Super Library Marketing: Practical Tips and Ideas for Library Promotion

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

Image courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Use the feedback button to share your most pressing email marketing question. I’ll answer these in a future blog post!

I love opening the “reports” tab on an email platform. There is a second or two of anticipation as the page loads that brings me a thrill.

What will the numbers say? Will they be better or worse than last month? Will they reveal a new trend that I can use to better serve my target audience?

I realize I sound a little nuts. But honestly, I love metrics.

They are clear and concise. They show you what’s working and what’s not working. They give you permission to stop doing promotions that don’t help your library at all. If you try something new, they’ll tell you whether your idea worked or not.

Tracked over time, email metrics will help you to take the 30,000-foot view of your library marketing. You can see if your emails are doing what they are supposed to do… moving your library toward its overall strategic goals.

There is a lot we could measure in terms of email marketing. It would be easy to get lost in the quagmire of numbers and analysis.

So, I want you to focus on four data points that really matter to library email marketing. Use these metrics to determine whether your messages are connecting with your audience and promoting your library’s overall strategic goals. And don’t miss the bonus tip at the end of this list!

“Email is the only place where people, not algorithms, are in control.”

Ann Handley, writer, digital marketing pioneer, and Wall Street Journal best-selling author 

1. Increase of raw circulation numbers. 

Record the number of checkouts and holds before you send the message and then again after the message is sent. You can generally wait about three days to check those numbers. Cardholders who want to act on an email will do so within a three-day period of receiving it.

What this metric will tell you: Raw circulation numbers will likely be of interest to anyone in collection development at your library. They are also the basis for the next two metrics, which will help you compare the effectiveness of your emails.

2. Percentage increase in circulation.

Once you start collecting data on raw holds and checkout increases, you will want to calculate the percentage increase in circulation.  

Let’s say on Monday, you send an email promoting one specific eBook. Before you send the email, you note that there are currently three holds or checkouts of this eBook. When you check on Tuesday, there are four new holds or checkouts placed on the eBook. In total, there are now seven holds or checkouts on this item.

Use to calculate the percentage increase in circulation. For this example, we use the third calculation tool on the page:

That’s a 133 percent increase in circulation.

Now, the next week, you decide to send another email promoting a different eBook. But this time, the eBook you choose to promote has 15 holds or copies before the email is sent. When you check 24 hours after sending the email, there are 10 new holds or checkouts. In total, there are now 25 holds or checkouts on the eBook.

The raw numbers for the second email are bigger (an increase of 4 holds/checkouts vs. an increase of 10 holds/checkouts). But the percentage increase for the second email is actually smaller, at 66%! That means email #1 was more effective.

What this metric will tell you: Percentage increase in circulation lets you compare your promotions more accurately. If you are short on time, this kind of comparison will help you determine which promotions will give you the most success with your limited resources.

3. Conversion rate.

This is the percentage of people who took an action after receiving your email.

Let’s pretend that you’ve sent an email to 1000 people. The email promotes a streaming video on your library website that hasn’t had any views in the past couple of weeks.

When you check the streaming statistics for that video, you see that 25 people watched the video in the days immediately after you sent the email.

Using the second tool on our percentage calculator website, you can calculate the percentage of people who “converted” or took an action after your email.

What this metric will tell you: If you start tracking conversion rates on your emails, over time you’ll have a clear picture of the types of emails your audience responds to. You’ll be able to establish a good base percentage for your audience. This number will be different for every library.

If you are short on time, this metric will help you determine which promotions will give you the most success with your limited resources. When you find a certain type of email promotion works based on conversion rate, you should do it more often.

4. Amount of traffic driven to your website.

Track how much traffic is funneled to your public website by your emails. You can use Google Analytics to analyze how efforts on those platform translates into action by your cardholders. If you’ve never worked with Google Analytics, here is an easy guide to get you started.

What this metric will tell you: This is an important metric to share with administration, because it clearly demonstrates the value of the time and energy you have invested in email marketing.

Special bonus tip!

If you promote the same collection item or booklist on social media, email, and your website, put some space between those three promotions. A week is a good amount of time. That allows you to really pinpoint whether your increase in circulation is coming from email, your placement of the item on your website, or social media.

