Magazine article American Libraries

Understanding Social Capital: Even If Your Library Has Been around the Social Media Block a Few Times, Here Are Strategies to Earn, Build, and Cash in on Your Library's Online Reputation

Magazine article American Libraries

Understanding Social Capital: Even If Your Library Has Been around the Social Media Block a Few Times, Here Are Strategies to Earn, Build, and Cash in on Your Library's Online Reputation

Article excerpt

During the Save Ohio Libraries movement in 2009, some libraries in Ohio jumped into Twitter. Undoubtedly, they saw it as another avenue for getting the word out about the imminent and catastrophic budget cuts being proposed by Ohio's governor. However, two major factors prevented them from really using Twitter as an effective rallying tool.

The first was simply a lack of followers. Numbers are not the only criterion for social media success (and certainly not the most important one), but some followers are needed to spread a. message. When an organization jumps into a social media tool during a crisis before having developed followers over time, there is a distinct lack of audience to hear any pleas for help.

The second was a lack of social capital. Social capital is what allows any organization or individual to make requests of its followers successfully. Think of social capital as funds in a sort of intangible bank account that you add to by listening to, engaging with, and doing favors for others. Each time you make a request, you are drawing on that account. If no social capital has been established from which to draw, actions requested of others are likely to be ignored.

Having social capital is, in many ways, equivalent to having credibility in a selected online community. Social capital can be earned only over time, by participating appropriately in the community.

Gaining social capital

Gaining social capital really means becoming a strong, consistent member of the online community. People expect reciprocity. Building a social media reputation' means giving back.

How can your library go about earning the trust of its patrons online? There are several ways, and like all relationships, these methods require effort and time to develop. For most, a combination of the following actions will usually benefit a library's online reputation.

Thank your patrons. When someone comments on your library blog, even if it's just to agree, thank him or her. If the commenter says something negative, express appreciation for the feedback. It shows that your library is listening to all points of view and values constructive input. If someone posts something about the library to his or her Facebook page or retweets for your library on Twitter, acknowledge and thank that person. It's an easy way to engage your patrons and promote positive feelings toward the library.

Ask for opinions. Ask for readers' favorite Oprah Book Club pick or their favorite program at the library. Try asking for opinions on the worst book ever written. The more controversial the question, the more feedback it will likely get. Although generating controversy for its own sake may not be your library's goal, facilitating conversation between the library and others is something you want. Be proactive and initiate exchanges of ideas and opinions on 1 a variety of topics that interest your patrons on an ongoing basis.

Offer links to other sites of interest. Posting only links to your library's assets (e.g., catalog, programs, or website) is just another method of self-promotion and not a form of engagement. Have you seen a funny video on YouTube? Pass the link along. Do the same for interesting blog posts and articles. Just make sure they are not written by anyone on your library staff or you may diminish the open forum you are trying to encourage.

Retweet your followers. If your library is on Twitter, the person who is responsible for the Twitter account should learn the syntax of retweeting and do so whenever and as often as possible. If one of your library's followers says something that might be of interest to others, pass it along. Bear in mind that you may ask your followers to pass on something later to advocate for the library. Build up your social capital now so that you can ask for favors later.

Always give credit. This applies to all content, not just retweets. …

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