Using Digital Marketing to Promote Reading

by Emily Ball Cicchini, Executive Director

A little over a year ago, BookSpring was awarded an Impact Grant from IBM to develop a Digital Marketing Strategy for our programs and services. Arranged by BookSpring Champion Beth Tracy, IBM Manager of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, and lead by IBM consultants Karen Kersting and Julian Kamil, seven stakeholders including BookSpring staff members, board members, and Champions spent a day together learning about strategies for increasing engagement in social media. The result of this was a fifty-page document summarizing the workshop and making recommendations for action to improve BookSpring’s digital promotion to build young readers.

Putting Digital Marketing Strategy Into Action

Since this time, BookSpring has taken many actions to implement this plan, including more photographs on our website, improving our program messaging through the new Rx, Ed, and Go areas, and creating channel leaders for each social media platform. Perhaps the best outcome was to set a guideline for social media posting in our day-to-day activities. We have embraced the 40-40-20 rule: 20% of the content we create is about our fundraising or donation opportunities, 40% is about events that happen with our program partners, and 40% is original content offering our special expertise in children’s book curation and reading promotion.

This last recommendation provided our biggest social media success to date out of this workshop. And while what follows may be a little “geeky talk” for some of our BookSpring community, we hope that by sharing our experience, other non-profits might benefit from what we learned from IBM about content marketing on our website.

The Reddit Effect

Shortly after the workshop, we began creating 400-800 word posts that covered breaking news in reading research. These were identified by out staff and Champions from other listservs and general news reports, as well as scholarly journals about education, reading, literacy, and social equity. We try to post one or two of these each month on our blog. There was one particular post that we posted in March about a “Troubling New Study on Reading Aloud.” It did well for us as a regular post that month. But in June, it got picked up by Reddit. We got nearly 80,000 page views that month from this referral, a huge spike in our traffic! We’re continuing to publish blog posts regularly in hopes that we can do this again.

Raising Awareness Equals Raising Dollars and Collecting Books

Still, we are a non-profit, and we must collect the dollars we need to fulfill our mission. One of the goals we had through this IBM Impact Grant was increasing our online giving. And while we can’t attribute any one action to this particular outcome, we can say that before the workshop, we were estimating that about 25% of our donations were coming from online giving. With the amazing success of our most recent Read-A-Thon, nearly two thirds of our individual giving is now coming from online sources. This far exceeds the 50% goal set forth with our consultants from IBM. This allows us to process donations more efficiently, and thereby put more funds and effort into our community-based programs. Gratefully, we have also seen increases in our overall contributions over the past year, particularly book drives and donations of gently used books, which we do directly attribute to specific posts and geographically targeted campaigns in social media.  For instance, our Facebook likes have continued to grow steadily.

Paper is for Children’s Books, Digital is for Messages

As a children’s literacy and family reading promotional organization, we sometimes find it difficult to express the place for technology in our lives. This experience shows that when it can be used as a tool to help promote close, focused, and face-to-face reading in families, we are happy to be a part of the digital revolution, and grateful to IBM for helping us find better ways to share our story through the Internet.

Using Digital Marketing to Promote Reading
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