In fact, that’s a fun experiment to run. Can you drive higher circulation numbers by promoting your collection on your website, email, or social media?

You can even get more granular: which social media platform is best for collection promotion? Which page on your website is best for placing collection promotions? Which email list responds best? See, this is fun!

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.

You may also like these articles

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Psychographics Are the Key to Powerful Email Marketing: How to Unlock the Motivations and Aspirations of Your Cardholders

Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

This is the second in a two-part series on email marketing for libraries. Read part one here.

At the Library Advocacy and Funding Conference in September, a new buzzword seemed to be on the lips of many of the presenters. They were all talking about psychographic segmentation of library audiences for email marketing.

I thought I knew most of the marketing buzzwords, but I confess this was the first time I’d ever heard the term. So, it was time to do some research.

What is psychographics?

Psychographics is the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria, especially in market research (Oxford Dictionary).

Psychographics go beyond basic demographics: location, age, gender identity, and library card usage. To segment by psychographics is to divide your library audience into groups according to their beliefs, values, and reasons for being. It delves deeper into your cardholder’s values, dreams, desires, and outlook on life.

Psychographics identify motivation. Why does your library community take certain actions? Why do they feel the way they do about the library? How do they see the role of the library in their life? And what activities do they participate in, both inside and outside of the library?

Psychographics lead to compelling email marketing messages because they focus on your community’s unarticulated needs and motivations.

Understanding psychographics

The term is new to me but it’s not new to marketing. In 1964, Harvard graduate and social scientist Daniel Yankelovich wrote that traditional demographic traits—sex, age, and education level—lacked the insights marketers needed to target their audiences.

Around the same time, market researcher Emanuel Demby began using the term ‘psychographics’ to reference variations in attitudes, values, and behaviors within a specific demographic segment.

In the 1980s, the Stanford Research Institute developed the Values Attitudes and Lifestyles (VALS) psychographic methodology. It was hailed as a breakthrough in marketing.

One way to understand this concept is to find your own VALS type by taking this survey. My results show that I like to have historical context, that I buy proven products, and that I’m not influenced by what’s “hot.” I also like to experiment. Share your results in the comments.

The travel industry uses psychographics. Email marketing by hotels, cruise lines, and cities, states, and countries often focuses on why a person wants to travel: adventure, romance, curiosity, and relaxation.

Libraries can do the same thing.

Imagine if we started focusing our library email marketing messages not on what are cardholders want to do… but WHY they want to do it.

Uncover the psychographics of your library audience

How do you figure out what makes your library audience do the things they do? You must ask them! A survey is the best way to drill down on the psychographics of your library audience.

Most library surveys focus solely on demographics like age, location, and income. They generally ask people how they use the library now. They may ask people to predict how they’ll use the library in the future.

By adding psychographic questions, you’ll get a look at your audience’s true motivations. That may include questions like, “The last time you checked out a book, what was the reason?” “How do you feel about the library’s work with people experiencing homelessness?”

You can also use matrix-rated questions to gauge psychographics. For instance, you could include a statement like “The library helps people find a new job” and ask respondents to select an answer from a range of “not important” to “extremely important.”

How to Create an Effective Library Survey to Pinpoint the Needs of Your Community

You can also use outside data sources to get at the psychographics of your library audience. Take a closer look at the comments on your social media posts. Can you uncover any reasons why your followers are interacting with your library on social media? Do they share or comment on a particular type of post?

Check Google analytics on your library’s website. Are visitors taking the same steps to move from one landing page to another on your site? Do they spend a longer amount of time on one type of page?

Your circulation stats are a source of psychographics. Are you seeing a surge in the checkouts or interest of one genre of book, or one format? What language do your cardholders use when they ask for recommendations using your form-based readers’ advisory service?

If your library answers reference questions, what type of problems and language are your cardholders using when they ask for help?

Try to look at any interaction your library has with your cardholders, in any arena, as an opportunity to unlock their motivations and psychology. Then use those new insights to craft compelling email marketing messages.

Using psychographics in library email segmentation

Libraries can segment their email audience without violating CAN-SPAM laws. If your cardholders gave you permission to send them email, you can segment them into psychographic segments. As long as your email includes opt-out language (i.e. “If you no longer wish to receive emails about job services at the library, click here”), you are complying with the law.

