What to do when no one comes


Photo by Flickr user VancityAllie

Last week I had my first zero-attendance program at the library. I’ve had low attendance before, but this was the first time that nobody showed up. It was a little disheartening; this was supposed to be the first in a series of Appy Hour programs where librarians and attendees share their favorite free and inexpensive apps related to a designated theme. My manager was really excited about the idea, and many people in the department thought it would be a great program.

So what happened?

It’s impossible to know the exact reasons why the first Appy Hour failed. It could have been the theme — I thought health and fitness apps would be great for tracking New Year’s resolutions, but maybe this community isn’t interested in that. It could have been the day I chose, which I realized only a week beforehand was the same day as several TV series’ season premiers. But I think the biggest reason was a failure to get the word out to the right people.

The library is not a field of dreams; building a program doesn’t mean they will come. What made advertising Appy Hours even harder is that the series was designed to draw people who don’t normally come to the library, or who don’t interact much with the library. Most of the marketing for Appy Hour reached those who already use the library. We posted on our blog, website, social media pages, and electronic signs throughout the building. I strategically placed fliers on tables where people use their laptops or tablets for work, and in the stacks near books related to mobile technology. I even wrote two press releases — one announcing the series and one with details about last week’s kickoff.

But the people who would theoretically come to Appy Hours likely never saw the fliers or signs in the library. If they visited our website, they probably clicked past the banner without even looking at it to get to our catalog or the database they wanted. They may not subscribe to the library’s blog, or like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. And who reads the local paper anymore? Most of the target demographic for Appy Hours gets their news online, via links posted on social media, or through parodies like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

So what now? Do we write the series off and move on? It’s possible that there’s simply no interest in this type of program in this community, but I’m not ready to give up just yet, and neither is my manager. We’re adjusting the way we tackle publicity for February’s Appy Hour, and hopefully the theme (date night) will be a bigger draw than health and fitness, too. I’m still going to advertise in all the places that I advertised the first Appy Hour, but I’m also going out into the community. I made a list of all the places where I’d like to advertise, and I’m going to take an afternoon driving around town, asking business owners if I can leave handouts there or post something on their bulletin board. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Panera
  • Starbucks
  • Local university’s student center
  • Local university’s library
  • Orange Leaf (a yogurt place)
  • Local chocolate shop (since the theme is date night)
  • Payless
  • Meijer
  • Walmart
  • Target

Can you think of any other places to promote a program like this? What has your experience been with reaching this demographic?


2 thoughts on “What to do when no one comes

  1. Katy Copenhaver

    Hi Liz,
    My name is Katy and I’m an Adult Services Librarian in Prescott, Arizona. I found your blog by googling “Appy Hour Marketing,” since I’m need some help on that very topic! I really like the approach you’ve written about regarding trying different programming ideas and not letting the fear of failure stop you. Failure is truly how we learn and improve many things in life-public services included!

    I’m currently facilitating a monthly Appy Hour that’s held in our local mall. We thought it would be a great space to use to try and reach community members who might not use our downtown library location. We used standard library publicity for the first session, using flyers in the library, emails to our patrons, and a short description of the event in our local paper. We had 18 for the first one, and I was feeling pretty pumped! For this month’s, however, we only had 6 individuals show up and I realized that we probably need to approach some different marketing techniques.

    One of my managers suggested networking with local phone stores in our mall. They sell smartphones by the hundreds and it could be helpful having flyers at the counters, promoting a free, fun event that teaches smart phone owners about some fun apps to place on their device. We’ll work on contacting these stores to see if they’d be interested in referring customers who might be interested. Would love to keep you posted on our progress!

    1. Liz Osisek Post author

      Hi Katy,
      I’m glad your first program went so well! We looked into advertising our Appy Hours at local phone stores, but were told we couldn’t leave any flyers or handouts. Hopefully you’ll have better luck there! I think sometimes just visibility and word of mouth can help with marketing, too. Our programs were held at the library, but it sounds like your downtown location is a place where people are more likely to walk by or even wander over on a whim. Even if they don’t stick around that day, if you have information about future programs (if you’re planning to make it a series), they may make a note to come to the next one or tell their friends.

      We ultimately scrapped our series, as we had only two regular attendees, but I think it’s still good to know what doesn’t work in our community.

      Best of luck with your programs! I’d love to hear how they go!


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