How Libraries Can Leverage Twitter

Twitter has been working pretty well at our library. It is coming up on two years since our first tweet. I have been thinking a lot lately about how we use Twitter and our successes and shortcomings with it. Looking back on tweets, conversations, and interactions from the past year and a half, I noticed 7 ways that we are leveraging Twitter to improve our library, our services, and our relationships with users. We are leveraging Twitter to:

Report library happenings

If the library is closing early due to weather or if a printer is down, we can communicate via Twitter, among other channels. If we are having events like an international photo contest or a chili cook off, we can let people know. It’s also helpful to let people know when new displays, art, or exhibits are put up. I like to post an update every time we put up our new book display for the month as well as post a picture of a particularly interesting cover.

Promote library resources/services

When we get new interesting resources, we let people know via Twitter. When we got Mango languages, I posted it to Twitter and people retweeted the post and asked about it a lot.  I also even simply promote our print collection at relevant times. On St. Patrick’s Day I posted this tweet promoting Oscar Wilde’s short fiction. About half an hour later a student came up from the stacks with a James Joyce title and said he was inspired by the library’s Twitter post.

Build community

Looking at the statistics for our library Twitter account, 31% of all our tweets are retweets. That means that at least third of the content, ideas, and events we’re promoting are not our own. Last week we relayed a message from a student about the Vagina Monologues production that was going to be happening on campus. We also have posted information about the human versus zombies game that occurs every fall (for more info about this fairly awesome game, go here). Libraries are hearts of the community, so of course we want to promote what other people are doing. One of our strategic goals at the library is “foster a sense of campus community” and Twitter helps us to do that.

Engage our users

We don’t simply use twitter as a bullhorn though either. We try to engage members of our community. I post news articles of relevance and ask questions. I also noticed when people are working on papers or projects and do what I can to encourage them or help them. Below is an interaction where a student was writing a business paper on virtual teams, and it was an opportunity for the library to help.

Monitor library related tweets

People are likely saying things about your library or things that are related to your library. The reason I am able to find questions or tweets like the one above is because I monitor our Champlain College hashtag and because I have some tweet alerts set up for specific word related to libraries, research, and papers. Through this monitoring, we can address user concerns and answer their questions.

Solicit feedback

This is something that we are not doing quite as well, and I hope that we can improve. But Twitter is a perfect tool to ask for feedback on some service you are thinking about adding or some initiative you recently implemented. Twitter is great for informally asking questions. When designing resources or services for users, it’s important to actually ask them. Twitter is one tool that could facilitate that.

Create greater awareness of the library

Doing all the aforementioned things creates a greater awareness of the library and what it has to offer. Being active on social networking sites like Twitter makes the library more visible. Not every post gets noticed. And some that you think go unnoticed are actually effective. With the St. Patrick’s Day post I mentioned before, no one tweeted back saying what a good post it was. It seemed like it may have fallen on deaf ears. But not long after a student came in, mentioned he saw the post, and checked out a book because of it.

Facebook, email, and print are all important too and should be used accordingly depending on your community. But Twitter is great tool to have in your communication toolbox. It can be powerful in furthering your library’s mission.


But What Can You Do With It?

Do you ever have tours come through your library and the tour guide starts talking about the impressive amount of resources you have? “We have 50,000 books, 60,000 e-books and thousands of online journals!” First they never get the numbers or information right. Second, who cares? What does x number of journals mean to a prospective student anyway, let alone an undergraduate? Nothing.

The best student tour guides are the ones who tell stories. “I was able to Skype a librarian when I was abroad to get help on my research paper, and I got an A because of it.” When you get an actual example of the library being beneficial it makes it more concrete and gives it meaning. It’s much more effective to portray our experiences than our stuff. Apple does this well in their commercials.

In this commercial they don’t talk about the specs of the iPhone or about how the picture is crystal clear. They simply show what you can do with it. They portray the relationships that are strengthened and the magic that happens because of it.

Google, though almost never an advertiser, realizes that search by itself is boring. But what you can do with it can be life changing.

The first time I saw that commercial I think I misted up a little. Searching is like breathing for people who use the web. We don’t even think about it and it is completely mundane. But this commercial shows the power of a story and an experience. This is how we need to market and portray our libraries. In conversations, on Facebook, on Twitter, in videos, we need to share the stories of what libraries can help you to do.

Instead of “hey look at all our stuff,” we should be saying “hey look what you can do with our stuff.” It’s only a slight shift, but it makes all the difference.


Library Services Finding Users Via Social Media

About two months ago I wrote a post called Ambient Awareness in Twitter for Reference. I came up with the idea of setting up targeted search alerts in order to capture questions that people didn’t even know they had — questions in which the library could assist them.

Laura, a London law librarian, asked in the comments of the post how this idea was working out. So, I figured I would share my experiences.

So far, things have been fairly positive. If I find someone from our college is doing a paper I may send them a link to a possible useful resource, or even just wish them good luck. Sometimes I don’t hear anything back, sometimes I do.

Twitter conversation about a religion paper

Erik Qualman said in his viral video Social Media Revolution “in the near future we will no longer search for products and services. They will find us via social media.” That’s what’s going on here. Social media, powerful search capabilities, and RSS make it possible to have a form of ESP. We can deliver value to our patrons when they are not even expecting it and maybe even make them say “wow” like in the example above.

Like I said, not everything has been a success. Sometimes I don’t hear back from folks, but hopefully they find the support useful. But the alerts I’ve set up also give me a lot of insight into the research and study habits of students. There’s a lot of talk of procrastination, and a number of late night posts or posts about the rigors of writing papers. Some students post multiple tweets about the paper they’re working on, and you can see that their being  pretty diligent about it.

The value of Twitter, and social media in general, is not just delivering services but also listening and learning more about your users. These alerts are doing both.