Courtney Eckerle

Social Media Marketing: How New York Public Library increased card sign-ups by 35%

January 31st, 2013

Celebrated every September, National Library Card Sign-up Month marks an opportunity for the New York Public Library to bring in scores of new library users.

“It is organized by the American Library Association and it is really designed to remind parents and children that a library card is the most important school supply as they head back to school,” said Johannes Neuer, Associate Director of Marketing, New York Public Library.

However, without the available marketing budget to promote it, Angela Montefinise, Director of PR and Marketing, New York Public Library, said it wasn’t “the easiest thing to get out there.”

She said it was very important for the library to “get the word out for people to sign up for library cards and open a whole new world of information and free programs.”

The solution to take part in this nationwide effort was to generate a creative social media marketing campaign. Using its flagship channels of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and Pinterest, the library could reach its social media network of more than 550,000 fans and followers.

Find the right social media hook

Joseph Roux said, “A fine quotation is a diamond in the hand of a man of wit and a pebble in the hand of a fool.”

Proving the wit of the NYPL, quotes have become a social media jewel that was instrumental in the success of growing library cardholders.

In the last few years, Neuer said the library has been analyzing its social media engagement in a monthly marketing dashboard. The marketing team noticed a recurring theme: “If there’s one thing that always gets attention, it is quotes from celebrities.”

“We do a good job on social media and in the branches, and to try to get people to do this, we did want to go a little bit further this year with the social media campaign to reach maybe new audiences that aren’t in the building,” he said.

Since so many writers and celebrities had previously spoken out in interviews about their support of libraries and the role libraries had in their own childhood, Montefinise said it seemed like a perfect way to get the message out.

“It has worked for us in the past with other things, and so many celebrities love libraries and love reading,” said Montefinise.


Have a meeting of the minds

In a brainstorm meeting with the library’s PR and marketing teams, Montefinise said they began looking at people who had worked with the library in the past and then moved out to spitball people who would catch the attention of the NYPL’s audience. “So, we were building this campaign around inspirational quotes about reading, about libraries. … The PR team really took it upon themselves to branch out and really aim to get quotes from high-profile authors, other celebrities, New York-based and others,” Neuer added.

Giving author Neil Gaiman as an example, Montefinise said, “We did do some research for people who have talked about libraries before.”

Gaiman is frequently in New York, she said, “but he has repeatedly discussed how much he loves libraries and how much he used them, and so he was an obvious choice.”


Acquire new material

Montefinise added the team started with a list of authors to contact, but then kept expanding – soon, they were looking to New York City celebrities, and then to film and other big names.

“We cast our nets very widely on this one, and we were continuously surprised,” she said, saying the team attempted to contact “pipe dream names like Woody Allen” who actually contributed quotes about the importance of libraries.

She added, “It was a fun couple of weeks in PR as people kept running around and saying, ‘Guess who just got back to me!’”

According to Montefinise, while the team did research on people who had been outspoken supporters of the library, most of the material they used was unique to this campaign, such as the quote from Woody Allen.



Others were repurposed from previous efforts, such as a contribution from Maya Angelou that became the third most popular post from the campaign. Montefinise pulled the quote — an excerpt of which is, “I always felt, in any town, if I can get to a library I’ll be OK” — from an interview she had conducted a year earlier.

“It was a unique quote, but it was not new and it was a thing that I got a year ago when she gave [the New York Public Library] her papers,” she said.


Design with social media in mind

Neuer said the marketing team decided to use a postcard-like graphic to showcase the acquired quotes that would appeal to the visual aesthetics of social media.

It had certain elements — such as the enlarged quote toward the top, the logo of the New York Public Library, as well as a call-to-action urging users to acquire a library card — that connect with the National Library Card Sign-up Month. There was also a simple vanity URL at the bottom — — making it easy and quick to apply for one.

“We created three different versions and three different color schemes based on our library colors,” said Neuer.

 Among Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr, which are predominantly thought of as the best ways to visually display something, Neuer said, “Google+ has grown tremendously this year and also offers great ways to display visuals.”At that point, he said, the design proved it would work well on all of its social media outlets. The only necessary change was shortening some quotes in tweets to accommodate the URL.

The PR and marketing teams obtained 30 quotes to cover one per day during the whole month of September, the length of the campaign.


Establish a goal, enlist the troops

In addition to sending these posts out to its flagship social networks, the NYPL decided to enlist its staff in the library card crusade.

“We also now have an internal email that we send out from the marketing team to all social media practitioners in the library, and we give them two or three pieces of suggested content to make it easier for them to fill their streams with content,” said Neuer.

The library card sign-up quotes were always a part of those social suggestions sent through an internal Google group, he said. In total, those practitioners have about 80 Facebook profiles and more than 60 Twitter accounts that reach a greater scope of people, even if they didn’t follow any of the library’s flagship accounts.



Neuer said the campaign was successful in two ways, including that it generated “an unprecedented amount of interactions, like comments and shares, across all of the networks.”

He added that each post averaged 238 total interactions. An interesting facet was although Facebook only represents 12.3% of the New York Public Library’s fans and followers, it actually accounted for 70% of all interactions.

“It was crazy how much this little network generated, so Facebook averaged 722 interactions per post. That is about 500 more than the average,” he said about this campaign.

Neuer was also invested in the performance of NYPL’s Tumblr, which he has seen to be “growing very fast and is a highly engaging and interactive network.”

Most important to this campaign is the “real outcome, and we are also successful in that regard,” Neuer said about the number of new library cardholders:

  • Unique page views to the library card registration page increased by 34%
  • Library card sign-ups were 21% higher than September 2011
  • The NYPL’s sign-ups were 35% higher than the average number of monthly online library card applications

Neil Gaimon’s quote was the most popular and created the most engagement: “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.”



The second most popular was from Chuck Klosterman: “I cannot imagine the type of sinister fiend who would be against the library. A library essentially says, ‘Look, here is some free information that will enrich your life. Read it on your own time. I trust that you will bring it back  when you are finished.’ It might be the most civilized, forward-thinking institution in America. Perhaps the only one, in fact.”

The lesson from this campaign, Neuer said, was it confirmed the team’s previous successes using quotes to garner social media engagement.

“But more importantly, we have seen that social media can have a real impact on key performance indicators for the library, such as cardholder-ship, and we hope that we can translate similar successes with fundraising and advocacy objectives in the future,” he concluded.
Courtney Eckerle

About Courtney Eckerle

With a focus on aspirational, customer-first marketing, Courtney’s goal has been to produce clear, interesting and actionable external content for MarketingSherpa readers. This has included writing over 300 case studies, moderating live event interviews, and producing video content. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Mass Communications and Film Studies from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and was a correspondent for USA Today College prior to joining MECLABS Institute.

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