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Powerful Things You Can Do to Convert Cardholders

This is the second in a two-part series on how to improve the metrics that really matter for library marketing emails. To read the first part on how to improve your library email click-thru rate, click here.

The other important metric to measure for email library marketing is the conversion rate. Conversion rate refers to the percentage of people who received the email AND end up taking an action, such as checking out an item, registering for or attending a program, or using an online service.

Conversion rate really is the gold standard for the success of any email campaign. Your goal should always be to get people to act!  For every email you send, you should be able to state in one sentence what it is you want email receivers to do when they read your email. Then you need to follow-up and track the results to see if your email led to the desired action. If it doesn’t, you need to adjust your email strategy.

Here are the tips I’ve discovered, through years of email marketing success and failure, that work to drive up the conversion rate.

Do deep research to find the right target audience. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the best audience for your email. It takes a lot of research. But this is an incredibly important step.

My library recently sent an email to promote a service we’ve had for many years called Career Online High School. COHS is a course that helps people who never finished high school to get their diploma and career certification. Finding the right target audience for this message is problematic. My library doesn’t ask cardholders if they also have a high school diploma, a job, or any kind of career skills. My library also doesn’t keep anything more than superficial demographic statistics on the people who already graduated from the COHS program. I don’t really know who my prime audience would be. I can’t say with accuracy what motivates a person to take this 18-month course. So, I had to do some deeper research.

I found some local studies that laid out the high school diploma concentration in geographic regions inside my library’s service area. This helped me narrow the email audience down to a few neighborhoods within my county. I also asked staff to help me create a subjective profile of past COHS students. I asked the staff to guess at the COHS program applicants ages. I asked if the applicants identified the part of the city they live in. I asked if the applicants typically have a library card when they sign up, or if they have to get one (the service requires you to be a cardholder). Finally, I asked staff if the applicants ever talked about how they first heard about COHS. The staff helped me craft a cluster that I thought *might* work.

We sent this message to about 18 percent of our cardholder base. That’s a wide net. But it worked in this instance. Five percent of the people who opened and clicked on the message are now in the process of filling out applications and completing paperwork to join the class. I consider that a huge success! The staff who run the COHS program told me they were incredibly pleased with the number of new applicants.

Sometimes, your targeted email audience will be obvious. And sometimes you’ll have to ask some questions and dig around to determine your audience. Try not to guess. Base your decisions on the information available and you’ll find success.

Experiment to determine your goal conversion rate. When I started sending emails to my cardholders, I had no idea what success looked like. Through experimentation, I set a goal. Each email must create a ten percent or higher bump in circulation, program attendance, or usage. If the email falls short of these goals, it’s not worth my time or my cardholders’ time.

This isn’t an arbitrary number. It’s a number I’ve landed on after many emails and lots of calculations. For my library system, a ten percent increase in any one of these numbers is significant enough to warrant the effort it takes to create and send an eblast.

You’ll set your own optimum conversion rate. Your optimum rate will depend on the size of your cardholder base, your staff’s capacity to handle increased circulation, program attendance, and library visits, and your overall library goals. But you must have a goal.

Make your call to action clear and persuasive. You’ll notice the call to action on the Career Online High School email is very direct. When you create a call to action (CTA), say the words “I want to…” before the CTA. In the COHS email above, that sentence ends up being, “I want to apply to Career Online High School.”  If that sentence is short, direct, and easy to follow through on, you’ve got a good call to action. Some other good CTA’s are:

Register for this program.

Put this event on my calendar.

Place a hold on this book.

Get reading recommendations.

I think you get the picture. In my emails, I put the CTA inside a button or box so it draws the eye and is intuitive for clicking.

Change focus of your email from the library to your cardholder. To persuade cardholders to act on your emails, stop talking about how great the library service is and to instead talk about how it will change or improve the life of your customer. You can do this even with a simple collection-based email.

