Changing the World With Patrick Sweeney (Part 1 of 2)

This is the first of a two-part interview conducted with Patrick Sweeney, Political Director for EveryLibrary, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2020). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

What’s one positive example of how Facebook provided good results for those EveryLibrary serves?

We used Facebook to drive our petition to fight against the closure of libraries in Mary Esther, Florida. The town board was going to close the library so they could hire another sheriff, and the Sheriff’s Department was pushing really hard for them to do it. It meant more money for police, and the complete loss of the library.

So, we worked with the folks on the ground in Mary Esther to put a petition together. We used our large network on Facebook and our email to make this a national issue. Small-time local politicians often hate it when their decisions become negative national news. So, we ran a ton of dark ads in Mary Esther and the surrounding area as well as national organic ads, and they got their email blown up by the response. Having that large network on Facebook who are already familiarized with our work and the threats to libraries that already existed meant that people were prepped and ready to take action like sending emails to the town council.

There’s a very sweet passage in that EveryLibrary posting:

This note of thanks doesn’t just belong to us, but it also belongs to each of you who have stood up for libraries in the United States through your donations (it costs less than coffee to support libraries), signatures on petitions, and pledges to support libraries.

It implies partnership/collaboration/cooperation/humility (i.e., it’s not all about us). Do you routinely draw people in with that sort of invitation to engage in your social media outreach efforts?

We do. But it’s because we spent a lot of time cultivating our audiences and educating them about the issues. We spend between $50-$100 in Facebook network ads to our highly specified audiences to educate them and rally them to become ready to take action for libraries. Basically, we’re radicalizing Americans about libraries because only radical or ardent supporters of anything will take action. In fact, something like five to seven percent of an educated audience will take action on any given issue, so we spend a lot of time and money educating larger audiences and networks about the issues around librarianship.

Looking at the mechanical side of that first: roughly how much do you spend each year on Facebook network ads, and what percentage of your overall budget (approximately) is that?

We have a budget of $36,000 for media ad buys through Facebook. Then we try to add some to that. It’s about one-third of our budget. But because of the way we structure our campaigns, we also use them to fundraise—which means we make a significant portion of that money back each year and typically we make about 5-10 percent on our social media and advocacy strategy overall. So, we spend $36,000, but we make around $40,000-50,000 through them and with our email list.

On the theme of cultivating/radicalizing your audience to spur audience members to action: what steps would you recommend others take to achieve the positive results you’ve achieved?

The thing to remember is that it’s a really long process. Social media ads that ask for donations just don’t work. You can’t run an ad that says, “give us $10” and expect to get back more than you spend. It either doesn’t work, or I don’t know how to write those ads in a way that draws in donations. So, about one-half to three-fourths of our spend is just about communicating with our audience about who we are and what we do and why libraries are important. We also use it to open dialogues with audiences of people so it’s not a one-sided conversation. The other one-half to one-fourth is on direct action, such as signing petitions, joining coalitions, etc. And it’s those actions that yield our donations.
“It’s not a one-side conversation”: Care to offer some brief thoughts on the importance of avoiding social media as a broadcast medium while ignoring the “social” side of it?

Well, it is a broadcast medium, really. But, there are still ways to build conversation into those broadcasts. So, we run petitions, people can message us on Facebook, we reply to comments on our posts, we respond to emails, and have places where people can directly talk to use—we address a lot of issues that come up there. But our most powerful dialogs are not in Facebook. We use Facebook as part of a holistic communication strategy. So, we organize events and fundraisers where people can have direct access to us or have dialogs with us IRL. Because those are really the conversations with the highest ROI.

[Thanks for adding that comment about the most powerful dialogs not being on Facebook; can’t emphasize that enough in a book that focuses on social media as part of an overall activists’ tool kit.]

Our biggest donors and library supporters are really the people who have learned about us on Facebook—our broadcasts—and then contacted us or had a dialog with us in some way.

Facebook as a “gateway drug” to social engagement!

LOL, yes. This is your brain on Facebook. Any questions?

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the twentieth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

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