Please Like Us! : The Challenges of Marketing a Library Facebook Page

By Kelly Robinson

By now most of us acknowledge that Facebook, with over one billion monthly users, can be a powerful marketing tool for libraries. However, many libraries are reluctant to create a Facebook page. For some, it may be that the staff buy-in just isn't there; for others the need to create a social media policy is too onerous. Moreover, once a Facebook page is established, it can become underutilized or fail to reach the core group of library stakeholders. In my experience it's not uncommon to hear an academic librarian bemoan that the only people who have "liked' their library's page are student's parents.

When our small academic library decided to begin a Facebook page this year, we weighed all of these issues. Satisfied with our other social media outlets, including a blog, and worried about the added time commitment of Facebook, we were hesitant to take the plunge and join Facebook. However, we just couldn't ignore the potential benefit of marketing our services, events, and news to students instantaneously through their Facebook news feed, and at last decided to give Facebook a try.

In our journey to create and market our Facebook page we encountered several challenges - but the most difficult to overcome has been getting users to "like" us. The only way to interact with users and share important news onto a patron's news feed is if they "like" you. Even the Facebook Insight tools, which allow page owners to analyze page activity, are not functional without first obtaining 30 "likes." Research indicating college students' preference for online communication, and the general popularity of our library, led us to believe that starting a Facebook page would be easy. But not so! The most important lesson we took from this is that while Facebook can be a great marketing tool, marketing your Facebook site is a chore unto itself. For others struggling with this preliminary step in creating a successful Facebook page, here are a few of the avenues we tried to get those coveted "likes," and what worked and failed:

1) We tried giving away free stuff. We didn't want to force anyone to like us, but thought that handing out small items like candy or pencils that had a sticker with a catchy slogan such as "Like this candy? Like us on Facebook!" would encourage "likes." Unfortunately, with this method patrons would eat their free candy, and then promptly forget to go to a computer and like us. So our next few initiatives involved reaching users while they were at a computer station.

2) We placed a Facebook button on our homepage and many of our LibGuides.

3) We advertised our page by placing labels with our site URL and "Like us on Facebook" on the computer monitors.

4) We "liked" other related pages, such as student clubs and organizations.

Befuddled that our actions were still generating few "likes," we decided to turn to a tried-and-true advertising method - word of mouth. During library instruction sessions in particular, we encouraged students to "like" us for news and event updates. This method, combined with a comedic statement about how embarrassingly unpopular our Facebook page is, has overwhelmingly generated the most "likes."

For anyone else having problems establishing a Facebook page, never fear, there is a lot of support out there for Facebook newbies. Shortly after starting our page, I took a wonderful free webinar on marketing for Facebook offered through Florida Library Webinars that helped me learn how to use Facebook's powerful Insights tool to analyze posts. Facebook also offers great help content for the confused or curious.

We are still slowly generating likes, but are hopeful that continued outreach will help us grow our Facebook into a powerful marketing tool for our library.

Kelly Robinson is the Public Services Librarian at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.