We do this with our book recommendation service. We might be tempted to say, “Our Librarians are book experts. We give the best reading recommendations anywhere!” And we do! But by slightly pivoting our message, we show how this service helps our cardholders. Our re-focused sentence is: “You’ve got a lot to do. Let us help you pick out a good book to read.”

See how subtle it is? But it really works. You’re just changing all the “we’s” in your copy to “you’s.” By pivoting the focus of the message from how great your library is to how much you can help the cardholders, you increase the chances that cardholder will take an action.

Include humans in your emails. When you create your email, using a photo that includes a human face or faces expressing an emotion. Your cardholders will look at the faces and identify with one. That face will humanize your message. They’ll be more likely to take an action. We use one or two human faces in most of our email marketing campaigns.

Now, there is some science to suggest that human faces negatively affect conversion rates, particularly if the faces don’t align with the email’s target audience. So, you must choose the photos carefully. For instance, this email promoting our Memory Cafe accurately represents the audience and the activities at the cafe (there is often dancing!). And it worked to drive people to this recurring program. If you make a thoughtful photo choice, you’ll see good results.

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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How to Unlock Empathy to Make Library Marketing Mean Something

Imagine the worst day you’ve ever had on the job. You probably remember what happened and the emotions you felt as you tried to deal with the situation. What helped you to work through it?

It’s likely you pulled aside a friend, a co-worker, or called your spouse or parent and vented about the day. Maybe you had an adult beverage and cooked your favorite food when you got home. Perhaps you took a bubble bath or went on a walk. Maybe you did all those things! In any case, the talking part–where you shared your day, the way you handled the situation, and your frustrations–is likely the one thing that made you feel significantly better. Talking with someone who sympathizes with you is infinitely more helpful than a bubble bath or a beer.

Margaret Magnarelli of Monster ran us through that mind exercise during this year’s Content Marketing World in her session on empathy in marketing. It’s so simple. But it made me realize that libraries are uniquely positioned to put empathy marketing to work. Magnarelli says by using the psychology of caring, we can amplify our content marketing results. It’s not that we shouldn’t use data to make more informed decisions, according to Magnarelli. But if we don’t combine facts with feelings, we’ll sacrifice relationships.

Research shows empathy in marketing increases engagement. Think about your personal Facebook feed. Every day, you are responding emotionally–with emojis, comments, and shares–to the thoughts, struggles, celebrations, and memories of your family and friends. Marketing with empathy is the same thing. When you respond with emotion to your cardholders, you create a bond that builds trust and loyalty.

Libraries have the resources, staff, and training to put empathy into our marketing–more so than many brands. It’s not a new concept to us. We do it every day, in every interaction with cardholders. You probably never even considered it. I certainly didn’t! Magnarelli says we can transition from day-to-day empathetic interactions to empathy in marketing. It’s really kind of easy. The first step is to listen to our cardholders.

Marketing advice always includes a line about how listening to your customers is important. But most of us are not actually practicing deep listening with our cardholders. Deep listening requires you to shut off the internal voices that start defending your library and your marketing while your cardholder is trying to make a point. Shut off that inner voice that says “Yes, but…” when a cardholder explains a problem they have a problem, concern, or a need. Don’t listen for the things you or your library board or the front-line staff want to hear. Listen with no preconceived notions.

The more you’re exposed to your cardholders’ feelings, the more you can mirror them. When you mirror their feelings, you can create solutions to their problems. Then you can market those solutions. Magnarelli explains it like this: When a good friend listens to your problems, they usually ask you questions about your issues. They don’t try to insert themselves into your conversation. They want to understand your challenges. They validate what you say. “Yes, your boss is a jerk.” “Yes, your co-worker is acting inappropriately.” “Yes, that way of doing things seems very inefficient.” Then the friend will usually suggest a solution. You feel better. The next time you have an issue, you open up to that friend again because you remember they helped you solve the first problem. That’s what we want in marketing–for our cardholders to come back to us because we listen, validate, and solve problems!

