Expert Tips For Marketing Your Library

Posted: 03-06-2013 Topics: Strategy

LIBER’s 2013-2015 strategy includes a strong focus on Advocacy and Communications. As part of this work, we recently spoke to Ned Potter, author of The Library Marketing Toolkit: a practical guide to library marketing and branding. In this interview, he shares tips for libraries who want to increase their marketing efforts.

1. You say that libraries need to market themselves effectively, in order to ensure the support of their users, stakeholders and society generally. Do you think they are currently doing this effectively?

I’d say it’s getting better all the time, but there are only really a handful of libraries you can point to and say ‘yep, their marketing is good enough’.

2. What holds some libraries back, in your opinion, from marketing themselves better and how can they overcome these issues?

We’re hampered from the very start by the complexity of what we’re offering. Food shops just have to market nice food at reasonable prices. Shampoo companies just have to market a route to clean, glossy, shiny hair… With libraries, everyone reading this will probably have something slightly different to offer their users and potential users – and ambiguity is a real problem for good marketing!

On top of this, marketing is normally low on the list of priorities (we’re happy to spend X millions acquiring resources, but only X hundred on telling people why they might want to use them) and library promotion is most often done by people who already had a full time job within the organisation before they were asked to start marketing…

I think an important step to overcoming these difficulties is to achieve some ‘quick wins’. In other words, do some little marketing things that work well and bring back instant results – this makes everyone more positive and less distrustful about the whole thing. And then shout about the results from the rooftops! You need buy-in from everyone for library marketing to work well.

If your library is not already on Twitter, I’d suggest that would be a great place to start. When used well Twitter can very quickly improve the reputation of your organisation, and you get some great feedback via that platform – things you can show to senior managers and say: look, this is working. Try using Storify to create a document you can show people about how a particular online marketing effort has gone.

3. For libraries who want to create a marketing strategy but aren’t sure where to start, what is the first step?

That’s a very good question… The first step is probably as simple as saying: what do we want to achieve? I know that’s obvious but I’m talking about sitting down and specifically charting out where you are now, and where you want to go. Do you want more people in through the doors, or more use of expensive resources by existing users, or a better reputation, or more online interaction? Perhaps it’s all of these things. But if you can work out what you want to do first of all, then you can look at your audience (and potential audience) and see who wants what of the services you provide, and how you can communicate with them.

So to put in in really simple terms, I’d start by asking what we want to achieve. Then I’d research my market. Then I’d divide it up – different groups need tailored versions of your key messages. Then I’d set specific goals – I want to get 10% more use of our e-Resources, for example. And THEN I’d start the actual promotion, the marketing campaign itself, based on my library’s needs and what I’ve found out about our target audience.

4. Once a library has launched a strategy, how can they best measure the impact of their work?

The trick is to try and assess behaviour. For marketing to work really well, you need to actually change people’s behaviour as a result of your campaign – sure you have 1000 Twitter followers for your library, but do these people ACT any differently since they started following you? Do they come to the library more, do they use more of your stuff, do they tell their own followers how good your service is?

In libraries we are very good at recording the numbers, but less good at teasing out what the MEANING of the numbers… Ideally you want to measure what happens as a result of your marketing strategy, in relation to the overall ambitions and goals we discussed in the previous question. If your goal is to increase use by existing customers, then measure circulation and online use before your campaign, and after your campaign – then do the same thing again with a slightly different campaign, and see which works best. It’s a constant cycle of measurement then modification and then taking actions based on what you’ve learned.

5. You mention video as one of the must-have tools for library marketing but aren’t videos very time consuming and expensive to create? Are they really the best use of a library’s resources?

That has certainly been the case right up until really the last year or so – but now creating video is amazingly easy and cheap to do, particularly when you consider the impact it can have. If a video gets 100 views on YouTube, we assume that’s a bad result because we know that Justin Bieber (or whomever) get X million views for their latest promo. But actually, to get 100 people into a room and deliver library messages to them would be a real success! So a video with 100 views is a very good starting point…

The free software bundled with Macs and PCs is adequate for most video production a library would need, these days – or if you already use Camtasia for screen capture, it works very well for live action video too. An iPhone has a good enough camera on it. The technology is all incredibly accessible these days – you just have to use it in the right way. For specific tips on shooting videos, an article I wrote for Library Journal may be useful.

6. Can you give a few examples of libraries that are doing a great job of marketing themselves? 

I always refer people to and Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Kansas for inspiration around library websites; their site is dynamic, informative, varied, and quite stylish too. It’s a hard thing to get right and they do it really well.

New York Public Library are brilliant with social media marketing. They use blogs and Facebook well, but their online portfolio reaches a huge amount of people partly because they use so many platforms successfully: Tumblr, Foursquare, and YouTube – plus they have 200,000 followers on Twitter (@NYPL). They don’t stand still, they innovate and change things up all the time.

For an example of more traditional promotion working in new and interesting ways, Calgary Public Library’s fantastic “Everything You’re Into” campaign has been plastered everywhere: on coffee cups, in grocery stores, and even jet-washed onto local pavements. It aimed to change perceptions, and it really worked.

For something completely different, I’d also mention Troy Public Library in Michigan, whose incredibly brave (and fabulously effective) reverse-psychology ‘book-burning’ campaign has saved the library from closure.

Something I saw recently which I liked very much was these postcards home, from an academic library, during exam time. It’s a fun idea and nicely executed, and no doubt had a positive impact on the library’s reputation with its students.

To learn more about Ned Potter, please visit his website. The Library Marketing Toolkit website is directly related to his book, while his website The Wikiman covers a broader range of topics such as advocacy and tech trends.

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