Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Tapping into the Power of Twitter: A Look at Its Potential in Canadian Health Libraries

Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Tapping into the Power of Twitter: A Look at Its Potential in Canadian Health Libraries

Article excerpt


Health libraries can use Twitter as an effective system for measuring the success of their social media strategies with the application of the right tools.


professional development; Twitter metrics; social media; strategic planning


In health libraries it is becoming increasingly important to recognize and understand user interactions and expectations. Research suggests that more and more patients will begin to rely on online resources to receive health information. In response, many health organizations have turned to social media and micro-blogging services to try to meet those needs. The ease of posting and sharing information on Twitter makes it an essential tool for health libraries to reach their users. However, libraries that lack systematic metrics for measuring success can find themselves pouring precious resources into social media upkeep without knowing if they are promoting their strategic vision. In this paper we demonstrate how simple metrics for evaluation can be used to gauge the effectiveness of a library's Twitter usage.

In order to ascertain the current best practices, the authors reviewed articles discussing Twitter use in health libraries over the last few years. Using that information, an environmental scan was then conducted in order to discover how health libraries in Canada could best use Twitter. Examination of the resulting data suggests how metrics can provide evidence for the success of library Twitter use and how that success can mean deeper, more meaningful relationships with patient communities. The paper presents a variety of possible approaches that weigh the pros and cons, so that each library can implement better practices that match the unique strategic goals of its organization.

Literature Review

Twitter is a micro-blogging service with tremendous potential as a communication tool (Terry 507). Since patients are turning more and more to online communities and tools to get information about symptoms and general health maintenance, Twitter is a great way for health libraries to join patients in these online spaces (Hesse 2622). However, how Twitter should ultimately be used is up for debate, as the official usage policies and professional standards used by libraries can vary on the subject of social media (Chretien 566). Twitter also offers benefits by generally "[enhancing] community outreach" and providing "employee relation improvements" (Sarringhaus 236).

Along similar lines, health librarians such as Dean Giustini have suggested that Twitter can be used to reach new audiences and improve communication between patients and health providers ("Twitter: an Introduction" 12). The latter is a point echoed by analyst David Stuart. He suggests that the best Twitter use occurs when messages address patrons directly in conversation, as opposed to constantly sending out general institutional messages to the public at large (47). Current research has shown library Twitter accounts are used primarily as a "marketing and customer relationship manager" (Cuddy, Graham, and Morton-Owens 321), so there is definitely room for increasing direct engagement.

Hackworth argues that social media is not just about marketing but is also a powerful tool for developing deeper relationships with patrons (9-10). American patient advocate and researcher John Sharp points out that there are many strategies available for libraries that want to move beyond pure marketing. Once such strategy, known as social media "branding", was used by the Cleveland Clinic, whose staffsaw social media as an "opportunity to innovate how it presents its brand and to engage patients and the community in learning about health" (Sharp 29). Its official policy aims to encourage employee participation and creativity online while cautioning staffcontributors about the potential consequences of the improper use of social media (Sharp 29).

Between March 2012 and August 2012 we examined tweets by major health organizations with libraries, such as Fraser Health (Surrey, BC), Mount Sinai (Toronto, ON), Vancouver Island Health Authority (BC), and the Montreal Children's Hospital (QC), to determine how they use Twitter and the impact on information service delivery. …

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