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The Complete Guide to the Best Library Podcasts

There is an exciting movement in the library marketing world! More libraries are creating podcasts as a way to reach cardholders, tell stories, and share information. My own library is in season three of a podcast, Inside the Writer’s Head. Each month, our Library Foundation’s Writer-in-Residence sits down with authors, publishers, and editors to talk about the writing process. The real value lies in the intimate connection we create with a listener. We usually get about 20 minutes of their undivided attention for these conversations. How often do you get the chance to talk one-on-one with your cardholders for that long?

I recently asked library marketers from around the United States and Canada about their podcasts. They have some amazing insights and advice about how to make the recording, editing, and distribution process work.  One library marketer even responded to my questions by recording her answers in a podcast! Now you can fill your own podcast feed with library shows and be inspired.

Andrew Murphy, Library Director, Sitka Public Library in Sitka, AK
Podcast: Sitka Sounds
How long it’s been in production: Since early 2018

Why did your library decide to start a podcast? Podcasts are a simple, but great medium to offer other library services. Many libraries have conducted oral history projects in the past and I view podcasts as a 21st-century extension of that service that is not limited to oral histories.

What is the goal of your podcast? To offer engaging content to our customers both in Sitka and off our island while including our local community members in the process.

Who creates it and how time-consuming is each episode from start to finish? I initiated the service and created a few different series with different audiences in mind but the idea was always to allow all staff, and perhaps even the community members, access to develop their own series. I am in the process of moving to a different library and several staff members are trained and interested in developing different content for the service. Each episode only takes as long as the recording itself and about an equal amount of time to edit and upload.

How do you measure or quantify success? I don’t value success solely on stats and how many listens each episode receives. Our oral history project with Nancy Ricketts is being preserved by the State Library of Alaska. Obviously, they found value in the content itself – even if the series doesn’t attract a lot of immediate listeners. My hope for all the content is to preserve it for posterity. One of our series features local writers sharing their work. I believe the content has the potential to have a great value many years from now. Perhaps the grandchildren of the writers will find some meaning it or perhaps one of the writers will become world renown. It also functions like a time capsule for the culture of local writers in Sitka.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to library podcasters? Invest in a good microphone.

Gregory McCormick, Manager, Cultural and Special Event Programming and Digital Media Team, Toronto Public Library, Toronto, ON, Canada
Podcast: Four series in production, none have finalized titles yet.
Launched: We are aiming to launch 2-3 series in the fall.

Why did your library decide to start a podcast? To support one of our strategic priorities to make as much content accessible to as many people as possible.

What is the goal of your podcast? To increase reach and to support books and literature. We also have specific goals for each podcast such as appealing to specific communities or to link library service.

Who creates it and how time-consuming is each episode from start to finish? I am the executive producer of all of them but we have other producers involved in varying capacities. Episodes take anywhere from a few hours to a week to produce.

How do you measure or quantify success? Listeners/audience, social media buzz.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to library podcasters? Don’t underestimate the time and staffing necessary. Very time-consuming.

Jenna Hassell, Community Relations and Marketing Coordinator, Jacksonville Public Library, Jacksonville, FL.
Podcast: 
Completely Booked
Launched: 
June 11, 2018

Why did your library decide to start a podcast? Our library has recorded a weekly segment for our local NPR stations Radio Reading Service frequency for the blind and visually impaired for many years. Our marketing department recently took over the recording of this segment and was having a good time writing the script each week and using our Jax Makerspace recording equipment to record it. Because of this, we decided that a podcast would a great fit for our department and invested in the equipment to start one.

What is the goal of your podcast? To bring information and stories to our customers and community in the format they want to receive it. We also want to give local residents a platform to tell their stories and have them archived.

Who creates it and how time-consuming is each episode from start to finish? The podcast is created by me and my co-host, who is a part-time social media specialist in our department. Our full-time graphic designer produces and edits the show. We truly would not have started this project if we did not have our graphic designer on staff who knew audio editing really well already. We spend about 45 minutes with the guests we interview, then we spend about 10 minutes recording the intro and outro with just the two hosts. Our producer spends about an hour and a half to two hours editing the episodes and adding the theme music he created himself. So we spend about three hours on each episode.

How do you measure or quantify success? We are currently only looking at total listens. However, in our first episode, we talked about a local artist who had work in our current gallery exhibit. Someone who listened to that episode came into the library to view the work and ended up buying one of his pieces. We think that is a pretty incredible success story.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to library podcasters? Make sure you have hosts who mesh well and are comfortable together. It can be intimidating talking on a mic. But when the two people talking are comfortable and are just themselves, it is much more enjoyable to listen to. Don’t rely too heavily on promotion. People listen to podcasts to be entertained and to be informed, not to be preached at or persuaded to come to your library program. A subtle plug or an interesting story about someone who used your services goes a lot farther.

Christie Lassen, Director of Communications and Partnerships, Howard County Library System, Ellicott City, MD.
Podcast: HiJinx
Launched: October 2016

Why did your library decide to start a podcast? Our previous CEO suggested the idea, and I asked two members of my team to brainstorm ideas. Dennis Wood and Victoria Goodman jumped at the opportunity to co-host.

