An Interview with Susan Halligan, SMW12 Moderator
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Susan Halligan, the former Marketing Director of The New York Public Library (NYPL), established the first-ever marketing department for the 100-year-old institution, transitioning the library from traditional communication platforms to new media platforms. The library’s “Don’t Close the Book” advocacy campaign was named by MarketingSherpa to the 2010 Viral and Social Media Hall of Fame. Today, she is a Social Media Consultant based in New York working with cultural organizations such as The American Museum of Natural History, various non-profits, startups, and authors on social media strategies spanning channel selection, content marketing, employee activation, stream management, listening and measurement. As a multidisciplinary marketer, her specialty is integrating social media into traditional marketing and communications channels.
A familiar face at Social Media Week, Susan moderated 2011 panel, “The Inner Workings: Social Media Success Through Coordinated Staffing,” and co-keynoted “The Connected Network” at the Arts Marketing Association’s Digital Marketing Day in London in November 2011. On February 14, she will moderate Literature Unbound: Radical Strategies for Social Literature at NYU during Social Media Week New York 2012. I spoke with Susan to learn more about her work and experiences.
You have quite an impressive biography. How did you become involved in social media?
Thank you, Lisa. I began to explore Facebook and Twitter in the early fall of 2008. Honestly, I originally started playing around with the platforms, because I had a very small marketing budget and was lured by the fact that the platforms were free. It was very much a “let me see what we can do with this” undertaking. I had no idea, actually, what I was doing, but spent a lot of time exploring and learning, and began to see that social could be integrated into traditional communication channels and that it was an opportunity to take the library’s brand and initiatives to entirely new audiences in a very powerful way. I became very passionate about social and remain so. While paid media remains an important component in any marketing campaign, the trend for marketers is to spend more resources on social and less on paid.
You established the first-ever marketing department for The New York Public Library. What changed?
Most of the library’s outreach efforts prior to my hire were concentrated on print advertising. I was hired to create and implement an integrated marketing effort across multiple channels.
In 2010, you helped The New York Public Library win the PR News Non-Profit PR Award: “Use of Twitter, Success through a Coordinated Staffing Model.” What went into this work?
I built a teamapproach to content marketing at the library. Non-profits have limited resources (i.e., people) to push messaging. But a big organization like the library has multiple message points: programming, customer service, circulation, collections, to cite just a few. It’s a matter of coordinating outreach. Though internal education and training, a regular working group of key stakeholders, the creation and implementation of polices, including a Crisis Plan, Best Practices and an Editorial Calendar, we were able to dedicate staff throughout the organization to message on a daily basis using team tools like HootSuite and Socialflow.
What kind of metrics were used to determine that The New York Public Library is #1 public library in the world on Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare?
Community growth, brand mentions, interactions and referrals. We published a monthly Metrics Dashboard using Facebook Insights, the HootSuite and Socialflow Twitter clients, Twitter Counter, Radian6, AddThis and Google Analytics. We shared the data with key stakeholders and examined it closely for insights about messaging, engagement and content.
How does social media for a library differ from social media from other companies?
It doesn’t. Like any business engaged in social, we had a long-term customer-centric vision. One of our major goals was discoverability. We wanted social users to be to be surprised and delighted to find us online (and to discover online and offline resources, like free databases and thousands of programs) and to think “Wow, I didn’t know you could do that at The New York Public Library.”
Have your ideas ever been challenged? Which ones and how did you overcome resistance from others?
If an idea isn’t challenged, it may not be that good. The first step in social media iteration is to identify the organizational challenges: internal resistance (turf, legal, security), lack of resources, lack of skills, an ever-changing technology space and the ongoing challenge of measuring ROI.
Alignment is key: the ability to rally internal resources and stakeholders is the #1 skill in successful social media integration. Evangelizers must be able to maneuver adeptly within an organization and rally the “deciders” for support.
Does Foursquare have any real purpose in relatively remote towns with a maximum of 30 retail businesses?
As part of its 2011 Centennial, NYPL was the first in the world to secure a Foursquare badge. The badge was yet one more way to introduce the library to new audiences and it proved a very successful partnership in terms of unique users, check ins and check outs.
AdAge recently did a post about Foursquare’s connection to “mainstream” retailers. Chris Copeland wrote: “Foursquare is a regional play that masks what it is not – a middle America, mainstream tool.” He suggested that Foursquare needs to continue to educate businesses about the benefits of its platform.
What do you think is Foursquare’s future?
Mobile location-based social networking will continue to be adopted.
Of all the campaigns you’ve led, which was your favorite?
The Centennial of NYPL’s flagship Fifth Avenue building in 2011. It was a perfect storm of owned, earned and paid media: there was an exhibit; a microsite; multiple programs; an advertising campaign that included print, radio, outdoor, transport and online; publications; signage; ecommunications; and a deeply integrated robust social effort across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube. I secured VIK sponsorships from The Wall Street Journal, Titan Outdoor and the MTA to support the efforts. One interesting metric from the campaign was the incredibly high level of engagement with the library’s social content.
What is the most innovative use of social media that you’ve seen?
I am a big fan of Coke’s social strategy and tactics. I love that their Facebook Page is governed by regular fans, not “experts.” At the library, much of its social success is owed to the contributions of its staff. Power to the people!
Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Since 2009, Lisa has worked as an Assistant Director at the Tuck School of Business. In 2012, she launched GothamGreen212 to pursue social media strategy projects. View her online portfolio or follow her on Twitter.
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