Pride and Publicity Prejudice

In the Philadelphia radio market, there is a news station that has been on the air as long as I can remember. On this station, there is an advertisement for a marketing firm that has been playing for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall it completely without the prompts, but it goes something like this:

“A man wakes up and gets out of his advertised bed. He eats a breakfast of advertised coffee and advertised bread, toasted in an advertised toaster. He puts on advertised clothes, looks at his advertised watch, gets in his advertised car, and drives to work. But he refuses to advertise for his business because he says advertising doesn’t pay.”

You get the picture; this is the tale of someone who is bombarded by images, messages, and branding everyday yet doesn’t see it in his own life. It’s the advertisement equivalent of the cerulean belt in which we think we make independent decisions when it comes to product selection. But, in reality, we’re more likely to pick up a brand that we’ve heard something about (anything, really) because we have had some sort of encounter with its advertising. Familiarity, even in passing, is a higher favorable factor versus the unknown or when all other factors seem to be the same.

I’ve been thinking about advertising, publicity, and marketing in the library world since last week after viewing this TED talk by Dan Pallotta about the way we think about charities and non-profits. My enthusiasm for TED talks has cooled over the years, a result of seeing how much the events tend to be the focus rather than actually supporting (as the TED motto goes) ideas worth spreading. But I digress.

For those who want to skip to the chase here, one of the excellent points Dan makes is in regard to our misguided notion of how overhead should work in charities and non-profits.  In essence, spending money on the cause is good and spending any money on non-cause related things is bad (even if it raises more money/awareness). Overhead and administration are considered the anathema of the noble purpose and good deeds that these organizations are set up to do. But, in putting such restrictions and pressures on these groups, it ignores two important points.

First, in keeping administration costs as low as possible, it makes it hard (if not impossible) to attract the talent that would take the organization further into the future. Even if the organization is raising millions of dollars a year, six figure executive pay is considered outrageous even in a multi-million dollar charitable operation. The Stanford MBA isn’t going to join such an organization when he can work a regular job at his market rate salary and then donate generously.  This goes across the board with other organization talent (accountants, lawyers, marketing, etc.) because these groups don’t have the salary to make them attractive.

Second, the pressure to keep overhead low makes getting the message out harder. Spending $40,000 for a full page ad in the Sunday edition of the New York Times is considered an extravagant expense despite the fact that it brings in donations that cover the cost many times over. Publicity campaigns are considered wasteful when in fact getting the message out and finding more people to support the cause is vital to an organization’s survival. But, in the topsy turvy logic that is applied to charities and non-profits, that kind of spending is thought as a fraud of the donor’s intent when they gave to the organization.

I’ve experienced something like that first hand at my library a few years back. A gentleman came in and wanted to donate a bag of books. When they were shown to me by the circulation person, they were nothing new or popular and in so-so condition. So I took them out and put them on our ongoing book sale.

You would have thought I had run over the guy’s dog. He left muttering about how AWFUL it was that the library had put HIS donation out on the book sale. Those books were meant to improve the collection and he wasn’t ever going to donate to the library ever AGAIN. I would say that he clearly didn’t understand the functional definition of “donation” and what it entails, but my tale isn’t anything unusual in the public library world. I could write a treatise on the matter since people will donate (or attempt to donate, if we can stop them in time) the damned things that they would otherwise be embarrassed to put out at a yard sale. From that point forward, anyone who has offered a donation to me has been given the long version of the fine print about how we can do whatever we want with the donation and the many possible outcomes.

In thinking about that incident as it relates to the Pollotta TED talk, the expectations of donations and the perception of public libraries neatly dovetail together. Would people still donate materials and money to the public library if they were told that the money would be used to publicize programs, advertise services, or branding? To double down on this question: would be taxpayers be as supportive knowing that their tax money was going spent in the same way? I believe public libraries are caught in that Catch-22: we need to spend money in order to maximize our reach into the community, but every dollar not spent on materials is perceived as wasteful, unwarranted, or even unethical.

