Buy India a Library illustrates the power of social media once again

Last month I wrote a blog post outlining the Buy India a Library project, and calling for donations. We wanted to raise, in an ideal world, £1,350 - enough, remarkably, to build a library in a book-free zone in India, AND to build a donkey-drawn mobile library that would travel around Africa. This month we will hand over the unbelievable £2,420 we raised in just two weeks, to the charity that administers the donations.  If you're time poor, you can just have a look at the slides below to learn a bit more about it - and thank you if you got involved!

I seem to be genetically programmed to try and break-down things I've used / done / been involved with / learned about, and repackage them for consumption by the wider community - so if you're less time-poor, read on below the slides for some of the stuff I learned from the experience, about using social media for a campaign like this.

The power of social media, writ large

A lot of people talk about the power of social media, and it can tend to polarise people - either you get really put off by all the fuss, or you become a social media evangalist yourself. For me, this was conclusive proof of the power of social media, as it was the mechanism by which we could communicate with people, and draw together a community of librarians (and non-librarians) who wanted to get involved. Crowd-sourcing was made easy by Twitter, and our conversation reached people none of us had previously connected with.

Aaron Tay has written in detail about four recent campaigns for libraries (including Buyalib) that use Social Media.

Working together

It was great working with Justin, Andromeda and Jan (and huge thanks to Andromeda for suggesting we do this at all). All of us brought something to the table that made the foursome a really strong unit. Not 'more than the sum of our parts' as such, it's just that the sum of our parts was a lot more than any of us on our own (obviously). I'm not sure it would be possible to have done this invidually, and why would you want to? Collaboration is ace.

We didn't use any particuarly advanced communication methods, by the way - just emails (lots of 'em!), Twitter DMs, and a Google Docs spreadsheet. Plus of course a blog which we all had access to.

If you're planning something similar...

I wish I had some peircing insights into what we did, or top tips about what unique things we employed to get it done - but I don't! We just tried it, made it as we went along, and it worked. But a couple of things that I noticed along the way:

  • There is huge momentum for this kind of thing initially - you need to capatalise on this before people get bored! Lots of people got excited about the idea, and RT'd, and donated - but after a few days that momentum had ebbed away and I was worrying we were starting to annoy people by constantly tweeting links and demanding their money. So I'd say, for a campaign like this, don't launch until you're completely ready - you need to be around to really push it when you do launch and make the most of the initial good-will.
  • Mix up the information you provide. We had a lot of info and things to say about the project from the get-go, but we aggregated it in several blog posts over time. You need new things to say, new angles to come from when you blog about it - otherwise it's just 'we've made X, please give us more!' every time, and people won't keep reading.
  • It was a Twitter campaign, but moving it off Twitter got results too. We pitched buyalib as a 'let's crowd-source the money to build a library, to build a library' type campaign, but obviously Twitter is a bit of a bubble. After a while, everyone who is going to donate has seen your tweets. Looking at the timings and frequency of donations, it's clear that when people blogged about the campaign this provoked a surge in donations. This is probably for a number of reasons - first and foremost you're bound to be reaching people who aren't on twitter but who do read blogs. Secondly when the blog posts weren't written by members of the Buyalib team on their own blogs (ie other Info Pros felt moved to blog about the campaign) the argument was more powerful. These bloggers were, in effect,  champions of the cause, disseminating information about it - rather than people directly associated with the cause, promoting it. That gets round the 'well of course they think it's a good idea!' issue that comes with blogging about your own projects. The power of word-of-mouth is not to be under-estimated. Thirdly, a blog post can explain something in a lot more detail than a tweet. The maximum most tweets about buyalib could be was an invatation to click a link and read more - that only works on people who are willing (and have the time) to click the links and engage. With a blog post, the reader has already made the commitment to read it, and all the information is right there with no further action required on their part. It's only a little thing, but we do live in a world of information overload - people don't have time to click all the links they see.
  • People really want regular updates! They really, really do. Even if you have nothing much new to add, you need to blog or otherwise provide updates on the total raised, because people have an emotional investment (as well as a financial investment) in the whole process - they don't want to just donate and feel like that's the end of it, they want to follow the whole thing through.
  • Thanking people takes a long time... Make sure you leave a good chunk of time to assemble and collate all the donors so you can get in touch to thank them. It takes a while (we had 100 people donate), but it's a vital step. I only just finished thanking all the people I personally knew (or knew via social media) - sorry it took me so long!
  • A good hashtag goes a long way. No evidence for this one - I just get the feeling that the ease of writing, saying and understanding #buyalib as a hashtag helped the campaign. As everyone knows you only have 140 characters to play with on Twitter - using too many of those up on a hashtag is a cardinal sin, as it inhibits peoples' ability to discuss it. But then also a cardinal sin is having a hashtag which means nothing to anyone. I think #buyalib worked well - better than #buildanIndianlibrary, or whatever, might have done. .

Thanks again to all who got involved! And if you're just reading about this now and wish you could have donated, I'm afraid we've closed the campaign now but you could always go direct to and buy a library of your own.

In the meantime, stay tuned to the Buy India a Library blog because when we get updates on building progress etc, we'll stick 'em up on there!

- thewikiman