Library PR 2.0

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

The rules of marketing have changed. Do libraries know that?

Corporate PR-types used to control the message. Sitting behind a desk, they’d write a carefully crafted press release and then send it off to newspapers and upload it to their web site. The attention the company got might barely justify the salary of the PR professional.

Today’s world is fundamentally different. Neither news nor brand identity are controlled through press releases or carefully choreographed newspaper articles. Brands are molded and shaped by the audience-and the audience is everyone. People talk. And people listen.

Social tools, social media, and social engagement are the norms for many large advertisers that have populated sites like Facebook and Twitter with brand-focused pages and interactive techniques. Are you following your favorite brand?

Are libraries catching up?
Not all libraries have embraced this world. Just as some IT departments block new tools because of unfounded security fears, some library PR departments are holding out from using these new 2.0 tools. We’ve heard from librarians who tell us they are blocked by a PR person-often acting on orders from above-who will not allow multiple voices, direct customer engagement/feedback, or any type of library message that hasn’t been vetted.

It’s nice to think that you can control the outflow of information and discussion, but the truth is, you can’t. Those days are gone. Staffers talk to customers, and customers talk to customers. It’s no longer possible to control a solitary message from one central location.

As our followers on Twitter reminded us, the grapevine can be a good thing. “Even stories told to friends and family carry weight,” one observed. In fact, libraries have internal and external grapevines. How can we use both to the benefit of all? One thing we know for sure: trying to silence the grapevine hurts the organization. Keep watch online

The mechanisms for PR 2.0 are varied and sometimes overwhelming. PR maven Brian Solis’s “Conversation Prism” identifies 22 different channels of social tools where discussions take place and stories are told. We strongly advocate that library staff participate in these discussions, answering both the easy questions and the hard ones, as well.

Remember, if you don’t participate in the story, it will be told without you. Consider the not entirely positive reviews of the central library in Minneapolis on the popular review site “The library itself is spectacular,” one library user wrote on July 2, 2008. “The librarians are kind of surly. Hate the fact that they’re closed Sunday and Monday.”

Why hasn’t a nonsurly library employee responded? Not only should librarians monitor these conversations, we should respond in such cases with thanks for the positive reviews and “how can we do better” to the negative ones.

What you can do
With this important sea change in mind, we offer some guidelines for your library’s marketing 2.0 program.

PR-speak stinks. Happy-time press releases and spin that lack a human feel will not go as far as an honest announcement. If you’ve tried something and it hasn’t gone well, tell your users. If you’ve had great success, do the same.

Anticipate the questions and answer them. Explain new services or respond to breaking news stories, then ask users what else they’d like to know.

Monitor and participate in the conversation about and around your library via the social tools featured in the Prism. Staff at all levels should be actively involved in telling the library’s story. Ad hoc marketing committees can spring up easily to promote the next big thing at the library.

Think about your library brand.
What is it? How can you tell the story of your brand with your users? How can they add to the brand? Deirdre Breakenridge’s book PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences (FT Press) offers a primer that we’ve drawn on here.

In fact, our users should be part of the library’s brand. The Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH, does a wonderful job of putting staffers’ faces on the library’s homepage. The Vancouver Public Library, BC, puts patrons on its homepage, touting the library’s benefits.

Beyond that, it’s time for all libraries to feature user photos, recommendations, and more front and center on their web sites, in the catalog, and in all of the library’s marketing efforts.


Columbus Library

Conversation Prism

Deirdre Breakenridge

Vancouver Public Library

Yelp Reviews

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

October 15, 2008 Library Journal