Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Library. Catalog Department approx. 1946.

If you want your community members to do something, you must tell them what you want them to do. Explicitly.

That means you must add an amazing call to action for every promotional piece you create.

What Is a Call to Action?

A Call to Action, or a CTA, is a phrase that is used to tell the someone exactly what action to take and how to take it.  It also implicitly provides the motivation for the recipient to take the action. 

A CTA can be as simple as two words “Read Now.” It may be longer: “Want to take the next step in your career? Take a free career assessment test on our library’s website.”

It may be a link to your website, catalog, chat service, or email box. It may tell community members to call a special phone number to speak with a librarian or visit a certain desk at the library to talk with staff.

The call to action gives the person consuming the promotional material the instructions for taking the next step to use library resources. It must be strong, clear, and commanding.

For most of us, the CTA is the last thing we think about when creating a promotional piece. Staff put their time and energy into creating the layout, adding the right image, making sure all the text details are correct, and timing the promotion for the perfect release.

But I encourage you to spend some time thinking through your CTAs early in the process of creating any marketing piece. Here are seven tips to remember when you create a CTA for any piece. Practice going through this list every time you do a promotion.  

Use positive, active language in your call to action. 

Think of your CTA like a commandment. If you could order your community member to do something, what would you say?

Some examples of positive, active language which apply to libraries are:

  • Read
  • Watch
  • Download
  • Create
  • Join
  • Learn
  • Donate
  • Explore
  • Discover
  • Enter

You can also add a sense of urgency to your CTAs by adding the word “Now” as in “Read Now” or “Watch Now”.

Make your call to action as concise as possible.

For emails and digital signage try to keep your CTA between one and three words.

For flyers, bookmarks, posters, and videos, you can add a few more words like:

  • Register for this program
  • Place a hold on this book
  • Reserve your spot
  • Get the details
  • Sign up now
  • Read our step-by-step guide

For social media posts, a full sentence is good. But, on social media, put your sentence-long CTA into the text of your post, not as text inside the graphic or image you are attaching. If your CTA is in the image, use the one-to-three-word rule.

For blog posts, your CTA can be a longform sentence. Consider using bold text to draw the eye to that sentence. Or you can use a button (see the section on buttons below).

Try using the first person.

The marketing agency Unbounce did a fascinating study on CTAs and found that changing the text from the second person (“Register your child today”) to the first person (“Register my child today”) resulted in a 90 percent increase in clicks.

Your library can experiment using CTAs that say, “Reserve my spot” or “Get my personalized reading recommendations.” You may find that the change makes a difference in the number of people who take an action after seeing your promotional message.   

Put your call to action in a brightly colored box or circle.

There is something psychological about the look of a button that will compel your recipients to click on it.

The color of the button matters. You want something that’s eye-catching. You may be limited in your color choices depending on your library’s brand standards.

But, if you have room to experiment, read this fascinating post from marketing expert Neil Patel on color psychology. Then decide what kind of emotion or energy you want your CTA button to convey and choose the corresponding color.

CTA buttons work best in emails and newsletters. But try them also in promotions where you can’t click on a button, like bookmarks, flyers, posters, and digital sign promotions. The button will still serve the purpose of setting your CTA apart from the rest of the piece.

Put your call to action in the top one-third of whatever piece you are creating.

Moving your CTA “above the fold” as it’s called in the newspaper and magazine business, calls attention to the action you wish for your recipient to take. 

Add white space to the area around your call to action.

The extra white space helps create a visual break and draws the reader’s attention right where you want it. Extra white space is also good for anyone reading your digital library promotional piece on a mobile device. It creates a clear area for fingers to click.

Try to use as few calls to action as possible.  

You’ll want to focus the energy of your reader on the next action you wish for them to take. If you offer them too many potential actions, they’ll be overwhelmed and less likely to do anything!

For most promotional pieces, you’ll want only one CTA. This rule includes CTAs for email, digital signage, flyers, posters, bookmarks, social media posts, and videos.

The exceptions are blog posts and newsletters. For blog posts, my personal experience is that two or three CTAs work best. For newsletters, try to offer no more than five CTAs.

Did you notice where I took my own advice in this blog post?

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