What is the goal of your podcast? Our goal is to attract nationally known guests in connection with the podcast’s focus. We tie it back to the library with either someone from our system or from the larger community. For example, our very first podcast featured Forrest Pritchard, the well-known farmer and bestselling author, a local farmer who attends a weekly farmers market at one of our branches, and a local farm-to-table restaurant owner.

Who creates it and how time-consuming is each episode from start to finish? Podcasts are created by two members of the Communications team: Dennis Wood and Victoria Goodman. Research, scripting, hosting and post-production takes between 25-30 hours per episode.

How do you measure or quantify success? In addition to tracking the number of listeners, we gauge our success on the caliber of guests we attract. In addition, the podcast won a MarCom Gold award and honorable mention by Hermes Creative Awards.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to library podcasters? When trying to find guests, don’t be afraid to ask for an interview. The worse they can say is “no”.

Kanya Lyons, Public Information Specialist Sr., Office of Programs and Partnerships, Austin Public Library, Austin, TX.  
Podcast: Volumes
Launched: September 2015

Just to be different, she responded to my questions with a podcast! Listen to her answers here.

Angela Hursh, Content Team Leader-Marketing, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Cincinnati, OH (that’s me!)  
Podcast: Inside the Writer’s Head
Launched: December 2016

Why did your library decide to start a podcast? Every year, our Library Foundation chooses a Writer-in-Residence. Our Adult Programming Manager helps that person create a schedule of learning-oriented events for their tenure. During the second year of the Writer-in-Residence program, we launched our MakerSpace, which has a full-service recording studio. We thought it would be a great way to use that new equipment and reach a new audience.

What is the goal of your podcast? To inspire potential and current writers.

Who creates it and how time-consuming is each episode from start to finish? The Writer-in-Residence is in control of the content and production. We use our MakerSpace audio booth to record their interviews. Our social media specialist takes the audio file and edits it out any errors or retakes, then adds the intro, tag, and theme music. The recording takes about an hour. The editing takes one to two hours.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to library podcasters? Promotion is key. We send a link to the podcast out to our cardholders via email each month and listens go way up after that email goes out.

Here are some other library marketing podcasts I love. I hope you do too!

Library Matters, produced by the Montgomery County Library in Maryland.

Check It Out, produced by the Sno-Isle Libraries in Washington state.

The Librarian Is In, produced by the New York Public Library.

Dewey Decibel, produced by the American Library Association.

Professional Book Nerds, produced by Overdrive.

The Library Podcast, produced by Turbitt & Duck.

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!

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Seven Ways to Do the Best Library Promotions

This is part two of a series from a presentation my boss and I gave at the 2018 OrangeBoy Idea Exchange. Read part one here.

Now comes the fun part: deciding what, how, and when to promote specific library events, services, and collection items. Here are seven rules to live by when figuring out the best channel for your library marketing.

Learn to say no

Let’s start with the big problem facing everyone who works in library marketing. We are treated like short order cooks. Promotional requests come in from various coworkers, and we are expected to fill them. That sucks. It’s not effective and I think it’s the reason why we suffer a lot of failure in library marketing. The first step in library marketing is to say “no”. It’s good for you and for your marketing strategy.

Busyness feels wonderful. We’re doing something! Stuff is happening! Progress is being made! But if your promotional schedule gets too busy, three things are going to happen. Your staff won’t have time for creative thought. You’ll make mistakes. And your cardholders will feel like the only thing coming from your library is noise. A constant stream of promotions starts to feel like static. So I urge you to practice saying “no.” That’s easier when you have a strategy which aligns with your library’s overall goals.

Determine your benchmarks

I measure every promotional request against four basic rules. These are my benchmarks. They give me a framework for saying “no” to projects. I suggest you create something similar. Use past data to predict future results with promotions.

My basic rules are:
If the promotion will not give us more than a ten percent bump in circulation, program attendance, or usage, we don’t do it.
If it’s a service that’s difficult for the cardholder to use, we don’t promote it.
If the program presenter is free, we don’t promote them.
If it’s not tied directly to the library’s overall strategy, it gets cut.

My version is simple. This past week, I visited with Chuck Duritsch, manager of External Relations for the Dayton Metro Library System. He has a whole color-coded chart that he uses to say “yes” and “no” to various promotions. Use whatever works for you!

Here’s an example of something we cut from our promotional schedule after an experiment failed to reach the benchmarks. In 2017, my marketing team conducted a year-long experiment to see if we could drive attendance at events. We hypothesized that emails sent to targeted cardholders would result in higher attendance. We were wrong. We did 118 branch promotional emails in 2017 and only half were effective in boosting attendance AT ALL. With that data, we decided to cut way back on branch promotions this year. As of June 2018, we’ve done 34 branch promotions and our effectiveness level is up to 68 percent. More than half of the programs saw a significant increase in attendance–at least ten percent–after their cardholders received an email. We cut the fat and were able to create messages that did a better job of resonating with people.