Once you’ve listened to your cardholders, you need to validate their concerns. This action builds trust, according to Magnarelli. Be sure to say, “I understand the problem.” Magnarelli says that simple phrase, called the echo effect, is scientifically proven to increase rapport and likability. Magnarelli also suggests using the word “you” in your blog, email, and social media post headlines. Insert sentences that show they understand where the customer is coming from.

Once you know what the problem is, and you’ve validated it, you can take marketing action. Your marketing messages can teach cardholders about solutions to their problems that incorporate your library. You can inspire your cardholders to do good works. You can focus on the positive aspects of your library–not the negative aspects of your competitors.

The problem and the solution don’t have to be something profound or grand. It can be something simple. I have an example of this from a recent email campaign. My library has a personalized reading recommendation service called Book Hookup. Cardholders use a form on the website to tell a librarian what books and genre of reading they like. Then the librarian gives them three personalized reading recommendations. When we send the emails promoting this service, I try to use empathy in my subject lines. To parents I say, “You’ve got a lot to do. Let us pick out your next favorite book.” To teens I say, “Read something YOU want to read for a change. Let us pick something based on your favorite books.”

It sounds silly and basic. But empathy in marketing is effective. To your cardholder, it feels less like promotion and more like help. You can lead your cardholders to a solution. That makes the world a better place. And knowing that you’ve made the lives of your cardholders a little better will make you feel good too. After all, we work in a library because we want to help people and change the world!

Now, I need your help. I want to write a post about self-care for the library marketer. What do you do to make sure you don’t lose your mind when you market your library? Please fill out this form to share your tips for other library marketers. What do you do at work and at home to maintain your sanity? If you don’t wish to share your name or where you work, just say so in the appropriate lines. Thanks!

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!

Make #GivingTuesday Work and Raise Big Money for Your Library!

Boy, library marketers sure have a lot of responsibilities. We’re expected to drive attendance to programs, increase circulation, plan big events, provide outreach support, and make sure everyone in our community knows about all the services we provide. In addition, most of us are also expected to help market fundraising efforts for our library friends or foundation groups. Our libraries need money. That fact arguably makes this directive the most important of all our jobs.

The fundraising portion of library marketing has always been difficult for me, if I’m being honest. I think most of us feel queasy about asking people for money, even for something as important as the work of the library. I get the same feeling in the pit of my stomach when it comes time to market my church’s stewardship campaign. It’s hard to put into words why it feels weird to me to ask people to give to either organization, though both are incredibly worthy.

But worldwide giving campaigns like #GivingTuesday help. This global movement happens every year on the Tuesday after the American Thanksgiving holiday. It’s meant to motivate people to donate after the excess of spending that happens when the traditional Christmas shopping season kicks off.

The website for the movement has all kinds of ideas for fundraising organizations. The “holiday” is a prime opportunity to reach your library’s fundraising goals. According to NonProfit Pro, in 2017, #GivingTuesday campaigns raised over $300 million online for charities with an average gift exceeding $120. That’s a 64 percent increase in the amount of money raised in 2016. And NonProfit Pro also says that nonprofits raise 14 times more in their end-of-year campaigns when they take part in #GivingTuesday. And if that doesn’t convince you, the most recent study of #GivingTuesday donations conducted by DataKind shows that educational causes received nearly 40 percent of all donations made. Cultural organizations saw the greatest increase in donations, in some cases receiving nearly 20 percent of their annual donations from this single day. Libraries can be considered both education and cultural organizations. We’ve got so much to gain!

My library started doing campaigns around #GivingTuesday about three years ago. We’ve seen trends in giving that match NonProfit Pro’s numbers. Even better, we grow our donor lists. That gives us a new audience to market to throughout the entire calendar year.

Your library should participate, and you should plan your promotions ahead of time. Don’t just send out an email and put up a couple of social media posts on #GivingTuesday.  Start promoting #GivingTuesday with content marketing at least a week ahead of the actual holiday, sooner if you are able. You’ve got to prove your library’s worth and get the idea of giving into your potential donor’s head space before the event. I start about three weeks before the “holiday” with motivational content like quotes from customers, brand-awareness videos, and motivational photos with clear donation calls to action. I like to tell our cardholders and community that #GivingTuesday is part of a busy time of year and I work to get them to donate early. This method increases the chance that our campaign is successful.

