5 Tips for Operationalizing Reading Challenges During a Pandemic

Masthead Waves

You’ve designed your summer reading challenge (maybe using our tips on designing a reading challenge during pandemic times)—now what? The Beanstack team has a saying: if you build it… they won’t necessarily come. So once again, we’ve put our heads together, taking best practices from our library partners and our own reading challenge experiences, to bring you these 5 tips for operationalizing your summer reading program to drive participation and engagement during our second summer of COVID. 



Tip #1: Create a marketing strategy (but stay flexible) 

At the core of a strong marketing strategy are clear timelines (what happens, when) and assignments (who is responsible for making those things happen). If your library has never before crafted a marketing strategy, we recommend starting by assessing your existing communication channels—including everything from social media accounts and newsletters to print materials—and planning how to leverage those channels. You might consider creating a hashtag for your program to use on social media, and we always recommend using images in marketing materials, whatever the medium. 


Next, look to your media relationships: local news outlets (including radio, print, online, and TV) can amplify your library’s messaging about summer reading. Local bloggers, celebrities, and influencers can also help boost your social media campaigns. Check out this helpdesk article for more tips on digital marketing tactics to drive summer registration and engagement. 


Finally, stay flexible. If in-person events are part of your marketing strategy, consider giving community members an option to participate remotely. If you traditionally handed out tons of flyers in the library and around your community, but then switched to all-digital marketing for the summer of 2020, we highly recommend planning to do both for summer 2021. 




Tip #2: Prepare your staff

Your staff are the folks who will be answering questions, helping with registrations, and carrying out your marketing and engagement plans, so it’s super important to thoroughly prepare them. Provide as many different training options as possible, including videos (our staff essentials video is a great place to start), virtual and in-person events (if that’s a safe option for your library), and written instructions. You can even run staff-specific challenges in Beanstack. We recently saw a library duplicate and customize our New Client Setup challenge for multiple staff members so that everyone could complete it at their own pace! Everyone learns a little differently, so presenting information about Beanstack and your summer reading challenge in multiple formats gives everyone a chance to succeed. 


In our tips on challenge design, we shared this metric for simple challenges: any staff or community member can describe your challenge in 3 sentences or fewer. Now’s the time to make sure staff know that description! Many libraries also use cheat sheets that staff can keep on hand at library desks with quick tips about registering and logging in Beanstack and highlights about your challenge. Find more recommendations for preparing staff at our helpdesk




Tip #3: Invest in partnerships

Many libraries have experience partnering with local businesses for prize donations, but partnerships can go way beyond that tradition (although we do love fun prizes!). Consider working with organizations (including nonprofits like museums and out-of-school learning centers in addition to businesses) and individuals (like local officials and celebrities) to share resources. Your partners might do something as simple as promote the library’s challenge via their newsletter or social channels. We’ve also seen libraries create unique scavenger hunts that direct folks to local businesses for freebies or secret codes. One library even partnered with the local electric company to put summer reading ads in electric bill mailers. 


Don’t forget your local schools when looking to partners. For the second summer in a row, schools will be facing both summer- and COVID-slides in student learning. Free choice reading is one of the best ways to fight those dual slides, so we expect schools to be more motivated than ever to promote library summer reading programs to students. In addition to school librarians and media specialists, consider reaching out to school boards, PTAs, and administrators to help drive student registration and participation. 




Tip #4: Promote the Beanstack mobile app

Mobile users are more engaged users and providing a mobile app is a way to allow for more equitable access—so it makes sense to promote the mobile app to grow summer reading participation. There are a couple quick and simple ways to do this. First, you can share our “One Link” URL on your library and Beanstack landing pages. On mobile devices, this link will take users directly to the Beanstack app in either the Google Play or App Stores, depending on whether they’re using an iOS or Android device. Second, you can add the Beanstack app’s QR code to print materials, so that folks can easily scan the code and be directed to the appropriate app store for their device. 


To level up in mobile app promotion, consider making a fun tutorial video for your community like this one. Find more mobile app tutorial videos at our helpdesk.




Tip #5: Use data from insights & reports to hype your challenge

Lean on the data available in your Beanstack site throughout the duration of your challenge to get your community excited about their achievements and inspire them to do more. Have a community reading goal? Remember to provide regular updates on your community’s progress via social media and other marketing channels. Are activities or regular drawings part of your challenge? Grab and share stats about activity participation and hype your upcoming drawings on a regular basis. 


Many libraries have great success using Beanstack data to craft weekly updates that share overall minutes and/or books read, as well as the most popular books in your community for different age groups. You can also use Beanstack insights to create healthy competition between branches or schools as part of your marketing strategy. 


We’re here for you in the new normal

As much as we’d love for everything to “get back to normal” for summer 2021, we know that instead, we’ll be adapting to a new normal. So much has changed in our daily lives, including rising consumer expectations about digital options (here’s one take we like on those changes and how to plan experiences for this new normal).


Summer reading will be many libraries’ first major foray in designing community experiences in a post-COVID world. We hope that our tips on designing and operationalizing your summer reading challenge during a pandemic help your library staff enter summer with confidence and optimism. And remember, we’re here to help if you need anything. 


Happy summer reading!

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