Common Stacks Episode 17: Cordelia Anderson on Library Marketing

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Cordelia Anderson is the author of the new book, Library Marketing and Communications: Strategies to Increase Relevance and Results, from ALA Editions.

She is a seasoned marketing and communications executive with 20+ years of experience. She is based in Charlotte, NC but has clients around the US and is nationally recognized for her innovative, strategic and results-driven marketing and communications programs. Clients have included public and academic libraries, library associations, local government agencies and nonprofits.

Cordelia is Accredited in Public Relations from the Public Relations Society of America, which indicates advanced mastery of the knowledge, skills and abilities to practice public relations. She uses this approach to help her clients solve complex marketing and communications challenges so that they can tell their stories and reach their goals.

Learn more about her at https://cordeliaandersonapr.com/

Share with us any action items or things you learned during this show in the comments section below! 

Rough Transcript of Episode 17: Cordelia Anderson on Library Marketing

Heather (00:05):

Hello, and welcome to the Common Stacks Podcast. This is the show that brings together professionals from within the library world, as well as interesting experts from other professions to engage in discussions around the issues affecting libraries, looking at the ways in which libraries are dispelling the myth of, well, this is how it's always been done. I'm your host, Heather Teysko. This is episode 17. It's a conversation with Cordelia Anderson on public relations and marketing.

Heather (00:33):

Just a quick reminder. This podcast is sponsored by Library Lever, a brand new library buying club. We negotiate vendor discounts on library products and services, specifically seeking out new and innovative mission driven companies, offering services for both public and academic libraries. And we have a unique client wellness program that ensures that our member libraries are actually seeing value and usage of their resources. Part of that wellness program includes access to our growing library lever academy, which is on Niche Academy. It's a suite of professional development tutorials designed to educate and support library staff on topics, including secondary trauma, stress grant, writing, conflict resolution, and more. Find out more about us at LibraryLever.com. 

So let me introduce you to Cordelia Anderson of Cordelia Anderson PR Cordelia is the author of the new book, library, marketing and communications strategies to increase relevance and results from ALA editions. She is a seasoned marketing and communications executive with 20 plus years of experience. She's based in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has clients around the us and has nationally recognized for her innovative strategic and results driven marketing and communications programs. Clients have included public and academic libraries, library associations, local government agencies, and nonprofits.

Heather (01:59):

Cordelia is accredited in public relations from the public relations society of America, which indicates advanced mastery of the knowledge, skills, and abilities to practice public relations. She uses this approach to help her clients solve complex marketing and communications challenges so that they can tell their stories and reach their goals. We start out with me asking her her background, how libraries can start to refine their marketing strategies and why that's even important. Let's give it a listen.

More...


Heather (02:37):

So Cordelia, I found you through LinkedIn and somehow I got on your email newsletter and I don't know, but you just do such amazing work. I can tell. So can you tell me a little bit to start with about how you got into library marketing, how this became your profession?

Cordelia Anderson (02:54):

Sure. Well, I was actually an English major and back in Richmond in the nineties and I was graduating with a master's in English literature and kind of had to figure out, okay, what do I do with my life now? So I actually went to my local public library and I started looking up in a physical book company communications companies in the us and started sending my resume around. And that landed me my first communications job here in the Charlotte North Carolina area, where I'm still today. And so I got my first job thanks to a library. So when I saw in the physical newspaper, a job posting back in 2000 for a job doing PR for a library, I jumped on it and fortunately got the job. And I've been, it's been a love affair with libraries ever since. So I worked on and off for Charlotte Berg library for 15 years. And then in 2018, after 10 years as their director of marketing and communications, I decided to branch out and start my consulting business.

Heather (03:56):

Nice. So I wanted to chat a little bit just about the mindset around marketing mm-hmm <affirmative> and why this is important. It kind of leads, there's two sort of questions first. Why is it important for libraries to be able to communicate effectively their various stories and the sort of mindset shift that many libraries kind of want to embrace to be able to do that effectively? Can you chat, chat a little bit about what you see there?

Cordelia Anderson (04:24):

Yeah, so, you know, libraries have been around for a, a really long time. And I think for a long time there was a, a sort of shared public understanding that we need libraries and that libraries are important and it's a worthy investment, you know, going back to the early 19 19 hundreds when a lot of libraries were founded, but through philanthropy, you know, there was this belief that they were there as this great equalizer and access to information. And so libraries didn't really have to work very hard to build that reputation cuz it was already there and it was sort of understood and we could take it for granted. And then starting in, I would say eighties, nineties there started to be a slight shift, you know, where the perception of libraries began to change with the advent. I don't need to tell people in the library profession, the advent of the internet changed everything and made access less of there was less of a requirement for centralized access to information and more of broader access to information.

