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November 22, 2010
Crisis-beset Library Reaps Funding Via Social Media
 
Need we say any more about the power of social media in PR? If you think not, we refer you to this "case study" from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina. How about $400,000 raised via Facebook, Twitter, and word-of-mouth to temper a budget crisis?

Jenifer Daniels, a veteran of nonprofit communications in metropolitan Charlotte, lays out the crisis steps the library took earlier this year when the county manager advised that it should "plan for a 50 percent reduction in our operating budget due to a drastic reduction in taxable revenues throughout the county." The library was asked to return $2 million during the last three months of the year to help balance the county budget.


Rather than sink into shock, the library managers headed to the Internet, principally Facebook and Twitter. First they listened to what was being said about the library's crisis on the Web. They wanted to get a sense of how the library's situation was being perceived. Then they began relationship building on Facebook and Twitter, the social media channels of their choosing.

The library found that its patrons "wanted more information and transparency from us. They wanted to be able to scavenge through our budget; crowdsourcing possible solutions and savings." So the library staff updated the budget page on its website and created a shorter URL (cmlibrary.org/budget) "that was easy to distribute through social networks."

Also, the public felt the library's trustee meetings were held at inconvenient times. Responding again, the staff began live-tweeting during the meetings, so the public "would be able to participate virtually."  Its tweets weren't used during the public comments time at the actual meetings but were "threaded by our official hashtag – #cmlibrary – and served as a repository shared with board members (and staff) after each meeting."

"Our Twitter hashtag became a news outlet; featured on the homepage of the local newspaper's website, Charlotte Observer.com."

The "most critical aspect" of this overall strategy, Daniels writes, "was our ability to manage our message. During the budget crisis, the library was in the media daily; but as we know, the media shapes stories based on talking points and sound bites. By providing unfiltered information, facts, figures and statistics, and public comments, the Office of Marketing & Communications was able to shape and control our own message – one that asked them to support their library in our time of need."

The result? "Using only social media and word of mouth marketing, we have raised over $400,000 from the public and received over 1900 contributions originating from our social media friendly link – cmlibrary.org/donatenow."

Pay close heed, any of you without (or even with) social media in your at-the-ready PR toolkits. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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