Chapter 6 of Library Technology Reports (vol. 48, no. 6) "Running the Digital Branch: Guidelines for Operating the Library Website" by David Lee King discusses the use of social media to support the digital branch, including reasons to use social media to connect to customers and specific social media tools. The chapter examines goals for social media use and best practices.
I'll take a wild guess that most of you reading this issue of Library Technology Reports use social media. Maybe you keep up-to-date with friends and family through Facebook, or perhaps you use Twitter to stay connected to other librarians. There are probably some local businesses you know that use social media to attempt to connect with you (and increase your business at their store). Librarians and libraries can also use these social media tools to connect with customers.
And Why Should We Do This?
Is it really worth the effort? You may wonder. What are the benefits of using social tools in a library setting? There are many reasons to use these tools. And many of those reasons mirror the reasons why practically any organization might want to use social media.
Listening comes first. Before your library starts "talking back" online, you should set up some listening tools to see and hear what your customers are saying about you, your services, and your local community.
Listening tools are easy to establish. For starters, create a search in Twitter for your library's name (e.g., topekalibrary and topeka library for TSCPL). Save that search in Twitter. Now, whenever someone uses those keywords in a Tweet, you'll see it (assuming you revisit that search in your Twitter reader of choice).
Next, you can do an advanced Twitter search--for the word library and the name of your town or city. Save that search, too. This information shows when someone uses the word library in your vicinity (which means that they may be talking about you and your library).
You can set up similar searches in Google Alerts and subscribe to those alerts via e-mail or RSS. When a new search result appears, you will be notified.
Using Twitter and Google Alerts helps you learn what customers say about you and the library and how they're interacting with your organization. Use this information as an informal focus group. Once you're comfortable with social media, start answering questions that pop up, which leads us to the next reason why your organization should use social media--communicating with customers.
Social media is called "social" for a reason. It enables communication. Using social media tools through the acts of friending and following gives your organization direct access to your customers. This is HUGE. If people choose to follow you, it's because they like your organization and they want to stay updated. Your library needs to follow through and provide interesting information for those customers.
You should also answer questions as they arise. There are two types of questions--direct and indirect. Direct questions are asked by a customer via social media. Your role, obviously, is to answer the question.
There are also indirect questions. These are questions someone asked their friends via social media, but didn't ask you. You might have seen the question because you follow the person or through the listening tools you created. Either way, seeing the question gives you a great opportunity to answer it.
Sharing New Stuff
Have a new service at the library? Have a fun event coming up? Share it via social media. Tweet it, make a short YouTube video about it. Add it to Facebook Events. After the event is over, share pictures of the event in Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter. People who missed the event may see the posts and want to come to the next one. …