Of course, incentives always help with donations, and it doesn’t have to be something that costs your organization. This year, we’ll be emailing a graphic to anyone who donates early. Donors can use it on their social media profiles to show that they’ve given to the library. They can have the pride of saying they’ve participated when the day arrives and use their influence to encourage others to do the same. Early promotion creates momentum.

Of course, we use email as part of our campaign along with social media and our website. Here’s the message we sent last year about a week before #GivingTuesday. It’s clear and easy to understand.

We did a similar message to members of the Friends organization. The audience for that group is different. But you’ll see we integrated the heart from our Foundation message into this message, to draw a subconscious message to our audiences about their love for the library. This one also has a clear call-to-action.

 

You can increase the effectiveness by extending the fundraising campaign through the end of the year. We create campaigns that run every two weeks beginning in November through the end of the year. Appealing to the tax deduction incentive is a major point of the campaign as we near the end of the calendar year. This is the email we sent last year about mid-December. Again, it’s clear, it concise, and it has a major call-to-action.

 

I’d love to hear about your successful library marketing fundraising efforts and campaigns. Please let me know what you’ve done right (and wrong!) in the comment box. We can all learn from each other. When one library is strong, it makes the whole industry stronger.

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!

 

 

Five Insider Tricks To Improve Your Library’s Voice Search Ranking

One of my most vivid class memories from college happened during my freshman year. A woman visited our communications class to talk about this new thing sweeping the nation: the internet. She said that someday companies would be able to send us information on any product or service we could ever want or need, based on our previous purchases or on search.

Was she psychic? Nope. She was forward-thinking. The internet, and later the introduction of smartphones, caused a huge shift in the way libraries interact with cardholders. And now, we’re about to enter another era of technology change. We’ll need to re-evaluate how we interact with cardholders. Because voice search is going to change everything.

My library is now dabbling in this technology. We created an Alexa skill that allows cardholders to do some very basic things: find out what’s going on at a branch or ask about our hours of operation. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to voice search.

At Content Marketing World 2018, I attended a session led by Courtney Cox, who is manager of Digital Marketing at Children’s Health. She talked with us about the Google Search box. You’re probably familiar with it. It looks like this:

The answer box is text-based but it’s an important key to getting your library information in front of cardholders doing keyboard-based search inquires AND those using voice search options like Alexa or Suri. How is the answer box connected to voice search? Cox explains that voice search technology reads whatever answer appears first in the Google search. So, if you’re in the answer box, you are in first position and you get read by the voice search technology. That means if you live in the second or third results on Google, you won’t get read out. EVERYTHING ELSE underneath the answer box is ignored. There’s no glory in second place.

Wow. That’s depressing.

Comscore estimates that by 2020, half of all web browsing sessions will be done without a screen. So, what’s a library to do? Here are five steps to take now to move your library into the first position on Google search. These tips will increase the chances that your library will appear in the answer box and connect with more users.

Keyword research: Cox says you need to do real-world keyword research. That means you can use online tools like those I talked about in this post. But you must also talk to customers, face-to-face. Talk to front-line staff. Talk to the call center staff. Find out what customers are saying when they ask questions. What specific words or phrases do they use? Then start incorporating that language into your web content, social content, and all your marketing messages.

Competitor research: Cox suggests you do periodic searches for competing services offered by Amazon, your local bookstore, and online databases. What phrases and words do they use? How long, in words and characters, are their answers? Do they use bulleted lists, tables, or graphics to convey information to their customers?  What aren’t they doing well? All of these questions will inform you as you write searchable text for your website. You should feel free to copy what others are doing well. You can improve on what your competitors are doing poorly! You don’t need a big budget to write more searchable content.

Stop dictating your own content. Cox says we all need to stop brainstorming internally about what you want to write about. Start focusing on what your customers want. We must be answering the questions our customers have.

