The “State” of social networking

Social networking has become a part of a large proportion of many people’s lives. It allows them to stay connected to the people they care about, stay up to date and hear news from disparate places. There’s a brilliant diagram over at Flowtown which helps put into perspective not just how many different social networking sites there are, but how many people are using them. How many countries on the map have you visited? Click on the image below to view an enlarged version.

The 2010 Social Networking Map

The 2010 Social Networking Map

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Social Media – what is it good for

I have pushed the uses of social media for libraries fairly consistently. Mainly as I see there are many benefits to librarians, such as:

  • Improved staff ICT skills
  • Improved access to information both within the library community and from the public
  • Improved communication with readers/users/customers/clients/ ‘stakeholders’ (you choose your term of preference)
  • Ability to demonstrate to managers/funders that we are responsive, transparent and technically proficient
  • Receiving new content, ideas, help

But what is the user benefit in most library social media?

  • They get to have library promotion directed at them
  • They get to share a community with other library users and library staff
  • They sometimes get to communicate their opinions/needs/requests/ to library staff

But, is this enough and is it working.

What I have mostly seen in libraries is social media used to advertise what we are doing, rather than ask readers what they are doing or showing how they can contribute. When providing destinations or contact points we need to remember:

  • The social media destination or contact point is for them not us
  • We need to supply content and not just promotion
  • We need to seek content and not just comments
  • We need to give users the tools they need to contribute
  • We need to supply some benefit for their engagement
  • We need to show that we are listening and adapting to whatever comes back to us

Crowdsourcing is hugely popular in many instances (and sometimes not). Where it works is when people are given a real and defined function or activity to do and the tools to do it. Where it doesn’t work is where people are asked to contribute but are given limited perameters on what is required and what the final outcome or result of their input will be.

Social media use, also needs to have a clearly defined purpose if it is to be successful beyond being a promotional tool.

Using Flickr as an example, some libraries:

  • Have no Flickr page
  • Have a Flickr page with their own photos on showing their activities (some without even a basic CC licence)
  • Have a Flickr page with their own photos on, and invite their users to join created Groups to add their photos too
  • Have a Flickr page with their own photos on, and invite their users to join created Groups to add their photos too and then add those deposited photos to their catalogues, websites, competitions and local history collections, etc.

This last use of Flickr is what is best practice usage. Libraries get content and community goodwill, users get acknowledgment, preservation of their photos and communal pride. The other uses are essentially pointless. There is no great benefit to your users in putting your library photos on Flickr, there is no great benefit in creating groups that exist only in Flickr and do not go to a greater purpose.

The same can be said of your Facebook page, unless you are using it to keep your ‘like’ audience engaged it is just another promotional tool.  Keeping your users engaged means more than sending an update every week or even day. It means organising by directly messaging all your ‘like’ members about areas where they can assist or contribute or join in. For example, on facebook a public library could organise an online reading club, where readers join and decide on what ebook to read, discuss the book online, send each other updates on reading, send each other links to more information on the author, film adaptations, reviews anything.

So it is with Twitter, is there a staff member sending the occasional promotional tweet . Or, is there a staff member who is keeping watch on Twitter, engaging in time, responding to tweets.

All this is not to say that there is no promotional role for libraries in social media. Library promotion is a valuable  function, and apart from staff time is free.

Social Networks, there are benefits that outweigh risks

An article by 4 German scholars in the Journal of Information Technology asks and answers the question Online social networks: why we disclose.

The article (I warn you it’s a bit turgid and talks more of methodology than results) finds unsurprisingly, that people share personal information because they receive social benefits from it after an examination of benefit to risk ratios.

Inspired by rising privacy concerns, our study empirically identifies factors involved in self-disclosure on OSNs. We find that among the myriad benefits of OSN platforms, Convenience, Relationship Building and Enjoyment are significantly linked to information disclosure. We contribute to the ongoing research by showing that, although risk hinders self-disclosure, it is often offset by benefits and mitigated by trust and control beliefs. Our findings demonstrate that OSN members engage in a process of privacy calculus when deciding to disclose information.

Who uses Twitter?

According to PEW Internet,

Some 19% of [American] internet users now say they use Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves, or to see updates about others.

Alas, Patrick Stewart is not one of them, though he is apparently very fond of his iPhone and emailing.

Facebook reaches the 6 year mark

From humble beginnings, built to keep friends in touch during university, Facebook has grown exponentially and is part of life for millions of people around the globe. This great graphic, created for Mashable, gives an overview of Facebook facts and figures.

Visualising 6 years of Facebook

Privacy 2.0

You’ve heard it all before: there’s a fine balance to be struck between sharing personal information and oversharing information that might put you at risk.

A large proportion of people use social media and, in doing so, give up some degree of their privacy. But is is a choice. In return for giving their information to a website/organisation, they get something in return – a service, the ability to see what other people have shared and to continue sharing information with others as freely, or as restricted, as they choose. Well, that’s the theory – of course this is somewhat dependent on the terms and conditions written into the service that you’re using. The Economist points out that there is a continued tension between the service provider (for example, Facebook) and their users in what kinds of information should be available and to whom (to only certain people selected by the user, to only friends, to friends of friends, to external application providers etc).

Over on the Facebook blog, there’s an interesting piece with snippets from a range of privacy professionals from around the globe that is well worth a read.

If you’re concerned about your privacy, and where your online information is going, look for the terms and conditions on their site or contact the service provider directly and, while you’re at it, check out the Australian Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s website which has some great information about your rights and private information.

Waves in motion

Having briefly looked at Google Wave, it’s been interesting to follow conversations happening with people who are currently using the beta version and to get a bit of a look in to what people are envisaging they might be able to use Google Wave for.

I’m looking forward to getting to grips with this emerging technology when it finally surfaces from betadom.