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.


Ambient Awareness in Twitter for Reference

A couple of days ago I was able to help a patron on Twitter with a question that they had about citations. It wasn’t directly addressed to the library though, so I almost missed it. A savvy marketing professor actually referred the student to the library on Twitter, which was very helpful.

This got me thinking though. There are likely a lot of potential library related questions on Twitter from our patrons that we miss because they might not be asking us or thinking of the library when they tweet. Patrons may be talking about proper citation or research though not @replying or DMing the library.

So, to remedy this and catch some of these questions I set up several alerts using Twitter’s advanced search. You can take advantage of the Boolean nature of the advanced search to make your searches very specific. I set up searches for:

  • Tweets containing the word library
  • Tweets containing the word cite
  • Tweets containing the word research
  • Tweets containing the word paper
  • Tweets containing the word need AND book OR article OR books OR articles

All of these alerts I set up were within a 10-25 mile radius of the college to keep it targeted locally and keep hits managable. I keep these alerts in a folder in Google Reader.

Different libraries might run different searches. For example a public library around this time may run a search having to do with “tax help” or “taxes.” The searches can be tailored to your specific community, and they can be modified over time. I may find that some of the searches I’m running never return any useful hits. But something like the word “cite” or “citation” is not used that often. When it is, there’s a decent chance it’s something a library can help with.

What do other folks think? Are there other searches you would run? Is this just going out and looking for more work?


We Need to Work on Our Listening Skills

Photo by Fozzman on Flickr

Photo by Fozzman on Flickr

People are talking about your library in both the physical and virtual world. It is difficult to know what is being said in private conversations without being omnipresent, but it’s easy to discover what’s being said online. You just need to work on your listening skills. Using tools like RSS, alerts, and saved searches it is possible to hear most of what is being said about your library online.

Twitter Alerts

To find out what users are saying about your library on Twitter, first go to Twitter advanced search. From there you can run any number of searches for your library using either exact phrases or including certain words. Use your librarian chops to run searches that might be about your library. For example at my institution our building is called the Miller Information Commons, but people may just refer to it as the Champlain Library. So some searches may include: “miller information commons,” “mic,” “champlain college library,” and “champlain library.” After you run each of these searches you’ll see a link on the right that says “feed for this query.”


You can then grab this feed and save it to Google Reader or your feedreader of choice as a saved search. Whenever someone says something using those words you’ll be notified.

You can also set up searches by location. For example, I have set up a search for the word “library” within 25 miles of my city. I get some unrelated hits (which are still pretty interesting), but I also get many that I may have missed otherwise.

Google Alerts

Another useful tool to know what is being said is Google Alerts. This tool gives you “updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic.” Once again, you can set up variations of searches for your library. These alerts can be delivered once a week, once a day, or as they happen. You can then get them sent either to your email or again create a feed for them and have them go to your feedreader. I actually have a folder in Google Reader that is all saved searches and alerts for my library.

Blog Alerts

It’s also possible to set up alerts for what is being said in the blogosphere about your library. If you go to Google Blog Search you can run the same searches as above and find blog posts about your library. After you run a search there is once again the option on the left side of the results screen to subscribe either via email or feed.

Social Search

In addition to these searches, both Bing and Google will be adding social searching capabilities within the coming weeks. This will make it even easier to find out what people are saying on Twitter, Facebook and possibly other social networks. Once these features are rolled out try setting up alerts on these services as well. I know I’ll try it.

Once you know what is being said you can address people’s concerns, respond to compliments, and ultimately understand your users better.

Kelly Dallen and Chris Brogan both have good information on this topic as well.