March 16, 2018

10 Golden Rules To Take Your Library’s Twitter Account to the Next Level

Ned Potter headshot

Ned Potter

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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 appschances 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!



  1. Twitter is about conversations. Keep a persistent search of users who are tweeting about your library and reply to them!

  2. Thanks Mark!

    Marianne, I completely agree – Andy Burkhardt wrote an excellent guide to using Twitter for social monitoring, on the Toolkit website:

  3. James Williams says:

    Great article Ned, I’m now finding Tweetstats particularly useful and I’m liking the way @theretronaut tweets (and I’m enjoying the pictures of Bob Dylan playing tennis and Marcel Proust playing air guitar on the Retronaut site!)

    • Thanks James, really glad it’s useful.

      I think what the Retronaut does is great (I was once at an event where he was due to give a talk but he pulled out, I was sad!) – as ridiculous as it may be, people simply don’t want to click on things online if they don’t know what they are in advance. It’s too much hassle. So a preview pic does wonders.

      For the same reason, we use to display our PDFs on our website – it gives an embedded preview of our documents, meaning they get a lot more use…

  4. Hi Ned,

    I think you have some great tips, but I’m not entirely convinced that the information in your first paragraph is true.

    “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”

    Do you have any references that actually back this up, because I’m extremely sceptical.

    • The reason I am sceptical is that the numbers are in now way comparable to how Twitter is used in Denmark.

      There are approximately 4 million active internet users in Denmark (nearly 90% of the population)

      However there are only approximately 71,000 active Twitter accounts (out of 135,000 total Twitter accounts) in Denmark.

      This is barely 2% of active internet users who are actively tweeting.

    • Hey Melissa, the idea that Tweeters are ‘our kind of people’ is based on studying library use of social media in order to write the chapter on it in my book – so not a formal study I’m afraid…

      I spoke to a lot of libraries and librarians and looked at a lot of social media information – Twitter is the network of the chattering classes, and there’s a lot of pro-library sentiment there. People are comfortable interacting with a Library on Twitter because it is skewed slightly more towards being a ‘professional network’ than Facebook, which is still used by a lot of people as something ‘just for friends’. So I’ve found (not just through my own library but through working with others) that the people on Twitter are the kinds of people who are happy to talk with us on the medium, and this is slightly less true on other social media. All are useful, all have potential for conversations with our users, but Twitter in my experience sits at the top of the sliding scale.

      If you look at the ‘Categories’ chart about 3/5ths of the way down this study on Twitter users – – you can see the most popular categories are Family, Technology, Entertainment, the Arts, Education, Publishing and Sports. You could argue the toss on the latter two, but Education, Family, Arts, Technology and Entertainment are most definitely areas you can identify with libraries.

      Ultimately my view is that you should do One Thing Well with social media – rather than feeling like you need to everything at once, start with one platform, get good traction there, and then add another, then another, and so on. So really what I was getting at with that paragraph is that Twitter is the place to start – the rewards are really great if you can get over the hump that many libraries suffer from after the initial surge of energy and optimism. People DO respond well to libraries on Twitter, if you engage them!

    • Hi Ned,

      Thanks for your lengthy reply. The main reason for my being sceptical is that only approx. 2% of Danish internet users are presently using Twitter (links to the numbers can be found in a reply that wasn’t included here).

      Numbers from the Pew Internet study from May 2013 indicate approx. 18% of internet users in the US are using Twitter (a doubling since 2010) . I’m just wondering where your 32% figure is from.

      Kind regards,


    • Hi Melissa, the 32% figure is in several ‘Twitter facts!’ type infographics and stats-based blogs about the platform, but quite honestly I’d trust Pew’s figures. I’ve just gone away and looked into it and there are just over half a billion (active) Twitter accounts, and for the latest figures I can find there’s about 2.5 billion people online, so that fits much more in line with Pew’s 1 in 5ish figures for the US.

  5. Hi Ned,

    I chanced upon this article when searching for some interesting information about books or libraries in order to post it in the social network community, devoted to our library.
    Thank you for these hints. I will tell about them to the workers of our marketing centre.

    I was surprised and pleased to learn about this resource. It is really inspiring, I mean that librarians keep pace with the times and think up more and more ways to develop libraries and support the right attitude to them among people.

    We will try to adopt the experience of our foreign counterparts.

    Best Wishes,
    State Universal Scientific Library of Krasnoyarsk territory

  6. Good day Ned!
    Thank you for article and for opportunity to discuss this subject. Really the rules are gold.
    Kind regards

    Scientific Library of Siberian Federal University.

  7. Hi Ned,
    First of all,Happy New year 2014 !!

    Really nice & Informative article.I’ll surly try to do this for my own.

    Best Regards,
    Kaushal ( Link media India )