PR 101: Don’t Make Major Announcements on April Fools Day

innovative and Polaris Announce stuff on April Fool's DayDon’t make major announcements on April Fools Day … or your customers might just think you’re a fool.

So, apparently Innovative Interfaces acquired Polaris Library Systems – two major ILS vendors (and yes, Polaris is my library’s ILS vendor).

When did they decide to announce this? On April 1, better known as April Fools Day. The day when companies large and small … make up stupid stuff on purpose. Just to be funny.

Many of us “online types” know that Google does this every year (this year’s Shelfie was pretty funny). Other companies do this with varying levels of success.

So when a major announcement from your ILS vendor springs up from out of the blue on April Fools Day? It makes you think twice, to say the least. That’s certainly what happened over at ALA Think Tank (a Facebook Group for librarians) – much discussion – none of it about the actual merger.

I tweeted about it, and Polaris answered:

So – Polaris and Innovative Interfaces:

  • I get that you have to announce it. It’s probably a legal thing.
  • But – the purchase happened on March 31. That’s when you should have announced it.
  • If you really HAD to announce it on April 1, you should have mentioned that at the start of your press release (which they did finally add sometime late afternoon yesterday).
  • The email I received should have gone out on March 31 – not April 1.
  • That’s besides the whole “talk to your customers” thing. I’m lookin’ at YOU, Polaris (who tried to sell us an early release beta version of their new LEAP software. No way now – not until the dust settles with the merger).

I’m pretty sure you guys both have some PR types on staff – use them next time, please?

Communicating with Our Customers

new catalog signageDuring my library’s ILS (library catalog) migration project, we wanted to make sure our customers knew about it. It’s not usually a good thing to have your customers show up the day after we go live, thinking “what in the world happened here?”

Communicating with 170,000 people is no easy task! Here’s what we did:

Signs in the building: We had signs everywhere in the building (check out my Flickr set to see some of our signs), including:

  • huge banner in our entryway
  • images pointing out the new catalog was coming on our digital signs
  • small stand-up signs on tables and at the service desks
  • signs on all the catalog-only computers
  • a HUGE sign at the circulation desk

digital branch signageSigns on our digital branch: if you visited our website in the past month, you knew about our ILS migration! We used one of our big ads on the main page of our website to point to an article and video about the change. People actually read the article (judging by our Google Analytics numbers) and we received 38 comments on the article (some from me, answering questions).

We actually used that article and the big front-page ad as a countdown of sorts, too. Every day, we updated the ad (i.e., 3,2,1, it’s here! type stuff) and updated the article with a “tip of the day” for the new catalog.

Social Media: We shared about the project widely via social media. For us, that meant pointing to the article and answering questions about the project using Twitter and Facebook. We also made a video about the project, and dumped it into Youtube and on our website.

Traditional Media: we have a good relationship with local media, so we were able to tell customers about the new library catalog via a local TV station (they do a “Library Tuesdays” segment during their 4pm news show) and through an article in our local newspaper.

And now, the big question – did all that communication work? I think so. While I’m sure there are people showing up at the library or at our website, thinking “what the heck? Why does this look different all of the sudden?” I also know that customers knew about our project. Why? Because they told us. I had more than one person come up to me, find out I worked at the library, and said “how’s that new library catalog project coming along? We love the library!” Other staff told me they had a similar experience.

That says to me that our customers, for the most part, got the message. So – mischief managed!

Have you ever had to communicate with a large group of customers about a project? Did you do something I didn’t list? Let me know in the comments!

The Daily Grape and the Daily Book?

Gary Vaynerchuk, who made videos about wine at Wine Library TV and now at the Daily Grape, has a really cool idea about how to add value to his wine videos, and to help his viewers keep track of (and buy) wine they’re interesting in trying.

