An Interview with Susan Halligan, SMW12 Moderator

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.

Susan Halligan, twitter: @srhalligan

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.

The Future of Space and Time: Techies, Normals and the Location-Based Revolution

Danielle Nuzzo is a Digital Publicist at 360i. You can follow her on Twitter @dailynuzzo.


Wednesday’s panel on The Future of Space and Time engaged the audience to reflect on the past and envision the future.  The panel took place at the Conde Naste building in Times Square, and yes, I checked in to Foursquare as soon as I took my seat.

Moderator: John C. Abell, New York Bureau Chief for; @johncabell


  • Tony Jebara, Associate Professor Computer Science, Columbia University & Chief Scientist at Sense Networks
  • Chris Dixon, Co-founder, CEO at Hunch; @cdixon
  • Dennis Crowley, Founder and CEO of Foursquare; @dens

As we all know, Google can now follow your every move – does the thought make you cringe or cry out in glee?  Do you find the forced serendipity of Foursquare to be enchanting?  Or does opting-in to a service to let strangers know your exact location seem down-right creepy to you?  This panel discussed the evolution of lifecasting and how location-based services are going to shape the future of social media.

“We live in a world where if we forget our smart phone at home or if Twitter or Foursquare are down we have a nervous breakdown,” admitted Dennis Crowley to the panel’s audience.   He called out that 33 of us had already used Foursquare to check into the panel and another 40 were on their way from Grand Central.  Hmm, he might have a point…and we agree that location-based services are not going away anytime soon.

Panelists discuss location-based tech tools and services at Wednesdays Future of Space and Time event.
Panelists discuss location-based tech at Wednesday’s Future of Space and Time event.

Location-based services are here to stay

There is no more denying it. Twitter is impacting the way we communicate with the world, just like Foursquare is changing the way we socialize and connect with friends.  People are logging on to the internet to find out what their friends are up to on a Thursday night, as opposed to picking up the phone and calling them.

We trust Web sites like Yelp and Hunch to help us make informed decisions about life – where are the best vacation spots?  What are the best haircuts? What about the best vacation spots to get haircuts for someone with my personality?

The guests on Wednesday’s panel unequivocally and unanimously agreed: There’s no turning back now.  2010 will be the year that mobile takes control.  With a number of technologies already available, location-based services are only going to become more ubiquitous.  Dixon even mentioned a rumor that Facebook will be unveiling a geo-targeted check-in system within the next few months.  And we all know that when a “trend” finally hits Facebook, it’s here to stay.

Techies vs. Normals

Dixon divided the audience for users of these new technologies into two categories: techies and normals.  Techies are the early adopters, the ones that were using Foursquare last spring when it first launched.  The “normals” constitute the general population, or as he puts it, “the ones that use Facebook on a daily basis.”  While techies are already on the bandwagon with location-based services, it’s not yet the norm among the normals.  But when will it eventually trickle down and find its way into the mainstream?

The tipping point will be when average people (your aunt in Michigan as well as your colleague in Jakarta) start depending on the information that these location-based tools provide on a daily basis.  When these cool gadgets become a necessity and not just another iPhone app.  For instance, when was the last time you looked up a number in the Yellow Pages?  Can’t remember?  Well that is exactly their point.

Why do big companies miss “the next big thing?”

Even as Twitter is slowly becoming a part of the normals’ daily lives, there are still a lot of skeptics.  Just a few days ago, The New Yorker’s George Packer referred to Twitter as “crack for media addicts.”  The panelists debated why these new technologies continue to be dismissed by major corporations and mainstream media.

Dixon said it best, albeit bluntly: because they seem more like toys.  “One of the key characteristics of new disruptive technology is that it starts out looking like a toy. That’s so often why big companies ignore and dismiss it.”

However, once the normals start adopting and playing with these “toys” on a daily basis, big companies start paying attention.  By that point, the techies have usually moved on to something  else.  To illustrate this point, whenever Facebook was mentioned during the panel, the majority of the audience (myself included) rolled their eyes, anticipating a quick change of topic.

Opt-in vs. Passive Tracking and the Impact on Marketers

But why are people voluntarily telling strangers where they are, what they are doing and where they are headed next?  Perhaps it’s to better connect with friends.  Or maybe it’s to learn about nearby deals and not waste any time by heading to a lame party.

According to Crowley, it’s the opt-in nature of Foursquare that’s changing the game.  Passive tracking technologies, such as Google Latitude (formerly known as Dodgeball, which was also invented by Crowley and sold to Google in 2005) seem a bit more creepy and Big-Brotherish.

For marketers, this is a pivotal moment in time.  People are opting-in to let strangers (as well as companies) be aware of their every movement.  When individuals start voluntarily sharing personal information about their locations and activities, they are also signing themselves up to serve as personal ambassadors for the places they are going and for the services they are receiving.

Having access to this information as it comes directly from the horse’s mouth, as they are living it, is intrinsically more valuable for marketers than the standard practive of making assumptions that a certain demo might like a product or brand based on their web browsing habits.


End Note

Throughout the panel, one thing that Jebara mentioned kept resurfacing in my mind.  He explained that GPS technology is shrinking our hippocampus, the region of the brain that controls spatial navigation.  He informed us that the people with the largest hippocampuses in the world were London cabbies – as they exercise this muscle on a daily basis to help navigate those confusing and windy London streets.  So the more we use location-based services to help us “remember” the places we like to visit and the friends we like to see, the smaller our brain becomes.  But then again, it’s all part of human evolution, right?

Check out the full Twitter conversation about this panel with the hashtag: #smwwired.