Weed your marketing content and cut out the stuff that doesn’t help your library reach its overall goals so you can be more creative with the promotions you have left. Evaluate your promotional schedule twice a year to keep your marketing lean. Your benchmarks might change over time. It’s important to always evaluate your results and re-think your strategy.

Don’t feast at the buffet of tactics

Once a promotion passes the test and gets into your schedule, it’s time to start figuring out how to promote it. You don’t have to use every tactic available to you. Choose which ones will work best for each promotion. It’s a smarter use of your time and energy.

In April of each year, our library holds a Teen Poetry Contest. Teens are typically considered to be a really hard audience to reach. This year, I decided to promote it on our teen website, in social media, on the digital signs in branches, with posters, and with email. Notice all the categories I didn’t use! I didn’t send a press release because teens don’t typically read the news. Their parents do, but I don’t have any data from past years to show that promoting this contest in the news will get us more entries. So, I weeded that tactic. In addition, I didn’t create a video, although teens respond to video. I just don’t have the resources to create a video they would like and I decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  I also didn’t use some signage options available to me because teens don’t pay attention to signs. And I didn’t include the contest in our content marketing publication Library Links because the average reader of that publication is an older empty-nester. It’s just not the right audience for that promotion.

Timing is everything

The “when” part is just as critical as the “how” part of promotional planning. Use past data to make future decisions when you determine the timing of promotions. When I started at my library, we released a promotion in one day on all channels. We’d send out the email, the press release, put up the homepage graphic, and do social all in one day. But I’ve embraced a new timing concept with success over the last year and a half. It’s called the tiered distribution approach.

I was at a conference where I heard marketing expert named Andrew Davis talk about tiered distribution. The approach takes advantage of a consumer cycle of excitement. You release one or two promotional tactics at the beginning of your promotional cycle.  The promotion gets some play, and excitement builds in the consumer base. Maybe it gets shared and people talk about it… and then the excitement dies out. Then, you release the second tactic, like an email, and the people who see the email get excited and start talking about it and sharing it, and then their excitement dies out. Then you release a video, and that builds excitement and gets shared, and the excitement then dies out. Do you see the pattern? Keep releasing tactics over time and not all at once. When you use the tiered distribution approach, you get a longer promotional thread. Your promotions will be more successful because the excitement around them builds over time, not in one big burst.

My library used a tiered-distribution approach for this year’s Summer Reading program. Our summer reading, which we branded as Summer Adventure, runs from June 1-July 31. For years, we’ve done the same promotional schedule. We started the excitement building portion around May 1. And our registration numbers and check-in numbers have been flat for the past few years. I don’t have a survey to tell me this for sure, but my gut says that by the time we got to June 1, our audience was already tired of hearing about Summer Adventure. We used up all their excitement before we even got to the event.

This year, we took a tiered approach. By June 30, registrations were up 18 percent from 2017 and weekly check-ins increased by nearly 67 percent. And while there are a lot of factors for that, one is that we didn’t spend all our promotional energy at one time. We did a better job of building excitement.

Measure and share

You must make sure that you accurately document the results of every promotion you do. This will help you to adjust your promotions month to month, and year to year. Keep meticulous records of data as it comes in.

Failure is okay, by the way. Marketing is an experiment. Sometimes the stuff you do will work, sometimes it won’t. Don’t repeat the things that don’t work! Spend more energy on the things that do work. Don’t spend too much time obsessing over every little detail of your strategy. You can refine it as you gather data. It’s never going to be perfect, so once you’ve got a plan in place, just do it!

Talk about the results with your colleagues and share your results with other departments. Transparency in marketing is a good thing. It helps your co-workers and administrators have a clearer understanding of what you do in your marketing department! And they may look at the results and find some new insight that you missed.

Focus more on the content and less on the container

Focus MORE on the content of your message and LESS on how you deliver it. When you focus first on the content, you put your customer first, not your own promotional needs. Think more about the insides of your message, not the way it will be delivered. That’s how we differentiate ourselves from the competition.

Leave room to market on the fly

Your library promotional schedule should leave room for Drop-in Marketing Campaigns–those pushes that come at the last-minute and are sent to your audience in a few days–or less! Maybe you’re seizing on an opportunity from a vendor or a partner organization. Maybe you’ve got a connection to an event in pop culture. Maybe you find a piece of user-generated content that’s so fun and engaging that you don’t want to wait to promote it. If it makes sense and the timing is right, get it out there in front of your audience. The key lies in purposeful planning. When you’re laying out your regular marketing campaigns, including your email messages, be sure to deliberately leave holes where you might be able to drop-in promotions. Keep in mind which promotions have drop-dead dates and which ones could be shuffled and released to the public later. Then… go for it!

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!

How Do You Decide What and How to Promote?

Last week, my boss and I were honored to present at the OrangeBoy Ideas Exchange, a small conference and gathering of OrangeBoy users. Presenters talk about all kinds of issues related to library marketing including email, customer privacy, and analytics. It is valuable, particularly because the small group of attendees leads to big discussions and the sharing of ideas. It’s also a great networking opportunity. There’s nothing like being in a room with other library marketers to make you understand that you are not alone in your struggles. If you’re an OrangeBoy client, you should definitely go!

