Due to COVID-19 related closures, Summer 2020 will be the first time many librarians run a summer reading challenge completely online. And even those who have managed online challenges will have to work harder to get readers registered without the opportunity to recruit them in person at the library or at local schools.
Whether the library is open or closed, you can use spring to start building interest for summer reading. Try these tips to help you increase registrations and maintain engagement throughout the summer, even if you have to do so with limited resources.
You likely already do this to some degree, but try to get the word out about summer reading in as many different ways as possible.
Make it easy for anyone that comes to your website to learn about summer reading. A best practice is to have a page on your site dedicated to summer reading, that gives readers all the information they need to participate. This year, you might also consider featuring summer reading in a more prominent place on the site - perhaps add a banner to the home page and other high traffic places to link people directly to the summer reading page.
Send email announcements and reminders leading up to summer reading, and provide a link to your website for more information. If you’ve used Beanstack before, you already have a list of email addresses for previous participants. Be sure to add these emails, along with any other library email subscribers into your preferred email platform. This year, consider asking recipients to forward the email to others who may be interested in summer reading.
Posting on social media is likely already part of your plan, but now is the time to turn up the volume. Social media platforms are seeing record volume which makes them a great place to meet your target audience where they are, but it's also harder to ensure that potential readers see your posts amidst many others. Don’t be afraid to post more often, and to try different formats. If many of your followers are on Instagram, try adding a story to promote your timeline posts. Or for Facebook, try making an event to promote online summer reading - Facebook automatically suggests events to people local to your community. No matter the format, be sure to provide a strong call to action for people to participate.
Social media posts that feature eye-catching imagery see higher engagement. If you don’t have a graphic designer in-house, there are plenty of online tools that make it easy to create assets yourself - we love Canva for image banners and Animoto for easy videos.
To get the word out beyond people that already subscribe to your emails or like your social media profiles, try sending out a press release or media advisory. Be sure to mention how important reading challenges are for the community, and include how reducing summer slide is especially critical now more than ever, with so many districts cutting the school year short. Send your release to local publications (newspapers, blogs, radio stations) to see if any are willing to distribute it.
Sponsorships and Partnerships
Do you have sponsors for your summer reading challenge? If so, draft an email and social posts for your sponsors to send to their subscribers to help get more people registered for summer reading. If you do not have sponsors already, consider partnering with local organizations to accomplish this. In exchange for their help promoting summer reading, you can offer to feature their logo on the challenge landing page (Beanstack makes it easy to do this!).
Considering the impact that COVID-19 is having on schools, gauge interest from the city mayor, members of the school board, or school PTA committees to partner on summer reading. They may be able to share your messaging with local residents, parents, and students.
Keeping Readers Engaged
Once the challenge is launched, you’ll need to keep up the momentum to reach your goals. You can use many of the same channels you used at launch for communications throughout the challenge. Try the following tips for content during your summer reading challenge.
You may not be able to talk to them in person, so have challenge participants join you on social media. Set up a hashtag for your challenge and remind people to post updates on their reading using the hashtag. Check in on the hashtag regularly (along with posts your library is tagged or mentioned in), and like, share, or respond to as many as you can.
Be sure to share your progress toward a goal at key points throughout the challenge. Perhaps once the first week is completed, once you reach the halfway mark, and then a countdown to the finish line. Messages like these will help participants appreciate the progress they’ve made so far, and motivate them to do as much as they can before the end of the challenge.
We tried to make sure that our recommendations were useful to all our clients, including those who do not have the budget for paid promotion. If you do have funds to repurpose (maybe you were planning to print paper logs, order customized bookmarks, or host a summer reading event), these are some of the ways you might use them to increase the impact of your challenge.
Pay it Forward
Instead of awarding prizes to individual readers (those may be tricky to handout anyway, with branches closed), perhaps your summer reading challenge can donate to a charity that is working on COVID-19 relief. Set a community goal for everyone to read toward - you can give a penny for every minute read, or a dollar for every book - it's up to you! Check last year’s participation reports to get an idea of what your budget should be. This can be a great way to increase interest in your challenge, both from readers and from local media outlets.
Boost Social Media Posts
People who like your library’s social media profiles will see your launch posts, but it would be great if you could reach more people within your service area. If you have the budget, try “boosting” your posts on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Here’s how. Boosting posts can be as inexpensive as you want - try starting with $25! Just be sure to narrow down the audience to people in the location you want to target.
You may not be able to rely on some of your tried and true strategies for driving summer reading registrations and engagement. But you’ve invested in Beanstack, and that’s a great first step to enable your library to take summer reading virtual. We hope that these tips are helpful as you start your planning.