I live with two teenagers. They love their mobile devices. They are avid users of social media. They also check their email often.

You might think that’s a fluke. For a long time, I did! I thought that my nagging insistence that was necessary to check their email accounts was paying off. I was a parenting genius! But over the course of the past year, I’ve discovered that most teens are reading their emails… even the teens who aren’t living in my house. So, I’m not a parenting genius. But I can see a huge opportunity for library marketing.

Research backs up my observation. The Pew Institute 2018 study of teens, social media, and technology found that 95 percent of teenagers have access to a smart phone. About 45 percent report they’re using that phone nearly all the time. Email marketing agency Adestra surveyed teens and found that 78 percent use email, while nearly 53 percent admit they buy things from marketing emails! Adestra’s survey also found that more than 67 percent of teens prefer communications from brands to come in email form, especially from a brand they love.

I’m not surprised by this statistic, because it bears out in my work. Every month for the past year, I’ve sent a librarian-recommended book title to teens in an email. Adults get one too. In 2018, the average click-thru rate for the adult email was five percent. But our teen cardholder email had a consistent click-thru rate average of 35 percent.  Even more exciting, the teen title increased in circulation between 300 and 400 percent during most months in 2018. In comparison, the adult title increased in circulation by 150 to 200 percent.

You can make emails work for your teen audience too. I understand it’s intimidating, particularly if you don’t live with teenagers. They can seem like otherworldly creatures. But they are just people, too. Here’s what I’ve learned about emails and teenage cardholders.

Send consistently good content to teens. Your teen cardholders are some of the most dedicated library users in your service population. They love you, and they want to hear from you. Use that to your advantage!

Teen cardholders typically are readers, so send them a monthly email to give them a heads-up about the newest items in your collection. Ask one of your teen librarians to pick out some titles, if you’re not comfortable doing it (I’m certainly not!).

You can also email teens to promote events but be picky. My experience is that teens respond to emails about events like coding classes, free summer camps, and anything involving food. They ignore emails about recurring programs, movie nights, crafting events, or homework or test prep sessions.

Don’t send too many emails. Resist the temptation to send email messages several times a week to your teen audience. I try to only send two or three emails a month to my teen cardholders, no more. So, when they see an email from my library, they know it’s important.

Watch formatting and check every email on a mobile device. Don’t include a bunch of links in your teen emails–to them, it looks like spam. Adestra’s survey of teens and email found that teenagers are more likely to unsubscribe when they see badly formatted text, broken links, or emails that just don’t look clean on their mobile devices. Include no more than three links in each email. Keep the text short. And check every message on your mobile device, because that’s where most teenagers will read their email.

Use emojis, texting language, and puns sparingly–or not at all. This advice feels counter-intuitive. Don’t we want to write in teen’s language? My answer is… no. Teens want to be treated like adults. Frankly, they find it “cringey” when an adult tries to sound like a teenager by using slang or texting language. Resist the urge.

You can appeal to teens by helping to relieve their pain points. For instance, I recently sent an email promoting a new book in our collection that was getting a lot of buzz on the YA reading lists. As I was constructing the email, I overheard one of my daughter’s friends complaining about assigned reading in her English class. So, in my email, I said, “When you’re done reading your assigned book, wouldn’t it be great to finally read something that you actually like?”  It was an effective message. It was clear. And it spoke to my teen cardholders by appealing to their emotional frustrations over assigned reading, without using emojis or hashtags or trying to be cool.

Send email later in the evening. In my three years of email marketing experience, I have noticed that messages sent to teens after 9 p.m. get the best engagement. I started sending my emails late in the evening after a conversation with one of my daughter’s friends. He was sharing his daily schedule with me. He told me about his after-school activities and job and mentioned that he doesn’t get to his homework until 9 p.m. or later. So, I started sending email late in the evening. And it worked!

Adestra’s study says teens will randomly check their email throughout the day and will save emails that seem interesting to them. You may want to test sending emails to teens at different times of the day. But in all my testing, late night emails work best… and I suspect they will for you too!

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