Are efforts to use social media worth it? Indeed, they are. I see many reasons for libraries—or practically any other organization—to use these tools.
Listening comes first. Before your library starts “talking back” online, set up listening tools to see and hear what customers are saying about you, your services, and your community. Listening tools are easy to establish. For starters, create a search in Twitter for your library’s name (for example, “topekalibrary” and “topeka library” for the Topeka and Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library). Save that search. Now, whenever someone uses those keywords in a tweet, you’ll see it (assuming you revisit that search in your Twitter reader of choice). Next, set up and save an advanced Twitter search for the word “library” and the name of your town or city. When someone uses the word “library” in your vicinity, they may be talking about you. You can set up similar searches in Google Alerts and subscribe to those alerts via email or RSS. When a new search result appears, you will be notified.
Using Twitter and Google Alerts helps you learn what customers are saying and how they interact with your library. Use this information as an informal focus group. Once you’re comfortable with social media, start answering questions that pop up.
Social media is called “social” for a reason. It enables communication. Using social media tools through the acts of friending and following gives your organization direct access to customers. This is huge. If people choose to follow you, it’s because they like your organization and want to stay updated. Your library needs to follow through by providing interesting information.
Answer questions as they arise. You’ll see two types of questions: direct and indirect. Direct questions are asked by a customer via social media. Your role, obviously, is to answer the question. You’ll also want to exceed customer expectations by answering their indirect questions. These are questions your customers directed to their friends via social media. You may see them through your listening tools or because you also follow their friend.
Sharing new stuff
Have a new service at the library? Have a fun event coming up? Share it via social media. Tweet it, make a short YouTube video about it. Add it to Facebook Events. Share photos of the event on Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter. After seeing the posts, people who missed the event may come next time. If it’s a service, share what you’re doing and why—and invite people to use it.
Sharing staff and personality
It takes real people to answer questions. When real people talk to customers, their personalities come out, quirks and all. This holds true with social media. And that’s okay, because sharing a little personality here and there makes you seem real, and people like that. The other side of this idea is training. Some staff will be comfortable being themselves online in an organizational setting, while others will need some training on how to interact in a positive, purposeful manner when using an organizational social media account.
Being “alive” online
When an organization actively participates in social networks, it shows that someone is interacting with customers. Everyone would agree that asking a question and receiving no response does not encourage someone to ask another question. Why bother? Responses make your social media account seem alive and worth following. Assuming you do a good job at it, it also makes the library seem active and worth following.
DAVID LEE KING is digital services director for the Topeka and Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library. He cowrites the American Libraries column Outside/In and is author of Face2Face. This article is excerpted from the Aug./Sept. 2012 issue of Library Technology Reports.