How Does Your Law Library Marketing Work?

There comes a time in every discussion of law library services that marketing is raised.  Sometimes it is a necessity – something new – and sometimes it is a final straw, a visual CPR for a service that isn’t resonating.  When I watch law library marketing, it often appears from the outside like throwing stones into a pool.  Unless you are measuring where the ripples go, you may just be piling rocks at the bottom of the water.  I decided to follow the path of a recent marketing post to see what happened.

I confess I like the Clermont County Law Library Association.  They’re good people doing good work, and were my courthouse law library neighbors for a couple of years.  A recent tweet about them got some traction and so I thought I’d use them as my example.

From the outset, a couple of things were clear.  The initial promotion came out on a Friday from a county media contact.  That suggests the law library has a good relationship with the courts or county who have their own, professional media team.  One thing law libraries often lack is marketing experience, other than what they’ve done themselves.  Having access to dedicated people is an asset.  Also, the marketing text was about helping people, not about the many books and databases that every law library has.  It was about how the people there will help you with your legal issue.

Here’s the timeline.

Not One and Done

The initial web post and tweet came out on Friday, January 19. There was some initial attention – 4 favorites to the tweet and a retweet (by me) – but a second tweet came out on Monday, January 22. As you can see below, the tweets use two different photos from the main story and a slightly different message.

First tweet, link back to web site. Personable text, and a “did you know” gives something for people to be interested in.
The second tweet takes a similarly personable approach – not about books or databases – and focuses on people and service.

The second tweet received just as much interaction, with two retweets and two likes.  I know the first one had a total of five interactions, but 2 were mine.  One of the difficulties in marketing is understanding what happens past what you can see or measure yourself.  It’s one reason that, if law libraries are doing marketing with technology tools, they should be monitoring not only the tool itself but also activity trends (reference calls, visits, what have you) immediately following to see if there’s any unseen impact.

The county communications coordinator, Kathleen Williams, should get a special shout out here.  She also published an article on Cincinnati.com, a large web site that began as a newspaper (Cincinnati Enquirer) and that allows local news contributions.  These sorts of resources may not be obvious to a law library.  One resource I have used in the past was a press release service.  The press releases are picked up by a variety of other publications and can be indistinguishable from other news on the site.  If a law library is promoting out into the community, having access to services that allow this sort of promotion can help.

Hard to Measure the Ripple

As you can see in the timeline, because I retweeted the first post, I can see what happened to my retweet.  This information isn’t visible to Clermont County, but another 225 people saw my retweet (whatever that means) and one person clicked through to the web site.

The same thing goes for web site traffic.  I have marked where web sites included the original or later stories about the courthouse law library with a www.  Unless you own the site, you probably don’t know how often people visited the site.  Even if you own the site, if people (like me) visit and have disabled the ability for your analytics tool to measure the visit, you won’t know they are there.

But if you can measure this traffic, it can give you some really useful insights.  Here is a screenshot of my acquisitions data for this web site, showing me all the sites that referred people.  Some are obvious – t.co is the link shortener for all Twitter-initiated visitors and duckduckgo is a search engine – and some are less so.  The inoreader and feedly visitors aare subscribed to the RSS feed, and come (I can correlate visits to domain names, so I know where they work) whenever there is new content.

Google Analytics acquisition data showing referring sites.

Some of those referring sites you can drill down and find the actual page that sent people over.  It may not matter.  If you find that certain sites are regularly referring traffic, you can focus your limited marketing resources on those sources or channels.

One thing you can tell from the tweets that were sent out by Clermont County is that at least 2 lawyers (based on Twitter bios) liked the post.  That’s a good match for a courthouse law library.  Someone in the law library will probably know whether those lawyers already know a lot about the library or not.

Follow the Ripple

What happened next is hard to trace.  A local magazine reposted the full text of the original article.  It’s not bylined so it’s not clear if it’s like the Cincinnati.com content or if there’s just a standard relationship with the county to republish content.  Either way, it generated a nice additional bump in traffic.  Additionally, it highlights how different publications have different reach.

In this case, Loveland Magazine published the content to their web site, then shared that content to their Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Like the web, they can see Facebook and Twitter interactions that are not visible to anyone else.  But you can see that the Ohio State Bar and Court News Ohio both picked up the story (they use the Loveland link, not the original county one), and posted them.  Since the OSBA page was an RSS feed too, it may be that the link was delivered to their readership.  Both publications are likely to have potential courthouse law library users, so another win.

The ripple starts to fade by February 8.  Clermont County sends out one more tweet, reusing a picture but with a new tagline, and gets an interaction.  I like the different taglines, because you never know what is going to work.  Once you’ve gone around a few times, you’ll start to see which ones resonate.  Or not.  I was particularly curious about the tweet on a Friday and a Monday.  They got about the same interactions.  But day of the week, time of day, and so on can impact whether you get traction or not, beyond even seeing the message.  I am not a believer in the best time because I think each library will be different.  You’re going to need to figure that out.

AALL picked up the story on the 7th with a link in the KnowItAALL daily e-mail newsletter and a tweet and Facebook post on the 8th.  E-mail newsletters will often show up in referrer analytics as coming from Mailchimp or Constant Contact.  Sometimes they’ll be harder to determine, because they’re referred by their e-mail server (mail.google.com or mail.yahoo.com).  Then it’s hard to know for you – the newsletter sender knows – whether it was the newsletter or just someone sharing an email.

Ripple, then Repeat

Marketing is, for me, like baking.  You keep doing it until the muffins don’t burn and people with discerning taste don’t politely drop them in their napkin.  And there’s a reason I’m a librarian and not a baker: I realize I’m not a professional marketing person.  But you cut according to your cloth.

I think this marketing was effective in putting out a couple of different messages and reaching lawyers on Twitter, at the OSBA, and over on Court News.  There were probably additional interactions but from outside looking in, it’s hard to know and know whether they were meaningful.  The trick for any law library, then, is to repeat this over and over again so that the interactions increase and you can better assess which audiences are engaging with which message.

Where relationships exists – Clermont -> Loveland Magazine for example – it may be worth talking to people there if it’s not already a formal connection.  Similarly, when you can identify people further down the pipe line (like the OSBA), it may be worth figuring out how to get in front of them at the start, rather than through others.

We’re not all lucky enough to have someone like Kathleen helping out.  I think Harris County (TX) and Maricopa County (AZ) also do a great job – when they post about law libraries, they seem to pop up for weeks afterward.  And if you’re in a larger organization, the law library’s message is one of many and it can be hard to beat the drum as regularly through the organization’s main channels.  But given that law libraries will have limited resources for marketing, it makes sense to watch and measure every effort.

 

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David Whelan
I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.