This article originally appeared in the September 2012 RA News Newsletter. Sign up for this and other newsletters.
As a trained RA librarian who is now a Marketing Director, my ears prick up at all of the talk about "content marketing," a big buzz word in new media marketing these days. The Content Marketing Institute defines it as "creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience -- with the objective of driving profitable customer action."
That's exactly what we RA folks have always done! Our book talks, book lists, annotations, displays, and blog posts all serve a defined target audience of readers. The profitable customer action we strive for is putting a reader's next good book in their hands.
Just as RA librarians have always done content marketing, we can always make our content better. Here are three ways to make your content more relevant, valuable, and engaging:
Brevity is not just the soul of wit -- it is also the key to effective RA content that will engage the reader and hook them on their next good book. Lila Meacham's Roses is a lengthy saga, but your annotation about it should not be.
Book annotations should be brief -- two or three sentences at most. In a recent discussion on Fiction-L, RA guru Barry Trott advised: "Being able to write a short annotation that conveys the appeal of the book is an invaluable tool and one that will always stand you in good stead."
The key words in Barry's quote are short and appeal. Practice is the only way to make your writing more precise and appealing - try writing an annotation a day, then come back the next day make it more concise. For more expert advice on annotations, check out Neal Wyatt's NoveList article about writing annotations for your reading log or this handout from RA workshop leader Mary K. Chelton, outlining annotation writing for your reading public.
And for those days when you're not feeling particularly inspired, using great, short blurbs from a third party is fine, so long as you cite your source (but you're a librarian, you knew that!). I often use short blurbs from NoveList or Amazon for a book list and parenthetically cite the source at the end of each. If I use NoveList as the source for all the descriptions, I cite them at the end, add their logo if there's room, and bring readers' attention to this great resource.
If you really want to practice your brief book-annotating skills, start suggesting books on Twitter. As I mentioned in this earlier article about Twitter, crafting a book suggestion in 140 characters will test the chops of the most seasoned RA professional!
A bookmark is a blog post is a Pinterest board! Other than our "power patrons," not everyone who picks up a printed bookmark in the library will necessarily read the library's blog or follow them on social media. Content can easily be reused across print and social media, provided that you tweak it a bit to make it suitable for the different platforms. Here's an example of how this might work:
In September, you create a list of "Academic Fiction" that features 30 or so novels set on college campuses. Let's see how many ways this list can be reused!
Instead of starting with a printed list, you might start with a conversation on Facebook. We ask a lot of bookish questions on our Facebook page -- "What was your favorite book as a child?" "What book scarred you for life?" "What audiobook would you recommend for a long car trip?" We have curated these responses into reading lists, display blog posts, and Pinterest boards. It is easy content for us and our followers enjoy contributing to these lists and seeing them promoted.
Older RA content is still good RA content. We all know that RA librarians sell publishers' backlist and midlist titles better than anyone. We should take the same approach with our own content!
Somewhere in the depths of the Reference Desk or the Staff Workroom, I'm betting that many public libraries still have a giant three-ring binder that is overflowing with printed RA lists and bookmarks. Guess what? That's content! Returning to the recent discussion on Fiction-L, Barry Trott also mentioned that binders such as these are "a treasure trove of content in print that can easily convert to digital."
Why not grab that binder and choose a few of the best lists. Then go ahead and reduce the length of the annotations, reuse these lists across digital and social platforms, and look for any than can be recycled, maybe with an "Oldies but Goodies" or "Perennial Staff Favorites" approach. Get this content out to a new audience in a fresh way and I bet that "profitable customer action" will ensue!
Susan Brown took her first library job to earn beer money while in college. After several years in academic and government libraries, she finally found her true calling behind the reference and reader's advisory desk at a public library. Before moving to Kansas, she worked at libraries in Virginia and North Carolina and has her M.L.S. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently the marketing director at Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, KS and is passionate about readers' services, social media, and marketing and merchandising for public libraries. Susan blogs about all of these and more at 658.8 – Practical Marketing for Public Libraries.