I don’t see this as a broad spectrum problem in the public library world, but an issue for medium to small sized libraries and library systems. Larger urban libraries tend to have their own marketing and publicity departments. But even those lucky organizations seem to focus on larger scope image and branding campaigns, not the nitty-gritty of your average monthly program cycle of storytimes and book talks at a local branch. I know that there are smaller libraries out there that have the kind of publicity staff that I’m describing here, but those arrangements are more of an exception to the rule.

Based on current funding trends, it’s hard to imagine that any sort of non-MLS staff will be added to the library payroll. Combined with depressed salaries, what reasonable marketing expert is going to accept such a position when they can be do much better in the private sector? In trying to keep such overhead low so as to minimize impact to collection budget lines, there isn’t any room to make to add that kind of talent to the staff.

But, with these factors in mind, here’s the bind I see: how are public libraries going to re-brand themselves for the digital age when the funding and the talent don’t exist? And for the people who want to argue as to whether the public library really needs a re-branding, I’m sorry to inform you that that ship has sailed. It left port once the line, “We are more than just books”, became a cliché within the field. (As I recall from Stephen Abram’s keynote at NJLA this year, we seem to say that line a lot and then quote circulation numbers to show how busy we are. What kind of stupid cognitive dissonance is that?) Hell, I still get people walking through the door who didn’t know we had internet access.

In looking at some of these lofty strategic plans that talk about providing services, creating community spaces, and all kinds of future babble, where are the points and plans for letting people actually know that these things exist? Who hasn’t worked a public desk and heard a library member exclaim, “I didn’t know you offered that!” Even now, after a year of lending museum passes, I regularly get calls from people who are just discovering it. I guess I should be happy that my current publicity efforts (which are also free) of press releases to the local papers, postings to the local Facebook group, and flyers all around the library (but not in town or anywhere outside the library) are slowly trickling through and find their way to people’s attention. Perhaps, in the days before I retire, my publicity messages will reach everyone in the community.

If those “libraries are in danger of not being relevant!” Chicken Littles want a new slogan to shout, it’s not that the public library will become irrelevant because we don’t offer the latest and greatest of bestsellers, technology, or 3D printing, it’s that people don’t know the extent of what we offered in the first place. Serendipitous discovery may be the allure of the physical bookshelf, but it should not be the primary method that the public learns about some of the lesser known aspects that their library offers. Doing a great job and hoping to God that we get noticed is not a strategy that will win the hearts and minds of our community in this cluttered, attention deficit driven world.

I have some solutions in mind, but I think that would be putting the horse in front of the cart. It has to be made a priority of the public library, not an afterthought or something that would fall into “other duties as assigned” on a job description. As much as I get compliments on the publicity stuff that I do, I know I don’t hold a candle to the real professionals. It can’t just be something that is assigned to a staff member who needs something to do on the desk; it has to be given to someone who knowledgeable in the field. If this means hiring outside the library or pooling money with other libraries to do it, then it needs to happen. Any solution I can think of will die on the vine if there isn’t the motivation to make it a prerogative.

So, with all this preamble, what remains to me is this hypothetical question for you, the reader:

Would you spend a $1,000 on items for the collection or would you take that money to reach 100 people who didn’t know that the library had a notary, offered training or computer classes, makerspaces, knitting groups, or other services, programs, and materials?

If you want to nitpick about the numbers, then cast them aside and break it down to its elemental components: money for collection stuff or money for letting people know about what is at the library? If we are an organization attending to the people of the community, then why don’t we make better efforts to communicate and educate what we offer to them? Even some of the most recognized brands in the world (Coca-Cola, Apple, Google, and BMW) advertise and the majority of people in the industrialized world know what they do without prompting. There might be more library locations than McDonalds in the United States, but I’m willing to bet that people could name more items off the their menu than tell me about the variety of materials and services are offered at their local library.

I’m sure there are parallels to be drawn to other library types, specifically whether students, faculty, teachers, parents, and administration are aware of what the library to offer. There are unique publicity challenges to be faced on those fronts as well, to be certain, as it should be made a priority as well. For what does it matter how much money is spent on a collection, resources, services, and materials if people don’t know it even exists?

