Word of Mouth Marketing: One Easy (and Free!) Way to Support the Library

We are big supporters of public libraries here at Pages Unbound and we have previously suggested easy and free ways for our readers to support their own public libraries. However, one way we have not previously mentioned specifically draws upon the unique skill set of of book bloggers: word of mouth marketing. Word of mouth marketing is basically any type of recommendation received from a friend or another trusted individual, rather than an paid advertisement or a plug from an organization on their website, social media pages, etc. It is the type of marketing that happens when you need to buy something and you start asking friends and coworkers what they have, whether they like it, and if they would recommend it or buy it again. But marketing does not just have to happen for things we purchase; it can be relevant for services like the public library, as well.

Book bloggers are really good at this type of marketing because we routinely read and analyze books, then write up detailed reviews assessing the pros and cons, saying which target demographics that book might particularly appeal to, and weighing whether the book was good enough that we can see ourselves rereading it or purchasing the sequel. In short, we assess a material and then try to match it with the kinds of people who would like it most. Book bloggers who are dedicated library users and who wish to help support their libraries can do the same thing by recommending library materials and services to people they meet whom they think can benefit from these services.

Why bother doing work of mouth marketing for the library?

Word of mouth marketing is important for libraries in particular because many are not working with large budgets. This has lead some to reduce library hours, cut their purchasing budgets, and, in some cases, lay off staff or simply not fill a position once someone has retired. In addition, many libraries rely on the labor of part-time employees because they cannot afford to pay full-time librarians. Libraries would love to serve more people, and get more excited voters who can help pass legislation increasing their budgets, but they do not always have the money for large-scale advertising campaigns. This makes their library users one of their most important ways to get the word out about what they offer.

Additionally, word of mouth marketing is important because many people trust it more than they trust paid advertisements. They may not even see paid advertisements if they are using an ad blocker or no longer pay for cable or a physical newspaper. And, if they are not dedicated library users already, they are probably not following the library social media channels or subscribed to any library e-newsletters. Many libraries rely on these free or cheap channels for advertising, but they are not reaching people who are not already going to the library, anyway. But, in the end, hearing an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend is more powerful, anyway. It feels more authentic to people because someone gushing about the library is not getting paid to do it. They really mean it.

Of course, these are reasons word of mouth marketing is important to help out cash-strapped libraries. Not necessarily a reason YOU personally should start thinking about doing some marketing for them. Perhaps the best reason is that talking about the library benefits everyone. It benefits the person who learns about a new service they can use. It benefits the library who gets more usage, more statistics, and potentially more money. This helps the library expand its offerings, thereby helping the community further. Because when the library is able to help more people in the community apply for jobs, complete homework, pass career tests, or learn a new language, the community is lifted up as a whole. Basically, talking up the library is a free and easy way to help people find accessible materials and information to pursue their goals and follow their dreams.

But doesn’t everyone already know about the library?

Not at all! In fact, there are dedicated library users who potentially go there every week–and they still may not know about everything the library has to offer. But there are also some people who may not know where the local library is, that it is free to access, or that it offers more than books these days. Spreading the word is important because, although we may assume everyone knows as much as we do about libraries, that simply isn’t always the case.

How effective is word of mouth marketing?

I don’t have any statistics on this, but I do have some personal anecdotes about how I have found marketing the library to be effective:

1) I was talking to someone who attended the local community college. She knew about the college library, but not that she could access movies and books for entertainment from the public library. I ended up explaining to her how she could apply for a free library card.

2) I was talking to a friend who read books regularly, both physical books and e-books. I would often run into him at the library itself. One day I casually mentioned that I had borrowed an e-book from the library. Even though he was a frequent library user, he had no idea he could borrow e-books from there, as well. I told him how to access them from the website.

3) A teacher friend was talking about her students. I told her the library had free tutoring available after school. The library did not really advertise this, so she had not known, even though, she too, regularly used the library, often to check out books for her classes. She advertised the service to her students.

4) I was talking to a friend and mentioned that the library had an adult summer reading program. The library does not advertise this extensively, but focuses only on its children’s program. She goes to the library all the time and had no idea. She signed up and ended up winning a gift card to a local restaurant. She took me out to lunch.

