Friday, December 07, 2007

Article Note: On word-of-mouth marketing

Citation for the article:

Alire, Camila A. "Word-of-mouth Marketing: Abandoning the Academic Library Ivory Tower." New Library World 108.11/12 (2007): 545-551.

This is a short article discussing the idea of using word-of-mouth for marketing. I have always been a firm believer of using word-of-mouth to get your message out. It just seems like common sense. If you get some people to give spontaneous good word about your service to others, then you are bound to get repeat business. I know. During my time at UHD, that was one of the things that worked for me in growing the instruction program: getting the instructors who came in to tell their colleague about their services. Often, I had a new instructor call to schedule a class saying, "so and so told me about what you do for students. I was wondering if you could do the same for me." So, I can attest the idea works, and that you should definitely be using it. And it is not just for instruction, but to market your library overall. On this, Professor Alire writes that "the fundamental objective of word-of-mouth marketing in academic libraries is getting people to talk to others about library services so that those services are more heavily utilized" (546).

The article argues that marketing is an important concept for academic libraries, pointing out that this is often an idea that academic libraries neglect. Alire tells us that we cannot take our audience, the academic community for granted. Also, we in academia need to realize that there are other places for students to get their information. Her article then describes how the technique was used at the University of New Mexico Libraries. The reason for them doing it was to tell the libraries' story and to help "in obtaining the necessary funding to continue to serve their students, faculty, and staff" (546). In the end, a lot of this is about justifying our existence. Whether we like it or not, administrators think more in business terms and the bottom line. What value does the library offer? That is the common question. Marketing then tells the story of that value. I think using a library blog is one way of nurturing this idea, but we also need to remember the personal contact element.

Alire draws on the work of George Silverman, referring to that author's book The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. In discussing academic libraries, Alire takes some of his tips and applies them to academia. I am reproducing her list here for my notes. The italics are in the original, indicating Silverman's concepts:

  • "Using experts. This could include putting together an advisory group of appropriate participants. In academic libraries, this could be a special advisory group of various library users or a faculty governance library committee. This could also include librarians used as experts to share information of academic library resources and services."
  • "Using seminars, workshops and speeches. This could include presentations or a speakers program. For academic libraries, either librarians and/or trusted advisors could be participating in these formats for sharing information about the library."
  • "Canned word-of-mouth. This could include CDs, web presentations, audiotapes, videotapes. More specifically, academic libraries could develop PowerPoint presentations with the most relevant information for others to use in their presentations." (I have to say I found this suggestion intriguing; I have to give it a bit more thought).
  • "Referral selling. This refers to the use of testimonials. One of the strongest ways to use this is to get university students and faculty to offer testimonials on how their libraries have helped them be successful."
  • "Networking. This means to be visible at events and meetings as well as helping people get information on the library's resources and services. Most library employees have networks that could be utilized for word-of-mouth marketing. However, the most effective is having faculty and students using their networks to to word-of-mouth marketing." (This is another thing I believe in, which is why I try to make it various campus events as I can. It's about visibility).
  • "Using the different media. This includes customer service as a 'word-of-mouth engine,' using PR through advertising, brochures, etc. Academic libraries can simultaneously be doing systematic PR while others are conducting their word-of-mouth marketing efforts" (547).
Other ideas from the article I found interesting:

  • On why this makes sense: "It only makes sense that this collegial type of environment where ideas are exchanged on a daily basis would make word-of-mouth marketing second nature" (547).
  • I liked the idea that the concept should be part of a library's strategic plan. This is definitely something we should be considering as we move on with our own assessments and new plans. Alire writes, "One of the strategic directions was 'Telling the Libraries' Story.' This was the fundamental basis for our marketing efforts; and the strategic plan was our guide for our word-of-mouth marketing endeavors" (548).
  • We need to remember that a large part of our efforts should go to building better relations with the campus faculty.
  • They had a brand: "Our brand became: University Libraries connecting you to worlds of knowledge" (549). On our website, currently, we feature the following brand line: "Your digital doorway to scholarly research." It's not bad, but I am thinking we may need to either increase its use (in publications, so on), or maybe come up with a new one when we unveil the new website design next summer.

They also had a message regarding the increasing cost of scholarly journals and periodicals. This is not a new issue in academic libraries, but it is one that is ever present. It is also an issue that we should get faculty involved in our side. We face it here as well, but we also face significant lack of funding for monographs (as in it does not exist. We buy books when there is money left after everything else). This should be part of the story we tell as well. Not necessarily in the negative sense. I am thinking we could use some of that word-of-mouth marketing from students. There have been more than a few times that students come in looking for a specific book, or they need books on a topic, only for me to find we do not have them. And while ILL is a wonderful tool, it should not be one that I should constantly be referring students to. A while back, in my scratch pad, I was wondering how to translate this experience into evidence I could use as part of the narrative, the story of the library. You see, those with the funds don't always think of books as something glamorous to fund; they would rather fund a monument or something more tangible. I could certainly make the case that a good book collection could make a good legacy as it would impact the education of many future generations, but that would probably be a separate post someday down the road.

Finally, Alire gives a small list of references. I already mentioned Silverman's book. There are three other books on Alire's list of references, so I am going to list them here for my own future reference (citation format as provided in the article):

  1. Balter, D. and Butman J. (2005), Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, Penguin Group, London.
  2. Harris, G. (1995), How to Generate Word-of-Mouth Advertising: 101 Easy and Inexpensive Ways to Promote Your Business, The Americas Groups, Los Angeles, CA.
  3. Kirby J. and Marsden P. (Eds.) (2006), Connected Marketing: The Viral Buzz and Word-of-Mouth Revolution, Elsevier, London.

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