardholders.

The marketing buzz phrase for doing this is “surprise and delight.” We want to surprise our cardholders with service that exceeds their expectations. When we do that, they feel delighted with us! (Isn’t that just a sunny thought?) Delighted cardholders are more likely to spread the word to their friends and family about our system and the services we provide. They may be compelled to talk about us positively on social media, give us great reviews on Google Business, and support our work through donations or volunteerism. These are all marketing wins!

Good customer service is a competitive edge for libraries. If we can create an environment of inclusive and open access where people truly feel supported and cared for, we’ll have the clear advantage over for-profit competitors. One-on-one help is time-consuming, but it will pay off. We’ll build a reputation as a warm and inviting space. When’s the last time you heard Amazon or Best Buy described in those terms?

Library staff must make the commitment to provide good customer service. It’s not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. To help you, I love this free guide from Hubspot. It’s got templates and a ton of great information that you can use to improve your own customer service skills.

I also recommend you read this interview with Dan Gingiss, an expert at customer service. He’s written a great book with tips about customer service in social media and his interview has lots of ideas for improving library customer service to make our industry more competitive.

Word of mouth promotion. I get a lot of requests from librarians in my system who want our marketing department to promote their event or service. Posters and emails and fliers work, but the most effective method of marketing, in my experience, is word of mouth. You need to be telling your cardholders about your branch, events, and services. Talk to them!

Librarians are in a better position to sell people on their services and events than a for-profit business. That’s because you are a trusted member of the community. Librarians are admired and your opinions are valued more than the average person. Use that advantage to help “sell” the things that your branch offers!

I know word of mouth promotion seems time-consuming.  But consider this. Data tells us that you have to get your message in front of your cardholder an average of SEVEN TIMES before they’ll be compelled to act on it. But when you have a direct conversation with a cardholder about your library, you are making a compelling and personal case. 75 percent of people don’t believe the advertisements they read but 92 percent believe brand recommendations they receive from trusted sources. Librarians are trusted! So just talk to people.

Sharing on your personal social media. Yes, you should be sharing posts from your library’s social media channels on your own personal channel. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Just pick the promotions you feel most personally passionate about. Hit the “share” button and add a line about why this particular event or service is meaningful to you.

Your recommendations are trusted because of your position. It’s not unethical to share your employer’s promotional social posts. I know you feel passionate about the work your library is doing. Don’t be shy. Share your enthusiasm!

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