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What a Japanese Library Can Teach Us about Social Marketing


リブライズ 〜すべての本棚を図書館に〜 from Tsuomu Kawamura.

You’ve probably never heard of Librize unless you live in Japan. Started in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo’s coolest neighborhood, is the brainchild of computer engineer and café owner Sho Kawamura. The project has a simple premise: to turn a bohemian area of small cafés, independent theatres and boutiques into an interactive library and community run entirely online through social networks.

Why did Sho do this?

Well, in a way he didn’t.

Sho was running an open source café when he started receiving books from his regular customers. Other customers would borrow the books or just read them in the café. He began posting the books available on Facebook. The customers, in turn, started posting reviews and having discussions on the café’s Facebook page.

He started thinking about all the wasted books on communal bookshelves in cafés and public spaces in Japan. He began discussing this with a regular, another IT engineer, and together they came up with a solution that put the entire library system on Facebook.

Librize grew organically through interactions between Sho and his customers, which created interactions between the cooperating cafés and their customers. In a short amount of time it’s grown to include more than 400 places, including schools, cafés, companies and coworking spaces offering more than 150,000 books.

The system’s strength is its simplicity.

Users login to the service with their Facebook profile and the Librize Facebook app creates a unique barcode which the user then brings to any participating “library.” The “library”, usually a café, then has access to the Facebook profiles of the people who borrow their books.

Better than a 5% discount !

The genius of Librize is how it’s more mutually beneficial than the typical “like us on Facebook and get 5% off” campaign. That kind of offer is a one-off reward. It ends with the “like.” Sho’s system works so well because it isn’t a one-off reward and customers keep engaging with it because it offers something, the books, of value to them. So what lessons can we take away from Librize’s organic development?

The best part is how it creates a genuine reason for customers to visit and like the participating companies’ Facebook pages: checking what books are available, reviewing and discussing books that they have read. Liking a company’s page in this context is something serves the user just as much as it serves the service.

Ultimately, the lesson we can take away from Librize is that interacting with customers through social media can be mutually beneficial and need not be a hard sell. A seemingly ancillary service, borrowing books, draws customers to cafés not only as patrons but also as book reviewing ambassadors to their friends on their social networks.

You should definitely check out Librize’s website to see how to implement a social interaction with customers that doesn’t require you to convince or sell them their interaction. This is only an example; Librize’s solution only happened to involve books. This kind of communication between companies and customers can really involve anything, just not a 5% discount for a like. I mean, how often haven’t you ignored one of those?

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