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5 Community Management Lessons Learned in a Library

5 Community Management Lessons Learned in a Library

Sometimes a topic comes along that squeezes its way onto the editorial calendar (as if I keep a calendar). The recent Community Manager discussion comparing community managers to librarians prompted this post. Here are 5 Community Management Lessons Learned in a Library…

1. Libraries are the Hubs of Strong Communities

Walk into your local library and observe the diversity. In one corner, you have kids’ story time. Along the back wall, you might have high school and college students studying in  small reading rooms. There are classes down the hall teaching social media or tax preparation. Oh look, the mayor is here to casually discuss local civic issues, an older couple is reading the newspaper by the fireplace, and tutors are still trying to teach students how to find “X”. You can feel the strong pulse of community.

Community managers should strive to build a diverse online community. Make your community a destination where people come to learn, relax, feel safe, or simply “belong”.

2. Libraries Must Be Contextually Relevant

Modern libraries have rows of desktop computers and strong WiFi signals for patrons who bring their own devices. They allow you to download eBooks and checkout Blu-Ray DVDs. You can find a few newspapers for the current day, and you can browse consumer guides for current products. Walk the software development aisle, and you will see books on Java, C#, PHP, how to build a blog on WordPress, and Agile project methodologies.

Community managers must captivate their audience DAILY. Poll the community for reaction on the latest news, technological advancements, or social issues. Crowdsource ideas for the next product release. Share pictures that capture the best moments of TODAY! Go ahead and put away your presentation on how to login to Compuserve – it is no longer contextually relevant.

3. Libraries Must Cross-Sell Their Programs

A young mother who shows up for kids’ story time might be interested in those free “interior design on a budget” classes. That high school kid, who might be using the library computers because his family can’t afford one, could really benefit from the weekend career fair and “how to apply for college scholarships” seminar. The elderly gentleman reading the newspaper would love to be a mentor for the young adult outreach program you are starting.

Community managers are tasked with informing their communities about ALL of their company’s offerings – in an unobtrusive manner that informs and educates without slamming a sales pitch down their throats. Community members want to do business with you, but they first have to know your offerings.

4. Libraries Must be Accessible to ALL Patrons

I love libraries! As a kid growing up on the wrong side of the rural tracks, with no money to buy books, the local library was my salvation! I used to check out 5-6 books on each trip to town. I am now a grandfather that has lived in six communities as an adult – and I applied for my library card within a month of moving to each of those communities. I enjoy walking the stacks, and I still get excited discovering new authors.

I was not a “high value” patron as a kid. I didn’t pay taxes, and perhaps I was occasionally in the company of some shady characters (small towns love their gossip). But that library was of highest value to me! It was a place to go to dream…to begin to wonder “what if”…to start making those dreams a reality through reading. Those librarians were some of the kindest, non-judgmental people I ever met. They would help me find any resource, and then they would take an interest and supplement my findings with new resources.

Libraries and librarians were foundational in making me a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen…now supporting his local library!

Community managers need to maintain that same non-biased kindness and willingness to serve. Do not just cater to the “paying customers” or those who you view as high-value prospects. The lurking window-shopper may prove to be your strongest brand advocate if you just show that their place in the community is as secure and important as everybody else’s.

5. Libraries Must Appeal to Wealthy Patrons

All patrons are high value – I once read a book that said your intrinsic value is always 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 – but not all patrons have high value in their wallets. Library improvements are still driven by available tax revenue, so their tax base needs to know about library outreach programs, seminars, and upgrades that include new computers and media choices. Then wealthy patrons need to take the “long view” and realize they are part of a community that is bigger than themselves. I am a definite capitalist, but when it comes to education I think that the well-off should embrace providing educational resources for the community. That student on free-and-reduced lunch that is using the library computer…could be the next Mark Zuckerburg if given the opportunity. At the very least, that student will be casting votes for elected officials that determine the entitlement programs you might be counting on in your golden years!

Community managers must be inclusive for all community members. However, mind-share and resultant revenue drive the bottom line. Use your online communities to find ideal candidates for product development focus groups and beta offerings. Offer “free trials” in return for permission to include the prospect in a case study.

Did you grow up loving a local library? Do you still use the library, or have you moved on to downloading books from Amazon onto your mobile device? Do you see parallels between your local library and good online community management?

Here is the YouTube video from the referenced #cmgrhangout.

Photo Credit: Andreas F. Borchert [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de, CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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Brian Vickery

I love my Vickery Girls - and grandsons! My career has blessed me to the point I was able to start a new consultancy in 2018: Analytic Integrity. I look to provide analytic experience, and business integrity, to an Analytics world while helping data-driven organizations mature. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin.

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  1. You know this post makes you realize that there is little that separates on and offline life, that people are people wherever you go, and the principles hold across medium.  Thanks for the great tie back to something we all identify with, the library.

    • geoffliving I like how you state it, Geoff – people are people wherever you go. Imagine how much better life would be if more people adhered to that statement.
      Having made a comment on your own blog today regarding the reading of science fiction, I am sure you grew up with the same love for the library as I did.Truly a special place (and I just went by there today…and picked up a couple new authors to go along with one I’ve read a few times now: Alex Berenson).

  2. <3 It is wonderful to say a post that reflects how I feel about my work. Sorry that isn’t such a thought provoking comment, but that is my gut reaction! I really enjoyed reading this.

  3. <3 It is wonderful to see a post that reflects how I feel about my work. Sorry that isn’t such a thought provoking comment, but that is my gut reaction! I really enjoyed reading this.

  4. <3 It is wonderful to see a post that reflects how I feel about my work. Sorry that isn’t such a thought provoking comment, but that is my gut reaction! I really enjoyed reading this.

    • susansilver Sorry for the delayed response, Susan…I was trying to stay offline for a week while on family vacation.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. A well-run, well-funded library is a great community example for what we should be able to do with our own brand communities…provided we are also well-run and well-funded!