Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Marketing online resources: Making people aware of your digital libraries and digital assets

My graduate students, who are taking "Creating, Managing and Preserving Digital Assets" from me at Syracuse University, at some point during the semester, begin to wonder how anyone finds collections of digitized assets (or digital libraries) on the Internet. It often seems that you have to know that a collection exists in order to find it. This is a topic near and dear to my heart because I think some organizations (i.e., libraries) do not fully realize the need to market themselves and their services. Thus when they launch a digital library or digitized collection, they do not market it properly.

The American Marketing Association states that:
Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives.
Key to that statement is that marketing must be planned. It cannot be haphazard. By planning your marketing activities, you can decide which audience to target, what message to deliver, and the best methods to use.

With many digital collections, the target audience seems to be everyone, but there are likely core groups that you want to have using your collection. Who are those groups? How can you identify them? What message do you want to tell them? What is the best way of getting that message to them? Not every method works for every audience. For example, you might deliver your message differently to senior citizens than to teenagers. And not only could your method of delivery be different, but likely the message itself (and the words used) would be different.

In 2000, I worked with a group to develop a demonstration digitization project called Winning the Vote, a project focused on women's suffrage in the Rochester (NY) region. We used a variety of methods to announce and market the project. Some of the marketing pieces were created by the project team, while others were created by a professional marketer. The methods used would still be valid today:
  • Before the project was completed, it was written about in the Rochester Regional Library Council's newsletter (the sponsoring organization). In addition, presentations were given to local archive groups.
  • We wrote a press release and sent it out via e-mail to libraries, museums and historical societies in the region (five counties surrounding Rochester, NY).
  • We sent the press release and a press kit to the local media. The press kit included sample pages from the site, a brochure and other information. The press kit was noticed and did get the project written about in the local media.
  • Brochures and bookmarks were created and sent to schools and libraries in the region. A key target audience for the project were students in grades 4, 7 and 11. We targeted the brochures and bookmarks to librarians and teachers, since we knew they could point students towards the web site.
  • E-mail messages -- basically the press release -- were sent to discussion lists in the U.S. that focused on history, women's history and archives. Although these were not seen as our main audience, we knew this group could promote the web site. These messages not only circulated in the U.S, but also overseas and brought this project to the attention of interested parties from around the world. (Finding these discussion lists was not as difficult as you might think, since they are indexed in the various search engines. In addition, there are some directories of discussion lists that can be consulted.)
  • E-mail messages were also sent to people we had encountered in completing the project.
  • The team worked to get the project recognized by the major search engines, so that people searching for suffrage materials would find the project.
These methods worked. The site was noticed and used. Even five years later, with very little additional marketing activities, the site is still well used. Unfortunately, the site was done as a demonstration project, so it is not being updated. Still users find the site to be interesting and useful.

If Winning the Vote had been an ongoing project (with funding and support), I would have recommended that the marketing activities continue. With the project being geared towards students in grades 4, 7 and 11, it would have been important to re-contact teachers and librarians in the region every year to make them aware of the collection. I would have also issued e-mail announcements when information on additional suffragists was added to the site. Press releases might have been issued to announce major updated or the addition of information on specific individuals.

Two additional activities I would have advocated for would the the addition of a blog and a wiki. First, having a blog would have been useful to post what we were doing as the grunt work was being done on the project. I think it would have been useful to write about how we made decisions, the problems we encountered, and of course the things that went exactly as planned. Blogs give projects what they have desired -- an easy way to disseminate information about the project and create public notes for others to read. The comment section in a blog would allow readers to offer support and advice, especially if someone else has solved a problem we were tackling.

The wiki could have been used to allow people to add content to the site. Many people have information on these (and other) suffragists, as well as pointers to additional information. A wiki -- used properly -- would have allowed people to add content, while still maintaining the work that the project team did.

There is more to be said about marketing. We'll continue this topic tomorrow.

* * * * *
A presentation on Winning the Vote was presented at MARAC in October 2004. The presentation is available online.


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