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How to get the most out of your status updates, tweets, and website

December 19, 2011

Welcome to the first Outside/In, our new column for American Libraries. Some readers may remember us from Public Libraries magazine, where we wrote the Internet Spotlight column about web topics relevant to librarians and the public library sector. Our goal with this new column is to share practical information, news, and tips about emerging web and technology trends, as well as just-around-the-corner forecasting (the kind you can actually use), and do so in a way that encourages, informs, and hopefully entertains. In other words, our Outside/In column will aim to bring information about what’s happening in the larger world of trends (outside) to see how they apply to libraries (in).

Appropriately enough, our first column begins with a look at “calls to action”—ways in which you can use your online presence to inspire people to engage with their library.

What is a call to action?

Simply stated, a call to action is a way to ask people—directly or indirectly—to do something. You could also describe it as a “next step,”­ that is, pointing people toward what to do, well, next. Take Amazon’s “add to wish list” and “add to cart” buttons, for instance, both of which are calls to action because they nudge customers on what they ought to do (click the button and buy stuff).

Turns out libraries can do something similar. We think it’s a waste of time if you went to the trouble of tweeting, Facebooking, or blogging and did not include some type of call to action for your customers. Here’s how to create one:

Create a call to action

Next time you tweet or post on Facebook, think about what you want readers to do afterward. If it’s a library fact you’re posting, ask people what they think about it (asking a question is an indirect approach, implying that they can answer). If it’s a link to a library event, invite folks to attend and tell them to click a link to register.

On blog posts, popular web pages, or featured items in your library catalog, add a “share on” Facebook, Twitter, or other social network site button. This can be a powerful tool for outreach, with huge potential to help libraries engage with their community online.

While you’re at it, be sure you “like” and share on Facebook and Twitter, which may encourage others to do the same. Also ask staff, board members, and friends to “like,” share, or become a fan. And, naturally, ask your customers to share as well.

Not just for Facebook

Aside from engaging on social networking sites, consider improving your library website with similar features. A slight tweak to a phrase can motivate your customers to take those next steps. For example, a link to your library card sign-up form shouldn’t use mere descriptive text such as “Library card sign-up form.” Instead, try guiding them more directly on what to do next, like “Get a library card.”

When it comes to a YouTube video, have your “on-screen person” ask viewers to click a link or subscribe to your library’s YouTube channel. You can also create a YouTube annotation, which will appear as your video plays and help increase interaction with your audience. Even images can provide next steps for customers. Just add a sentence that says “Click to register” or “Visit the department where this picture was taken.”

Now that you know what a call to action is and how to create one, what’s your next step? Maybe you could start by tackling the wording of your website or the marketing campaign event you may have coming up? With time, you’ll gradually build a following that engages your customers and prompts them to sign up, sign in, and check something out.

Helpful links

Want to know more about creating calls to action and next steps? Here are some links to get you started:

10 Best Practices to Optimize the Language of Your Calls-to-Action

10 Techniques for an Effective “Call to Action”

Using YouTube Annotations To Create A Call To Action—The YouTube Creator Playbook

12 Ways to Get Readers to Take Action

How to Structure Your Web Content to Get Better Conversions

Our call to action to you

Please leave a comment (or email) to tell us how you create next steps for your online library presence. We will mention some of our favorites submissions in a future column. And if you have a topic you would like covered or have an interesting story to share, we invite you to email us at or

DAVID LEE KING is digital branch and services manager for Topeka and Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library.

MICHAEL PORTER is currently leading the effort of the e-content–centric nonprofit Library Renewal and has worked for more than 20 years as a librarian, presenter, and consultant for libraries.