My boss is Chris Rice, Marketing Team Manager for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. We spoke about choosing the right channel for your marketing efforts. And let’s face it, that’s not always an easy choice. There are so many ways to market your library! But that also opens the potential for your team to work themselves to death trying to check off all the boxes. So Chris and I tried to explain the framework we use at our library. It guides us to make decisions about exactly how we promote events, services, and collection items. It gives us the freedom to say “no” and keep ourselves sane.

I have taken my portion of the presentation and turned it into two blog posts. This week, I’ll explain the process I use before I actually start programming my editorial calendar. I run through a series of three exercises to help me get ready to make those big decisions. These exercises give me a clear idea of who I’m marketing to. They also force me to define how I’ll use assets and tactics to achieve the library’s goals. I do this about once every six months. It sounds tedious but it is really valuable. I always feel more confident about the decisions I make afterward. I think you will too!

QUESTION ONE: What are your library’s three main overall goals? What are the three big things your library wants to accomplish in the next 12 months? Write those big goals on paper and stick them up everywhere in your marketing office. Repeat them. Eat, breathe, and sleep them. Those are your goalposts for the year. Those are your big concerns. Whatever your director or your board wants to accomplish is what you want to accomplish. Everything you do needs to be in service of reaching these goals. Every decision you make about promotion is going to be laser-focused on making sure those goals are reached. They are the reason you come to work every morning.

QUESTION TWO: What do you know about your current cardholders and the people who live in your community? This is a classic marketing situation analysis. It’s a tedious exercise. But it will help you to clearly imagine the person who will consume your marketing messages. That will help you to do a better job of marketing to them. Where do these cardholders live? How do they engage with your competitors like Amazon and other bookstores? Where do they get their news? Do they have access to Wi-Fi? Do they have children? What is their living situation like? Do they work? What is their transportation situation? Every piece of data you can get about your cardholders is a guidepost that will help you make the best decisions.

QUESTION THREE: What promotional assets do you have at your disposal? Write down all the stuff you use to promote your library. It should include every social media platform you use, every website your library owns, every print publication you send out, emails, in-person events, press releases, podcasts, and videos… every single thing you do to communicate with cardholders. Then, create a description of how you’ll use each asset to bring your library’s overall strategic vision to life.

For example, my library produces a quarterly content marketing publication called Library Links. One of our overall library goals this year is to help job seekers find a new, more lucrative, more fulfilling career. I think Links can help us achieve that goal. So, I wrote a description of how that would work. “We will use our quarterly print publication to emphasize the role of the library in helping job seekers find a new, more lucrative, more fulfilling career. We will do this by featuring a cardholder in each issue who used our library’s services to advance their own career, such as by taking our GED course or using our online job resume builder. Every quarter, we’ll highlight a service or program that will help our cardholders reach their career goals.” This keeps me accountable and reminds me, every time I go to put Links together, that I need to include these kinds of stories in each issue.

If you start this process and you realize there is an asset that just doesn’t seem to work for your overall marketing goals, drop it. I don’t care if you’ve done it for 20 years. Use only the things that can help you to achieve your goals and cut the rest.

For example, for a while, my library was all in on Slideshare. We had an editorial calendar and we were churning out Slideshares every six weeks to promote services. It took a considerable amount of time to create the graphics. But we weren’t getting the results we wanted. When I do any marketing, I am looking for action. I want consumers of our message to click on a link and use something at the library.  But our Slideshares were not producing action, or at least not in any number that I could be proud of. So, in mid-2017, we decided to drop Slideshare. It’s okay to drop something that’s not working for you. Don’t waste your energy!

Now that you’ve laid out all the stuff available to you, it’s time to decide what to promote, how to promote, and when to promote. That’s the fun part! Next week, I’ll share tips on how to manage that part of your job.

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!

The One Mistake Your Library Can Never Make On Social Media

I was riding furiously on my parent’s elliptical machine, trying to distract myself from the fact that I absolutely HATE exercise by scrolling through Facebook, when I came across a post that nearly made me fall off the machine.

It was on a politically charged page dedicated to libraries. And it advocated the use of clickbait for driving engagement. I won’t post the example this person used here. It was a provocative post but it wasn’t well-constructed. There was no image and no link for action. It was also posted by a librarian, not a library. I suspect he was just trying out the line on the fly to gauge the reaction. It doesn’t really matter what his motivation was or how it played with his audience. And to be fair, the post technically was not clickbait. Clickbait is the act of writing a headline or a post that over-promises, oversensationalizes or misrepresents whatever content you are linking to. The easiest clickbait headlines to spot are the ones that contain the words “You’ll never believe” or “What happened next will shock/embarrass/outrage you.”

What matters to me is the assertion that libraries need to resort to clickbait to get followers to like, comment, and share their posts. You absolutely do not. And in fact, you should avoid clickbait at all costs.

