If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re already aware how important Twitter is to libraries. 32 percent of Internet users are on the platform, but more importantly, they’re our type of Internet users! There is a strong overlap in the kinds of people who use libraries (or would do if they knew what we offered) and the kinds of people who tweet. And unlike some other social media, Twitter users are receptive to interacting with libraries on this platform.
However, something you see a lot with library Twitter accounts, is a plateau in followers, use, and value. The initial optimism and freshness associated with the medium gives way, usually after 6 months or so, to a feeling that you have two-or-three hundred followers but you’re no longer moving on up. You don’t feel you’re making the most of this, despite doing all the right things, tweeting interesting content, getting on there regularly, and so on. But worry not: there are tried and tested things you can do to move on past this plateau and, interestingly, once that happens, the momentum tends to become self-sustaining and your network grows and grows.
Here are 10 golden rules to take your Twitter account on to the next stage.
- Only tweet about your library one time in four
Twitter is an interactive, conversational medium—but sometimes it’s hard for organizations not to use it as a broadcast medium. In an ideal world, a rule of thumb to aspire to is one in four tweets are broadcasts, the other three being replies, RTs, or links to third-party content which is potentially useful to your followers but not necessarily directly related to your library.
- Analyse your tweets
There are a million and one packages that promise you some statistical insight into your Twitter account—the trick is finding the ones whose information you can act on. Stick your Library’s Twitter handle into TweetStats and check out how many of your tweets are replies and retweets (RTs)—if the combined total is below 25 percent, you need to make an active effort to change this; once you do, your network will grow. Tweetstats will also tell you when you tweet, which allows you to know (rather than guess) whether your followers are getting a consistent level of service across the week. If all your tweets happen at 9 a.m. (when ‘the person who tweets’ gets into work and thinks, hmm, better do my tweeting for the day) then you need to change that. Combine information about when you tweet with the information that Tweriod gives you about when your followers are online, and you can start to really use Twitter in a focused, targeted, and successful way.
- Tweet multimedia
Twitter embeds most multimedia in your tweet, meaning that it can be viewed/watched on Twitter itself without your followers having to leave the site. This is a huge plus, along with the fact that it’s much more interesting to tweet pictures, videos, slideshows, and so on than just plain text all the time. Links to YouTube and Slideshare, plus pictures via Twitpic, will magically make the objects appear in your tweet.
- Tweet more pictures
If you’re tweeting about something happening in your library, take a pic on your phone and tweet that too. It’ll get much more traction that way. Pictures of displays, of workshops and classes, of new décor, of posters you’ve just put up—even print screens of websites you’re linking to. Have a look at the way @theretronaut tweets—every link is accompanied by a Twitpic so users know what they’re getting themselves into; this massively increases the amount of clicks on those links. If you really want to get some serious traction, make an infographic and tweet that. Infographics get a whopping 832 percent more RTs than articles or regular images.
- If something is important, tweet it four times
Simply tweeting a link to something once does not constitute marketing. As Tweriod will tell you, only a small percentage of your followers are online at any one time, so you need to tweet important information and links across a period of two days and covering different times of day (and schedule a midnight tweet too if you have international followers in different time zones). If it’s a link to a blog post, rather than just tweeting the title each time, tweet a key piece of information or quote from the post—check out how @LSEImpactBlog does this to hook more people in over time.
- Use hashtags (but don’t go mad)
Hashtags allow users to find related tweets on a topic—which means they don’t need to already know who you are and what your Twitter username is to find your tweets. So it’s good to get involved with hot topics using hashtags, but never, ever use more than two in the same tweet, as that seems somewhat desperate.
- Ask questions
Don’t just tell your followers stuff, ask your followers stuff. Then RT the best answers, maybe use Storify to collate them and blog about them. People love to feel part of a community.
- Get retweeted and your network will grow
Nothing gets you new followers like tweeting something great and having loads of people retweet it—it exposes your tweet and your Twitter presence to several new networks at once, some of whom will be inspired to check you out and follow you. The best way to get RTs is to tweet really useful punchy things of course—nothing beats great content—but there are things you can do to make it more likely. Firstly, simply asking people to RT. If you say ‘Please RT’ you will get 10 times the number of RTs you would otherwise. If you spell it out—‘Please retweet’—you will get 23 times as many! But you can only use this very sparingly, when something is really important or useful. If you abuse people’s kindness they’ll soon switch off and stop RT’ing. Another thing to keep in mind is, if possible, leave a RT space. By which I mean, if you can express yourself in, say, 100 characters rather than the full 140, that allows someone wanting to manually retweet you some space to add their own comment or endorsement.
- Put your Twitter handle EVERYWHERE
People need to know you’re on the platform at all, so tell them—put your username on slide decks and leaflets and handouts, put it on business cards, embed your tweet-stream on your library homepage, have a live tweet-stream on your digital display screens for a day. You’re putting the effort in to be there, so shout loudly about your activity!
- Finally, avoid these pitfalls
• Don’t ever tweet ‘direct message us for more info’. Only people you follow can DM you, so you’re asking people to get in touch via a medium most of them can’t use.
• Some picture services, like YFrog or Instagram, don’t display your pictures in Twitter—people have to follow a link and leave the site to view your image. This doesn’t sound like a big deal but it’s actually very annoying for your followers. Unless you have a really good strategic reason to use one of these sites, stick to something like TwitPic (which is the default on Twitter anyhow), which ensures the pictures will appear in the tweets themselves.
• Only let third party apps have access to your account if you really need them. From the Twitter home page, go to settings, then apps—chances are you won’t believe just how many applications have access to your account. Twitter accounts don’t get hacked because someone guesses the password, they get hacked when a third party app’s security is lax—so revoke access to everything you don’t actively need.
• Speaking of third party apps, don’t ever sign up to an app, stats package, client, or anything which tweets on your behalf. Many apps will ask for permission to do this but won’t actually ever use it—but some will auto-tweet as a way of promoting themselves. Personally I think it looks bad enough when individuals let apps tweet things like ‘My week on Twitter: 5 follows, 2 unfollows, 18 mentions’ —but for an organization to let this happen is completely unacceptable.
Try out some or all of these techniques and your organizational account will move past its plateau, and you’ll start getting more value from the time you put into social media. Good luck!
Ned Potter is an Academic Liaison Librarian at the University of York, and marketing consultant. He’s the author of The Library Marketing Toolkit (Neal-Schuman, 2012) and writes and speaks widely on the subject of marketing information services and emerging technologies. You can find him online at www.thewikiman.org, or chat to him about Twitter on Twitter itself using @theREALwikiman.