5 Common Library Marketing Myths Debunked

May 1, 2019 | Articles

As a librarian, you’re responsible for all aspects of your library’s programs, from coming up with ideas for activities to managing the crowds at your events. Promoting your programs is just one of your many important responsibilities, but it’s one that can take up a substantial amount of your limited time and resources. That is, unless you spend the time to develop a strategic marketing plan.

To help you avoid common pitfalls that can derail your library’s marketing efforts, we’re dedicating this post to debunking five common library marketing myths.

Myth #1: Our Community Knows What the Library Offers  

When Demco Software asked over 500 librarians across the U.S. in early 2019 about their community engagement challenges, we uncovered some interesting findings. For one, it turns out that patrons are 33% less aware of any given library service than they should be. That tells us that simply offering a diverse catalog of programs and services is not enough — since patrons don’t know what they don’t know.

Spreading awareness of your programs is key. In your promotional messaging, you should focus on conveying exactly what your patrons need to know in order to participate in your exciting initiatives. Be sure to include the following information in all of your promotional messaging:

  • Time and date details: These sound like a given, but it can be easy to overlook basic details when you have so much on your plate. Whenever you promote your event, whether it’s in a conversation at checkout or on a poster hanging at a local community center, keep the time and date at the forefront so patrons remember to mark their calendars.
  • Registration information: By requiring registration, you’ll give yourself a way to contact patrons with reminders about the event, but keep in mind that the easier it is to register, the more likely patrons are to participate. On digital promotional materials, always link directly to your registration page. On print pieces, include a shortened link that’s easy for patrons to type into their smartphones.
  • Incentives for attending: While you know all of the benefits of attending each of your library’s events, your community members don’t have that firsthand knowledge. When you promote your event, make it clear why they should attend, whether it’s to win prizes (a sure way to get the younger crowd’s attention), be entertained, or learn a new skill.

Myth #2: After You’ve Captured Attention Once, They’ll Keep Coming Back 

Hosting a successful event is thrilling, and it can leave you feeling optimistic about turnout for your future programs. Take some time to bask in that excitement — you deserve it! — but don’t let your taste of success lull you into a false sense of security. Once you have your target audience’s attention, you’ll need to work hard to keep it.

Plan to get in front of attendees after they’ve left any event that brought them to the library. Does your library have an email newsletter? If not, consider the benefits of starting one. Collect email addresses as part of your event registration process, and then send out a newsletter on a monthly or quarterly basis that highlights your upcoming programs as a way to promote new events to patrons who’ve attended programs in the past.

Even some of your most popular and long-standing programs, such as your summer reading program, can get a boost by sending multiple touch points throughout the summer. Each touch point, whether it’s an email or a print mailer, also offers an opportunity for you to collect feedback from your community members through a short survey. (It doesn’t have to be too complex to collect valuable feedback — we’ve got suggestions to help you build a patron survey here.) By keeping a pulse on what patrons want through a few open-ended questions, you can quickly find and act on opportunities to improve what you offer, ensuring that your library meets the changing needs and desires of your community.

When planning these touch points, keep in mind that while any communication is better than no communication at all, you should aim to get as targeted as you can with your marketing messages. This will ensure those who likely have the most interest in your new event are reached. Look into the capabilities of your library’s existing software for help. For instance, if you use an online event registration tool like Demco Software’s SignUp, patrons can easily subscribe to receive notifications of upcoming events tagged with specified categories.

Myth #3: Word-of-Mouth Marketing Always Happens Organically

Yelp has taken off for good reason — people love to crowdsource reviews! Just as your community members look to their friends and family members for recommendations about what restaurants to visit or which products to buy, they likely value what those same people have to say about your library’s programs, events, and resources as well. Word-of-mouth is a great way to promote what your library has to offer, but don’t assume your patrons are telling others about their great library experiences.

Inspire your patrons to take action by giving them an incentive to spread the word about your library. Offer prizes to the first 10 people who bring a friend to your next event, or enter those who share your Facebook events on their own pages into a giveaway for a small prize donated by one of your community partners.

Myth #4: You Just Need One Promotional Outlet That Works  

Finding one promotional outlet that your community members respond to is a huge win for your library, especially if you’ve invested a substantial amount of time and money into trying out many different outlets. Once you find an outlet that works, add it to your promotional arsenal so that you can leverage it again and again. However, be careful not to limit yourself, as the most effective marketing strategies take advantage of a range of tactics to reach a diverse audience.

To determine which outlets are ideal for your marketing strategy, start by thinking about who you want to reach with your messages. Many libraries aim for at least two general audiences: engaged patrons who already know some of what the library has to offer and community members who have yet to discover what the library has to offer. Once you’ve determined who is in your target audience, brainstorm where those audience members are already looking for information. Then, make sure you get your message out loud and clear in the most popular places.

You may find that this leads to new cross-promotional partnerships. For example, a local museum might be willing to give you a family pass that you can offer to patrons for checkout, and both your library and the museum can promote each other’s services.

Myth #5: You’re Not Selling Anything, So You Don’t Need a Marketing Strategy

Even though you’re not charging your community members for a product, you are selling something. You’re “selling” your resources and services, and you need to convince your community members that the benefits of using the library are worth their time and energy.

If you’re building your library’s strategy with little marketing experience and feel overwhelmed, remember that every little bit you do helps. Start by making sure you convey a clear, captivating message about each event in your marketing materials. This will help you effectively get the word out and set the stage for success. Download this Event Marketing Checklist to learn quick tips that will help you maximize your event marketing efforts now and into the future.

Kayla Fargo

As Demco Software's Marketing Director, Kayla champions our efforts to educate public libraries on the need for a robust community engagement strategy. She works alongside our other teams to ensure that Demco Software's solutions effectively complement and amplify libraries' community engagement efforts.