Cordelia Anderson (05:26):

And these sort of perceptions began to take hold of libraries, being perhaps outdated or people remembering the library of their childhood and not really understanding how libraries were evolving so we can no longer take for granted that people believe that libraries are a public good. That's just not, that's not part of our society anymore. So it became really important starting around, you know, the, the late 20th century for libraries to begin to tell their stories and explain who they are. Even as libraries themselves were evolving to keep up with all these different changes in technology and society. Demographic shifts, all these things that libraries were doing a, a pretty good job of keeping pace with, but they weren't necessarily keeping pace with telling people what they were doing. And so that's really where library marketing comes into play because libraries never thought they needed marketing before.

computer screen with marketing information

Cordelia Anderson (06:20):

And even there's a interesting history around the concept of public information officers, and this is more on the government side of things, but there was an idea with local governments that marketing was, was bad or, you know, that PR was like spin or unethical. And so they created this job called the public information officer to help reassure the public that they weren't, you know, putting spin on local government activities. And I think sort of a similar mindset carried over to libraries, many of whom are affiliated with local governments public libraries specifically. And so there was this idea that, well, we can't be viewed as, you know putting out biased information or tooting our own horn too much. So we've gotta just focus on just information, you know, and I think attitudes have really changed around that now and understanding that just like any other service out there in the world, you have to tell your story in a way that's compelling and there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing unethical about that. It's actually part of the service that you're doing for the public in communicating about what you do so they can take advantage of it.

Heather (07:34):

Sure. Yeah. If you have all these great resources and that would be helpful to people and people don't know about it, you're not actually yeah, yeah. Helping them as much. So thinking specifically about online marketing mm-hmm <affirmative> rather than, you know, like mailings and things like that, but online marketing, social media and email let's dig into social media just a little bit first, so it can be so overwhelming for libraries. Like where do we start? Do we make TikTok videos? Do we have an Instagram page? Who knows? What are your thoughts about a library who they're like, okay, we're ready to really have a strategy we're ready to get going. Like, what do we, where do we start?

Cordelia Anderson (08:14):

Yeah. So, I mean, this takes me back to like 2008, right. I came back to be the director of marketing and communications for Charlotte Mecklenburg and you know a lot of social media platforms were out at that point, but everybody, it was still the wild west, you know, and my library system had been early adopters of these platforms. And so we had a lot of them, but nobody really knew what to do in terms of a strategy or sort of content or, you know, consistency, any of that. And so one of the things that I've worked to help convey, and I think people have really begun to get this is that more does not mean better. And I've seen more and more libraries actually being more cautious about adding and kind of instead focusing on a few key channels and really having a strategy around those rather than just a more scattershot approach.

Cordelia Anderson (09:04):

So I think that's a really good trend that I've been seeing. But the bigger picture I think with social media is that in order to make it manageable, I really strongly recommend that libraries have a policy set around that, around how they manage social media and then some best practices. And I often will recommend what I call sort of a hybrid model that I usually recommend, which is sort of a mix of centralized governance and people from throughout the organization contributing content, which I think gives you a little bit of the best of both worlds. You have more people at the table, you have more voices, which is really important if you're trying to represent your community and your customers on social media to have more staff participate in that. And so that's usually what I recommend in terms of a governance model.

Cordelia Anderson (09:52):

And then I always recommend that you have your policy, which protects your staff, protects your library but also your best practices, which is sort of the things that you want staff to do in terms of providing content. And then, the other thing is to really make sure your social media strategy rolls up into your larger marketing strategy. So what is it you're actually trying to accomplish? Are you trying to sign up more library cardholders, or you trying to get existing customers to use more in different services? So identifying what those big picture goals are, is really important too, because then you can make sure that everything you're doing on social media aligns with that. And sometimes internally there can be sort of a perception that the staff who manage social media are just playing or that it's just fun. And so I think it's also really important internally to communicate what those priorities are and what you're trying to accomplish, and that can also help recruit staff to help you when it comes to creating great content.

Heather (10:48):

And just thinking about the differences between social media marketing and email marketing thinking about like the reach of organic social media, as opposed to paid versus the reach of email marketing and building an email list. Can you share a little bit about that thought process and the importance of email marketing still?

Cordelia Anderson (11:08):

Sure. And, and one thing I would love to say about both social media and email marketing is it's important to see those as a two-way conversation. These are not channels that where you're just pushing out information. And I think a lot of times in libraries, we tend to use that word promote a lot and promote to me feels like a very one way conversation, but what we really wanna do is engage. And so that's why when it comes to social media, I really recommend that libraries measure their engagement levels, not just how many followers they have, because that engagement can tell you, okay, people are actually responding and reacting to our content. They're clicking on the link or they're sharing it with their friends and that's really important. And that can also help you determine whether you need a paid strategy strategy or not.

