Getting Started With Social Media For Your Library

I occasionally get emails from people who have seen my more popular posts about library social media including: Four Reasons Libraries Should be on Social Media, How Libraries Can Leverage Twitter, and Six Things Libraries Should Tweet. People who write often want to know how to get started using social media from a library account. I wanted to collect some of the advice that I’ve shared with them into a post for others who may have similar questions.

Whether you’re starting out or just looking to refresh your library social media presence, one of the best resources I’ve found is the Social Media Examiner’s Resource Guide. It gives you a social media marketing industry guide and tons of practical articles on topics like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and blogging. In addition, the popular tech/social media blog Mashable has some solid guides on topics like Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve also found that there are a few important things to remember to make your social media presence effective and fresh without burning yourself out in the process.

Influence and Engagement not Numbers

The two most important questions to ask when starting out (and regularly after that) are “what are my goals for having a social media presence,” and “what am I trying to accomplish?” People often think that having a lot of fans or followers is really important in having a social media presence. This is misguided. What matters in social media is not the quantity of followers, but the quality of the conversations. There are plenty of reasons to be on social media and number of fans/followers can be a helpful metric, but your focus should on user engagement and influence as opposed to becoming popular.

Use a dashboard

Using a social media management dashboard is the best way to stay abreast of conversations and keep your content fresh. You can use free tools like TweetDeck and Hootsuite to manage both Facebook and Twitter and schedule posts. Doing this in a single block can save you time and ensure that you regularly have fresh content being posted. Dashboards also help you to see things like mentions, posts, replies, and saved searches all in one place. These one stop shops will help you you see what people are saying about your library and be a part of that conversation.

Include your users

Talking only about yourself is a quick path to losing the attention of your audience. One of the best ways to get engagement on social media is to make your users a part of the conversation. Our library Twitter account regularly retweets posts from students and other groups on campus. On Facebook we post things like student artwork, and on Twitter we often retweet photos from the library’s third floor.


Use the richness of the medium

When using social media tools it’s important to leverage them to their full potential. A text only post is going to get a lot less engagement than one that is rich either visually or contextually. In Facebook include images in every post. Period. It’s been shown to increase engagement by 120%. On Twitter include links, hashtags, and @mentions. There is a lot you can say in only 140 characters. And depending on your audience there may be other social networks you may want to experiment with such as Pinterest or Tumblr.

“Connections create value” and there is “power in community.” These are rules of the social era that libraries have known for long time. There are now ever increasing ways to create these connections and build community. What advice would you give to someone trying to start a social media presence for their library?


An Illusion of Privacy (The Facebook Debate)

privacy sign

photo by rpongsaj on Flickr

There has been a ton of talk online about the most recent privacy debacle, stemming from Facebook’s Open Graph and other privacy changes. One interesting point of view was that of tech blogger Robert Scoble who wished that Facebook was more open, because right now only 5000 people can see his page.

In contrast to this viewpoint, danah boyd believes that most people are not like Robert Scoble. They are angry and confused with these changes and feel like they have to suffer through them and continually “fix” their privacy settings when Facebook makes changes. The reason they feel like they have no other choice and cannot delete their profile is because they have invested so much in creating it, and all their friends still use it as a way of primary contact. People feel trapped.

Another viewpoint comes from Mashable contributor Ben Parr, who defends what Facebook is doing. He makes the point that privacy on the web is dead. Even if you can control who sees your profile, any information you put up is still a copy/paste away from being out on the open web. You have little control of something once it goes online.

Since libraries are champions of privacy, I think there are a couple of lessons here for us and our users:

  • Privacy is the responsibility of the user – If you are worried about someone (mom, ex-girlfriend, employer) seeing something on your Facebook profile, you probably shouldn’t post it in the first place. Privacy online is an illusion. This is Parr’s point about any info being a copy/paste away from everyone seeing it. If something is put on Facebook or elsewhere, others will eventually see it. It’s simply good practice to not post secret things online.
  • Social media is public sharing of information – Going along with the first point, there are no more walls. Twitter is an open conversation. Facebook is realizing this as well and trying to make their site more open. They want to allow people to share more across the web (the reason for Open Graph). Mark Zuckerburg believes that public sharing is the new social norm and wants to tap into that.
  • People use social media for different purposes – Robert Scoble wants Facebook to be more open, but that’s because he uses it for self promotion. As boyd points out most people don’t use Facebook in this way. They use it to keep in touch with friends and share their personal lives. Social media has tons of uses though: self-promotion, learning, communication, marketing, friendship, etc. Assuming that everyone is using a tool exactly like you is terribly short-sighted.

I agree with boyd that people are frustrated and feel trapped. But the reason for this is because they are believing a lie. Facebook created the illusion that you have privacy settings and these settings keep your information safe. In reality, these settings are confusing and often change; and even with privacy settings a friend can download a photo you post and put it elsewhere. In the age of social media, information posted on the web (even behind walls) can be shared everywhere.

This can be a great thing. A lot of amazing things can happen with this ease of sharing information. The problem comes when people share things on the web that they shouldn’t. In my opinion libraries and privacy task forces should be focused on dispelling this illusion that people have walled social media gardens where they can air their dirty laundry.


Your Website’s Got Tentacles!


image cc on Flickr via brunkfordbraun

You have a library website. People go there, learn about your library, get help, and access your resources. But that’s not the only place where people should be able to do those things. The library website should be thought of as a larger critter, with tentacles that stretch out in lot of different directions, trying to scoop in unsuspecting patrons.

What do I mean by tentacles? Tentacles are other places, spread out on the web, where people can connect with the library. This could mean customizing your library Facebook page, to add a chat widget or links to library resources. It could also mean having notes on pictures in Flickr that link to a catalog record. It could mean a lot of things:

  • Library resources in your LMS (Angel, Blackboard, Moodle, etc)
  • Creating search alerts in Twitter to snag patrons who didn’t even know the library could help
  • Library blogs
  • Library videos on Youtube or Vimeo

Your official library website should be a sort of home base where people can learn everything about your library and what you have to offer. But having tentacles can be very useful in showing the value of the library and catching users who may never go to your website.

An LMS is a good example of a tentacle. Some users (especially distance users) may never even think about the library. But if you have a section or page in an LMS then the library may become more visible and get additional use. The same goes with Twitter. Users may not be following you library account, but if you set up alerts for a few library related words, you can contact them and make them realize that they have access to a library and that it could be of value to them.

Get bits of your content out to numerous places on the web. Don’t think of these things as watered down versions of your website. Think of them as tentacles stretching out across the web, extending your services and resources to unexplored nooks and crannies.