Create a FAQ page on your library website. Make the page easy to find and promote it throughout the web with blog posts, social media, emails… every marketing method at your disposal. The more people who go to the FAQ page, the higher the search ranking for that page will be, and the more quickly you’ll get into the answer box.

Re-purpose your content–with a purpose. Many libraries are creating videos for marketing purposes (HOORAY!). Now it’s time to take those videos and make them work to improve your search position. Take each of your videos and turn it into text. Post the text on your library blog and promote it in other ways. The more eyes that read the content in its written form, the more likely it is that the content will make its way into the answer box!

We’ve got our work laid out for us. After the conference, I started doing random searches to see where my library shows up in the answer box–and when it doesn’t. In some ways, we’re doing okay.

And in some ways, we have a lot of work to do.

So I’ll be looking for ways to make these five pieces of advice work in my content. And I’ll be paying more attention to the words we use on the website, making them local and specific. I’ll start thinking about what people will say when they use voice search to ask questions about my library. I’ll check these searches again in a few months to see how I’m doing. I urge you to do the same!

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!

Call It What It Is: Toledo Public Library Explains Their New Brand Strategy

A couple of weeks ago, a Tweet from the deputy director of the Toledo Public Library caught my eye.

Our marketing manager here at the library is leading a charge to “call things what they are” to reduce confusion for customers. We should be doing more of this in libraries and resist the urge for cutesy branding.

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Jason went on to explain, “When I joined the library three plus years ago, we had just launched a kind of umbrella branding for all of our making activities at the library. We called it Make U. It was clever, had a nice logo, and generally served a purpose… for us. Three years later, it’s still a confusing ‘second brand’ for our library (one of many tertiary brands, actually). Terri Carroll (our marketing manager) is working really hard to make the library’s brand the key identifier for all things library. Every time we roll out a new program or service, we have the urge to give it cute or clever branding. It’s just more education we have to do with our customers. So rather than trying to constantly educate people about our new brands, services, and programs, we focus on the library’s brand: a welcoming and accessible space where anyone has access to resources they need to make their lives, their communities, and their futures better. Now we call Make U what it is…tech tools. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Terri in the short time she’s been with us about how we cut through a very noisy marketplace to reach people where they are when they need us.”

This is a major hurdle for my team and library marketer’s across the country! At my Library, I’ve counted no less than TEN branded services. And each one requires education for the staff and public. The names are cute but their meaning is obtuse.

Library marketers struggle with branding. We need to do a better job of defining who we are. We must create a consistent emotional connection with our cardholders if we’re going to compete with the likes of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Netflix, and Google.

Jason’s co-worker, Toledo Public Library Marketing Manager Terri Carroll, graciously agreed to share her insights on the process.

So many libraries have a set of tertiary brands for their various programs and services. Why is that a problem? Each day, our current and potential customers are bombarded with media messages from well-funded and sophisticated retail, fast food, snack food, entertainment, sports, news, and service companies. While these organizations aren’t competing with us to provide library services, they are competing with libraries for people’s time and attention. If libraries hope to have people notice our message in a noisy marketplace, it is imperative we have one clear brand that makes it easy for people to know who we are and what value we provide. Tertiary brands dilute our message and make it more challenging to connect with customers.

Before the redesign, the Toledo Public Library struggled to bring a host of tertiary brands together to create one cohesive brand.

What prompted you to decide to focus less on giving everything a cutesy name and instead develop and nurture an umbrella brand? I started working at the Library in November and was struck by the fact that each program had its own look and message. The emphasis was on program names and unique graphics, rather than the Library as a whole. For example, a great deal of energy was spent on “logos” for programs such as Kindergarten Kickstart, Ready to Read, and Make U instead of thinking about messaging that clearly connects a valuable service (early literacy or access to technology) with the Library. This approach puts the burden of connecting the dots about the Library’s value and relevance on our customers. It also keeps the Marketing team from thinking strategically as they instead spend energy making everything look different. This is an unfortunate use of resources. Having things look similar within a brand compliance strategy makes it easier for customers to identify Library materials and messaging.