Combine your demographic knowledge of your cardholders with the research you’ve done on the psychographics of your cardholders. Then divide your email recipients into new segments and try sending them psychographic messages.

For example, let’s say you are already sending a monthly email to parents about storytime at the library. Now let’s say your library decides to offer a new program, like a virtual family literacy night, to help families whose children are not attending in-person classes during the pandemic.

Without psychographics, your email message may have looked like this:

But, thanks to your survey results, you know that many parents are worried about the effect that virtual learning is having on their child’s education. They believe their child will need extra tutoring and classroom attention to succeed in life because of the impact of virtual learning.

Now you can combine your audience’s motivations for attending with your message about the new program.

This marketing message pivoted from a simple invitation to a message that strikes at the heart of the caregiver’s concern for their child.

Psychographics activate the motivations and aspirations of your cardholders. When you get to know your community better, you’ll do a better job of getting your community to know your library!

You may also find these posts helpful

Are My Library Email Metrics Good…. or Bad?! Here Are the Latest Stats to Help You Figure It Out.

The Emoji Experiment: The Pros and Cons of Adding Emojis to Your Library Marketing Email Subject Lines

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Targeted Email Marketing for a New Era, Part One: The Pros and Cons of How Most Libraries Segment Their Audiences

Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Bond Hill Branch.

This is the first in a two-part series on email marketing for libraries. Part two is here.

If there is one thing that I know about library promotion, it’s this:

If you want to be successful in library email marketing, you must target your messages.

This isn’t just my personal belief. It is a method which worked, with impressive results, during my years at a public library. And I see it working now for hundreds of libraries around the country and around the world in my day job at NoveList.

Why are libraries hesitant to do targeted email marketing?

There are two big reasons that libraries fear the idea of segmenting their email audiences.

First, libraries are worried about email marketing in general. They feel it’s too promotional and that email messages from the library will be received as spam. They may even believe that people don’t want to receive email marketing from anyone, even a library.

This is not the case. The average consumer is accustomed to giving out their email address in exchange for marketing messages targeted specifically to them. Opt-in Monster research shows 99 percent of people with an email address check their inbox at least once a day.

Why? Because they are looking for messages from friends, family, and places they love. They love the library. Your cardholders and community members feel excitement when they receive an email from you.

Libraries worry that, by sending targeted messages to segmented audiences, they will miss out on the chance to get a message to all their cardholders. 

Many libraries are sending the same message to every cardholder, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people in one burst. It feels like the natural thing to do. “Everyone needs to know about this!”

The problem with that approach is that your cardholders are individuals. One message never fits them all.

This is particularly true if your service area covers a range of incomes and demographics. The needs and interests of your cardholders vary greatly.

By targeting your message, you are more likely to say something that matters significantly to your cardholders, which makes them more likely to take an action, which makes it more likely that your email will be successful.

Targeted email marketing for libraries is effective because it serves the right message to the right group of people. And it works for all kind of messages.

Do not let your fears about email set you up for failure. Your cardholders want to hear from you. There are not very many industries which can say that. Let’s take advantage of it and give the people what they want!

Libraries who do segment their audiences tend to use three main methods. There are benefits and drawbacks for each.

Segmenting by library card use

Some libraries group their cardholders by the type of material they most frequently check out: kids’ books, print books, e-books, etc. Then, they send targeted email messages about those formats or collection types to those specific users.

This was the method we used when I worked a public library. For example, we would send an email promoting three new e-books every month to people who appear to favor e-books.

Benefits: This method is great for collection marketing. Most libraries will notice holds and checkouts increase, sometimes exponentially, when they send messages about items to people who have shown a previous interest in those items.

Drawbacks: The way a person uses their library card may not correspond to their true library interests.

For instance, an adult who frequently checks out children’s books for their kids may also love to read e-books. By focusing solely on the fact that they more frequently check out children’s books, a library may miss a key opportunity to market e-books to that cardholder.

A second drawback is that your library will want to promote things besides your collection, like programs, big events, and advocacy messages. Segmenting audiences solely by their favorite collection format gives you no clue as to your cardholders other potential interests.

