Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

When Julia Pitts walks into a library or flips open a newly checked-out book, she remembers her grandmother, Velma.

A frugal woman who grew up in the Great Depression, Velma embedded Julia with her a few lifelong habits, including frequenting the library for its free entertainment.

“With eerie clarity, I can picture her tiny body reading a hardcover crime novel wrapped in the plastic library sheathing under the glow of her lima bean green table lamp,” recalled Julia.

Julia Pitts and her grandmother Velma

Today, that lamp sits in Julia’s office at the W. Frank Steely Library on the campus of Northern Kentucky University, where she serves as Communications and Marketing Manager. Before taking the job at NKU, Julia was a freelance marketer. But after four years of feeling like she was always on the clock, she was ready for a change.

“The idea of working on a college campus where the target audience is primarily young adults actively working to create a better future for themselves excited me,” remembered Julia. “After all, what group of people could be more fun to market to than college students? Better yet, I could use my skills to share the work of a library, an institution designed to empower its patrons with free access to life-changing resources and services. It truly felt meant to be.”

The Steely Library Instagram account is a favorite of mine. Julia says the platform is where she focuses most of her content creation energy, and for good reason.

“From a strategic standpoint, it is where the most significant chunk of our primary target audience (students) prefers to consume their content,” she explained. “Additionally, Instagram is where the majority of NKU’s other social media accounts are the most active.”

“Steely and a handful of other NKU accounts have created a bit of an unofficial influencer circle. We tag and share each other’s posts on stories, increasing the visibility across the campus of NKU’s services, resources, and events. After all, we aren’t competitors and are working towards the same goal; student success.”

“On a personal note, Instagram is my favorite platform. It is where I feel like I can best humanize the library through visual and written storytelling, speaking in a voice that resonates with students, capitalizing on visual elements, and creating fun mini-digital user experiences to engage with our audience. It’s where I can let Steely’s hair down and have a little fun.”

In the spring 2022 semester, Steely Library launched a weeklong scavenger hunt-inspired social media campaign. Staff hid six baby dinosaurs, each with their own adorable personality, throughout the library. The goal was to increase Instagram engagement and build awareness about their brand-new makerspace, Stego Studio, named after a 20-foot-long sculpture created by artist Pat Renick.

“Stego is the library’s beloved unofficial mascot,” explained Julia. “The six baby dinosaurs represented Stego’s children, curious wanderers, and patrons of the arts who had gotten lost in the library. If a student found and returned a baby stego, we rewarded them for their heroic efforts.”

Stego, the unofficial mascot of Steely Library

Each day, Steely Library shared a photographic clue along with a brief caption personifying the baby dinos on Instagram. Each baby stego included a small tag redirecting students to the makerspace with a message that read, “Woohoo! You found me! Take me to Stego Studio (Room SL 215) to claim your prize.” The prize for finding one of Stego’s long-lost children consisted of a Stego Studio sticker, an “I found baby stego” keychain, and a certificate to create a project of their choosing (free of charge) in the makerspace.

“To increase the awareness of our campaign and maximize the number of students that could participate, we created a second way to win a prize,” revealed Julia “If students liked, saved, shared, and tagged friends in the campaign launch post, they were entered for a chance to win a study room for a day with a Jimmy John’s catered lunch for them and three friends.”

The idea for the campaign originated with the Board of Student Stakeholders (BOSS), the student library advisory board. Each year, the group receives funds to execute a library improvement project of their choosing.

BOSS’s idea to launch a social media campaign was the perfect opportunity to begin building awareness of the space and demystifying its technology to the student users. “With the makerspace’s off-the-beaten-path location in the library, we knew the campaign needed to contain an element that physically brought students into the space,” explained Julia.

“Once we launched, it did not take long to realize that we were on to something. The first baby stego was found in seven minutes, the second in 30 seconds, and the third in 20 (seconds). Before we launched, I was just hoping that the baby dinos would be found by the end of the day. I was not expecting (or ready for) the high level of interest we received.”

After the third baby stego was found so quickly, Julia knew it was time to go back to the drawing board and shake things up. What started as a simple scavenger hunt promptly pivoted into a trail of clues and challenges rivaling the Amazing Race.

Students formed teams, scouting potential hiding locations, camping out in study rooms to be close to the action, and tracking Julia’s movements once it was revealed that she was the baby stego hider.” One student even planted fake clues to lead other hopeful seekers astray,” remembered Julia. “It was pure chaos, and I loved every minute of it.”

“By the end, it was clear that we had created something that struck a chord with our students and accomplished our goals. Over the week, we saw a 4,381% increase in post interaction and 71 new followers on Instagram. But, more importantly, we introduced Stego Studio and its technology to a highly captive audience.”

When she’s looking for inspiration, Julia turns to other libraries, both academic and public. One of her favorites is the University of Kentucky’s social media accounts. “Their posts are fun, lighthearted, and have a unique tone of voice,” she explained. “I think far too often, libraries fall into the trap of only sharing text-heavy promotional graphics for events and programs. As a result, their feed can come off as impersonal and spammy. UK relies more on intriguing photography to lure its viewers in, and I knew I wanted to do the same.”

And despite the successes she has created at Steely Library, Julia knows 2023 will be a banner year. “The most significant project of my life is projected to launch on January 21…the birth of my first child (eeek!). So, for the first few months of the year, I will be preoccupied with learning and panicking over how to keep a tiny human alive and well. Upon my return, I’d love to start building a team of student content creators or a library marketing fellowship opportunity.”

More advice

Was It a Fluke? What a Viral Instagram Video Can Teach You About Library Social Media Promotions

An Academic Library Increased Their Instagram Reach by 1149% in a Year! Learn Their Secrets for Success

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