5) I was looking at my library’s Facebook page. Someone was complaining about not being able to read anything during the pandemic. Another user asked it they had tried the e-books yet. They had not. This person was a dedicated enough library user to follow their social media, but somehow still had no idea that the library offers digital materials–even though the library has been advertising them aggressively during the entire pandemic.

6) A friend was talking to a coworker trying to find entertainment during the pandemic. She asked about streaming services. He said he checks out DVDs from the library and sometimes streams them from the digital resources like Hoopla. This person did not previously know the library offers DVDS.

In many of these cases, I was already talking to a dedicated and even enthusiastic library user. However, they still did not know everything the library has to offer. I successfully marketed the library to them by explaining how the library offered a service that could meet their needs. And that’s really the key. I didn’t have to go around randomly shouting about the awesomeness of the library to all and sundry. I simply had to mention a service that would solve a problem the person had already mentioned they had.

How can book bloggers spread the word about libraries?

Talking about libraries is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Here a few ways you can try, based on your interest and comfort level:

Casually mention a library service you are using.

For example, “I’m playing this awesome video game I got from the library!” Or, “I’m so excited the summer reading program started! I hope I win a cool prize!” Or, “I got this book using interlibrary loan and it came all the way from New Mexico! Isn’t that amazing?”

Ask a friend or coworker if they know about a service you think they would like.

For example, “I know you love reading comics. Have you tried checking them out from the library using Hoopla?” Or, “You listen to music all the time. Did you know the library has this service called Freegal that lets you download a couple free songs each week, to keep?” Or, “I know you said you are concerned about Timmy’s development. The library has an early childhood expert coming next week, if you are interested. I grabbed a flyer for you.”

Invite someone to attend a program with you.

Going to a new place or a new program alone can be intimidating for some people! Why not have a free night out with friends by asking if they would like to join you for something like a board game night or a craft night at the library? Bonus if the library is also providing snacks. Or advertise some of the children’s programs to your parents’ group.

Blog about library services.

As I mentioned above, not even avid library users know everything about the library. I discover something new all the time! So I like to blog about resources others may not know about. For instance, every couple years I remind people that they can typically request books from anywhere in the U.S. using the magic of interlibrary loan. I have also blogged about libraries who allow people to apply for a card from home (more common since the Covid-19 pandemic) and about library services focused on accessibility such as cards for people who are homeless or delivery for people who are homebound.

Share on social media.

Most book bloggers also have social media channels. Don’t forget to talk up library services and your library stories there, as well! It may reach people who do not regularly read or follow your blog. You can even do something simple like mention on your Bookstagram picture that your books are from the library, since some bloggers are not sure if it is okay to use library books for Bookstagram.

On your personal pages, you can post a picture of you having fun at the library. Or you can update friends on how close you are to completing the summer reading program. Or you can simply “like,” share, or repost programs or services that the library is offering. You really don’t need to invest a lot of time in spreading the word.

Reach out to your personal and professional connections.

If you know about a library service that will benefit a group you are in, let them know. Share early childhood programs with your parents’ group. If you are an educator, share resources like any online or in-person tutoring services or class-specific reference databases with your students, as well as your colleagues. If you are in a group that would benefit from a specific library service or database, reach out to the library and ask if someone can come present on those resources.

Wear some library swag!

If you are shy about talking up libraries, some library swag can be a great conversation starter! Wear a button, T-shirt, or pin from the library or purchase a library-branded tote if they have some available! Then simply wait for people to ask you about them!

Conclusion

Word of mouth marketing is a really easy way to spread some library love and help people you know in the process! Many would be thrilled to take advantage of library services and save some money if only they what is available to them. Most bloggers like to talk about books and the library, anyway. So, if you are looking for a way to support your library more, be a little more intentional about sharing your library enthusiasm with the people around you. It’s as simple as that!

How do you spread library love? Have you successfully marketed the library or its services to someone before?

18 thoughts on “Word of Mouth Marketing: One Easy (and Free!) Way to Support the Library

  1. Joss @ theonewhoreadit says:

    This was such an important discussion! I guess sometimes we just don’t realize how amazing our libraries are. I honestly love my library even if it doesn’t have many new releases because it provides DVDs and albums, as well as some online services. I wish they provided ebooks and audiobooks but I am confident it will happen in the near future! Great post!

