case studies, location-based social media, presentations, social media campaign

Libraries Yes! A Place-Based Community Advocacy Campaign

4 Comments 23 May 2012

The Libraries Yes! campaign is one of the most innovative approaches I’ve encountered in place-based advocacy. Using a strategy that emphasized geosocial check-ins and recommendations on Facebook Places, Yelp, Foursquare, and Google Places, the Libraries Yes! campaign built a targeted list of engaged supporters for a library ballot measure in just seven weeks. What is more, the measure passed by over 4:1 on May 15, 2012. The secret behind their success: good old fashioned organizing combined with a geosocial online strategy.


On January 5, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to place a renewal of the Library Levy on the May 15, 2012 primary election ballot. The Library Levy is how the library is funded – it provides 65% of the money it takes for the library to operate. Winning Mark (a consulting firm) approached Libraries Yes!, the library levy campaign committee about running a campaign for “Yes on 26-125.” The library campaign committee was receptive. Winning Mark created a place-based campaign strategy to support the Library Levy renewal to kick off in March 2012.

Note: By design, libraries cannot campaign for a public measure. All the people doing the work were volunteers. Aly Sneider and Jeff Lennan from the consulting firm Winning Mark also worked on this campaign.

I created a slide deck narrative of the campaign, with screen shots of many of the geosocial channels and library locations on those channels. Many thanks to Aly Sneider and Jeff Lennan of Winning Mark who agreed to be interviewed for this blog post and proof the slide deck for accuracy. The main elements of the slide deck are summarized within this blog post as well.

The Goals: People over check-ins, connecting with those who care

1. Increase awareness about measure 26-125, the Library Levy measure.

2. Promote the library system itself.

3. Build a base of engaged library supporters for the future from people who self-identified as supporters.

4. Long tail of positive reviews and community building.

5. Higher SEO for the libraries (specifically with Google Places).

The Strategy: Place-Based Advocacy

As Jeff Lennan explains, “without them doing anything, there is so much proactive support on the networks of people who love the library.”

The campaign tied online place-based organizing to traditional offline organizing:

  • They created created a main campaign site, Libraries Yes!, with a promoted landing page for TV ads, QR codes and more.
  • They created four explanation videos of how to use Yelp, Google Places, Facebook Places and Foursquare to help the campaign.
  • Created a Libraries Yes! identity on FourSquare and two Multnomah County Libraries lists. That profile gathered over 200 friends in 7 weeks!
  • Created large format hearts and circulated they around town. The campaign would take photos of the hearts and post them to the Facebook Page, Pinterest page, and Instagram.
  • Created a Facebook Page, which garnered over 5,000 fans in 7 weeks.
  • Targeted people who were checking in and reviewing the sites and tried to connect with them and add them to the campaign’s email list. A goal was for those who had taken an action on a geosocial channel to get to know the campaign organizer by name.
  • Asked online supporters to come into the Libraries Yes! campaign offices and work on the campaign.
  • Used Highrise CRM to tag people on campaign list by network used, actions taken on each network, response to outreach, etc.

Substantial results in just seven weeks

  • 1,000+ identified supporters.
  • 300-400 people took an action to say they loved their library across the different place-based networks.
  • The campaign had over 100 conversations with those who took an action in order to bring them deeper into the campaign.
  • Identified over three dozen organizers. This is about identifying advocates and using an organizing model to continue to engage them.
  • 15 volunteers from this group of supporters came into the office to work on the campaign. The Library Levy measure passed by over a 4:1 margin on May 15, 2012.

Lessons learned from the campaign

  • Make the place-based campaign fit the culture of the network, not the other way around. As Aly Sneider explains, “The second you try to mold it to your own whims, they will cry ‘foul.’ “
  • Organizing is time-tested. You need to approach it from an organizing mindset with a plan for IDs, activation, and metrics.
  • Because so many people are already active on Facebook, it’s easy to make their voices heard. Asking them to start writing recommendations is an easily-accomplished goal.
  • The Facebook campaign Page grew the fastest, and it is where the most people already are.
  • Google Places is the largest network, with the lowest network barrier to entry, making it very accessible to all.Yelp is not really optimized for public advocacy campaigns.
  • About Yelp Elite users: These guys know more about the network than the organizers. Ask them what they think. Learn from them. Also, you can be fairly certain that Elite users are active on other social networks.

Innovation in place-based advocacy? Absolutely!

Do you know of other place-based advocacy campaigns? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

  • Michael Jacoby Brown

    I am thinking how this might translate into a similar campaign for support of public schools. There are some obvious differences between these two public educational institutions.  The libraries rarely do any “damage” to participants, while parents sometimes have problems with how a specific teacher might “damage” their child. 
     I was involved in one mini “campaign” that used “Sign up Genius” to repair a school Tech room over vacation. It was successful in part because the teacher was well respected and came in over her vacation to supervise the repair work. 
    One thought is to have short videos of teachers who are respected in their local communities to speak about what would help them succeed. (Smaller classes, for instance, which require more money, like the library in your case study.)  One obstacle is that teachers’ unions rarely recognize the need for parent and community support.  I know of only one State (California) that has specific staff assigned to develop community support.  Massachusetts recently took a small step in this direction.  I think the AFT nationally is working in this area, and there may be others I am not aware of.  I think your social media strategies could play a useful role


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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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