Two Tribes

In my last role, I was the digital media officer of an education organisation. After the interview process, I asked them for some feedback on my application. They said that I got the position because of the range of skills that I brought with my library degree. They said that they wanted someone to help with information dissemination. What they meant was digital marketing. Information professionals (the new word for librarians) and marketers are not the strangest of bedfellows. Here are a few things they have in common.

1. Information Users

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Both marketers and information professionals are in the business of dealing with users. Whereas traditional marketers concentrated on their product or their brand, digital marketing is all about segmentation. This is the practice of targeting messages at particular demographics. Because demographics famously do not buy products, personas are created from market research and user interviews. They include everything from possible quotes to phone choice. This sort of research is second nature for librarians.

2. Information Skills

As part of my library degree I had to study information behaviour, web publishing, web 2.0, digital media and information design. As part of my digital marketing course, I have to cover digital strategy, analytics, social media and User Experience. Librarians are primarily looking to create an engaged relationship between their users and their information. Marketers have a more focused objective – to track the exchange of value between the user and the information and to drive sales.

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3. Information Technology

Both professions have changed as a direct result of technology. Traditionally, marketers didn’t exist as a separate profession until the industrial revolution. Without choice, there was no need to market anything. As mass production arrived, marketing operated on a broadcast basis for the huge numbers of products that were churned out. Mass media was the way forward. In the 1990s the internet arrived and with it search engine marketing. Social marketing then transferred the power to the user. The information profession exploded as a result of the printing press (mass produced information) in the 15th century and then followed the same trajectory as marketing from the 20th century onwards.

4. Social Information

Changes in information technology have social consequences for users. Information channels move away from interruption and towards participation. Users become media owners and co-creators of digital objects. The mass market becomes fragmented and developed into communities, tribes and niches. Marketers have to follow the crowd. Once upon a time, libraries were closed off and inaccessible to everyone except the elite. In a public library today there are knitters, children, researchers and homeless people coming in out of the cold armed with smart phones that can access complete catalogues. Future projections for both professions are looking at the semantic web, where personalised information will find the user.

5. Information Design

In a world that is cluttered with information and where the old means of communication are disrupted, it is important that there are few obstacles between the message and the user. Marketers know that people base their choices mostly on emotion, and they often get accused of manipulation because of this. They invest heavily in the visual design of the message. Librarians, at first glance, prefer logic but they too rely heavily on the emotions. One of the main theories of information design is Gestalt theory which explains how the rational side of the brain post-reasons what is happening with our emotions when we view information.

Font choice is important

Font choice is important


At present, I find myself with a foot in both camps. Luckily, both professions have been listed here in the top 10 most useful college degrees to have.

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