Terri laid out brand elements to create a clear and consistent message that can be understood by staff and library cardholders.

Have you seen positive results from this type of strategy yet?  We’ve been working on implementing this strategy since December, so it is tough to extrapolate data yet. For now, positive anecdotal comments to Library staff and leadership such as, “The Library is doing so much,” (when in fact we are doing a similar amount of work) and increased earned media attention are indicators of success. Ultimately, we should realize increases in circulation, door count, and program attendance as well as community and regional stakeholder invitations to be at the table on important issues, speaking opportunities, organizational partnership creations, and election results.

How can other library marketers make the case to their stakeholders, like their board of trustees, the senior leaders, and their staff, that developing a strong brand sense is more productive than creating brands individually as services are unveiled? Stakeholders repeatedly express interest in making sure the community knows about everything the Library does. I have invested a lot of time meeting with all of our internal stakeholders to show them how strong brand management is necessary to meet that goal.

My staff and I also work to keep a focus on making sure all materials and messages are customer-focused. We ask ourselves and our colleagues if our materials and messaging are giving customers all the information they need to engage with the Library. Focusing on how customers understand our Marketing keeps everyone externally (brand) focused and not internally (tertiary brand) focused.

A clear, consistent look helps Toledo Public Library create a connection and makes it easier for their cardholders to recognize their messages.

Do you have any other advice for library marketers looking to strengthen their own brands? It is essential to have senior leadership support for strong brand management. If people are used to the tertiary brands and have enjoyed the creative process (either working with Marketing and/or doing their own design work at the department or branch level), moving to brand compliance can be painful. If those concerns/complaints are taken to senior leadership and exceptions are granted, then the entire brand strategy is compromised.

It is also important to expect some resistance and be willing to talk with people about their questions and concerns. In these conversations, something that seems to really resonate is when I say that we don’t want to re-educate people every time they see something from the Library. We want people to immediately identify a Library program or service. And while staff sees all the materials and, may in fact get a bit tired of the same colors and fonts, this easy identification and brand recognition is essential for customers who are wading through a marketplace of messages and materials.

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 Media Coverage Without a Press Release

I have a revelation to share with you.

You don’t always have to send out a press release to get media attention.

I KNOW, RIGHT!!

Now, don’t get me wrong. You should not stop sending press releases completely. In fact, often, they are the best way to get a story to the news media quickly. They can make sure that the facts of an important story are published correctly. Here’s a case in point: this week, my library system had to close one of our branch libraries due to significant damage to the ceiling. This branch happens to be in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. We have many ways to communicate with our cardholders, including our website, social media, and email. But the folks who use this branch don’t always have access to Wi-Fi. So it was imperative that we send out a press release so those users could learn about the closure through non-digital sources, like TV and newspaper. The story contained accurate information on things like where we are re-routing holds and returns. It gave us some control over the story. There’s one advantage to the staff shortage crisis in newsrooms: outlets will usually copy and paste your press release and publish it verbatim.

My library used to send out a press release for literally everything. We sent releases for every contest, new vendors, and initiatives large and small. We were sending up to two releases a week. In theory, it sounds like our library was “killing it” in the PR department. But it turns out that kind of constant press release barrage translated to noise to most newsrooms. This is something we learned at the Cincinnati Media Day last year. We got to spend a day mingling with local reporters and asking them all kinds of questions about what we could do to increase our chances of coverage. (Check your local PRSA chapter-they may put on a similar event in your city. I recommend you attend-it was incredibly helpful.)

After Media Day, I vowed to take a hard look at our press release strategy. Which releases were getting coverage and which were ignored? After a careful audit, we’ve decided to stop sending press releases for things like our summer reading program, some of our exhibits, and small service initiatives, like our Tiebrary. This is a new service rolled out in May of this year. We allow cardholders to check out ties and scarves for job interviews. It’s my library’s first foray into the Library of Things realm, and we were really excited.

