Do you remember when you learned to read?
I was in the first grade. The school was holding a contest to find a student to deliver a public service announcement about education on a local radio station. I was determined to win.
My mother, who was a first-grade teacher, was incredulous when I shared my plan for my broadcast debut. How could a kid who hadn’t learned to read yet get good enough to get that radio spot? She thought I was crazy.
And maybe I was. But I proved my mother wrong through sheer will and determination, and with a little help from the “Dick and Jane” series. By the end of first grade, I was reading well enough to tackle Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. And I was on the radio.
Twenty years later, I was working weekends as a newscast producer at a television station. That meant every Saturday and Sunday, I had to 8 hours to produce two shows… the 6 p.m. news and the 11 p.m. news. On a good night, it was a fast-paced and stressful proposition.
One day, the television station suffered a huge power failure. The station had backup generators that were supposed to kick on to keep us on the air. But a surge had fried the wiring and we were dead… really most sincerely dead. We had no way to get on the air. And the newscast had to get on the air.
Failure was not an option. We needed to get the show on the air because thousands of homes were also without power and those people looked to us for information. We also needed to get on the air because when the ads that are supposed to be a part of the newscast don’t air, the station loses money.
With airtime fast approaching, we came up with a plan. We would broadcast live from the parking lot using our live truck. It was crude but it worked. We felt like heroes. Journalism won the day and after that, I felt like there was no problem that I could not solve.
We all face obstacles during our work every day. Some are big, some are small. Your attitude plays a huge role in determining whether you overcome them, particularly for those of us working in the library marketing space. Many of our problems are unique to this industry. But trust me when I tell you that you are smart and you can figure anything out!
To prove it, here are the top five problems we face in Library Marketing along with eight solutions… because there are always more solutions than problems!
Problem: we simply don’t have enough time to do all the stuff we’re asked to do. The library year is kind of like the “lazy river” at my local YMCA… a constant swirling movement of events that keeps pushing us forward. It takes some force and a change of direction to break free. When you’re under pressure to promote each big event, it can leave you feeling like you never have enough time for your collection or services. You might feel like you don’t even have enough time to think or be creative.
Solution: a strategy gives you freedom. It not only helps you drive your marketing for the year in a measurable way, it will also provide a concrete reason the next time you have to say “no.”
Say “no” to promotions that don’t serve to drive your library’s strategic mission. Say “no” to promoting every exhibit, program, and author visit at your branches. Empower your branches to do some of their own promotion by providing them with simple guidelines for doing their own community marketing and set them free so you can focus on the big picture… your library as a whole.
Problem: we don’t have enough money. Tiny budgets really separate us most from the for-profit marketers. I do see more libraries spending big budgets but they’re doing it in smart and strategic ways, for re-branding and full production media ad buys, slick content marketing magazines, and direct mail to non-cardholders.
If you don’t have a big media budget, you can spend a little money to boost the effectiveness of your social media posts. Honestly, you can’t get much social media reach without a little spending.
Solution: social media advertising is cheaper than traditional ad buys. Your administrators might not realize how super effective targeted ads can be. You can easily prove that you can make a good return on their investment.
Solution: partnership opportunities to promote more than the big programs. At my library, we created media sponsorship guidelines which list the action items we’d like our potential sponsors to fulfill and what benefits we can offer them in return. Why not pitch a media sponsorship to promote your digital collection or your fantastic database resources?
Solution: find super library fans or influencers in your marketplace and invite them to write about your organization. At my library, when we opened our new MakerSpace and got lots of publicity outside the traditional media (this article is a good example).
Problem: we don’t have enough staff. If your handling a one-person marketing department, trying to take on marketing can be a scary proposition. You probably feel like you’re already just hanging on by the skin of your teeth.
Solution: use the talents of non-marketing co-workers. There are likely a number of librarians who have an interest and a proficiency for social media, writing, video, and design. Ask around and recruit those staff members to help you create content. Ask for permission to recruit interns. You’ll have someone to handle the grunt work and you’ll have the joy that comes with mentoring and encouraging the career of young marketers.
Problem: we don’t know enough about our cardholders to target them effectively with messages they will love. I suffer from this and many of my library marketing friends do too! It’s not a hard one to solve.
Solution: create a new cardholder survey to gauge the interests of people just entering your library system.
Solution: a yearly satisfaction survey for all cardholders is also extremely helpful, particularly when you can take the results and split them into your different persona groups. From there, you can map your customer’s journey. When they get a card, how long does it take them to use it? Are they checking out books or using your digital collection or your computers, or do they simply let it languish? Do you have some customers who got a card years ago, used it a specific way, and then stopped altogether? Do you have some customers who are making the transition from print items to digital materials? Do you have some customers who are only interested in one particular kind of item–DVDs, audio books, or computers?
Break your customers into groups based on what they do with the card and start creating pieces of content that target those groups. Maybe you’ll want to focus your efforts at first on one group in particular. At my library, we’re targeting a persona we call “Occasionals” which are people who use their cards once every six months. We focus on moving people from that cluster into a more active user persona, by targeting them with messages about the convenience of our digital collection.
Problem: we are resistant to change. This problem is the biggest, in my opinion. We are too set in our ways. How many times have you heard someone in your library say, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it!” It’s the phrase I dread most.
It takes an enormous amount of effort and energy to change the minds of our fellow library staff members and our administration. It seems like it would just be easier to stay the course.
Do. Not. Give. In. Marketers have a reputation for being talkative, a little eager, a bit bold, and maybe a tad whacky, and these are all GOOD traits! We have to remember our main objective–to get customers to move through the cardholder journey and engage with the library. Without that engagement, the people who argue that libraries are obsolete will win! We can’t have that.
Solution: with patience and persistence, you can thoughtfully steer your library into the future. It works best when you start small. Think of it like a staircase. On the bottom step, you make a small argument and you try a new thing. You see results. You report the results and chances are, you’ll get to climb to the next step.
The more you do this, the faster you’ll get up the stairs–at some point, you might even be allowed to take the stairs two at a time. Keep the end goal in mind but set smaller goals that help you to get there.
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