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.