Finally, this kind of segmentation often requires sophisticated email marketing programs that are expensive and time-consuming to manage. Smaller libraries without a dedicated marketing department and libraries with limited budgets may find these programs cost prohibitive.

Letting people self-select

Many libraries have an opt-in page on their website listing email interest groups. Visitors can self-select which emails they prefer to receive.

Benefits: When a person chooses to receive an email from you about a certain subject, they are also likely to open and engage with that email. They have already indicated their interest by selecting it.

Most library email opt-in pages do not require a person to be a cardholder to sign up. So, a second benefit of this method is that you can send marketing messages to people who aren’t in your cardholder base but can be enticed to use your library. That’s a fantastic way to expand your cardholder base!

Drawbacks: A library using this method must commit to intentionally market the marketing lists. They must make sure the community knows the opt-in page exists and convince people to sign up.

Segmenting by cardholder location

Some libraries have sent messages to people who have indicated a certain branch is their home branch or to people who live in a certain portion of the community.

Benefits: This is a great method for in-person program promotion. People are more likely to attend events that are near their home. Segmenting your audience by their location is an efficient use of your time for program promotion.

Drawbacks: There is a certain set of library cardholders who are willing to travel to attend programs and events at branches far from their home. They may be interested in hearing from your library about certain types of events, no matter where they are held.

In addition, the branch a person most frequently uses may not actually be near their home! Many people frequent the library branch near their workplace or some other important and frequently visited location.

You may also find these posts helpful

Three SUPER Easy Ways to Get More Results from Your Library Email Marketing!

Are My Library Email Metrics Good…. or Bad?! Here Are the Latest Stats to Help You Figure It Out.

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Three SUPER Easy Ways to Get More Results from Your Library Email Marketing!


The #LibraryMarketing Show, Episode 43

In this episode, Angela shares three very simple ways you can add punch to your email subject line and header text. Doing one of these three things every time you send an email will increase the chances your recipients will open and engage with your emails. Here is the article with all the fantastic magnet or trigger or power words Angela mentions in the video, broken up into charts that will help you create an emotional reaction in your readers.

Also Kudos to all the libraries creating backgrounds for Zoom and Teams meetings using photos of their libraries. Library Journal has a great list of them. Here’s another great list from the Library Land project.

If you have a topic for the show, kudos to share, or want to talk to me about library marketing, contact me using this short form.

Want more Library Marketing Show? Watch previous episodes!

Check the Upcoming Events page to see where I’ll be soon. Let’s connect!

This blog consists of my own personal opinions and may not represent those of my employer. Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.   


The Library Marketing Show Episode 10: Why Email Marketing is the BEST THING EVER for Libraries

Library Marketing Show Episode 10

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Library News: IFLA’s new Idea Store! I’m obsessed. It’s a great place to exchange ideas. Check it out here.

Reader question: Leigh of Pikes Peak Library District asked: I’d like to talk about how to convince the powers-that-be that email marketing is the best thing ever. That email is not dead and ROI is high. That automatic opt-in upon card signup is a great option, and that people expect to be catered to. How to segment and the welcome campaigns…all that good stuff!

I talked about the value of email marketing and made a personal plea to senior leaders to let library marketing professionals do email marketing! Here are some more posts about library email marketing that you’ll want to read.

Be Quietly Relentless! A Guide for How to Win Senior Leadership Support for Your Library Marketing Ideas

Email is Not Dead! Here are Eight New Ways to Help You Get the Best Results

Kudos: To the Tulsa Public Library for their My Neighborhood Library video, which showed the value of libraries AND made me want to move to Tulsa! It had energy, it evoked emotion, it did exactly what it was supposed to do… it made me feel connected to Tulsa and I’ve never been there! Watch it here.

Stay in Touch

Have an idea for the next Library Marketing Live Show? Submit it now.

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


Email is Not Dead! Here are Eight New Ways to Help You Get the Best Results With Your Library Email Marketing

I have a thing for email marketing.

I think it’s fun. I like trying to figure out all the pieces. Which subject line is best? To emoji or not to emoji? How much text? What should it say?  What kind of photo or graphic should I use? What’s the best call to action? Who should I send it to? On what day and at what time?

I love experiments. I love sending the message and then watching the results. How many people opened it? More importantly, how many people clicked on my call to action? MOST IMPORTANTLY, how many people did the thing I wanted them to do?

