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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > May/June 2011

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Using Facebook Ads to Reach a Wider Audience
by Kim Terry
Click for full-size image
Metropolitan Library System Facebook page. (click for full-size image)
Facebook Ad
Facebook Ad
Facebook chart - click for full-size image)
I use graphs like this from Facebook Insights to determine which posts got the most attention. (click for full-size image)
Every day when I come to work at the Metropolitan Library System, a group of 17 libraries in Oklahoma County, Okla., I see fewer and fewer teens and young adults in our libraries. But yet, when I walk into my local big box bookstore, there they are. Why do they buy books instead of borrow them? And what about the great programs and events we have at our libraries? I often see them throughout the city at other programs and events of a similar nature. Why aren’t they at ours?

Researching Facebook Users and Ads

So I turned to something I’m familiar with: Facebook, Twitter, and social networking. I asked many of my friends and followers, “Why don’t you go to the library?” The common answer was that they just forget about it. Once they’ve graduated high school or college, they’ve done so much reading that they can’t imagine picking up a book ever again. And then when they are ready to cross that threshold and read again, they’ve just forgotten about their neighborhood library. Many of my friends didn’t even know we have programs and events. I told one friend just last week that I started taking Zumba classes at the library. She couldn’t believe that we offered Zumba as well as Pilates and a host of other fitness classes, yet she worked directly across the street (and probably paid a gazillion dollars to her local gym for such things).

I asked my social media friends another question: “How do you hear about the fun things that you actually do go to?” Most of them said they hear through Facebook, Twitter, or word of mouth. A lot of them saw that someone “Liked” an event online and decided to check it out themselves.

It just seemed logical to me that if all these people were finding information through Facebook, then why couldn’t we use that? We had a Facebook page, and sure, we had some fans. But these fans had found us—we hadn’t gone looking for them. We didn’t put our Facebook address on our materials. These fans must already love the library if they’d searched us out. We needed to do something to find the people who didn’t know about us or who had forgotten about us.

As the marketing director for the Metropolitan Library System, I have placed ads in the local news media about certain events and programs, and those events did seem to draw quite a bit more of an audience. Since I was a regular Facebook user, I had seen the ads on the right side of the page. Had I ever clicked on one? No. (Well, maybe by accident.) I always thought, “What a waste of money since no one clicks on them.” After all, who would go for something that said: “Free music downloads. Click here.” It’s obviously going to spam me, or so I thought.

Then I started really paying attention to the ads. I noticed that when I was at my mom’s house teaching her how to use Facebook, her ads were completely different than mine. Mine were about buying a house, diets and exercise, music groups, and restaurants. Her ads were from AARP and life insurance companies and were also about gardening, cooking, computer classes, etc. I checked with my 16-year-old niece, and guess what? Her ads were from local colleges, scholarship websites, and celebrity gossip sites. I realized that Facebook was targeting ads to specific age groups and probably gender groups. I also noticed that many of my ads were for local organizations and companies. Sure, a few national companies were thrown in, but it seemed that the top ones were local.

To learn more, I dove in and started clicking away. I clicked on a local music group’s ad, and it took me to their website. OK, that might cause web traffic, but unless I frequently check out the website, I wouldn’t know where they were going to be playing or any new information. I clicked on a home-builder’s ad. Same song, second verse. Then when I clicked on our local humane society’s ad, I hit pay dirt. It took me to its Facebook page where I saw all kinds of cute and furry pictures of animals to be adopted. I saw that it said at the top something like, “Do you want to be a fan of this page?” (Now it has a Like button with a thumbs-up instead.) I clicked the button and started receiving status updates from the humane society. I also clicked on another ad from a local restaurant and Liked that. Then I started seeing posts about its daily menu specials and events that it was hosting.

Creating Facebook Ads

Since I was an administrator of our library’s Facebook page, I clicked on the “Promote with an Ad” link. It took me to a Facebook site that gave some good tips and tricks on how to create a great Facebook page:

  • Know what you want.

  • Target your audience.

  • Send clickers to a Facebook landing page, not your website.

  • Use a strong call to action.

The prices varied, but I found I could run an ad for just a couple of days, weeks, or months and also set a cap on how much I wanted to spend. Facebook calculates spending by the number of clicks, so each click might cost $1.50. (If you only wanted to spend $10 a day, keep in mind that you might only get six people clicking on your ad.)

Here’s what I did. I created a simple ad with our logo, vision statement, and a little blurb about who we are: “Your inviting, innovative link to the world. We have 17 locations in Oklahoma County to meet all your needs.” And my call to action? “Come check us out!” (Really creative, I know.)