Here’s what Gary wants to do (from episode #1 of the Daily Grape):

  • Create mobile app-based video (and have a web-based version too)
  • Make his videos shorter
  • Make the content entertaining and usable
  • Created a mobile app (Daily Grape in the iTunes app store) that goes along with the videos

Gary noticed that he mentions a lot of wine, and some of his viewers forget about the wine after they’re done watching the video. So why not make an app to solve that problem?

Here’s how Gary’s app works:

  • sign up for a free account through the Daily Grape app.
  • Then, watch one of Gary’s videos
  • If you like the sound of a wine Gary mentions, you can click through to the video details, and add the wine to your wish list.
  • Then you have a handy list when you’re at a restaurant or a wine store.
  • You can also comment on the wines found on the app.

Cool idea, huh? Believe it or not, I think this could work for libraries, too. More wine for everybody! No, just kidding.

We have books, don’t we? My library has a collection of almost 500,000 books/videos/etc. Do you think our patrons can remember all those titles?

Right – probably not. But that’s why some of the newer ILS’s include things like wish lists, tags, and comments. I’ve seen some library catalogs that let you take those wish lists and turn them into RSS feeds, which gives your patrons the ability to embed their lists wherever they want.

That’s cool. But what if library staff did the same thing? Why not keep a running list of staff picks that can be discovered in the catalog and on the website. And on the library’s blog sidebar (since it’s embeddable). And in Facebook (with a little coding added in).

In fact, my library is already providing some of that, in the form of blog posts with links to good books that happen to be in our collection.

So – just a slightly different, slightly more purposeful way to think about content created by library staff. Be a bit purposeful, like Gary Vaynerchuk – direct your customer to good content, help them check stuff out – and provide them with ways to remember the books they want to read.

Do you do that? If so – how do you do it?

More Chat in the Catalog

Remember my post on TSCPL’s Meebo chat widget embedded in our library catalog? Since then, we have stopped using the Meebo Me widget. It was great – it helped us start our IM reference service, and it was easy to embed pretty much wherever we wanted. But we grew out of it!

We discovered a few shortcomings, like not being able to send hotlinks through it, and our public services staff really wanted the ability to send an IM to someone else. So now, we’re using Libraryh3lp for our IM reference service. Libraryh3lp gives us those added benefits and more.

And we’re doing a few different things with the catalog embed, too. Here’s a pic of the keyword, No Records Found search:

New version of the Chat Reference service in the catalog

We’re trying to make instructions clear, friendly and attractive. If you click the Ask Now button, you get a tiny IM widget pop-up page. Why pop-up? With our Meebo widget, we discovered that a lot of people would start asking a question, then click something … and they’d be gone, because they had clicked away from the page with the embedded IM widget. Bumer! With our new pop-up version, that problem is solved. Users can click away all they want … and still interact with us.

But even cooler than that – Michael, our web designer (one of his many hats) discovered a way to embed a similar thing on the Search Results page:

Search Results page - Chat added!

This provides more opportunities for patrons to ask questions when they get stuck on a search – even if they’re finding things. Basically, they have access to us ON EVERY SEARCH they do.

And not just IM access – that’s provided via the Ask Now button. But we also include our phone number and a link to our email Ask a Librarian form.

We’re excited about this – should be fun to see if we get more catalog-related questions.

Facebook Catalog App

app on my profileMy way cool web team recently built a Facebook app for our library catalog! If you’re interested in trying it out, simply search for tscpl catalog in Facebook and our app will appear.

Not necessarily a new thing (do an app search in Facebook for library catalog and you’ll find quite a few) … but very useful, nonetheless.

Why haven’t we built an iPhone app like the DC Public Library? Our big goal is to focus on our local community, and build for them. I’m guessing that DCPL has quite a few iPhone users already (or at least potential library users that are also iPhone owners). Topeka? Not so much. I’ve been watching our web stats – last month, we had 63 iphone visits … about .18% of our total web visits. Not enough to design for (yet).

But Facebook use in Topeka? Judging by a quick walkthrough of our building (and peeking at what patrons are doing) – huge.

More Facebook app screenshots:

Enjoy!