Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Viral marketing in libraries

Public libraries have always been information hubs. Before the internet, most people would agree that going to the local public library for information was a sure bet to get the answers. Today, the answer is not in the local library, or even the internet; the source for many is someone they know.

People will always trust their friends over an organization. A friend is someone they spend time with and trust. An organization is something that can be treated that way, but it is not the organization that is trusted, but rather the people who work there.

Over at the Church of the Customer Blog, they reflect on a recent Nielsen study that states 78% of people trust their friends over any other source for information.

Despite an ever-expanding array of advertising platforms and sources, consumers around the world still place their highest levels of trust in other consumers, according to a recent global Nielsen Internet survey.

As a library, or for any organization, every transaction with a customer has to be so fantastic that people will talk about it afterward. That is how a reputation is established. If your customer service is bad, everyone will know by asking their friends. If the service is fantastic, you will see a usage jump. A great marketing plan means nothing if people walk into the building and get terrible service. There is long term planning that goes into a successful marketing plan.

Training in Basic Competencies
All library staff should be able to handle 90% of questions and issues. If a patron walks into the library and staff don't have a clue how to serve, then they walk out of the building and then tell their friends how bad you are. Many librarians have experienced this and blogged about it.

Training in Customer Service
Library staff must be placed in the patrons' shoes. They have to understand what it is like to walk into the library for the first time and get what they need. This type of empathy is crucial to good customer service (and consequently management). In this area, advanced classes are often needed in dealing with the angry or dangerous patron. The angry patron training helps staff diffuse situations and pull back out of the circle of anger. This actually helps staff understand a person objectively and without getting personal or let their emotions get the better of them. Furthermore, if you have library staff who are perpetually cranky, a group class dealing in customer service brings across the point of what is expected. Get on board, fake it, or leave.

Training in Technology
Learning 2.0 is all the rage. It is important to cover the basics first. One thing about technology training is that the ones who want to learn have a desire to learn. It can be a personal desire, or a desire to be the best they can at their job. To be able to handle everything thrown at them. Technology training covers both of them. However, if the seed has been sown in basic training and customer service, there is a higher chance for everyone to be on board for training. The reason from management must be there (providing better service), and the desire from staff must be there (lifelong learner or wants to be the best).

There is one thing you may be thinking at this point, "I thought this was a post about marketing?" It is, but it is about viral and word of mouth marketing. If you give someone fantastic service, you are marketing. People will know that they can get friendly, helpful people that will work with them to get what they need and will actually feel bad if they don't achieve their goal. This is the best type of marketing one can do and provides groundwork to achieve bigger and better things.

A brief Story
When we created and enacted our strategic plan, we made the assumption that we need to create a new level of service with new programs and service. Then we can market those services. Sometimes these service market themselves. If the service is that good, and you are on target with a strategic plan, then the service will spread through word of mouth. That is what happened to us. Usage went through the roof almost immediately. New library cards doubled each month. Currently, 90% of our community owns a library card. Consequently, new library cards are flat or down since there are not many more people to get a library card. We were concerned about this since our strategic plan stated that we need to increase library card ownership by 10% by marketing. Now that 90% have a card, we won't hit that mark. However, our new plan is to advertise the fact that 90% of the population owns a library card. It will be something to the extent of "Don't be 1 in 10" with a statement that 90% of our community owns a library card. Then talk about all the great things the library does. We might make shirts or bags to promote this as part of our library card sign up campaign in January.

How to become ubiquitous:RSS Feeds
Now that the groundwork has been lain, the library can now begin expanding its realm and appear ubiquitous. The library can show up everywhere if you choose to do so and it doesn't take any staff time to do so. Just some set-up time. This can easily be done with rss feeds. Most Integrated Library Systems have or are starting to produce RSS feeds.

Why would you library want to do this? Imagine standing on a corner of a busy street. You have lots of books you want to sell. You stand there displaying your books, thinking everyone will just come to you because you are so fantastic. You don't get the traffic you anticipated.

Why? You are not shouting out what you have. You just let people pass by and rely on the fact that you are so fantastic to speak for itself. This is the wrong approach. RSS feeds (really simple syndication) shouts out your information. You may think at this point that not many people use News Readers to read these feeds, but you can produce an email distribution list from these feeds using Feedburner. Feedburner is not the only service that can transmit an rss feed into email. Everyone has email so by producing this feed in this way, everyone can sign up to get the latest books, music, and movies available.

