If there are over 1 billion people on Facebook and the Twitterverse can help topple governments, then it only makes sense that libraries would also be using these two social media channels to connect with their communities, right? Well yes and no.
Libraries are using social media, that’s clear. According to Library Journal’s Survey on Public Library Marketing Methods and Best Practices, 86 percent of libraries said they were using social media. The top two social media platforms used by libraries were Facebook (99 percent) and Twitter (56 percent). Pinterest is making some gains, with 30 percent of libraries reporting that they are pinning. The problem is that 48 percent of libraries surveyed said they weren’t measuring their efforts at all. While the survey didn’t ask if libraries are getting fans to interact with them, most libraries I have spoken with lately have said they were still struggling with that.
Four Steps to Facebook Success. Really?
It’s not a secret. The entire web is filled with ways to succeed on social media. Facebook offers an entire section on how to be successful using its platform. It even includes best practices for you to follow. Essentially they list four steps:
- Build Your Page
- Connect with People
- Engage Your Audience
- Influence Friends of Fans
So, if it’s so easy, why isn’t every library having wild success with its Facebook page?
Wandering Around Without Mapquest
Without a plan, can you guess what your first problem will be? It has become evident that the recurring theme of these articles is the importance of setting goals and making plans to implement those goals. If you don’t know where you are going or what you want to achieve, it’s a pretty good assumption that you won’t know when you get there. Without direction, social media content creators can be at risk of working in silos without any strategy to communicate their brand, connect to services, or drive people to the library or its website.
Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) built its success by understanding the value of planning, and its social media efforts are no exception. Three years ago, CML had approximately 3,500 Facebook “likes.” A year later, they had 18,500, and today’s count is just over 28,000. That’s amazing growth, but it wasn’t a surprise. CML had a plan—the staff knew what they were looking to achieve and had a plan to guide them.
CML’s Social Media Manager Julie Theodo’s whole plan fit into four pages and included the goals, tactics ,and metrics to take the library through the year. Without a plan to connect your social media efforts to the larger goals of your library, your efforts are guaranteed not to take your library where you need to go.
We are posting all the time, but no one seems to notice
If your library is posting and not getting any interactivity, then you are probably posting the wrong things. It may be as simple as not understanding your audience or not knowing what to say.
Library Journal Mover & Shaker Ben Bizzle, Director of Technology for Crowley Ridge Regional Library, says, “Make them laugh and pull their heart strings. Facebook gives you a tiny little space that is competing with hundreds of other posts. You will never be able to convey anything with any depth or detail, so don’t try. But you can use that space as a way to entice people to click on a link to learn more or sign up for a cool program.”
Bizzle encourages libraries to think visually, and mix in a little fun stuff with the real content. “The silly stuff gets people interested.” He is part of a group of librarians who created a DropBox repository for pictures that have created engagement for them on Facebook. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for details and access to the folder.
My team at LibraryAware suggests creating interest by posting five fast or interesting facts about every event or service you post. Space them over a short period of time and link back to your catalog, registration page, or website. People love trivia. They like hearing about interesting tidbits and behind the scenes stories about authors. Some libraries treat followers as V.I.P.s by announcing the arrival of the newest books. The New York Public Library does a terrific job of appealing to different audiences by posting photos or content that is relevant to them. Ask questions, pull photos from your archives, share photos, the list of ways to engage your community is endless. Experiment; if something works, keep it. If not, let it go.
Susan Brown, marketing director for the Lawrence Public Library (soon to be the new director ofChapel HillPublic Library) says her library has been successful with both Facebook and Twitter. She believes the key is to select people with the right skill set, then provide them with a framework of principles and goals, then let them have fun.
“I have a captain for each platform who is responsible for leading their team. I provide the playbook and then we meet every month to go over their game plan. The teams decide what they will post and each player uses their own voice. They are incredibly talented and creative—and effective.”
Lawrence keeps its content hyper-local. Posts are mostly about the community with about 20 percent of the content specifically related to the library. The Twitter team is continually tweeting at live events and activities, both in the library and throughout the community. The Facebook team always has a camera ready to post lots of photos.
Brown has plenty of success stories to share. “Last year we were live Tweeting from a program. A man showed up when we were well into the program. He told us that he was following our Tweets and the program sounded like so much fun that he couldn’t stand missing it,” she said.
With social media, it’s all about numbers. The more people you have following you, the better chance you will have of having them see your posts.
Lawrence’s growth includes building in challenges to encourage people to “like” the library. When the library announced a new director, the social media team posted that he was coming May 1 and they needed to reach a certain amount of “likes” before he arrived. News about the annual book sale had the teams asking folks to retweet to help them get the word out and to “like” if they were attending the sale. They even had fun using a favorite puppet to declare he wasn’t going to come back to the library until they reached a certain number of followers. All of the challenges worked.Lawrence has increased its followers five times over. Brown suggests if you run a challenge to make sure it’s obtainable.
“We keep it fun. I tell my staff that they should follow a very simple rule, don’t post anything you wouldn’t be comfortable saying at a service desk. Beyond that they are using their voice, following their passions, and engaging with our community,” commented Brown.
To Advertise or Not to Advertise
When asked about advertising, Brown explains that the library had tried advertisements but found better success when the teams grew their followers organically.
“We were going to be closed for two weeks, so we partnered with local businesses to offer a daily deal on our Facebook page each day we were closed. At the same time we ran an ad. The overlap was actually a mistake, but when we tracked our numbers we saw a huge bump of 1,000 new likes. A very small percentage came from the ad. I can’t speak for everyone, but it didn’t work for us.”
Bizzle, on the other hand, looks at advertising as a great way to increase followers without spending a whole lot of money. He created a case study by working with seven libraries that were willing to commit to $10 a day to advertise for 28 days. The increase in followers was stunning—a total of 8,413 fans. San Rafael Public Library saw a 427 percent increase, Wake County Library’s number rose 211 percent, and Chicago Public Library fans reached 17,335 fans – a 101 percent increase. Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library had a 110 percent increase with 8,666 fans, and has just celebrated the 10,000 milestone.
It’s hard to argue against advertising when you see those results. Of course, Bizzle advocates for creative content in order to engage those new fans. “They call it social for a reason. If it isn’t interactive, then chances are no one is reading your posts. In a world where all a person has to do is click “like,” that isn’t too tough.
- The Librarian’s Nitty Gritty Guide to Social Media by Laura Solomon
- Social Media Marketing: Strategies for Engaging in Facebook, Twitter and Other Social Media by Liana “Li” Evans
- Face2Face: Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections by David Lee King
- Facebook Marketing: An hour a Day (2nd Edition) by Mari Smith
Graph Search Is Coming
When Facebook’s graph search is fully implemented, people will be able to search through their content to find places and things based on what others have shared. This also means you’ll be able to easily identify the interests of your followers. Imagine the relevant content you will be able to share when you know the most popular books, movies, hobbies, etc. Talk about leveling the playing field! Facebook is potentially giving libraries the tools that big businesses are already utilizing. It could be very exciting, but you will need lots of followers in order to effectively use this tool.
There’s No Turning Back
Social media is not going away. As new platforms emerge, libraries will need to choose the channels that work for their communities. But whatever platforms they choose, they must have some kind of plan that outlines their goals and embrace philosophies that support interactivity with their communities. I think Bizzle summed it up best, “Successful libraries will determine what platforms most effectively reach their target audience and aggressively build sustainable presences there.”