If there’s one problem all library marketing professionals share, it’s this: Library staff ask us for lots of print promotional pieces: flyers, posters, and bookmarks. Then more posters and flyers and bookmarks.

Unless you have a tight brand strategy with guidelines backed by senior leaders (I’m looking at you, Toledo Public Library), you and your staff probably spend a good portion of your time creating one-off print pieces.

It’s exhausting. And there is no evidence that these print pieces ACTUALLY WORK. There’s no real way to track the effectiveness. So why are we doing it?

Fear. Library staff are afraid to change the way they’ve marketed their programs and services because they’re worried other methods won’t work, even though we have no way to tell if their current approach is working.

Is your head hurting? Mine is.

The world has changed. And the way libraries market to the world must change as well.

Digital marketing lets us focus more on marketing using our website, social media, and email marketing than we do on print materials. And we know for a fact that this approach works because we can track it.

Digital marketing allows us to reach our whole audience. It also means we can reach new people… people who may not think about the library and its place in their everyday life.

At my library, we know, through data like surveys and card usage statistics, that 45 percent of our cardholders come in to use the library once every couple of weeks. 17 percent of our cardholders use our eBranch exclusively.

The people in those two groups will never see a poster, flyer, or bookmark inside a branch because they aren’t actually coming into a building to use our services. The only way to reach those people is through digital promotions.

If you’re stuck in the poster-flyer-bookmark cycle, I urge you to turn your focus more to digital marketing.

Many of you have told me you want to do this, but you are getting push back from staff. So I wrote this to make the argument for you. Send them this post.

Dear library staff: Your marketing colleagues want you to succeed. Digital marketing is your best shot. Here’s how it works.

The first and most effective digital tactic is email. If you’ve heard email is dead, I am here to tell you it is NOT, at least for libraries. At my library, email is the heart of our marketing strategy. It gets consistent results. And it leads to action. My library uses email to promote everything from services to events to the collection.

A lot of libraries are doing collection marketing in their buildings with displays and signs and book clubs. But you can reach a whole new audience of readers through email. When they want a newly released book, who do your cardholders think of first–you or Amazon? I want them to think about you.

Once a month, I send an email to people to promote three new print books, eBooks, and eAudiobooks in our collection. And I always see huge increases in the circulation of the books I promote.

We did an email recently where we highlighted three animated picture books in our eBranch. Circulation for those three titles went up 3600 percent in the three days following the email. My materials and selection acquisition department was so excited, they asked me to do it again. It works.

You can also use your email to promote your services. It’s a great way to drive usage of those hidden treasures in your library, the services your library does that no one knows you do!

At my library, one of the many services we provide is an online, personalized reading recommendation form. It’s on our website but most people don’t know it’s available. So we started to periodically send emails to promote it. We learned pretty quickly to staff up and send those emails in batches because so many people would sign up for personalized reading recommendations that we couldn’t keep up! The emails drive use.

We’ve also used email to promote our streaming video and music services. We sent email promotions for the Great Courses business classes on Kanopy (before they increased their prices). We sent these emails to our digital users and to cardholders who signed up for young professional job assistance and networking. And we saw a 100-percent increase in the number of video views for this course in the week after the email went out. My materials and selection acquisition co-workers asked me NOT to send any more emails after Kanopy changed their pricing structure because the emails work so well, we would have blown the budget.

Social media the second method most effective method for digital promotions. I know many libraries are struggling with social. Some librarians are arguing for libraries to ditch their social platforms altogether. because the algorithms are working against us.

But social media can work if you have a strategy and do your research about what works best on each platform. Social is a chance for your library to show some personality and have a bit of fun. That will engage your followers and make it more likely that they’ll like, share, and comment on your posts. That engagement gives you more reach, which grows your follower base, which makes your posts more effective!

Social media is more than a place to promote your programs. It can inspire. It can motivate. It can be a conversation and a customer service tool.

The third effective digital marketing tactic is your website. My library made a couple of changes over the past year which has made our website more effective. We knew, from Google Analytics, that people were coming to the website mainly to access the catalog. In fact, it appeared that most people skipped the home page altogether and had the catalog bookmarked, so any promotions I put there were a waste of time and energy for my staff.

So, we made a decision that might sound counter-intuitive to you but that actually worked for us. We REDUCED the number of promotions on our website homepage. Now we’re mainly highlighting the best new books in the collection along with one or two main events, like our upcoming lecture series or our summer reading program.

Why the decision to put less stuff on that page? It’s about prioritizing. What is promoted on the homepage is really important. And as we prioritized our homepage promotions, we sent a signal to our users that whatever they see on the homepage is something they really need to pay attention to. We decluttered our promotions and focused our efforts.

I know what you want to ask: did the reduction cause a decrease in program attendance? NOPE. The homepage wasn’t driving people to events in the first place. We knew that by looking at Google Analytics data. There are more effective ways to make sure people learn about a library event, like email and social media.

My library also launched a blog, which we did house on the homepage of our website. This blog is truly informational. It’s not just a news blog, or a push promotional tool. It’s meant to inspire, inform, and educate. It gives people a reason to come back to the website every single day.

And here’s a hidden benefit of blog post. Blog posts are the content that get the most shares. And if your post is helpful to others, it’s more likely to be shared. 94 percent of readers share a blog post because they think it can be useful to someone they know. And the more often you publish blog content, the more often your content will show up in search, which increases the likelihood that people will find your library while doing a search. Amazing, right?

There’s one more reason why digital promotion is vital to your library’s success: research shows us our cardholders need to see a message four to eight times in order finally be moved to act. Digital is an efficient way to get your message in front of eyes in a variety of places and get people to use your library.

So, using my six years of experience in library marketing, I am firmly on the side of digital library marketing as an effective way to reach the community–much more so than a poster, flyer, or bookmark.

Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

You might also be interested in these videos

The Library Marketing Show Episode 12: How to Convince People that Flyers ARE NOT the Be All, End All of Library Marketing!!

The Library Marketing Show Episode 8: Fighting Back Against the Endless Poster-Flyer-Bookmark Cycle!

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