Maybe I just like convincing people to do stuff.

Email is not dead, at least not for libraries. People want to hear from us. They love free stuff and that’s basically all we have to offer! I send tens of thousands of emails a week to my cardholders (I live in a large county service area with nearly a million residents). My unsubscribe rate is zero percent. No kidding.

Email marketing truly is the most effective method of digital promotion for libraries. I use it whenever I can at my library because it gives the best return on my investment of time and money.

And because it’s the most effective digital tactic at my disposal, I spend an awful lot of time researching email marketing. I read a ton of blogs. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I comb surveys for insights that will make my emails better.

I’ve started a document where I keep a bunch of statistics and insights gleaned. I realized that I needed to share these insights with you. Email marketing could be your most valuable asset too. So here are the eight newest things I’ve learned about email marketing that will improve the work you’re doing at your library.

How cardholders look at your emails

You’ve heard it before but I’ll say it again. You must make sure your emails are mobile-friendly and responsive. About 3 in 5 consumers check their email on the go. 75 percent of Americans say they use their smartphones most often to check email. (Blue Corona)

And you must assume your cardholders will use their phones to respond to your email call-to-action. 62 percent of email opens occur on mobile. Only 10 percent occur on desktop. That’s huge! (Adestra)

Your cardholders are checking their email literally everywhere. People admit to checking email while watching TV, in bed, on vacation, in the bathroom, while walking, during meals, during commuting, while talking, while working out, while driving, and while at a formal ceremony! (Adobe)

Your cardholders are spending more time reading emails. In the last decade, the amount of time people spent reading an email actually increased by 7 percent, to 11.1 seconds. (Litmus)

How to design the best library email

Your subject line is the most important part of your email. It gets your cardholders in the door, so to speak. Focus on sentiment by using emotional words. Use different words for different audiences. The subject line for a message you send to teens will be completely different from the message you send to parents. Make it simple and easy. However, length doesn’t matter anymore, so you can make your subject longer if you need too!

Write like a human and make sure everyone can read your text. For the text, speak conversationally. No industry-speak (words like periodicals are out!).You don’t have to convey all the information about your product or service or collection item in the body of the email. Get to the point and drive users to your website or another platform for more information. Avoid multi-colored fonts. Use fonts that are accessible, like Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Tahoma, and Verdana. (Bureau of Internet Accessibility).

Make your email design hard to ignore. Use a one-column layout so people can scroll easily. Make the text large! Headlines should be no smaller than 25 pixels, body text should be no smaller than 18 pixels.  Call to action buttons can be pretty huge– anywhere from 44 x 44 pixels to 72 x 72 pixels.

Images matter. Photos of real people, especially faces with emotional expressions, are best. But don’t be afraid to use gifs too!

Learn more about email marketing for libraries

The Step-by-Step Method for Figuring Out the Best Time to Send Library Marketing Emails and Why You Should Never Stop Experimenting!

The Tiny Little Mistakes That Ruin Your Library Marketing Emails AND How to Fix Them!

This Advice Will Boost Your Library Marketing Email Click-Thru Rates

Don’t forget to join us for the LIVE LIBRARY MARKETING TALK ON INSTAGRAM every Tuesday at noon ET. We’ll talk about library marketing topics for about 15 minutes each week. My handle is Webmastergirl. You can email questions and topic suggestions ahead of time. Just fill out this form.

And check out these upcoming events and webinars where we can connect and discuss library marketing. Registration links included.

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

One Gigantic Library Email Marketing Mistake To Avoid

This post is a short. That’s because I want to share just one tip this week. No need to blow up the wheel or create a whole new strategy or have a bunch of meetings. This week, there is just one thing I’m asking you to do. But this one thing will completely, utterly, and totally change your library’s email marketing effectiveness for the better. Are you ready? Here it is.

Change your marketing emails from opt-in to opt-out. That means every cardholder who gives your library their email address, in the past or in the future, is on your marketing list. They need to start receiving your marketing emails… immediately. If they want to opt-out, they can (but they won’t!).