Listen, we’ve all fallen for clickbait headlines before. I am a sucker for those slideshow galleries of photographs that promise to show me something shocking or new about historical events.  But once you’ve scrolled through a gallery of 45 shots and realized you haven’t seen anything new or shocking, you leave mad and vow never to visit that particular website again. We do not want to cause anger, disappointment, and distrust in our users. Using clickbait in posts could do serious damage to your library’s reputation. As an arbiter and protector of truth in an era of attacks on facts, we need to hold ourselves and our social media accounts to a higher standard. Clickbait headlines might get you more initial clicks, but they won’t deepen the relationship your cardholders have with your library.

We’re all fighting to get noticed in each of social media platforms. Algorithm changes mean we have to craft every post to match the demands of that particular platform. It’s exhausting. The temptation to use a clickbait headline to get more engagement is real, and I understand why it might seem like a good option. But it is not. We are better than that.

Your cardholders are smart. Treat them as such. Speak conversationally and openly, but don’t be sensational. You’ll be rewarded by your fans in trust, loyalty, and respect. And those three things are way more valuable than any engagement numbers you might garner in the short-term thanks to clickbait.

Instead, follow these guidelines for creating headlines with examples from my library’s social media platforms. Kudos to my library’s social media team for their amazing work: Danielle, Lisa, Veronica, and Andrea!

  • Be inspirational

  • Use keywords

  • Answer questions

  • Promote facts and figures

Incorporate numbers when possible

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! 

 

Four Daring Ways to Fight Library Haters

Update: These methods work!!  Forbes.com deleted the offending article on July 23. Read more about it here.

Original post begins here.

Forbes.com made me angry.

This weekend, the site posted an opinion piece by a contributor who tried to make the point that libraries are obsolete. This man claims we no longer need libraries because we have Amazon. I won’t post a link or analyze the piece here because it doesn’t need more views. It’s poorly written garbage and one of the worst anti-library arguments I’ve read in my life.

The piece is getting a lot of attention. Librarians and library supporters across the country took to Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to eviscerate this guy. This public shaming is well deserved and an acceptable outlet for those of us who work in the industry. But it’s not enough because the public outrage over this article will die down in a few days. Library marketers have the tools to fight anti-library sentiment in ways that will last longer than a news cycle. Here are some things you can do, right now, in your role as a library marketing professional.

Write a letter to the publication that posted the anti-library sentiment. I am a supporter of free speech. But I dislike opinion pieces. Media outlets publish them without context. They are just a mechanism to stir up emotions. Publications with editorial pages would rather get clicks than be balanced. We must politely but passionately call out any publication that allows library haters to have a voice without seeking commentary about why libraries are important. Library workers can refute anti-library sentiment by sharing personal stories about their work.

Email your donors. Take advantage of the emotional response to anti-library news articles by appealing to your donor base. You don’t even have to mention the offending news article. Just say something to this effect: “There are some who think libraries are obsolete. They don’t understand the value of the public library. But you do. Let’s prove the other guys are wrong by showing them how much good the library can do in the community.” Fight ignorance with inspirational messages to give your base a productive and concrete way to vent their anger and show their opposition to anti-library sentiment.

Double down on your efforts to educate the public about the good your library is doing. Most of us are so busy marketing services and events happening right now that we leave very little room in our promotional schedules to message our supporters about the good things we do in the community. Make it a priority to share messages about the hope and help your library gives to the community. Schedule regular promotions about the work your librarians do every day. Ask your cardholders to share stories about the ways in which the library has enriched and changed their lives. Whenever your staff works an event, make it a point to ask attendees to write or record a testimony about how the library has helped them. We must do a better job of showing that the library is more than a place to read books.

Contact your legislators and ask for more funding.  You might be wary of pointing out the arguments against public library funding to the very men and women who control the purse strings. I say this is the perfect time to appeal for more money. You can use anti-library articles as an argument for why your institution needs more funding. Don’t overestimate the amount of knowledge your legislators may have about the work you do or the amount of money you need.  Appeal to their sense of vanity as a community leader and ask them to use their platform and their public presence to help you spread the word about the importance of your work in the community.

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! 

How to Get Over Fear and Other Big Challenges to Library Marketing

When I was in first grade, I wanted to be famous. My big break arrived in the form of a school contest. The winner got to read a public service announcement about education on the radio. “IT HAS TO BE ME!!!” I exclaimed to my bewildered mother when I learned of the contest. She gently explained that I couldn’t win. She knew I faced a huge obstacle. I did not know (yet) how to read! The time between the contest announcement and the audition was short. How would I ever learn to read well enough to do it on the air? My mother is a very practical person. This was an insurmountable obstacle in her eyes.

I proved my mother wrong through sheer determination, and with a little help from the “Dick and Jane” series. I learned to read and won the contest! That was likely the first time I realized this powerful fact: there really isn’t any problem out there that can’t be solved.

20 years later, I found myself in a similar situation at my job as TV producer. The station suffered a huge power failure. The generators died. We had no way to get on the air. But failure was not an option and with airtime fast approaching, we came up with a plan. We would broadcast live from the parking lot using our live truck. It worked. We felt like heroes. Once again, I realized there was no problem that could not be solved.