Cordelia Anderson (11:53):

Because if you're tracking engagement, you know, generally what I will recommend is just track it month by month and make sure it's always going up set a goal, you know, do you wanna increase engagement by 5%, 10%. And then if you're not reaching those goals, or if you see a decline, then, then you know, a lot of times that's out of our control because the platforms themselves change the algorithms or the setup all the time. And so it, sometimes you can get a bump using a paid strategy, you know, to help boost your organic. But again, figuring out what is that, what are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to get more, more people following you or are you trying to get more people to use services and so on -


Heather (12:42):

Hey, are you enjoying this conversation? If so, hop into free community community dot library, lever.com to chat about your marketing and messaging strategies, the best tools you use to communicate with patrons. Also, if you'd ever like a shoutout in the show, maybe a shout out to a colleague it's their birthday work anniversary and you think they might enjoy being mentioned on this show. It'd be really cool, right? Just go to library, lover.com/voicemail to leave us a voicemail. And then we can include it in a segment like this. That would be fun. All right. Back to Cordelia.

Cordelia Anderson (13:18):

So that's the social media piece. And then as far as email marketing, that also is a two-way conversation. Again, even though it doesn't feel like it, but there is obviously an implicit relationship there between the library and its customers. And what I really encourage is to build into that relationship and expectation of email communications. So some libraries have really embraced email marketing and others have been more hesitant to implement it. And I think part of that is in our industry. You know, we have a lot of, we have a very high very high level of conscientiousness, which is wonderful and part of why I love working in libraries. And we also have a lot of concerns around privacy and today more than ever, you know, we do wanna protect our patron's privacy, but we find like that emailing customers doesn't have to disrupt that privacy relationship that you have with your customers, if you're protecting their information and their data, and you're just using it to help them get more out of their library account and more out of their library card.

Cordelia Anderson (14:21):

Then I don't, you know, there's not really an ethical challenge there as long as you're very transparent and you communicate very clearly with your customers, what you're doing. So I always recommend to libraries check your privacy policy, make sure it's up to date. That's just a good idea anyway, regardless of email marketing but make sure your privacy policy's up to date when you email your customers, make sure they know exactly why you're emailing them, how you're going to email them, how they can unsubscribe, where they can find your privacy policy, all of that good stuff, and then make sure that the content you're giving them is really good. And if they get good value out of it, they're gonna appreciate it and actually view it as another service, not they don't generally view it as a nuisance or anything like that. Most libraries I know that have opted all their customers into email marketing have less than 1% unsubscribe rate which is virtually zero. So, you know, I think email marketing is a wonderful way to reach customers. And in many cases, if libraries aren't emailing all of their customers, the customers are wondering why, because every other business they interact with emails them, you know, right. Unless they more times a

Heather (15:32):

Explicitly,

Cordelia Anderson (15:33):

Right? Unless you explicitly tell them not to, they will, they will email you. And it's just kind of a given libraries are much more responsible than most companies. So, you know, you know, that libraries are gonna take good care of your information. I think that is a perception out there.

Heather (15:50):

And in terms of, if somebody says, oh, well, email marketing, that seems like so 2002 it's, it's really not though. Right? I mean like email marketing is a super effective way. If somebody, if you had to choose between social media marketing and email marketing, where you were gonna put your, your time, it'd be a really hard choice. Huh?

Cordelia Anderson (16:10):

It would be, yeah. I was gonna say, don't make me make a choice. <Laugh> but you know, obviously with social, you can do a lot with organic where you don't really have to dedicate a whole lot of dollars. And with social, you can certainly even do a small paid boost for like $20 and see pretty good results, especially if you really, really hyper target your content and your audience. And then, but yeah, I think email marketing is really important. You know, I often will walk my clients through a sort of audit of their existing communication channels and we always look at paid, earned, social and owned. And that I've got that from a, a marketing book years ago, but owned is your email list. That's an owned asset, just like your website and your branches, where you put out flyers or posters, those are all owned assets. And so it makes sense to get to leverage those. But again, I always say when in doubt, put the customer at the center of your conversation and most customers want email marketing and they also want to follow you on social media. They like their library, you know, and so they wanna talk about it. They wanna hear from the library and they wanna engage in that two way conversation.

Heather (17:21):

Then I wanna also get into the whole thinking about the customers, customers first, the difference around marketing, promoting, communicating with engaging about different types of events. So the mindset in thinking, how are you gonna promote story hour versus how are you going to engage people in a, a tax workshop that's coming up? Can you talk a little bit about kind of the, the mental process to go through planning those different strategies?

