December 19, 2014

Messages that Stick: A hip marketing concept can work for libraries

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Do you have permission to contact your students with updates from the library? I don’t mean having to approach your administrator or IT department, but rather, do you have permission from the students themselves?

It’s a concept known as “permission marketing,” the privilege—not the right—of delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them, according to marketing guru Seth Godin (pictured), who coined the term. The theory being that if the audience opts in to receive updates, they’ll pay closer attention than they would to a standard broadcasted message.

What marketing messages can you send to students, teachers, and other potential users of your library? How can you ensure those services will be relevant to the recipients? To answer these questions, consider what you can provide your customers. For some students, the library is their best source for computer access. So they might appreciate a daily update about the availability of computers after school, for example. Messages to other users could focus on new releases or book reviews by genre. Teachers might benefit from knowing what periods the library is available that day, and so on. For this to work, however, you must deliver on the promise made.

“In order to get permission,” Godin explains, “you make a promise. And then, this is the hard part, that’s all you do. You don’t assume you can do more.” If you ask for permission to send a student weekly updates with new titles and reviews of science fiction, then that’s what you’re allowed to send. No updates on new biographies, no notices about computer availability, nothing but sci-fi books. If you break the promise, there goes the recipient’s attention.

The concept of permission marketing isn’t new. Newspaper subscriptions are a form of permission marketing; you pay a greatly reduced rate for the news because you give permission to the paper to include advertising alongside the reportage. Technology makes the process much easier, of course. A RSS feed on a blog represents a promise by the blogger to deliver new posts to those readers who want them. Your library can use a variety of technologies to engage in permission marketing as well.

A simple blog with an RSS feed is a great way to deliver information. For faster updates, consider a library Twitter feed—or two, or eight. The beauty is there’s no additional expense here for tailoring the message to a specific segment of customers. It does take time, but without much effort you could have five different Twitter accounts for a variety of book genres. Update one each day of the week to provide custom notifications for five different types of readers.

For more direct and timely access, there’s a great new site called Remind101.com. This service allows teachers to create a free text message account to send updates to students (or teachers) who register. You get 10 “classes” so you can have a variety of channels. The site creates a phone number for your texts so you can contact students without sharing your personal number. For those with policies regarding contact with students, the site also hides the student phone numbers from the teacher so there’s no possibility for individual contact. Students can also subscribe via email if texting is an issue. A history of messages sent should also help alleviate safety concerns.

So get out there, get permission, and start marketing on this new level. Just be sure that you and your recipients understand the promise being made—then stick to it.

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Christopher Harris About Christopher Harris

Christopher Harris (infomancy@gmail.com) is coordinator of the school library system of the Genesee Valley (NY) Educational Partnership.

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