We all face obstacles every day. Library marketing is not an easy job. You deal with deadlines, staffing issues, tiny budgets, and bureaucracy. Despite these obstacles, you make it work, day after day.  Your attitude plays a huge role in determining whether you overcome obstacles. Many of our problems are unique to this industry. Do. Not. Fear. You can find ways around anything. Here are some ideas to help.

The obstacle: there is never enough time. The library year is like the “lazy river” at my local YMCA; a constant, swirling flow of events that keeps pushing us forward. It takes some force to break free. When you’re under pressure to promote each big event, you may feel like you never have enough time to do anything well. All the emphasis is on the result and most people don’t give too much thought to the process.

The solution: Create a marketing strategy and STICK TO IT. The strategy must be clear, with expectations and goals set in writing. Get it approved by your supervisor and administrators. Explain it to staff. A strategy will help you stay laser-focused. Your marketing can be consistent. Library users will start to recognize the strategy of your organization without reading the mission statement. You’ll be able to accurately measure results. And, most important, you’ll be able to say “no” to promotions that don’t serve to drive your library’s overall strategic mission.

The obstacle: there is never enough money.  Budgets are a pain. Nothing can make you feel like you can’t reach your goals like facing the cold, hard reality of zero cash flow.

The solution: start small and partner up. Ask your administration for money to fund social media advertising. It’s cheaper than traditional ad buys. Your administrators might not realize how effective targeted social media ads can be. You can easily prove that you can make a good return on their investment. Look for partnership opportunities to promote more than the big programs. Create a standard agreement for media sponsorships of major programs, listing the action items your potential sponsors will fulfill and what benefits you can offer them in return. For every big program or marketing push, brainstorm partnership opportunities. For instance, my library uses partnerships for author events and to promote our collection.

The obstacle: too much work, too few people. Trying to take on a concerted, strategic marketing initiative can be overwhelming when you work alone. It’s a struggle just to keep up with the day-to-day stresses of social media, press, and meetings.

The solution: Ask for more help. You’ll find librarians who have an interest and skill in social media, writing, video, and design. Ask around and recruit those staff members to help you create content, with their supervisor’s permission of course. Ask for permission to engage an intern or two. Every organization has people with hidden talents!

The obstacle: There is never enough data about customers. This one sounds like the most difficult of the problems to solve but it’s actually one of the easiest. If your library isn’t already collecting data about your current customers, it should. I know libraries have a long and proud tradition of protecting the data and privacy of users and I respect that. I think there is a balance that can be struck. We can’t serve our cardholders well and point them in the direction of the items and services they need and want unless we know something about them. Collecting data on their card use preferences isn’t intrusive and I bet if you ask your cardholders, they’d confirm my assertion as long as we don’t share the data or lose it.

The solution: Ask, ask, and ask again. When people come to programs, hand them a three-question survey: How did you find out about this program? Do you have a library card already? What other kinds of things would you like to see at this library?  Create a new cardholder survey to gauge the interests of people just entering your library system. A yearly satisfaction survey for all cardholders is also necessary, particularly when you can take the results and split them into your different persona groups.

There are a number of software companies that can help you sort through cardholder use while masking the names of the actual items checked out by your cardholders, like Savannah by Orangeboy. From there, you can map your customer’s journey: When they get a card, how long does it take them to use it? Are they checking out books or using your digital collection or computers? Do they simply let it languish? Do you have some customers who got a card years ago, used it a specific way, and then stopped altogether? Do you have some customers who are making the transition from print items to digital materials? Do you have some customers who are only interested in one particular kind of item–DVDs, audio books, or computers? Break your customers into groups based on what they do with the card. Start creating pieces of content that target those groups.

The obstacle: fear. After five years of sharing library marketing information, this is still the biggest problem we face. Libraries are afraid of change AND afraid of failure. How many times have you heard someone in your library say, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it!” It’s the phrase I dread. It takes an enormous amount of effort and energy to change the minds of our fellow library staff members and our administration. It seems like it would just be easier to stay the course.

The solution: no one will die if you try something and it doesn’t work. It’s just marketing. Try stuff. Just try!  We have to remember our main goal–to get customers to move through the cardholder journey and engage with the library. Without that engagement, the people who argue that libraries are obsolete will win! We can’t have that. Do not be afraid. Marketing works best when you start small. Think of it like a staircase. On the bottom step, you make a small argument and you try a new thing. You see results. You report the results and chances are you’ll get to climb to the next step. If you fail, it’s just failure. No one dies. You stay on that step and you try something else! You’ll never get to the top of the stairs unless you try.

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! 

Inspiring Advice from Library Marketers Who Love Their Work

Every two years, my library holds staff development days. It’s a conference of sorts that lasts all day. The training focuses on one issue that generally affects our public library customers, like addiction, poverty, homelessness, and mental illness. I always learn something, even though I’m not a member of frontline staff. But this year, I was actually inspired while listening to the speakers. Their talks made me think about how the work of my marketing team affects the lives of our cardholders. During the closing session, I found myself writing part of this blog post on the back of a worksheet. It was a bit of advice and inspiration for myself… but then I got to thinking that I should share it here.