Everything I Wanted To Know About Library Marketing I Learned From A Shampoo Bottle

The always brilliant Ned Potter wrote up a wonderful little primer on library marketing entitled “Three simple marketing rules all libraries should live by…” In his post, he emphasizes marketing the service, dropping the ‘how this works’ explanation, and promote the intersection of what the patron values with what the library values. Or, in other words, to use Pepsi as an example: Pepsi tells you that it refreshes, not that it is made with high fructose corn syrup and other ingredients; there is no Pepsi ad that walks you through how it is made; and Pepsi and its customers are both enjoy sugary caffeinated drinks and work to promote that relationship.

In writing up his three marketing tips, I took it as inspiration to write up my own three things to share. As the title of this blog post suggests, the instructions from a shampoo bottle are the perfect way to explain my meaning.

  • Lather

When you think of lather, I’m talking about marketing coverage. You are trying to get the shampoo in contact with your entire head of hair, not just parts of it. Publicity is not just limited to locations within the library; think about the entire community that the library serves. Local businesses to hang flyers, radio stations to record public service announcements, bulletin boards around the school and in housing or student centers, student or local newspapers to run your press releases or advertising, or the work lunch room if your library is at a hospital or law firm. All of these places are in the community that you serve, accessible by your patrons, and all possible spots for your publicity materials.

  • Rinse

When you think of rinse, I mean it as looking to clean up your marketing messages. Your initial marketing material and pitches can be made more precise, more contextual, and more compact. For myself, I find that the little sales pitch I give for a program or service grows shorter over time as I eliminate extraneous words and phrases and get it down to a just-the-facts speech that can be said in under a minute. I edit and re-edit press releases every other month to change up the appeal and to sharpen the prose. It’s a matter of constant re-evaluation of what the library is saying, how it is saying it, and how the message can be refined.

  • Repeat

When you think of repeat, I’m speaking of marketing as a repetition game. It’s about telling the same pitch to different people throughout the day, posting your posters or flyers everywhere you can think about it, and driving home the message you want to send whether it is “Sign up for our crafting class!”, “Did you know we offer one-on-one research consultations?”, or “We have a library club!”. If you’ve said it one hundred times, then say it a thousand more times. If you’ve thought you slathered the community with flyers already, check again for more spots to post. For every time you repeat something, it creates a new opportunity to inform someone of whatever it is what you want to educate them. You can’t simply hope that by telling one person that they will tell ten others; tell those ten other people yourself to ensure that they got the message.

Marketing tends to reward the amount of work you put into it. If you just fire off a press release and post a flyer in one spot at the library, then you are probably going to get the attendance or service use that reflects your effort. You have to invest time in reaching people; it will pay out in dividends of program attendance, service use, and an overall higher door count. It’s up to you to make the effort, no matter what kind of library you are in, what size it happens to be, or where it is situated in the community. It takes effort, but it is well worth it.

Just like good hair.

Selling Myself. Literally: Results

I’m a bit overdue for this post since I had previous ongoing updates (first, second, third), but I wanted to share the data that I collected.

For a short recap, I decided to try out a short Facebook ad campaign to promote my Author page on there. With a budget of $30, I gave it twenty eight days to promote the page. The only changes I made in the campaign were from targeting people who either have an interest or like “librarians” to “American Library Association” and lowering the maximum bid. (You can see how the data changes on December 8th when I made that change.)

Here are the screenshots of the Facebook reports of the ad campaign:

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Clicks by gender:

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Clicks by region (highest percentage is at the bottom, for whatever reason):

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I’ve looked at the data of the final results and it seems that there would be a consistent building of fans to the Author page as time went on. It’s certainly a lesson in brand building in trying to attract people to have you as part of their Facebook feed. While I didn’t try other configurations for ads, I found that you can seriously low bid and get your ads seen. They may not run every time you want to them to, but you could easily set aside a specific amount of money, set the bid low, and just wait till you run out of the budget money. It’s pretty cheap, cost effective, and you can target the audiences that you want out of it (whether by interest or demographic). It’s totally within the budget of any library or librarian out there who wants to market their online identity or library services.

