How the New York Public Library’s Blog Mobilizes Communities
The term “content marketing” casts a wide net when it comes to ways to promote and publicize a brand or organization. It can include social media, tip sheets, and emails, as well as paid promotions like native advertising and promoted posts on social platforms.
However, blogging is one of the leading tools in any brand’s content marketing strategy. And for nonprofit organizations on a budget, blogging can often be the most effective way to engage and mobilize communities.
One organization that has mastered this method is the New York Public Library. Since 2007, NYPL Blogs has showcased content that continues to inspire and educate a devoted audience.
Lauren Lampascone, producer in the library’s Digital Experience department, sat down with us to share insights into how the NYPL’s staff of bloggers (approximately 500 different bloggers and special guests from 150 locations) employs their expertise to help users navigate the massive amounts of materials and collections at their disposal.
Q: How did the NYPL decide to start a blog program?
A: It started at around the same time that the organization began building a digital foundation and took on several different strategic initiatives towards that end.
There was a lot of planning around digitization of our collections, and we wanted to do the same thing for staff expertise: get it online where it can be searched and discovered by a broader audience. All of a sudden, the tools to do so were at our disposal, as we moved from a static HTML/Coldfusion environment to a Drupal CMS where all levels of staff could be trained and granted access to easily create content.
We are so lucky in that we have such breadth and depth of materials and collections to talk about. We have one-of-a-kind archival materials and special collections, all formats of audio and visual materials, books that span hundreds of years of scholarship, a broad circulating collection of popular materials, and a collection of digital images, books and subscription content that is growing every day. There is always something new to discover and so many connections to draw.
Q: The NYPL Blog updates multiple times per day, and features multiple topics, from NYPL bloggers at multiple libraries around the city. How do you run such a coordinated effort?
A: Our workflow is set up so that I have time devoted to reviewing and publishing several posts a day. I encourage people to write whatever inspires them, and often this does have a natural timeliness (“my favorite TV show just ended, I want to write a post about books that are similar in theme.”).
Centrally, we have a cross-departmental weekly engagement meeting—representatives from marketing, homepage, media, web, programs—to plan what content to promote. Because the community of library bloggers is so big and distributed, it’s hard to take a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s easier to break it into cohorts or think about it in terms of larger initiatives, such as the one we are currently taking around reading recommendations.
Q: How do library staff members become NYPL bloggers?
A: They register to attend our introductory training. But it really only works if it is voluntary and people are excited to do it. I think that enthusiasm comes through and is part of what makes for compelling reading.
I also think of it as a way to make your everyday job easier: if you get this question a lot, why not turn it into a research guide that you can direct people to and help the rest of your colleagues at the same time?
Q: Do bloggers cover anything that interests them or are there times when content is strategized from a marketing or newsworthiness point of view?
A: Bloggers are given a great deal of latitude to write about what interests them, so as long as a topic involves our collections and services in some way it is fair game. What seems to work best is taking the content we have and promoting it according to timeliness or newsworthiness. Staff are aware that this is happening and do aim to have newsy content prepared quickly so it can be featured.
Q: How has the blogging program created more awareness, engagement or patronage among library users or online audiences? Do you have examples?
Our content frequently gets picked up and mentioned by other outlets, and sometimes even imitated. I take it all as the sincerest form of flattery!
In one post, Carmen takes a Buzzfeed-y approach to a very meaningful topic, and she inspired the Association of Personal Historians to do something similar. I know that a few of our research guide posts have been turned into classes, so that you can now visit us to get a hands-on session on researching your home’s history or writing your family’s story.
Many of our staff members have also had the experience of someone coming to the library and asking for them by name after seeing something they blogged about. That’s exactly what we want to happen, to be fostering a connection between information seekers or creative makers and the people here who can support them.
Q: Do you use any types of social media tools that make it easier for colleagues to share each other’s work?
A: We encourage everyone to share their work on social media. It’s much easier to draw on our huge supply of content than to try to come up with original posts or things to link to every day.
Even older content is still useful, and if needed we can always make updates. Our locations are mainly on Twitter and Facebook, and at the flagship level we also use Tumblr and Instagram. Our engagement team sends out suggested content every morning, often drawing those selections from recent blog posts.
Our biggest growth spurt was 150 percent between 2010 and 2011. This was around the time we migrated all of our web services to Drupal and blog posts were heavily integrated into the overall web experience. We doubled page views again between 2013 and 2014, and without having investigated this too deeply, I would attribute that to some really popular content and altogether improved promotion through social media channels.
Q: What advice do you have for other non-profit or budget-conscious organizations looking to start a coordinated blogging program of their own? How easy would it be to scale a program like yours to a smaller organization?
A: Look at your strengths: ours are collections and staff expertise, and we’re a big organization, which is part of why we can have such a robust program. But not everyone can.
Be realistic: Don’t set out saying “I am going to blog once a week/month” unless you are part of a small group holding one another accountable for really doing that. Our online book discussion is one example: everyone who participates has a month they are responsible for leading the discussion.
Consider partnerships: We often ask guests to blog for us in support of exhibitions or initiatives and it’s nice to expand our community to include those perspectives.
Write for the medium: In other words, a blog should not be merely a space for announcements or event listings. How can you add value to them? For an event, we might look at doing an author interview or a list of books that relate to the event.
Provide a service: We can’t give you all the information available on a topic, which is why we refer you to other books, databases, websites where you can learn more.
Finally, be flexible: At the beginning there were many cries of “I can’t blog, I’m not a techie person.” But if you can use Microsoft Word, you can blog. It might take a few tries until you find your rhythm and start to really see the ways the web content on your site and beyond are intertwined. I see my role in part as guiding our staff through this learning process so that their expertise can really shine.
Terra Dankowski contributed to this post.
Communications Best Practices
Get the latest updates on PR, communications and marketing best practices.
Cision Product News
Keep up with everything Cision. Check here for the most current product news.
Thought leadership and communications strategy for the C-suite written by the C-suite.
A blog for and about the media featuring trends, tips, tools, media moves and more.