The Data-Driven Public Library: Marketing Science Meets Art

Did you know that data about your community can help you get more funding for your public library? Or that it can help improve email open rates?  

Marketing is driven as much by data as it is creative. To improve our performance as public library marketers, we have to be adept at both. Just as data-driven marketing has moved front and center for corporate marketing professionals, so it must take a central role in our marketing efforts.  

Of course, we’re no stranger to data and analytics. It drives many of our decisions, from what programs to run to what books to order. But there’s another side to data: It can tell us which target audience will be most receptive to messages as well as which platforms are performing best. But that’s not all.  

One benefit of a data-driven approach is that it can be used to refine audiences so that we target the right people with the right messages in the right places. For example, you might think the best place to promote an event for teens is on Facebook, but a review of your data could tell a different story. Perhaps the teens in your area interact more with your weekly newsletter. 

These insights can help you develop a more precise targeting approach. This is a big deal for public libraries, which often have limited resources – both people and budgets – for marketing. By focusing on high-performing activities, you can eliminate anything that’s not working. After all, why spend time on something that’s not generating results?  

For example, an analysis of Facebook engagement statistics will help you identify the posts that get the most likes and shares. This data is instructive because it hones your approach to creating content. 

Likewise, scrutinizing a few key data points about your website on Google Analytics can reveal much about your site’s performance, including which blog posts get the most engagement, how visitors find your website and the path visitors take.  

If you’re already using data to improve your social media posts or drive traffic to your websites, here are a few other surprising ways you can put data to use to improve the marketing efficiency. 

Content Marketing: Tell Relevant Stories 

It’s important to note that there are many sources of data available to the library, so it’s critical to think beyond Facebook statistics, visitor data and website analytics. 

Two sources of data to consider are demographics and library card usage data.  At the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, lead marketer Angela Hursh uses both to guide the stories she tells about the library as part of her content marketing efforts, according to the Content Marketing Institute. Each local branch of the library has a distinct personality, so Hursh uses demographic data to create content specific to each one.  

Most interestingly, she also uses library card usage data to create behavior-based marketing personas, which she then uses to create targeted email marketing messages. As a result, subscribers receive messages relevant to them, which in turn raises the open and click-through rates.  

Programming: Have a Greater Impact  

Data also inform how public libraries can allocate resources and determines what programming to develop. For example, if a large percentage of the population can’t easily get to the library, the library must find a way to get to them. So, community outreach programs for one branch might be more extensive than those for another location. 

Libraries can also use data from programming to make adjustments. Rather than focus only on outputs, such as how many people showed up for events, public library staff should focus on outcomes. For example, what impact has your computer literacy program had on increasing participant’s level of comfort with technology? An analysis of the data can reveal areas of the programming that can be improved. 

Advocacy: Getting to Yes 

Data is also a powerful tool for advocacy efforts. In 2012, Ohio’s Wadsworth Public Library (WPL) used insights from voter registration data to get out the vote in support of library funding. The marketing team compared the voter data to its patron information and used the analysis to target neighborhoods with high concentrations of library users. A door-to-door campaign combined with signage and direct mail in these neighborhoods worked. The levy passed with 55.6 percent of voters in favor, according to Library Journal.  

Public libraries have numerous sources of data available to them. Getting it isn’t all that difficult – you either have it already in-house (usage data), acquire it from external sources (census data, Pew research on libraries) or purchase it (Gale Analytics on Demand). However, understanding how to analyze the data you have and what to do with the insights you uncover can be both overwhelming and challenging. We’ll cover both topics in future posts about data sources and insights. 

About Tiffany McClary

Tiffany McClary is the Director of Communications, Marketing & Outreach for the New Jersey State Library. She coordinates marketing and public relations initiatives in order to enhance the reputation of the State Library, and promote the value of NJ libraries and the services and programs that they provide to residents.