In stepping back and looking at the experiment from a distance, I was thinking about how librarians approach those who self promote in libraryland. It does remind me of some of the talk around library rockstars and promoting the people who staff the library. I still get a feeling that the preferred method of self promotion is letting one’s work speak for itself. And while there is a humble merit to such an approach, it is so passive in its nature as to be practically inert. The hope that someone will come along and then promote it by word of mouth or other social means is a risky strategy that gives up ground when there are cheap, easy, and effective ways of reaching people.

And why is self promotion seen as exclusively a bad thing? While there are certainly cases of ego massaging that go on (as is true in all the other professions in the world), no apparent connection is made between the ability to promote oneself and the ability to promote other things around you. If you can promote yourself, you have the capability of promoting something else. While there are differences between promoting a person as opposed to a product, material, or service, the types of communication mediums and methods do not change. I find it strange that people would talk about library relevancy in modern life and either ignore or shun ways of promoting it. If the people don’t know what the library has to offer, how will it be relevant in their lives?  

Overall, I’m glad I did the experiment. It was fun to track the data and do a bit of fine tuning to assess the impact of this kind of small scale marketing. If it gets anyone thinking about how they can promote their library or library staff members, then it’s a good thing. There are a ton of talented people and exceptional libraries out there; they just need someone to point them out to the rest of the public.  

Selling Myself. Literally. Part III

I am  overdue for an update on ongoing experiment. This screenshot is a good starting point for it.

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This is a snapshot of the advertising performance from the beginning up to today. With the change of the audience targeting on December 9th, everything changes. The number of social impressions (ads that run with “X likes this” where X is a friend), the number of clicks (self explanatory), and the number of conversions (people who end up choosing to ‘like’) have risen significantly. So, for the same number of ads, there is a distinctive difference in the results across the board. In focusing on people who ‘like’ the American Library Association, it looks like I’m reaching a more receptive audience.

Now, even with this improvement, the numbers are still relatively small. It’s nice to see a positive change but it’s not very compelling for a continued campaign. However, as this is just a way to test it out and for my own curiosity, it’s still a pretty cheap expense for some hands on experience.

I may fiddle with the ad once more to see if I can improve the numbers. I don’t know if I would change the target interest or like but maybe try to tighten the wording on the ad itself or change the picture. If anything, I think this will be my middle ongoing post about it. The next post will be a complete rundown of the results plus all the data I’ve gotten from it.

Selling Myself. Literally. Ctd.

Over the course of a week since I started a Facebook ad for my Facebook Page, I’ve been watching the ad campaign unfold and seeing how it has been doing. These are my results from when the ad started to when I tweaked it on December 8th.


For such large numbers, it’s so easy to dismiss its actual impact. I think Facebook ads are a lot like Google ads now; they are things that you gloss over while you are on your way to other parts of the screen. My original targeting for the ad was for people who like or have an interest in “libraries” or “librarians”. In mulling it over, that’s not the audience I’m trying to reach which is why I’m not getting the clicks I’m looking for. I wanted to get fellow librarians and I thought about how to narrow it down.

In talking with another librarian about Facebook ads, an inspiration struck me: I’m looking for people who ‘like’ the American Library Association. Chances are pretty good that they are going to be librarians themselves or have an interest in the library world. In reworking the ad, the potential number audience rocketed downwards to roughly 13,000. Excellent. I downwardly adjusted my maximum bid from the suggested one since it was a much smaller audience and based on what the average CPM (cost per impression) runs. So, the ad campaign is much more focused and cheaper than before. But how will it do for yielding results?

The early data is that I’ve gotten the same number of clicks in one day that I got in the first two. I can see that there are a greater number of clicks happening because a friend is shown as having ‘liked’ me. Most excellent! Now I just need to let this new ad stretch its legs over the weekend and see how it does. I have a feeling that the refocus of interests is where it is at; but I do wonder if there are other interests that I should be looking to include in order to reach other library professional who may not ‘like’ the ALA. I’ll have to look for other likes or interests that might be viable ad terms.

It’s certainly something to think about over the next couple of days, but this ad campaign has been a good and fun experiment. And cheap to boot, as indicated above in the graphic; $10 is a bargain for this hands-on lesson, in my estimation. So, we’ll see where it stands next week!

Selling Myself. Literally.