Cordelia Anderson (17:48):

Sure. So I, I do a lot of different webinars that touch on this topic, but I always like to ground it in this conversation about relevance. You know, we're all sort of having this conversation about how do we communicate the relevance of libraries. I mean, it's literally in the title of my book, but I think relevance is very subjective, right? What's relevant to you is gonna be different than what's relevant to me. So again, it all goes back to that customer and making sure you understand what their wants and needs are when you are marketing to them. And, and so to get back to your question about the story time versus the tax workshop when I'm working with libraries on developing content, I always say, you know, first start with your audience and think about what's in it for them. So for the tax workshop, you know, what's in it for them is, you know, free help with your taxes.

Cordelia Anderson (18:36):

That's, that's a high value. If it's a volunteer led session or a local nonprofit, you know, what what do they bring to the table? What are the benefits that your, that your customers are gonna derive from this? And so that's gonna be a very different piece of content than say a story time where you might just really want to focus on the literacy aspect of it, as well as maybe having a great photo of a child in a story time to really convey what that experience is gonna be like for that for that caregiver in that child. So that, you know, again is gonna be a very different piece of content. But when in doubt, just, you know, pause, think about who you're trying to reach who your audience is, and what's gonna resonate the most with them and make sure you answer those key questions.

Story Time

Story time photo courtesy of San Jose Public Library on Flickr, used through Creative Commons Sharealike 2.0 license.

Cordelia Anderson (19:22):

What's in it for me, for them you know, make sure there's a clear call to action make it very easy for them to participate. And that's the other thing is we sometimes make our customers jump through unnecessary hoops. So if you want them to register, make it super easy. If you want them to just show up, make sure it's at a convenient place in time. That's not always the case. I have a story. My, my oldest child is 17. Now when they were one I wanted to bring them to story time. I literally worked at a library, but because I worked during the week, I couldn't go to most of the story times. The only story time we had in our community at that time on the weekend was at a, a downtown location that required you to drive into a major city, find parking, get into the, you know, larger building, find the story time room.

Cordelia Anderson (20:14):

And there was a parade downtown that day. So I got caught in traffic and by the time I got there, they had closed the door and said, you can't come in. That was the one time I tried to take my child to story time and I was motivated. I literally work for the library. So and of course they have since really changed how they deliver story times. Now they do them out on the floor. It's very fluid. It's very drop in, but that whole idea of the mentality of the story time, where you have to register, and then we close the door and all that kind of thing. It's not convenient for people. And that's not how life works for people with young children <laugh> especially. So yeah, just make it easy for them. That's the other big piece of advice I have. It's not just the marketing, it's the full experience from the moment they learn about your program or, you know, your event until they actually come to it. So

Heather (21:02):

Make it easy and keep it in mind that you're serving them and keep them center center in all of it. Huh?

Cordelia Anderson (21:09):

Yeah. Yeah.

Heather (21:11):

Well, listen, I want to ask you, do you have a book or anything you where people can learn more about you and read your, the, the great content that you're sharing here?

Cordelia Anderson (21:19):

Yes. In fact, I should. It's funny. I don't have a copy of my book at my desk, but I just got the little ALA editions little mailer that has my book in there, but yes, it's called library, marketing and communications strategies to increase relevance and results. And it is available from ALA editions. It came out in 2020, but because of the pandemic, you know, we didn't get to like release it with a big splash, but if people wanna check it out, they can. I also have content available on Niche Academy and for people who register for those that content either I have webinars and I also have a video series on how to create a marketing plan. They get a $10 off coupon for the book too. So

Heather (22:05):

Thanks to Cordelia Anderson for her time. Learn more about her at Cordelia Anderson, pr.com. I'll also have a link in the show notes. What actionable steps did you get from this episode, hop into our community or drop us a voicemail library, lever.com/voicemail, and let us know. Thanks so much. And we will speak with you again soon.

About the author 

Heather Teysko

Heather Teysko is head of community and engagement for Library Lever, and she loves running the Common Stacks Podcast. She's been in Library Land for close to 20 years, with a career that has focused on technology and ebooks. She is also passionate about history, having built a website on Colonial American history in 1998 that got to #1 on Yahoo (when that was a thing) has been podcasting on Tudor England since 2009, and her podcast The Renaissance English History Podcast has a social following of over 50,000 people. She has published several books including Sideways and Backwards: a Novel of Time Travel and Self Discovery, which was negatively compared to Outlander in several Amazon reviews, despite the fact that it is set in a completely different time period, but the comparison still feels like an honor.
You can follow her on twitter @teysko.

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