AN intranet librarian's work is never done. Just when you think you can stop and pat yourself on the back for a job well-done, something else surfaces. This time it's social media. Think Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, library blogs, and wikis.
Although discussions about the importance of libraries being active in social media abound, analysis on how to define and measure success is scant. Most of what we have is anecdotal. As libraries across the board become more attuned, by desire or necessity, to the importance of assessment, we should turn the same critical eye to our social media efforts. How important are friends or fans, RSS subscribers and social bookmarking faves? What's the conversation about your library or institution? Is there one? Is it good or bad?
In a previous column (May/June 2007), we looked at steps libraries should take to optimize their sites for social media. Some ways to measure success include the following:
* You've made it easy to link to any page of the library site.
* Your library is visible in social media searches on custom search engines (such as Technorati and Bloglines).
* Library programs and materials are frequently included in relevant posts on blogs, podcasts, and vlogs.
* You're tracking your library's reputation by monitoring "stars" or "scars," with stars revealing positive aspects of the library and scars revealing where it's gone wrong.
If you're tempted to discount social media conversations and links to your library, look at evidence from Edelman demonstrating their major impact. The 2008 Edelman Trust Barometer study (www.edelman.com/trust/2008/trust barometer08_final.pdf) found that people in Brazil, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the U.S. trust information about companies if it comes from "a person like me." Comcast saw a real dip in customer satisfaction scores after the amplification of customer complaints, particularly the YouTube video of a technician asleep on a customer's couch. Complaints and bad news travel quickly. Libraries are not immune. Like companies, libraries need to monitor customer complaints and respond to them.
Search engines are also paying attention to social media. Google, by default, presents users mixed search results, integrating Web, Image, Video, News, Blog, and other vertical search results into one page of relevant information. Ranking results for any particular topic are influenced by a presence in social media. A Google search for Denver Public Library, for example, yields a link to the library itself, a link to a highly rated YouTube video produced by the library, and links to the library's Wikipedia and MySpace pages. Denver Public Library dominates the first page of Google search results in large part because of its social media activity. But it goes deeper than just presence.
An August 2007 editorial in Search Engine Journal (www.searchenginejournal.com/social-medias-direct-influ ence-on-search-engine-ranking/5576) discusses the Google and Yahoo! trend to assign higher rankings based not upon simple presence in social media (though of course that's necessary and relevant) but on social media voting. Recent patent applications by Yahoo! and Google detail ways to alter ranking algorithms based upon, for example, the number of times an article is bookmarked, an indicator of popularity. Quality, then, is being redefined to not only take into consideration popularity with other content producers (think Google's page rank) but also popularity with end users.
MEASURING SOCIAL MEDIA SUCCESS
Part of the difficulty in measuring "success" in social media is that much of what we're trying to understand is intangible. If your library has a blog, you can look at quantitative measures such as site traffic and number of comments, but equally important are the qualitative measures such as the "tone" of the conversation and the degree to which readers and commenters are "engaged. …