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You’re Using Social Media Wrong
What Most Public Libraries Don’t Understand about Social Media, Marketing, and Content
If you’re contributing to a Facebook page for a public library, we’ve got some bad news for you. Your organization is most likely failing at social media. It’s not your fault. Most of the social media advice out there is aimed at businesses, not libraries. That means it’s geared towards selling a product. You hardly want to give your best things away free, do you?
This is a fine approach for a law firm, a dental office, or a retail outlet. There’s a focus on engaging people, getting them in the door, and getting them to buy goods or services. It’s a terrible approach for a library unless your focus is on improving door counts, rather than serving your community.
It's time to throw out the “standard business Facebook” approach and to develop something new – a Facebook strategy that could only work for an organization like yours. The following list of Dos and Don’ts assumes that, like most small businesses and non-profits, you don’t have a dedicated social media manager. It’s designed to fit around typical library workloads and departments.
DO: Remember Your Unique Position in the Community
We’re living in a time where people have a profound distrust of authority. They don’t trust news sources or government entities to be unbiased. They don’t trust fact-checkers. They don’t trust the open internet. Who do they trust? Their friends and family, both in-person and online. This is why people are getting information from their third cousin’s Facebook memes, and then passing them on.
As a library, you’re ‘the government’ too, but that’s not how people think of you. You’re “Levar Burton and Big Bird” to them, not “Trump and Biden.” Everyone likes and trusts your organization. And you’re in the business of providing well-sourced, interesting media and information for free, to all comers. This is a role made for social media.
DON’T: Hyperfocus on Door Counts and Circulation Stats
Why do libraries focus on door counts and circ stats? Because they’re easy to collect, compare and measure. They can also be misleading because changes have less to do with how you’re serving the public and more to do with who your public is.
(For instance, we know of one library where door counts and circulation numbers dropped dramatically in a single month. Was it because of the staff? The collection? Some new policy? Nope. A very large, very literate homeschool family who were heavy library users moved out of the area. The change in statistics had nothing to do with the library at all.)
It's important to remember that, more and more, your public is living their lives online. As the library, your goal needs to be to help the people in your service area find reliable sources and facts, new authors and artists, and interesting new experiences, even if they never set foot in your building. Track your social media likes, shares, and comments. Also, track people who specifically thank you for your social media interactions. Social media is a wonderful tool to reach people who may never come to an event or check out a book, even though it doesn’t puff up your statistics.
DO: Take Pride in What You Can Do Better than Amazon or Google
About 15 years ago, many library systems began to downplay reader’s advisory and reference services. “Why bother,” leadership wondered, “when the future is clearly Amazon and Google?”
Well, we’re living in the future, and Amazon’s once brilliant recommendation engine is flooded with sponsored links and bad suggestions. Google searches are getting steadily less helpful and reliable, especially for odd queries. But, in the meantime, your patrons have gotten out of the habit of asking you for help. Facebook can be a tool to reverse this trend.
Dedicate a few Facebook posts a week to highlighting authors people may have overlooked or posting a “Today I learned” type item that your reference staff researched. Welcome comments! Ask for other favorite mystery authors, or “what else have you always wondered about elephant migration?”
You should also help build connections with local community groups. Post about homeschool organizations, writer’s clubs, or birding groups. The library is a community hub. Part of a library’s mission is to know what cultural and educational opportunities exist in the community and to connect people who are new to the community with those opportunities.
Compile lists of reputable sources about a topic, and post them. Engage your community, and show people in your community who prefer virtual engagement how useful your services are. (As an aside, if you don’t already have virtual or SMS reference and reader’s advisory services, you might want to get some going, even if you can only promise a response within 24 hours at first.)
DON’T: Make Social Media One Person’s Job, Unless You Can Afford to Make It Their Full-Time Job
For smaller libraries, social media updates are often assigned to one or two people, on top of their normal duties. This leads to a stressed employee and a dull social media presence. Here’s where libraries can benefit from mimicking dental and specialty medical practices. Spread the responsibility around with a social media calendar.
Assign days and topics to different departments. For instance, Circulation Mondays, Children’s Tuesdays, Genealogy Wednesdays, Bookmobile Thursdays, and Technical Services Fridays. If you have more than 5 departments who can contribute content, go to a seven-day schedule or double up some days. Plan at least a month in advance, so that research tips, reader’s advisory, how-to videos, and other content get spread among the departments – you don’t want the same department handling the same topics every week. That gets boring. [j1]
Choose one person on staff to be in charge of posting the content created by all departments. Having only one person posting means that other staff members can like and share posts on their personal accounts and boost the library’s signal.
DO: Schedule Your Posts in Advance
One of the best ways to improve your social media presence is to schedule posts. Do you have an event coming up? Schedule all the advertisements and reminders in one sitting. For departmental posts, consider planning, writing, and scheduling a month of posts at a time.
DO: Train Your Staff on Social Media Posting
Using social media to increase the library’s footprint is a learned skill. You’re going to need to take some time to train the team. Make sure you:
· Explain why the library is doing online outreach to better serve more area residents
· Walk them through the technology for posting
· Teach them the parts of a post and give them examples and templates
· Stress the importance of spell and grammar checking everything
· Give them lists of sample topics
· Tailor topics to your service area and its demographics
· Have them practice composing posts and critiquing each other’s posts
· Invite their suggestions on who on the staff would be a good source for posts. Is there someone who is a Romance Novel fanatic? Is someone into local history?
· End the session by making a preliminary social media calendar together.
On Beyond Ebooks
While libraries have long been a source of internet ACCESS for their service areas, they’ve failed to reach out to local residents who prefer to get their information, entertainment, and library services online. Changing your social media strategy gives you a larger reach so that you can better serve diverse groups in your community. Some of those your team reaches online may eventually add to your door counts and circ stats, but even if they don’t, online outreach is an essential part of the library’s mission and a part that is too often neglected.
Flummoxed by Social Media Strategies and Calendars? Unsure How to Train Your Staff?
Verbamundi is here to help. Our team includes experts in both library management and social media marketing. We can help your library excel in the social media space.