How to Build Audiences to Effectively Engage Your Library Community

This post is the fourth post in a series on tools from political campaigns that can be used to arm librarians in the face of growing opposition during the Trump era where anti-tax and anti-government sentiments have a much stronger voice than ever before.

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Let’s talk about building audiences for library campaigns. Whether you are working with a ladder of engagement or building and testing messages for effectiveness, the key is to start with strong and well defined audience. Professional political operatives, fundraisers, and marketers spend millions of dollars building audiences for their campaigns because starting with an effective audience is the most efficient way to win a campaign. So often I see libraries sending broad messages to entire communities and then being disappointed with the results. If your audience is too large or broad, you will waste money messaging people who don’t care about the issue and your ROI will drop. Remember that you should only spend resources on putting your messages in front of the people who are most likely to care about it. If your audience is too narrow then you’ll miss people who are likely to take action for your campaign. Or, if you are working with a ladder of engagement (which you should be creating for each audience) then you want to make the most of your resources by starting with an audience most likely to be moved from one rung to the next. Starting with the most effective audience is one of the best ways to ensure success and efficiency for your campaign.

Of course, there are many different ways to build audiences for a campaign, but here are three of my favorite audience sources.

Voter File
A voter file is easily one of the most obvious audiences and it is available fairly inexpensively from your board of elections. This is, of course, the best list to use to build political power in your community for your library.  However there are many nuances to a voter file. A standard voter file often includes name, address, party affiliation, voting history, phone number and occasionally email addresses. You can buy enhanced voter files from companies like L2 that have a lot more consumer data or issue data or more accurate phone numbers (phone numbers on voter files are notoriously inaccurate). While a voter file includes everyone in a community who is registered to vote (often referred to as a universe), it isn’t often effective to target an entire voter universe. Instead, you can break down the voter file to target individuals who are registered with a specific party, or you can target the high propensity voters, or voters who live in various areas of the community.  You can target conservatives in your community with messages that resonate with conservative voters or target progressives with messages that resonate with progressive voters. In the long run, targeting these voters with effective messages will help build up the political capital you need when your library goes to the voters so start targeting them years before you ever have to ask them to vote for your library.

*Please remember that it is illegal to use a voter file as a fundraising list.

AtoZ databases
AtoZ Databases and ReferenceUSA are two of my favorite audience building platforms that are freely available at many libraries. This is one of the best list sources for likely donors although there are many different audiences you can build here. At EveryLibrary we often build donor lists and lists of large companies in a community so that we can target them for fundraising for library initiatives. Because the data is fairly robust and decently accurate, you can find out someone’s household income or value or find people who have a history of donating to a political or charitable cause. In Sunnyvale library we were able to download a list of residents by area code and then compare that to our list of users in that same area code from our ILS. By deleting any of the duplicates, we were able to come up with a list of non-library users in Sunnyvale. We could then run a direct mail campaign that targeted non-users to encourage them to come to the library. Of course, we could also upload those lists to Facebook and target them with ads or run a phonebanking campaign. With decent GIS software, we could even map out our areas of the highest number of non-users. The benefit of starting with AtoZ databases or ReferenceUSA is that you have the lists available to you with phone numbers and addresses and these lists are great for fundraising. My next audience builder is far more powerful and accurate, but you are left to find a way to cultivate the contact information for any follow up contacts.

Pro-tip – You can often find the email addresses and phone numbers of the executives of many of the major fortune 1000 companies in these databases to help you make the first contact.

Acxiom
Axciom is easily the most powerful audience building tool for Facebook and many other digital platforms such as Twitter, Yahoo, MSN, eBay, and a few others but I primarily use it to target audiences on Facebook. These lists are best used for engaging community members in taking action on a ladder of engagement that starts with social media. Acxiom is a data company that allows you to request audiences by various behaviors such as buying habits, donations, consumer data, lifestyles, etc… You can request an audience from the Data Guru who then creates that audience in the platform that you are using or you can use their first person audience tool. In either case, this service is completely free because Acxiom makes money from you paying for ads on these platforms. The big drawback is that you don’t get an audience in a format that allows you to view names, addresses, phone numbers, or email. In other words, you can’t see who is specifically in the audience so you have to wait for their interaction with your data collection platform to get that information from them. If someone signs a survey or a petition for example, you then have their contact information for follow-up contacts. The benefit of Acxiom is that you can get a highly targeted audience of people that is extremely accurate. The are people who are most likely to sign a survey or a petition for your specific cause or issue and that can greatly reduce the cost of signatures through ads.

Targeting
Once you have these audiences it’s up to you to decide how best to target them. For some audiences, you can simply upload the CSV with name, address, and phone number into your library’s Facebook account and start targeting them with ads and follow up with more contacts later. For other audiences it might be best to start by running a phonebank campaign and call each of them. In other cases you might have to knock on their door or send them a piece of direct mail. While I made some suggestions here, you’ll have to look at your audiences and make your own decisions or feel free to ask me in the comments below. No matter where you get an audience, try to build ladders of engagement for each one by understanding your goal with each of them.

Sometimes it helps to work backwards from your goal. For example, if you want more people in your community who are likely to vote for your library, then of course, start with a voter file. Or, if you want more donors, you can start with local likely donors from AtoZ databases. And, if you want more volunteers, you can have Acxiom upload a list of non-profit volunteers into your Facebook account and you can target them through Facebook ads with links to your VolunteerMatch page. These highly targeted audiences are the key to bringing you the highest ROI for your initiatives.

Other Audiences
I have only barely scratched the surface of building audiences for library campaigns and initiatives. Major political parties, PACs, and causes, spend billions of dollars on cultivating the most accurate audiences they can and use data sets, voter models, test messaging, focus groups, etc… to win campaigns. One of EveryLibrary’s big initiatives is to build a lot of these datasets and audiences. But these are just three of my favorite ways to build an audience to start a campaign quickly and easily. We’ve worked with many political operatives  who have their own tools and techniques for their own campaigns and initiatives. I know that there are many other sources for audiences and I’d love to hear where you like to get your audiences from or how you like to build data on top of your audiences to make them more effective.

If you are interested in having EveryLibrary conduct a training to build political skills for librarians or speaking at your conference or staff development day you can get more information here. Or for information about my training, workshops and consulting, please view my speaking page.

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