One of the ideas that I have been cultivating for the last few years involves taking the investment that libraries have made in social networking and other Web 2.0 technologies to a more sophisticated and mature stage. It's clear that social network concepts have taken strong hold throughout so many aspects of our world. Facebook and Twitter have propelled far beyond their narrow niche of tech- or media-savvy enthusiasts to the mainstream of society. From its early beginnings as a service for students from a few ivy-league universities, today, Facebook finds use by more than 400 million individuals, spanning all generations (www.facebook.com/press/info.php7statistics). Twitter claims about one-fourth as many users and pervades a wide range of interests from popular culture to big business. LinkedIn and hundreds of web destinations likewise bring together communities of individuals with common interests. Social networking isn't a passing fad--it now ranks as a fundamental characteristic of successful technologies. We're at a time when libraries need to move beyond ad hoc and informal uses of social technologies and make them an essential element of the way that libraries implement technology.
Toward Strategic Social Network Involvement
Since the emergence of the Web 2.0 trend, libraries have found many ways to use social networking to their advantage. It's great to see so many libraries offering blogs, creating Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and providing myriad other activities that spark higher levels of engagement with their users. These methods have become part of the standard repertoire of almost any organization that seeks to promote its message, products, or services today. I think that libraries gain an enormous amount of positive exposure through these channels. Library outreach and public relations initiatives rightly include social networking as key promotional tools.
As a component of their marketing initiatives, social media provide opportunities for exposure to the library and funnel users into the services it offers. The net effect aims to spark increased activity for the library, either within its physical facilities or through its virtual presence. In my view, the key consideration involves ensuring that the vectors of activity always point inwardly, funneling users into the library's website. Naturally, it's important to avoid anything that results in a net drain of activity. How a library engages with any given external site should be executed in a way that results in an overall net gain in the use of its own resources and services.
A library's use of social networking sites should be well-coordinated according to this goal of strengthening interest and engagement by its users with its content offerings and services. Leveraging the tremendous levels of activity on the major social networking sites, a library can attract the attention of segments of its clientele that it might not otherwise reach. For those users who might not regularly remember to make use of their library's resources, social networking sites provide important opportunities to promote the library's relevant content, services, and activities.
Delivering the User
The development of strategies involving social networking sites should take into consideration a balance between inbound and outbound pathways of traffic via the web. Creating a link to an external site provides a path that moves users out of your site. In some cases, the presence of outbound links serves as a magnet that attracts a net gain in visitors. That's the basic principle of search engines, which benefit from massive levels of use based on their ability to connect users with sites throughout the web. Likewise, a library gains strategic use based on providing access to high-quality content, often external to the library's own direct web presence. Anytime a library connects a user to an external full-text …