Yesterday I sent out 200 emails asking patrons for their opinion on our electronic newsletter. I created a database in Access and  used the mailmerge function of Word/Outlook to make this a little easier, but it was still a several hour job. Of the 200, 7 came back as undeliverable and one is delayed in delivery, so I’m considering that one gone too. That’s 4% undelivered.

As of this morning I had 4 responses to my email. I am unreasonably pleased that I got any, especially this soon :-)

In case anyone is curious, this is the email my patrons got. The mail merge let me address them personally, and of course I signed my name, as opposed to an anonymous “Library” signature:

Change is good!

We’re thinking of changing our library newsletter, and we’re reaching out to a few subscribers to ask them what they think.

This isn’t a long, formal survey – just drop us a note with your impressions.

  • Do you read the newletter, or delete it without opening it?
  • What would you like to see more of?
  • What don’t you care so much about?
  • What do you think of the look of the newsletter?
  • What works? What doesn’t?

Give us your opinion on the layout, the design, the colors, the header, the content – anything you want to say is fine.

Be kind or be brutal, but be honest! You’re our focus group and we need your help. You can just answer the questions up top or elaborate

If you could send your feedback by October 15 we’d really appreciate it, but we’d like to hear from you even after that date.

Thanks very much for your help.

It’s now been four months since we began our electronic newsletter promotion – asking folks when they register or re-register if they want our electronic newsletter.

In four months we’ve gone from around 60 subscribers to over 500, so in terms of raw numbers, I’m happy. As I’ve said before, however, I can’t budge the percentage of newsletters opened from it’s 30% mark. I’m happy that this means we’ve grown from 20 viewers a month to 150, but we can do better.

We put the newsletter together quickly when we subscribed to nextReads a year or so ago. It’s time for a change, and I think the best way to make that change successful is to reach out to our users.

Here’s the plan: in early October, we’ll send a personalized email to about a third of our subscribers (yes, about 200 of them!) asking for their opinions about our newsletter’s look and content. Not a real survey, nothing structured, I just want impressions. Then our PR person, our head of reference, one of our staff with a great visual eye, and I will sit down and brainstorm, with the help of those impressions, what story we’re trying to tell with this newsletter. We’ll select new images for the header and rethink the formatting. After we’ve come up with two or three prototypes, I’ll go back to our subscribers and see if there’s any consensus on what users like best. Then we’ll revamp and see what happens!

This will be interesting for a number of reasons: I’m interested in seeing what percentage response a personal email asking for opinions will receive. I didn’t do very well recently when I asked our downloadable audiobooks users about their impressions, but I have in the past, so I’m not giving up hope. I’m interested in what people have to say, most of all. And I’ll be interested in seeing if a revamp based on user opinions actually improves readership rates.

I’ll be sending my email in early October, and giving people until mid-October to respond. More then….

I’ve posted on and off about the awareness campaign we began in June for downloadable audiobooks.  In June we ran some classes which were not widely attended,  had an electronic bulletin board campaign, some additional posters, etc. Got a little blip, but nothing to write home about.

I contacted users who had signed up with netLibrary over the last six months or so but hadn’t used the service (or used it much) and asked them why. The overwhelming answer was that they wanted to use the books on an iPod and that if they couldn’t, it was of no use to them. The next largest group said they didn’t find the selections very interesting.

(Note this doesn’t include our ListenNJ patrons, which is powered by Overdrive. Overdrive won’t let us know who our own users are. I have a problem with that, but that’s fodder for another post.)

I’m starting to come to the reluctant conclusion that until the downloadable services reach some sort of rapprochement with Apple, or Audible decides they want to get back into the library market and offers us something we can subscribe to, we have plateaued with this service. I still have some plans – seed my audio CDs with cards advertising downloadables (always good for a temporary upsurge in circ to cheer me up), revamping our web page, and maybe another limited class offering – but I’m not pinning my hopes on this any more.

I hate to say that, because we’ll be a baaaaad library if we get out of this service, right?  Plus, it has its constituancy.  It would be so much better if it would take off or just tank completely….

