Man looking a book. Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

In a normal world, my library friends in the United States would be gearing up for the annual Library Card Sign-up Month campaign.

But reaching your non-cardholding community members may feel overwhelming, considering all the hurdles to service libraries face right now.

I’ve been thinking about this problem a lot this week. It is going to be really hard to reach people who don’t use the library when we can’t do in-person outreach.

But we won’t let a pandemic stop us from bringing new cardholders into our library family. Here are six ways to successfully grow your cardholder base, even when you’re dealing with COVID-19.

Invest in social media ads. You don’t have to spend much money to reach your target audience. Most libraries can spend about two to three dollars a day to boost a post or an ad to see results.

There is controversy surrounding the use of Facebook. Many companies are boycotting the platform and holding off on ad-buying until Facebook addresses their concerns around privacy and hateful rhetoric. Every library should decide whether it’s worth buying ads on Facebook to recruit more cardholders.

But if you do decide to buy Facebook ads, it’s easy to set up your ads for maximum effectiveness. You can choose the audience based on a huge list of demographics, including geographic location, age, and interests. Facebook will help you craft the call to action, image, and headline that will work best for your ad.

You can link your Instagram page to your Facebook page to buy identical ads for both platforms. I recommend this strategy, as you’re more likely to reach non-cardholders by combining efforts on borth platforms.

Testing social media ads is easy. Last year I was working as the chair of my school district’s bond issue. I played around with Facebook ads nearly every day. I would put $1 a day behind an ad and test it for a week to watch the response. If people interacted with it, I would re-boost it with more money. I never spent more than $7 a day and saw great results.

If you don’t want to buy a Facebook ad, there is quite a bit of buzz right now about advertising on LinkedIn. I have not had the opportunity to play with this. But if your library has a LinkedIn page, and a bit of money to spend on advertising, this might be a great time for you to experiment.

Consider applying for Google Ad Grants. This is a program from Google which gives money to libraries so they can buy keyword placement on Google and get into the top tier of Google search results.

Google Ads are effective because they are hyper-targeted. That means a library’s ads will only be shown to people in its service area who have searched for specific keywords like “library card.”

Want to learn more? Read this article about how Google Ad Grants work and how to get one.

Incentivize current cardholders to spread the word. Ask current cardholders to recruit a new card holder for a chance to win a prize drawing. The prize could be library swag or gift cards from local businesses.

To promote your contest, email your digital cardholders to let them know about the giveaway. On social media, ask your followers to tag you when they recruit a new cardholder to be entered into the prize drawing. Create small flyers or bookmarks to promote your contest and slip them into holds, curbside pickup bags, or make and take craft bags.

You’ll be surprised how many people will help your library for the chance to win a prize!

Incentivize staff to recruit new cardholders. Get some extra gift cards and give them away to staff members. Or give away an extra day of vacation or the privilege of wearing jeans to work for a day.

You can do a straight giveaway, where every staff member who manages to recruit a new cardholder is entered to win a prize. Or you can make it competitive, rewarding the staff member with the most signups.

Pitch real stories of library cardholders to the media. The goal is, of course, to convince people to sign up for a card. But instead of sending out a generic press release about the benefits of a library card, share an example of a real person who got help with a real problem at the library.

Find these real-life examples is not as hard as you might imagine. Send an email to your cardholders asking them to share how the library helped them during the lockdown. Or ask for user stories on social media.

Pinpoint the best stories and ask the permission of those cardholders to share their story. I used to do this often when I worked at a library. Whenever I asked a cardholder if I could share their story, they always said yes!

Next, put your storytelling skills to work and write an article about that cardholder with emotion, some drama, and a resolution. Make it compelling. Send it to your local newspaper. They’re more likely to print a story about a real person than a press release.

You can also ask your local radio or TV stations for a chance to bring a librarian onto a show. Ask your library staffer to talk about an instance in which they’ve helped a member of the community.

Examples of real people getting real help from the library are much more effective than a straight promotional ask for library card signups.

Lean on your partnerships. Ask partner organizations to distribute a bookmark or some other kind of small print promotional piece to their visitors.

Local realtors and rental agencies could give your promotional piece to prospective homeowners or new renters. Send some of your library card sign-up print pieces to day care providers, teachers, summer camps, and recreational centers. You can even ask restaurants to include a library card signup flyer or bookmark in their takeout bags!

What promotions is your library doing for Library Card Sign-up Month? Share your ideas in the comments.

You might find these articles helpful

Best FREE Ways to Reach Non-Cardholders {Video}!

Ideas for Pushing Your Library Card Sign-up Month Marketing to the Next Level to Reach New Audiences and Re-Engage Current Cardholders

Show-and-Tell of the Best Kinds of Library Marketing Swag {Video}!

Latest book reviews

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Find more 60-second Book Reviews here.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on the “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.