My goal was to increase the size of our fan base by 20% and to keep them engaged by creating status updates targeted to their interests. I targeted it to only the people in my metro area, to people who were currently not fans, and to people aged 18–49. I set it to send clickers to our Facebook page. I noticed that now you can also create specific keyword tags for your words that are in your targets’ bio, hobbies, Likes, quotes, or anything in their general information. (If I were to run another Facebook ad, I’d probably use these tags: reading, read, book, books, writing, writer, music, listening to music, art, art openings, museums, movies, films, plays, performances, drama, and of course, fun.)

I also set a spending cap of $50 a day and ran the ad for 2 weeks. Before I launched the ad, I did a little revamp of our current Facebook page. I used consistent branding of our logo with our website, added some upcoming events, created some photo albums, and added some little gadgets like our catalog and RSS feeds of our site, all in the hopes of enticing my coveted age group to “Like” me. It worked.

After 3 years of having a Facebook page, we’d had just 1,047 fans. Within 2 weeks of advertising, our fan base had doubled to more than 2,000. People really clicked on those ads!

Learning How Often to Post

As I was doing all of this research and growing excited every day about each new Metropolitan Library fan (yes, I emailed my boss every few hours on how many new fans we had gotten—I’m sure she loved that), I noticed that the frequency of the status updates on those pages that I had personally Liked differed dramatically. One organization, which shall remain unnamed, posted so often that it cluttered up my feed. Literally, the admin would post 10 updates right in a row; the next hour, there would be another 10 or so. (I quickly learned how to Hide them.) On the other side of the spectrum, another organization rarely sent out information. My favorite Mexican restaurant was in the middle. It sent out one or two updates a day, and these were targeted to what I really wanted to know. When it had “Taco Tuesday,” I was there, because Facebook had reminded me of it. When the eatery had a night when it gave 10% of its profits to our humane society, I was there again.

So I knew I had to keep my fans engaged without irritating them. I started posting about four times throughout the day. I learned that I would usually get more comments on the information I posted at the beginning of the workday and near the end of the day. My theory is that people check their Facebook before they start to work and again at the end of the day when they are getting antsy to leave. I also tried to use humor to engage them and keep them interested.

Was It Worthwhile? You Bet!

We did sporadic surveys at our events, and they showed that we had at least a 20% increase in attendees for the events that we promoted on Facebook. On some surveys, we asked people how they’d heard of the event. This was a little tricky because there were multiple publicity outlets—posters in the library, an article in our magazine or a local newspaper, a flier in a local coffee shop, ads—and some said it was hard for them to recall exactly what had driven them to events.

I also did some tests on my own. I would post about a book I was “reading.” (OK, I wasn’t really reading it, this was just a test.) Before I posted, the book was available for checkout at all or almost all of our libraries. Within a few days of mentioning it, most of the books were checked out. I did this with YA books (especially little-known vampire-type books), CDs, and DVDs. Every time I did this, the circulation increased.

Last summer, we started offering Mango Languages software. My Facebook posts for Mango were off the wall! They varied from the standard “Going on a trip?” to “ Es m´lu manu bibliot•ku ” (Latvian for “I love my library”). Not only did I get 15 to 20 comments on average on the fun Mango posts, but our Mango Languages database statistics skyrocketed. Within the first 3 months, it had more than 4,000 user sessions.

This really showed me that posts that were fun or that encouraged interaction with a comment got more responses. Of course, to keep my momentum going (and to keep burnout from settling in), I had to enlist other people from our system to help write some of the posts. This has really worked out well. We now have four administrators on our site who post various things. All the admins have a different background focus, such as children, teens, adults, and furry animals.

I also invited all my personal friends on Facebook to become fans of our page. Since most of my friends were in the targeted market and had also told me during my earlier polling that they didn’t go to the library, I was curious how many would respond. As of today, I have 383 personal friends, and more than 100 of them are now fans of the Metropolitan Library System Facebook page.

The great thing about the way Facebook is today is that if you are an administrator of a page, you can click on the Insights button and see a history of new Likes, active users, and interactions (comments and Likes). Statistics will show me days when the feedback is up or down and a lot more. This helps me use the types of posts that work and avoid the ones that prompted little interaction.

In total, we ended up spending a little more than $500, and the increased circulation and attendance at our events and programs is evidence that it was worth it. I’ve even had a couple of my friends ask me if we had a certain book. We are still struggling to get young adults into the library, but I think we are slowly changing the perception and making it a cool place for everyone. Facebook just helps us spread that feeling.

Kim Terry is the director of marketing and communications at the Metropolitan Library System in Oklahoma County, Okla. She has a B.S. in journalism/advertising from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. She is active in her local Public Relations Society of America and Ad Club chapters, where her team has won several awards over the past 2 years. She currently serves as chair of ALA’s John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award committee and is a member of the Public Relations and Marketing Section. Her email address is
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