Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Library.

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For libraries large and small, public, private, and academic, there is but one powerful promotional tool that you can use to reach as many people as possible.

It’s an email.

I think it’s safe to say that libraries embraced email in the pandemic. And they’ve continued to use it as we move into the next normal.

When you have limited staff, limited time, and an audience that is scattered across a large geographic area or is not comfortable coming into the building, email is the most effective method of communication. 

And while the digital divide is still a very real and present problem for many communities, access to the internet is improving.

The latest Pew Research Center study released in August of this year shows that rural residents have seen a nine-percentage point rise in home broadband adoption in the last five years. 72 percent of rural Americans have high-speed internet access. Smartphone ownership also rose nine percentage points among rural residents in the past three years. 

That’s a significant portion of your audience that’s reachable by email. 

And the beautiful part is when you build a subscriber list, it’s all yours. No algorithm can touch it! 

Segmenting your audience by their self-identified interests is the most effective way to market your library by email. Once you’ve created your segments, the next step is to build your subscriber lists. That’s your golden ticket to promotional success.

Here are 12 super easy ways to do that. 

Sign up people whenever you interact with them. 

I’ve got a thing for candles that smell like baked goods.

Every single time I stock up at Bath and Body Works or Yankee Candle, I am asked for my email at checkout. And I always give it to the cashier.

Why? Because I know I’ll be sent coupons. This means I’ll be able to enjoy the scent of sugar cookies or freshly baked apples wafting through my house without having to turn on my oven.

Every time your library staff talks with a patron, whether it’s by phone, chat, at the desk, or at outreach events, they should be asking for their email. Train staff to ask for email at every opportunity.

Create a form sign-up for holds and self-service checkouts. 

Some of our patrons prefer not to interact with staff. They love self-service. They may dart in and out of your building to get their holds. (That’s me!)

For these low-interaction patrons, create a form as a bookmark. Ask for the person’s name and email. If you have segmented email lists, you can ask them to check off the ones they’d like to subscribe to. They can return the form when they return their items. Or, even easier…

Add an opt-in page to your website. 

Your bookmark can simply include the URL to a landing page on your library website where people can opt-in to your segmented lists. You might also include a QR code that takes people directly to your opt-in page.

An opt-in page is also handy for the next four suggestions.

Ask staff to include a link to your opt-in page in their email signatures.

Library staff send a lot of emails to patrons, community members, presenters, and stakeholders. They can help build your subscriber lists by including a line with an embedded link to your opt-in page in their email signature.

Start an opt-in campaign.

Send an email to your current subscribers and ask them to opt-in to other segmented lists. You can also give them the option to opt-out of any lists they may not be interested in any longer.

It may seem counterintuitive to remove people from your email list to grow your email list. But your current email subscribers are more likely to engage with other lists.

Also, their interests may have changed since they signed up. Give them the chance to update their subscriptions. They’ll be more likely to engage with the emails you send to them.  

Cross-promote your least popular list to subscribers of your most popular lists.

Experiment with cross-promotion to give your least popular lists improved visibility. Include a few teaser lines in your email or e-newsletter and a link to sign up.

Promote your lists on your social media cover photos or headers.

Pick a list to promote by looking at the demographics for each of the social media platforms your library uses. You’ll be able to pinpoint which of your segmented lists will resonate the most with the followers of that platform.

Or you can highlight your opt-in page, where people can choose from all your lists. Then create a high-quality graphic and include instructions for signing up in the caption, and watch your list grow.

Share email previews on your library’s social media accounts.

Sharing a portion of your emails or e-newsletters is a great way to attract your audiences and entice them to join your email list.

Doing this demonstrates the value of your library and your email messages. Community members will be more likely to sign up if you give them a preview of what you’ll be sending them.

Promote your emails in your YouTube video descriptions.

Include a plug for your email lists every time you upload a video. One line at the beginning or end of your video description is all you need.

This is especially effective if you create a how-to video. Tell your viewers that they can sign up for more informative content and instruction by clicking the link in your description.

Promote your emails on your blog

For every blog post you publish, include a line that asks readers to sign up for one of your subscriber lists.

This works well when you match the content of the list with the content of your blog post.

Put the “ask line” somewhere in the first two-thirds of the blog post to catch readers who might not read your post all the way to the end.

Encourage subscribers to forward your emails.

Include social sharing buttons and an “Email to a Friend” button in your emails. Also, at the bottom of your emails, include a “Subscribe” call to action with a link so that the people receiving the forwarded emails can easily opt-in too!

Send great content.

If your emails are informative and interesting, your library will get a reputation… a good one.

Your communications will be viewed as valuable. People will always look forward to receiving your emails. They’ll be more likely to forward them to their friends, family, and co-workers. And this will help you to gather additional subscribers.


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Looking for Guaranteed Email Marketing Success at Your Library? Here Are Four Essential Metrics To Track.

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