    Like

  2. Never Not Reading says:

    One thing I would like to see book bloggers doing more of is including library books on their Instagram feeds and (more importantly) giving positive attention (likes, comments, boosts) to posts that include library books. Library photos traditionally don’t do very well on Instagram because the stickers can be unsightly and the covers tend to glare more, which is ultimately a shallow reason for the content to be unsuccessful.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Oh, excellent point! I think it is possible to use library books. You need the right lighting/angle for the shiny covers, and you might need to cover up the stickers artistically. But. It can be done! I don’t know why more people don’t try it, though. I think it would make Bookstagram more accessible to the people who can’t buy all these new hardcovers to showcase.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Never Not Reading says:

        See, I want to see less covering up of the stickers. Show off those library books loud and proud! lol. The shiny covers *are* an actual issue, though, because the glare is sometimes so bad that you can’t even make them out…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    This post is AMAZING. I love it. It’s a shame that libraries struggle so much to be transparent in their offerings. I don’t know why this is – but it seems to be a universal problem! I feel like I am learning something new about my library every quarter or so.

    Your examples of using word-of-mouth to improve library awareness are great. I’ve definitely shared a lot of electronic resources and a few programs in similar ways. Your recent post about digital resources at the library is a big one — I helped people connect with NoveList, Hoopla, and Lynda Learning. I also love that my library system has a seed borrowing program. You “borrow” seeds, plant, and then harvest the seeds a the end of the growing season to “return” them from the library. So cool!

    I try to blog a few times a year about libraries and my own library system. Keep spreading the good word on why libraries are awesome! I look forward to helping spread that word more, too,

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I wonder if libraries offer too many services for them to be able to market them all effectively? It’s kind of hard to tell people, “Yes, we offer these 30 online databases, and these three streaming services, and these 30 programs each month, plus these services to expand accessibility…” and so on. I am learning about new resources at the library all the time! But sometimes it feels as if I just stumbled upon them, or I just happened to talk to the right person who just happened to casually mention something.

      Ooh! I love that you helped people connect with NoveList, Hoopla, and Lynda! I do think the digital services get overlooked. You really wouldn’t know about them unless you are the type of person who casually browses the library website. Which I am not sure many people do, but who knows.

      I wish my library had a seed system! My friend was telling me about these exotic-sounding plants she was growing and I asked where she found them. She said the library! I’d never even heard of these plants before! Maybe I can suggest that my library look into starting a seed exchange once the libraries are open again!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

        I wish that casually browsing the library website would be more education for my system. Our webmasters are… not good. Quite not good, actually. Our webistes, for all the libraries in the system, look like they were made on AngelFire in the 90’s. It’s bad. And impossible to find anything on them. I just don’t bother. My personal theory is that they aren’t willing to pay a real web professional what they are worth, let alone considered getting a web developer, so we cannot get a good website. In my world, one must speak to a librarian to begin to understand the troves of wonder held at the library.

        You definitely should! It’s pretty easy. Plus, enough libraries do it that I’m certain they could learn the ropes easily. I know my local libraries enjoy doing it because they learn a ton about the seeds in the process of it.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          I know what you mean. Sometimes organizations have websites that do not look up to date at all! I don’t understand it because I think investing in marketing makes a lot of sense. The marketing people are the ones who get people into the library so the wonderful employees in the building can talk to them! And it’s so easy to get a cheap, pre-made website these days. You don’t even need to be a web designer to get something that looks decent.

          I would love a seed library. Maybe I would feel less terrible when all my plants die if I didn’t buy them all. XD

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

            Exactly! Plus now that we’re in a global pandemic and we finally have virtual-only library cards, you’d think that they’d want the website to look modern and meet the needs of this world where we are forced to interact solely through technology. But no. It’s just so disappointing. I am honestly thinking about changing my primary library location so I can have better technology interactions!

            Like

  4. Katie @ Doing Dewey says:

    I used to expect that everyone knew about all of the library services, but within the last few years, I’ve introduced different coworkers to the library’s ebook, audiobook, and DVD lending services. In some cases, I think they didn’t know the specific services existed and in other cases, it just hadn’t occurred to them that they had options other than buying books.

    Like

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