I love these feeds because I am the first to find out when a new book is available. I can be the first in the library to grab a book off the shelf because only I know it is there. This of course helps internally with library staff as they are also aware of what is available as soon as it is available. I once had a patron come in and ask for United 93. We searched everywhere for it, but couldn't find it. We called upstairs to Technical Services and they had it. They stated, "I just put that in the system, how did you know I had it so fast?" She had only put the dvd in the system five minutes before. That's how fast someone can get an item.

These feeds can also be dumped anywhere, twitter, myspace, facebook, google homepage, the list goes on. Your library can be everyone online with rss feeds. You don't necessarily need a presence on all of these social networking sites. However, you can keep them updated with rss feeds that require no additional staff time.

It takes staff time to be everywhere with traditional marketing
It must be written into one or more job positions and time must be given for marketing. Currently, we have one librarian dedicating 20% of their time to marketing. They need to be allowed off desk time or whatever that needs to be done to do this. This involves creating a weekly news blast to the local newspaper, chamber of commerce, our email listserv, it goes on our website, it goes to a monthly magazine that is delivered to every household in the county, our friends newsletter, the county visitor's bureau, and anywhere else we can squeeze in. This takes a lot of time. In reality, all of the events are planned out six months in advance. So it mostly involves grabbing what is happening this week, adding library news (such as advertising our flash drives for sale, our food for fines, library closures, and other non-programming events) and adding our top ten list. Our top ten list is the top ten books our community is reading at any one time. For instance, we put in the top ten circulating books for fiction, non-fiction, juvenile, teens, and then pick different subject (like gardening or cooking for diabetics) or genre areas (like romance or mystery).

We also cheat a bit with the list. We don't just put out the most circulating items, we put out the hotlist. Most circulating will only provide older titles and give the impression the library only has old titles. We get a hotlist by subtracting the date entered from the date it was checked out. This then predicts what the circulation will be for one year. For instance, if a book was only in three days and was checked out, it would predicted it would be checked out every three days, giving it a circulation of over 100. So instead of the Da Vinci Code showing up at the top fiction books, A Thousand Splendid Suns shows up first instead. People reading the paper for library news may be surprised that we have the latest fiction. This helps promote that.

The actual viral piece/Our plan

To actually get viral, you must have a particular service or services that is so great people are always prompted to talk about it. As a library director once told me, people need to see their library like mecca, how do we connect today? Here are some things we have done and will be planning:

We gave away free gold bookmarks and canvas bags with the library's logo on it for a library card sign-up month. Not terribly exciting, but new cards went up.

We upgraded everyone's library card from a red piece of plastic, to a dual card with a wallet card and a keychain card with the library's picture, website, hours of operation, and phone number on the back. This prompted conversation because the picture was attractive, and anytime someone pulled out their keys, a conversation could occur. (hey what's that, this is my new library card, they are giving them away free at the library.)

We sell flash drives with the library's logo and website address. This has been the most successful viral campaign as we were able to penetrate the schools with it. If a teacher can fit you into their busy schedule, then you are truly successful. Read more here

We bought into the Greater Phoenix Digital Library consortium. We plan to wrap our library card campaign with marketing for this service. Our plan it to give away 2gb mp3 players and show people how to use them. The first 50 who sign up for the service will get a free player and instructions on how to download an audiobook or music to their player. All library staff will each get a player first so they can see how it works. We will also issue an fm transmitter with it so that it can be played in any car. This gets over several compatibility issues. The mp3 player can play everything, can be placed in any car, and has enough storage to play 40 hours of audiobook, which is the largest capacity of audio.

We plan to expand our bandwidth once our e-rate application is resolved. We will expand from 1.5 mbps to 6mbps. We plan to have a campaign to the extent of, be careful, speed this fast can be dangerous. We will probably have a video launch to demonstrate the speed.

We plan to renovate the library by replacing the dvd shelving with videostore shelving, replace the new bookshelving with clear face-out shelving, create a greeting desk, clean the front of the library, and put out a new security system that will enable more self-service. This will change the entire look of the library for very little cost. If all goes exactly, it will create an entirely different effect when one walks through the library. It is my hope that this will further get the public to talk about our library.

This should all result in increased traffic in all user points. We should see double digit jumps in circulation (with particular notice to how fast an item is checked out and particular higher marketed collections), computer usage, walk-in business.

This takes an incredible amount of back work, training, and planning. I have done this before with a renovation. It is why all of our service usage has increased the last two years. We are almost always looking to improve and change services to make them better. We want to be the best and that involves change.

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