Marketing the Library - Using technology to increase visibility, impact and reader engagement.
Melinda started by explaining that simply producing a product isn't enough - you need to market it, and this applies to libraries too. Marketing is a skill that librarians need to learn. Digital is going to become the main medium for marketing, because it's where the users are. It's also particularly good for certain things - it can be customised, personlised, shared, two-way, interactive and cost-effective. Importantly, you can also measure the impact of what you do.
Melinda's presentation concentrated on five key areas that need to be taken into consideration when creating a marketing strategy for a library:
1. Create a powerful digital brand. The changing nature of the library user (visiting the physical library less, using search engines, etc.) "creates a "brand challenge" for the library. There is a need to shift preception of what the library is, that it's not "just books". The question libraries need to ask is "What's our big idea?". Melinda gave several examples: the Idea Store, a rebranded public library in Tower Hamlets, which has seen previously-declining membership go up since its relaunch; the American Library Association's @Your Library campaign; the Open University's DigiLab. As for action at a more micro level, Melinda advised that librarians should badge library content at a deep level (not all users come through the homepage), use branding tools provided by vendors, and create an engaging online experience through the library website.
2. Personalisation. Users at computers want it all to be about them. Segment your market, by role (student, faculty, etc) but also by patterns of behaviour. Pinpoint marketing - get the right message to the right people at the right time. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems can help you with multi-channel marketing. The Open University has a screen saver that has different messages targetted at staff, students, etc.
3. Go where your users go, which is no longer just the library building. PDAs and mobiles are a growing way to reach users - 100m ad messages are sent to mobiles every month. Most people will accept relevant advertising on their mobile. An even newer (and perhaps scarier?) area is RFID marketing - Radio Frequency ID tags, which are already on UK passports, can act as tags on the user that allow them to download relevant information as they move around a building or even a city. Some libraries are already moving into mobile marketing: Manchester Metropolitan University is sending text messages to users about overdue books, and has podcast tours of the library. Duke University issues ipods to all users, with orientation info, academic schedules, lectures, etc.
4. Online community networks are another natural marketing channel, although one to be used with caution. Social networks such as YouTube and Flickr, but also virtual worlds such as Second Life. Marketing through networks requires subtlety of touch, and needs to add value to the community.
How could this work In the library? Imperial College London has produced a humourous plagiarism video on DVD, which could be condensed and posted to YouTube? An ALA video entitled "March of the Librarians" - a spoof of March of the Penguins - got 190,000 views on YouTube. Melinda noted that although it is entertaining viewing, it probably doesn't do much to bolster the image of librarians!
Billboards are for sale in Second Life. Cybrary City has recently been created in Second Life, where libraries can showcase their digital resources. Melinda cautioned again that if you're going to try marketing in online communities you must make sure that your users are there, that you add value and that you don't just spam or clutter.
4. Community Marketing. Broadcast your message to a few who will pass it on to the wider community, rather than the old approach of broadcasting your message to all and sundry. Melinda cited the example of the launch of GMail via power users who could send invitations. Demand created by limited availability.
What's the best approach? Provide a great service, provide tools, create and support user groups, support communication within those groups, and participate.
In conclusion, Melinda recommended ten things a library could do now:
1. Manage your brand
2. Create an engaging website
3. Segment your customers
4. Tailor communications to key groups
5. Invest in a CRM system
6. Start a library blog
7. Plan for mobiles
8. Post a video to YouTube
9. Post a podcast in Podcast Alley
10. Visit Cybrary City in Second Life
Good marketing is giving people the information they need to make informed choices - isn't this much the same as good librarianship?