If you work in a public library, I bet you are as exhausted as I am after the long season of promotion leading up to summer reading. If you work in academia, the month or two before exams can feel like a marathon. Some elementary and secondary librarians are struggling just to make it to summer vacation. Six months into the year, we all feel a little worn down, don’t we? We need a reminder that our work is important. Here’s what I want you to know about the work you do.

Library marketing professionals are committed to cardholders. Every single marketer I’ve ever met in this space is thinking about the good of the cardholder over the good of anything else. I’m so proud of this profession!

The work you do feels small… but it’s a movement. We tend to think our work is not important. But we are part of a large social movement to make a real difference in the world. It feels normal and insignificant because we’ve done it for so long. It’s not normal or insignificant. You are heroes. You are amazing. Keep it up!

To recharge your batteries further, I asked for some advice from some fellow library marketing professionals. Here’s what they want you to think about as you head into the next six months

Amanda L. Goodman, Publicity Manager at Darien Library in Darien, Connecticut:  “Stay organized. Teach project management skills to colleagues that you work closely with. When you’re working on a big project with tight deadlines, it’s helpful when you’re all pulling together to get tasks accomplished on time. Schedule more time than you think you will need. Something else will always come up.”

Athens Miguel Moreno, Technology Manager at Glencoe Public Library in Glencoe, Illinois: “Organize your photos, whether on your phone or computer, make it easier on yourself to never have to hunt around for a good picture.”

Tanya Milligan, Project Librarian at Falkirk Library in the United Kingdom: “Always think of the needs, interests and wants of your users in everything you do. If you aren’t sure about their needs, interests and wants, then ask!”

Lori Juhlin, Library Director at Hawarden Public Library in Hawarden, Iowa: “Your frontline staff are your best marketers, because if someone receives great service, they may tell others, but even more so if they have a bad experience.”

Kristin Lauri Readel, Director, Frost Free Library in Marlborough, New Hampshire: “Double check dates & times with the correct calendar. Use Canva!”

Carol Eyman, Outreach Coordinator of the Nashua Public Library in Nashua, New Hampshire: “Find out what publicity is working and what’s not by adding a question in your online registration forms, how did you hear about this program?”

And a few more from yours truly: Make an effort to talk to staff. Ask the librarians about their jobs. Learn about the problems they deal with. Talk to customers! Strive to be a little uncomfortable in your work.  Push yourself a little. Make time to rest and be creative.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedInInstagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

Shrewd Marketers Challenge Conventions. So Should We!

I’ve thought a lot lately about how to approach library marketing in a new and fresh way. As my library creates and executes our strategy for summer reading, I am looking at each tactic and wondering if we can improve the marketing of this legendary initiative. According to the American Library Association, summer reading programs began in the 1890s as a way to encourage school children, particularly those in urban areas and not needed for farm work, to read during their summer vacation, use the library, and develop the habit of reading. That’s a long time to be marketing a program and I think the industry might be a bit stuck in terms of how we do it.

For inspiration, I’ve looked over notes from a session I attended at Content Marketing World. It was led by Doug Kessler, co-founder and creative director of Velocity Partners, a B2B marketing agency with offices in the U.S. and England. Doug’s session was inspiring. It was titled Exceptional Content–Challenging the Invisible Conventions of Marketing. I printed out my notes and have read them through each morning, then thinking about the points he made every time I need a brain break.

Kessler focused his session on a concept he calls invisible conventions. We have so many invisible conventions in libraries. These are the ideas and practices that library staffers hold as traditional and unchangeable. If you hear someone say, “But we’ve always done it that way”, you know you’re talking about their invisible conventions. Invisible conventions are powerful.  Kessler says they guide and constrain us without us even knowing it.

We do need conventions.  But we don’t need to be slaves to convention. Kessler says it’s our job as marketers to expose the hidden conventions in our institution and play with them. Libraries can’t be precious about their conventions because your cardholders aren’t.  Conventions are a signal to your cardholders that marketing is involved–even if you’re trying to be sneaky about it. Your customers are smart, and they’ll put up their defense barriers.

Think about how you respond to marketing messages for invisible conventions. We’ve all developed a sense of when the pitch is coming and we run the other way! You don’t want to turn off your cardholders–you want to inspire them. But if you hang on to your invisible conventions for safety, you’ll never move forward in the marketing of your library.

Challenging your invisible conventions isn’t going to make you very popular, Kessler warns. And that’s okay. Your administration, leaders of other departments, even fellow librarians may have a strong reaction when you decide to challenge conventions. They are more comfortable with traditional marketing practices and they want you to create pieces that make them feel comfortable. Be strong. Take the long view. Persuade your co-workers that change is necessary and that safe marketing isn’t going to cut it with your cardholders. Your job is not to make everyone else in the library happy. Your job isn’t to make friends with everyone in you work with. Your job is to serve your cardholders, and you can only do that when you put your cardholders first. If that means you need to throw convention out the window, then it’s the best move. Don’t second guess yourself. When your instincts as a marketer tell you that something needs to change, you are right. Change it.