Now, I know many libraries will find this to be a radical shift. I’ve been in conversations with libraries as they evaluate the pros and cons of opt-in versus opt-out. It’s clear that many library marketers, particularly those who come from a library science background, are deeply concerned about creating the best experience for their cardholders. They worry about angering their cardholders by sending them emails. They are convinced that library marketing emails are spam and they don’t want to be one of the “bad brands” that sends spam.

I do understand. I don’t blame them for their fears. But I know for a fact that those fears are unfounded.

A library is NOT a normal company. The rules about spam do not apply to you. I don’t mean legally. I mean that your cardholders want your emails.

People love the library. They love what you offer them. They want to know to know what’s going on at the library. They want to know when you have new books. They want to know when you add new services. They want to know when you’re improving buildings. They love watching stories about library workers. They want to know when you publish a podcast. They want to buy tickets when you bring a big author to town. They’ll come to community events where the library has a presence. THEY LOVE YOU.

You are not going to spam people or make them mad by sending them emails. Unwavering cardholder loyalty is the one, big advantage libraries have over their competitors in the profit world. And we should use it!

My argument for opt-out emails comes from lots of experience. My library is fortunate to have a good-sized staff in our marketing department. We send marketing emails nearly every day of the week. These emails do not go to all cardholders. We segment our cardholders based on several factors, including how they use their card, where they live, their age, and more We have a rather large service area. So, most weeks, I send tens of thousands of my cardholders. And my library’s unsubscribe rate is ZERO percent.

No kidding.  I see about 10-15 unsubscribes for every 10-thousand emails I send. Across the non-profit world, the average unsubscribe rate is about .19 percent, according to Smart Insights.

I worked the library outreach table at a book festival last week. Without prompting, customers asked about the library’s marketing emails. One lady said she heard her friends talking about them and wondered why she wasn’t receiving them! Several others mentioned they learned about new books and services from our emails. I had people GIVING ME their email addresses to check their status.

Do you think customers of other companies ask about their emails or talk about them with fondness to other customers?  I never have, and I sign up for A LOT of marketing emails from other companies.

Change that one thing and start sending your emails to every customer. They want to hear from you!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!

There is NO SUCH THING as Too Many Library Marketing Emails! Why Libraries are the Exception to the Rule.

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The Library Marketing Show, Episode 82

In this episode, I respond to the common misconception that a library can send too many emails and annoy their cardholders. Libraries are the exception to the email marketing rule and I’ll explain why that is.

Kudos in this episode go to the Dallas Public Library, who did a branch grand opening in the middle of the pandemic!

Do you have a suggestion for a topic for a future episode? Want to nominate someone for kudos? Let me know in the comments. And subscribe to this series to get a new video tip for libraries each week. Thanks for watching!

Email vs. Social Media: Which is Better for #LibraryMarketing Right Now?⚔️

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The Library Marketing Show, Episode 48

Angela is back in her outdoor work tent and this week, she’s sharing her opinion about the best way for your library communicate wth cardholders. Is it email? Is it social media? Can you guess? Listen and then join the conversation–let her know what works best for your community in the comments.

Also Kudos to the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library for their Safe Work Playbook. This is the best physical library building reopening document I’ve come across.  

What did you think of this episode? Do you love a specific library’s Facebook work? Are you struggling with marketing and promotion right now? Do you have a nominee for the Kudos segment? Drop a comment below. And subscribe to this series to get a new video tip for libraries each week! Thanks for watching.

The Emoji Experiment: The Pros and Cons of Adding Emojis to Your Library Marketing Email Subject Lines

I notice it, groggy from sleep. I check my email, as one does, first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. 😉

The sight of it causes my heart to skip a beat. “It’s going to be a glorious day,” I think to myself as I jump out of bed. 🤩

What is the magical thing that makes getting up in the morning easier? 🌟

An emoji. To be specific, a set of headphones, situated in the subject line of an email. An email that comes from my library.⬇️⬇️

The headphones signal to my brain, before I can read the words that come after them, that my audiobook from Overdrive is ready for download.

After dozens of such emails, my body has an almost Pavlovian response to the tiny drawing of headphones.

I get giddy. I get excited. I am filled with anticipation to download and start the audiobook.

According to Salesforce, only two percent of emails sent by businesses to consumers in 2019 had an emoji in the subject line. That’s not a lot, really. And that means there is room for libraries to experiment.