In creating a Facebook Page for myself, it has afforded me the chance to try something on Facebook that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile: create an ad and run it. (I have similar designs to do one on Google since I read Eric Hellman’s eBook pirating post, but that will wait another month.) I took it as a great opportunity to run an ad experiment and see how it turns out. Perhaps experiment is the wrong term here; that would imply a hypothesis and controlled variables. However, I’d like to get a dataset and use it as a starting point for further refinement. So, perhaps it is more of an adventure than an experiment, but that doesn’t mean that discovery doesn’t happen.

The ad!That’s the ad I designed on the right. I thought leaving the same title and picture as my Facebook Page would be a good start. The only part of the ad that I was uncertain about was the wording of the ad. There are not many times in your life when you are sitting at the keyboard of your computer and pondering the question, “What kind of wording would entice people to click on my ad that features my name and part of my face?” I made a few attempts at some different phrasings (there is a character limit on the ad), but this one seemed like the one that made the most amount of sense considering the content of the Facebook Page. This isn’t a complete sell on the content, but just a bread crumb trail to the main course. So, with the wording done, I moved onto the next section.

Here’s where you get to figure out who you want to see your ads. I set it for the United States without designating a specific area. My low end age would be 23, the youngest age that someone could graduate with a Master’s degree. Gender didn’t matter, so I left it as ‘all’. You can target people by their interests and likes; I was rather unoriginal and picked two words “libraries” and “librarians” as my two words. (It should be noted that as you click on buttons and write in words, there is a sidebar that recalculates how many people your ads could potentially reach.) This brought the number down from 137 million to roughly 250,000 people; for some perspective, according to the ALA there are 150,000 librarians in the US and 192,000 other library staff.  (It should be also be noted that keywords operate on an OR settings. In other words, it will gather up anyone who has libraries OR librarians as a like or interest in their profile.) Sounds like I’m in the right ballpark, so I moved on. You can choose to target certain connections or non-connections on Facebook. I opted to pick people who not already connected to my Facebook page, lowering my potential reach ever so slightly. I skipped by some of the advanced targeted features (no, I don’t want to target people on their birthdays, thank you) and went down to the pricing.

And here’s where I had to get my wallet out. You can set your budget limit on either a lifetime basis or a per diem. Since this was an experiment, I opted for a budget of $30. I picked a date range starting on December 1st and running to December 28th, a four week period. I figured that was a reasonable price over a reasonable time period to see how this works and then fiddle with it. You can buy ads a couple of different ways: you were pay by the click on the ad or by the number of impressions (read: times the ad is run). The clicks are a set amount, but you buy impressions by increments of one thousand.  You can see the advantages and disadvantages of each: pay per click is more expensive but you only pay for anyone who acts on the ad versus pay per impression where I can generate thousands of ads and hope that someone picks my ad.

Since you bid on ad space, this brings up a whole new predicament; you have to set a maximum bid you would offer for advertising space. You can go with the suggested bid (a safe move), use a higher bid to ensure more coverage and more advertising risk, or use a lower bid that is budget friendly but possibly not going to run as much. Since this is an experiment, I opted for the suggested maximum bid and just let it fly. This was $0.71 for 1,000 impressions, a decent number considering the scope of this endeavor as well as the duration. I wanted to see what this would look like over time, so I went with it.

So, after ponying up my credit card and doing the other Facebook ‘paperwork’, my ad was submitted for approval by their ad team. In an hour or so, I got the approval email. And so, I hopped on the advertising interface to see what it looks like when it’s all done. Here’s a screenshot of the impending campaign.

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Since it started on Wednesday, I’ve checked on a couple of times. The early data is that my average bid is coming in much lower than my maximum bid; my maximum bid is $.71 and my average bid is $.19. At present, the 11,508 times the ad has been displayed and a total of 8 people have clicked on it. I’ve roughly spent a quarter for each click.

Naturally, I’ll be following this as the month goes on. I’m jotting down some notes to see how things pan out, so I’ll see. I’ll certainly be doing a blog write-up on this when it is complete. In the meantime, I’m curious if anyone has seen library or library related ads on Facebook.

(I sheepishly admit that I have an ad blocker on Chrome and Firefox, therefore defeating my own advertising purposes. I wonder how much of a factor that is for the ads that run.)