Supporting Your Community

I just read You Don’t Sell to a Community. You Support a Community by Dan Blank (found via Chris Brogan’s Twitter feed). And hey – Dan must be ok – he used to work at Reed Business Info (ie., Library Journal, etc). So he gets us library types.

Here’s the gist of the post (make sure to read the whole thing): “As the business landscape rushes into social media – a more nuanced connection with people’s lives – this is something to be understood. The business funnel of marketing to a segmented group of people is not the same as building trust within a community – of supporting a community.”

Two other good quotes:

  • “You don’t sell to a community. You support a community. You provide for a community. You connect a community. You mediate a community. You balance a community. You sacrifice for a community.”
  • “it is hard to truly “build” a community. Communities exist already. A list of Twitter followers is not necessarily a community.”

So – how does this relate to libraries? We don’t sell stuff, do we? Sure we do. My library has a 3-person marketing team that creates newsletters, giant posters, and marketing & promotion campaigns (for starters. They do a lot of great work). Their business is making sure everyone in Shawnee County knows about us, checks out our stuff, and attends our events. That’s selling – selling our stuff and our services.

What do some libraries do soon after they set up their blogs, Facebook Pages, and Twitter feeds? They start selling! Many of us primarily use our online social communities as broadcast avenues. We throw billboards out into the middle of our digital community, hoping someone reads it, clicks the link, and attends the event (or checks out the book).

But I’m with Dan – that’s not the primary thing we should be doing in our online communities.

Think about it for a sec – when it comes to our analog community (ie., our buildings), we get that. We ROCK in that space. Who else (maybe besides a church) has an actual community that visits regularly, connects with the people who work there, and that’s not obviously selling stuff (like a grocery store)? That’s us! We’re not there to sell stuff – our stuff sells itself. In our analog spaces, we exist to support our communities, and we do it well.

So why, when we venture online, do we suddenly turn into snake oil salesmen? How come we have a hard time connecting via a text box, a camera, or a short video? We’ve had some form of these tools for a LONG TIME (ie., email for example). The rest of our community picked it up (look at national Facebook and email adoption rates) – why are we struggling here?

Want to fix this? Here’s a couple of things to try:

  • Take a look at your organization’s social media spaces (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Is it full of answering questions, or is it full of announcements? Think about balancing those out a bit.
  • Think of your social media spaces like a large gathering of people where you’ve been asked to represent your library. I’m guessing you wouldn’t bring your bullhorn, right? Instead, you might say “Hi – I’m from the library. What do you do?” … then you’d go from there. Treat your social media spaces the same way.
  • Give this quote from Dan some thought – “You don’t sell to a community. You support a community. You provide for a community. You connect a community. You mediate a community. You balance a community. You sacrifice for a community.” Are there ways you can do this online? Probably so.
  • In your library’s social media spaces, don’t be “The Library.” Be “David, the dude who works at the library.” Be a person, not a billboard.

More later.

Photo by cindiann

  • DanBlank

    Thank you so much for the mention, and exploring this concept even further. It's funny, in many ways I feel community centers such as libraries try to mimic businesses such as Barnes & Noble, and businesses as Barnes & Noble try to mimic libraries. Identity crisis?!
    Have a great day.

  • Andy Woodworth

    I think libraries “sell” in that space because it's the lowest hanging fruit. What can that space do for the library for the least amount of staff time? That's right: broadcast. And there is enough mixed results to make people opt for broadcasting/selling as the course of action to take as it seems to give the greatest return on investment for the lowest overall investment. It becomes the crawl on the bottom of the news channels: informative when read, but often ignored.

    I think this plays directly into a TED talk I posted recently where, when given two options (get $50 or take a chance to get $100/$0 on the basis of a coin flip), people will take the first option. “I can broadcast library events which will invariably attract people. It will not get everyone, but some is better potentially than none.” It's the safest option, capable of getting some traction as opposed to taking a “risk” and doing something more staff intensive, more time consuming, and more outside the comfort level of librarians.

  • davidleeking

    You're probably right – we like safe. We don't like risks. But. Libraries
    need to take more risks. It's really the only way to innovate & grow (I
    think so, anyway).

  • Andy Woodworth

    I think libraries are taking more risks than the librarian profession gives them credit for; it's just not very large risks or risks that people will merit as pushing innovation. Personally, I think it's an overdeveloped fear of failure from a profession that hasn't really had to innovate in many years.

  • Emily Lloyd


  • Careydoover

    If you provide to your community they will make you successful.

  • Tej Kohli

    Its a Great Idea ,, even man is Social animal more over if you support community then community will also help you

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  • Buy Blank DVD

    I agree with this. The better you give, the better you receive.