I had the opportunity to attend a Certified Public Library Administrator (CPLA) course a couple of days ago – one of the ALA courses to take library administrators to the next level. This one was Effective Marketing: How to Sell Your Story.

The presenter was great. I’m not going to say who he was because the rest of this isn’t going to be flattering, and it had nothing to do with him – he did what he could with the ALA-mandated curriculum.  But this course was why I just want to hit my head against the wall when I think of training for librarians by librarians.

The first day was marketing basics: why market, some places to help you do community and demographic research, a little about strategic planning, a little about competition. The second day – the whole day – was writing a marketing plan. We started with the summary, we listed our planning group, did our SWOT analysis, listed our perceived customer needs, challenges, goals and measurable objectives….

Are you still with me?

So at break I turn to another librarian at my table and say, “You know, this is good, but I wish there was more about ‘telling your story’ in this presentation.” And she responds, “Well, that’s really advocacy, isn’t it?”

Whack. Whack. Whack.

The title of the presentation was How to sell your story! And we didn’t talk about it! We so didn’t talk about it that after two days this person had no flipping idea what telling your story means in terms of marketing! The story Apple tells with its products, its stores, its crazy CEO, ferheavens’ sake. The story Scions tell. Rob Walker. Seth Godin.  Pretty much any marketing book you’ve been able to pick up off the shelves of your library for the last couple of years is all about how everything you do and every encounter a customer has with every aspect of your organization, from your place to your product to your people, tells your story and it has to be authentic.

That’s what we were promised by the title and publicity for this seminar. And we got ‘how to do a marketing plan.’ So much for authenticity.

On page 98 of Small is the New Big, Seth Godwin talks about a Fluffenutter recipe he found on the back of the Marshmallow Fluff jar. Apparently he things the stuff is pretty good (or at least appealing to kids) and says, “Suddenly there’s a reason for every household with kids to have Fluff instock, all the time. The Fluffernutter turns it from a dessert topping into a daily staple.”

What are the things we all do from the moment we get up until the moment we go to bed? How can libraries insert themselves into people’s daily routine – supply something they always reach for – become one of their daily staples?

Jocelyn Harmon writes Marketing for Nonprofits, and we’ve been blogging back and forth about life, the universe, and libraries.

She recently put up a post called Don’t Market Like a Librarian, detailing her close encounters of the shushing kind of her childhood libraries and imploring librarians to change our ways. Now, we all know that the shushing librarian is juuuuust a little bit dated (even if Nancy Pearl, bless her, lent her image to the famous action figure), but Jocelyn’s got me thinking again about the nature of the holy grail of target audiences: the dreaded non-user. Are they the folks who encountered one too many real-life action figures during their formative years, and have sworn off us forever?

Jocelyn’s post talks about being guides to information instead of gatekeepers, using email and social media to communicate with patrons, and inspiring patrons to love and learn about information. We all know most of us have that and more to offer, but we’re not getting the message out to the important people like Jocelyn who were turned off by a library that in most cases, thankfully, no longer exists.

How do we reach the prodigal users?

This is a first: this is a rant. I had pretty much vowed not to use this forum to rant, and it will be a rant on topic, but it’s still a rant.

I’m a member of another group which includes a subgroup for people involved in marketing for nonprofits. The site lists everyone’s avatars, so I clicked one at random. Got a lady who specializes in helping nonprofits market themselves.

I clicked on her blog. A couple of posts down, she’s just loving a service called Bookswim – it’s Netflix for books, with plans that will set your patron taxpayers back between $220 and $360 per person per year to get a fraction (just books, none of the other great stuff we all offer) of what they’re already paying taxes for. Add a moderate Netflix subscription to this, and our taxpayers could be paying $450 or more in usage fees just because they don’t use their library.

(Okay, maybe they subscribe to Netflix and Bookswim and use their public library, but I doubt it.

Let me be clear: I’m not mad at my fellow group member. I guess Bookswim seems like a good deal, although as someone intimately involved with libraries, it doesn’t to me.

I’m just…discouraged. And jealous. How the hell does Bookswim manage to reach the people I can’t reach? The people who, in this day and age and economic times, shouldn’t be paying for the same service twice?

Grrrr.

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