I don’t think there is any doubt that emojis are here to stay. As of October 2019, there were 3,178 widely-recognized emojis, according to Emojipedia. And the major cell phone and digital marketing companies keep adding emojis to their libraries.

I want my cardholders to have the same reaction I have to the headphone emoji when I send them library marketing emails. The idea that an email from my library could energize someone or fill them with anticipation or cause them to do a mini-celebratory dance is one I can’t ignore.

Why might emojis work?

Emojis work because the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text. More than 90 percent of the information that we process is visual.

The emoji drawing stands out in a line of letters. And if your recipient is using a device that adds color to the emoji, that also makes your subject line pop.

Your subject lines can also be shorter when you use an emoji because an emoji can do the work of some of the wording. And the shorter the subject line, the more effective the email. In 2018, 61 percent of emails were opened on mobile. Subject lines exceeding certain character counts can get cut off by mobile devices. And that impacts your open and conversion rates.

The experiment

I kept reading articles on the increased use of emojis in emails for brand marketing. There isn’t much data to suggest whether they are effective in converting customers to take any action on the email. And I thought, as I am apt to do, that someone should experiment with emojis in the library marketing space. Would my cardholders find them amusing? Would emojis help increase the effectiveness of my emails? Or would people think we had lost our mind and gone too far?

There was only one way to find out.

Over the course of six months, I sent 17 test emails to my cardholders with an emoji in the subject line. I used them in instances where I thought they added value to the subject line or helped me to make the subject line shorter. I also made sure I sent emojis to cardholders who tend to use digital services.

The results

After the six-month trial period, I crunched the numbers. And I discovered…

60 percent of the emails with an emoji in the subject line were effective. Ten of the 17 emails caused an increase in circulation, program attendance, or database usage for the item we promoted via email. That’s close to the average effective rate of my regular emails which do not include an emoji.

Emojis DID increase my open rate. The 17 messages I sent had an average open rate of 40 percent. Most of my regular emails have an open rate between 20 and 35 percent. So that was an improvement.

Emojis DID increase my click-through rate. The average click-through rate for the messages with emojis was eight percent. That is also slightly higher than normal. Most of my emails have a click-through rate of five percent.

Here are the subject lines from the four emails in the emoji test that had the highest open and click-through rates.

Ebook Publisher Policies
🚨New publisher policies will limit your access to eBooks.

This email had an 81 percent open rate and a 22 percent click-through rate.

Penguin Programs
🐧Make a date to visit the Library to see real live penguins this month!

This email had a 37 percent open rate and a 23 percent click-through rate.

Beach Reads 2019 Booklist
🏖️ Dreaming of sand, sun, surf, and great books? Here’s our 2019 vacation reading list!

This email had a 39 percent open rate and a 19 percent click-through rate.

Green Township Library Anniversary
🎈You’re invited to the Green Township 30th Anniversary celebration!

This email had a 54 percent open rate and a five percent click-through rate.

Now, there is something to consider and that is that the emoji may have had absolutely no effect on the overall effectiveness of these emails! Because my email marketing provider does not give me the ability to do true A/B testing, it may be that these emails had higher open, click-through, and conversion rates because of the wording of the subject line or the content of the email itself. The fact that there was an emoji in the subject line might be pure coincidence.🤷

Are there downsides to emojis?

There are some negative things to consider when you’re using emojis for email subject lines in library marketing.

Your emoji may not display correctly for your cardholder, depending on what kind of email platform they use.

Emojis can give the impression that your emails are not authentic. In some instances, users see an emoji and wonder if your library wrote it… or a robot.

Emojis can be overused. Finding the perfect emoji is fun. It makes you feel cool. But if you start putting an emoji in every subject line of every marketing email you send, you will likely find that they’ll soon have no impact or, worse, a negative impact.

That said, I think it’s worth it to experiment with emojis in your library’s email marketing. Your audience may love or hate them. There’s only one way to find out.

Remember to use them in the right context. Use emojis sparingly and make sure they add something to the message of your subject. And get your emojis from reliable sources like Emojipedia, GetEmoji, or your email platform.

Check the Upcoming Events page for a list of webinars and conferences where I’ll be next. Let’s connect! Plus, 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. 

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