I’m reminded of advice I heard from another Content Marketing World speaker, Amanda Todorovich of the Cleveland Clinic. She confessed she’s made some people at the hospital unhappy with her relentless focus on the customer. She has a strategy and she often says “no” to people who want her to do conventional marketing. That means there are some folks she works with who don’t like her. Amanda is okay with that because she realizes her job is to serve the patients, not her co-workers. I draw inspiration from her attitude when I’m faced with having a difficult conversation with a co-worker. You can too! (Read my post about Amanda here.)

So how do you turn conventional marketing on its head? By doing more content marketing. Kessler says, thanks to the companies who came before us, the public knows marketing messages are often filled with compulsive and shameless lies (thanks, cigarette companies). Traditional marketing is all about the brand: a one-sided sales message.  Content marketing, by contrast, is all about the audience. Content marketing rewards libraries for telling the truth. It’s focused on utility–how can we best help our cardholders. It delivers value, builds trust, and it gives our cardholders the power!

Kessler left me with a final thought: unconventional marketing can lead to great stories. Be straight, simple, conversational, and relevant. You will change hearts and minds.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedInInstagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

Four Instant Ways to Improve the Most Valuable Page on Your Library Website

I find lately that I’m obsessed of late with library web pages. I’ve set aside time every week to look at how different libraries around the world set up their websites. What do library’s feature or highlight their homepage? How robust is their search engine? What’s in their drop-down menu? How is their library staff set up?

That last question usually ends with me scrolling through a library’s “About Us” page. And it’s there that I really get a sense of that organization, how it views itself, and how it views its relationship to its cardholders. This research brought me recently to this conclusion: Most libraries, including mine, need to update their About Us page.

Your library’s About Us page can be a gateway to all kinds of traffic to your website. Perhaps your analytics show that you aren’t getting any visits to that section of your website and therefore, you might think you don’t need to mess with it. But if you want to increase your market penetration or if you are considering any campaigns or direct marketing messages to increase the number of cardholders you serve, you’re going to want a kick a** About Us page. Likewise, if your library is in the midst of a levy campaign or waging any kind of battle with your city or county over funding, hours, or locations, your About Us page could help you in that battle. And that page will need to look inspire to win new users and funding.

The concept of a revolutionary change in the way About Us web pages are written and formatted is something that gets a lot of discussion in marketing circles for major brands. I hear it all the time at Content Marketing World. Many big companies have moved away from a traditional approach–a long and wordy mission statement in non-conversational language that usually includes goals which have no meaning to the customer. They’re writing in a conversational tone, including specific calls to action for customers, and striving for full transparency. They’re using their About Us page to connect with potential customers, build trust, and communicate what their brand stands for and what the customer can expect from a relationship with that brand. And I think it’s about time for the library world to get on board.

Chicago Public Library’s page is minimalist with clear language and an easy-to-navigate menu.

We should transform our About Us pages into something that really has meaning to our community. This is the web page where decisions are made by all of your stakeholders. You want the page to make potential cardholders feel “at home” and community leaders understand what it is that your library does and why it’s vital.

Here are four ways to transform your About Us page from an abstract section of your website into an amazing marketing tool.

Focus on the cardholder. Here’s a thought that many libraries have a hard time grasping: your About Us page isn’t actually about you. It’s about your cardholders. What is it that your library can do for the cardholder? Take your mission, vision, and values statement, which is likely written in lofty language, and rewrite it in a conversational tone. Or drop it from the page altogether! I know that’s a controversial standpoint but if your mission, vision, values statement is written with a bureaucratic bent, it won’t have any meaning to anyone outside your organization. Instead, think of your About Us page as a conversation between you and a non-library user. How would you, in normal conversation, tell someone about all the things your organization does? That’s what your About Us page should say. You might also take the opportunity to answer the most frequent questions your library gets from new cardholders.

I love how the Columbus Public Library answers the #1 most frequent question right on their About Us page.

Tell your Library’s story. Whether your library has been around for decades or is newly formed, there’s a fantastic story about its birth and its longevity. Tell it on your About Us page, in a paragraph, with inspiring and optimistic language. Keep your bragging to a minimum. If your library has won many awards, you can mention them briefly and put them into the context of how that award translates to better service for your cardholders.

The Perth, Australia library’s About Us page includes all the essentials-how to get a card, sign up for a newsletter, and what is happening today at the library.

Less is more. Many libraries, including mine, have a long list of accomplishments and sub-headers on their About Us page. My library has 19 clickable sub-links!  Pare it down. White space is good. Pick the five most important things you’d want people to know and move the rest to another section of your website. Remember, your About Us page isn’t really about you… it’s about your cardholder. What are the five things a person would need to know to convince them to get a library card or to give you more money?

The Scottsdale, Arizona library takes a minimalist approach and it works!

Visuals are key.  Great, high-resolution photos that show people using your library and the workers who man the buildings are essential. Photos of faces are scientifically proven to be a more effective communication tool that text. Bold, easy to read fonts and primary colors work best for communicating ideas and drawing the eye to the page. Keep text to a minimum and pare down to five concepts that will tell your story.

I like how the Toledo Public Library’s page is heavy on visuals and includes easy-to-navigate sub links written in plain language.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedInInstagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

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