In the beginning…
I’ve been involved with the setup of several social media sites for the various organisations I have worked for and there are some points that are consistent with all of them. At the outset, unless you are running private library, you will need to be aware of how you parent body feels about the project. What is their view on using social media? Do they already use any social media sites and if so, do they approve of your library setting up their own account/s? Can you justify the need for this extra workload? Who will manage the ongoing workload commitment?
The audience dictates the tool (not the other way around)
It will help you explain your needs if you have analysed them first and can explain your social media strategy to management. This way you will be clear about what platform suits your intended audience and how you will measure if this is successful. In some ways this is like choosing any resource – it needs to fit your target audience and this in part, explains why you may choose several different social media platforms.
Like any new resource, you can’t assume either your staff or your customers know you have a new online presence, so you will need to market it and train staff and customers in how to connect via this forum. There are many ways to increase your audience but ongoing customer training is one important way – especially in a public library. You can use your site to explain to customers how they can stay in contact not only with the library, but also with their friends and family – it serves a double purpose. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have become mainstream communication channels, often used to run competitions, so older people are also curious about social media. The other benefit of staff running customer training programs is that have ‘buy-in’ to this area of library work. They will begin to offer suggestions for posts, respond to customer feedback etc. and you will need their support to maintain the commitment to your social media channels. Your site/s will be much richer for various staff contributions and their support is invaluable.
The review process
Along the way, check your progress against the benchmarks you set and see how you measure up, what is working and what is working less well. Perhaps you are under-performing and need to boost your enthusiasm, or change the timing of your posts, alter your language style, add some lighter posts to help improve your relationship with your audience – don’t forget the ‘social’ in ‘social media’. Visit other libraries sites and see what you like about their activities that you could also use.
You will also need to plan an exit strategy if your effort doesn’t measure up to your agreed targets – just like weeding a physical collection. As sad and as disheartening as this sounds it may be necessary. For example, if you are targeting teen audience via Facebook, this might have been a better choice a couple of years ago. There is now ample evidence that teens are leaving this online space, particularly if their parents are on Facebook. So if a graceful exit is required, plan for that too.
To finish on a positive note, social media gives libraries the chance to share news about libraries, resources, events and so much more that doesn’t always fit into a ‘standard website’, think Pinterest, it is immediate which makes it great for really important messages to be distributed quickly, it gives your customers the opportunity to provide public feedback or ask questions. Not all feedback will be positive and you will be judged by your responses so careful and considerate in your reply (that applies to all your posts really but is especially true when responding to criticism).
Using social media channels won’t replace your existing communication channels so it will add to the staff workload, but not only do our customers expect us to be online, it can also be a lot of fun – believe me!
[Lisa Miller is the Social Media Coordinator for the ILN]