So why not send a release? We decided to take a personal approach instead. My staff made phone calls to key members of the local media, explaining how the Tiebrary works and why we were doing it.  Yes, it took more time. But it worked. We got coverage in some form on three of the four local TV stations and requests for a written follow-up, which were printed in local papers. Those written versions of the story were personalized by my staff to the audience of the publication requesting the story, which the publications loved. We also received a mention on the local NPR news radio station.

You will want to send out press releases for about 90 percent of the stories your library pitches to the media. But that last ten percent can get media coverage with a more personal approach. I know many library administrators expect you to send a press release, so I urge you to make the case, when you feel passionate about it, that a personal phone call to a news reporter will be much more effective. The end goal is more media coverage for your library. Libraries should be flexible in our approach with the media. We should deliver facts to reporters in the form that is most compelling to them and their readers. And for many reporters, a personal conversation is that form. So if your library administrators insist on sending a release for everything, feel free to print out this post and show it to them. They can even contact me to talk about it further.

And, if you do decide to write a release, I have some suggestions for you on how to increase the chance they’ll be picked up for coverage. These posts are all written after speaking with media professionals.

Lessons from the Greatest Press Release Ever Written

Reporters Reveal How to Get More Press Coverage

Eight Secrets for Library Press and Media Coverage

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 Reasons Why Library Marketing Is the Most Patriotic Profession

Here in the United States, we’re celebrating the birth of our country this week. July 4th is a big deal in America. We hold parades. We eat a lot of food. We set off fireworks. We wave the flag, wear the flag, and sing about the flag. We generally make fools of ourselves as we declare our love of the U.S. and list all the things that make America the best country ever.

But you may have noticed, even if you don’t live in the United States, that there’s been a bit of a shift in the collective patriotic mindset over the past 18 months. We are in a bit of a rough patch politically, ideologically, and culturally, you might say. There are some days when I find myself wondering if it was even worth celebrating the 4th of July this year.

Whenever I feel like my country is not living up to its ideals, it helps to think about my work. I work in a public library, with some of the most giving and noble people in existence. They do patriotic work every day. Libraries are the home of civility, which receives so much discussion of late. They are important public institutions. And no matter what country you call home, your work in library marketing is a patriotic duty. Here are four reasons why that is true.

Good Library Marketing keeps the building open. Good library marketing compels people to come to programs, check out items, and give to your library. Without fulfilling those three objectives, your library would fail to thrive. Cuts would be made to hours and staff. Services would be eliminated. A cut in any of those areas would mean the people in your community who need the library the most would suffer. When you do your job well, you are helping to raise up the underprivileged. You put much-needed services into their hands.

Good Library Marketing creates jobs. When you do a good job of keeping the collection in circulation or getting people into your buildings, you are creating employment opportunities for your fellow staff members and beyond. Publishing houses stay open. Authors have monetary incentive to keep writing. Program presenters get a paycheck for sharing their knowledge with your community. You help sustain employment for hundreds of thousands of workers outside of your community, including custodians, security staff, computer and technology service workers, and so much more.

Good Library Marketing connects people to their communities. When you do a good job of marketing your library to your public, you make people feel connected to each other. You give people a vested interest in their fellow human. When you help young children to learn to read, you improve the lives of everyone. A good library marketer can make that case, even to people who don’t have young children. They can make people care about one another. A well-publicized book club brings together a group of people who may not have otherwise met each other. Those people can talk to one another about subjects that never would come up in unregulated conversation. They learn about each other. They learn to disagree respectfully! Sometimes, a discussion that begins in a library can lead to social change. You help to make that happen!

Good Library Marketing supports the arts. I’ll bet your library hosts art exhibitions, musical and theater performances, and other arts-related programming and services throughout the year. When you do a good job of marketing those programs, you are supporting the arts in your community. You are enriching the lives of the people you serve. Many of them may not have the money to attend ticketed events. You are bringing beauty, philosophy, and creativity into their lives.

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! 

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