Last week I was given the opportunity to attend CILIP’s event on the use of social media by libraries. This was a particularly useful event for me to go to because I am currently drafting up plans to create a social media presence for the library where I work. I was especially looking forward to hearing about other libraries’ experiences of communicating via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as these two platforms are the ones which I have initially chosen as a starting point for building my own library’s social media profile.
After registration and refreshments, the first presentation of the day was by CILIP President Phil Bradley who gave us a look back at 2012 and the major social media trends which occurred during that year. One of the most important trends was the big shift towards using mobile devices to access and use social media tools. Phil argued that we are now moving into a different kind of environment where apps rather than websites are becoming a more common way to access information on the internet. He pointed out, however, that content produced on social media platforms, such as tweets, could often be inaccurate and it was harder to check the accuracy of information produced via social media than it was to check the authority of information found in a book or on a website.
Phil argued that this had led to another trend in 2012 and this was the rise of the individual as expert on the web. He suggested that people are now more likely to check the validity of information that they find online by ascertaining whether the individual providing the information is a trusted creator of content. For example, if someone has a couple of million followers on Twitter, this might indicate that they are producing useful and valid information. However, as Phil pointed out, various celebrities are also often followed by high numbers on Twitter, and so discretion and judgement are always necessary when checking the validity of the data that we are presented with online. As librarians, Phil argued that it was our responsibility to be reliable creators of content and not simply to re-post information that we find online without checking its accuracy. He gave an example of a particular newspaper which had based a story on an inaccurate tweet, with the result that the story eventually had to be withdrawn. Phil argued therefore that instead of trusting the content produced by newspapers, we should choose our own trusted experts online in order to build ourselves a valuable network of people who could provide us with accurate information on topics that were relevant to us.
Another trend which Phil identified was that the web had become less about pages and more about people. He pointed out that Google was now including a lot more social media profiles and metrics in its search results and this meant that if you had chosen not to be involved in social media, you were increasingly likely to be invisible on the web. He argued that this should be a concern both for us as professionals and also for organisations who wanted to be visible to their customers.
One final trend that Phil drew our attention to was the increasing role that curation tools are playing in the organisation of online content, including social media. He identified Pinterest as one of the most popular curation tools and pointed out that it is also a potentially useful tool for librarians as we can use it, for example, to pin images of books that we want to recommend to our users. Scoop It was also recommended as a useful source for information on a particular subject. Phil argued that the way to make best use of curation tools was to ensure that you had a large network within your chosen subject area, so that all new relevant information would be picked up and delivered to you. In this way, curation tools would help to minimise the time spent trawling various sites and platforms in order to keep yourself up to date.
Phil gave us a few predictions on the direction that social media would take in the near future. He pointed out that Twitter was the only proper real-time social media platform and he suggested that as such it would become an increasingly important media tool for companies engaging in customer service conversations. Twitter is also frequently playing a key role in large scale communication of live events, and because of this Phil predicted that physical events would increasingly be designed to be compatible with a social media environment.
At the end of the session, Phil gave us some humorous examples of social media disasters in order to highlight the importance that social media can now play in customer service and in making or breaking the reputation of a company. He pointed out that social media has given everyone a voice and that companies can no longer afford to ignore or dismiss angry customers. One example that Phil gave was of a musician who complained to United Airlines about the damage that his musical instruments had sustained at the hands of airline staff. When his complaint was not dealt with appropriately by the company, he wrote a song about his experiences and posted it on Youtube. The video received 500,000 hits in three days and resulted in United Airlines’ stock price plummeting by 10%.
Phil mentioned other social media disasters where the employee of an organisation had brought that organisation into disrepute by something posted via social media, and he argued that having a social media policy in place was highly important if companies, and libraries, wanted to avoid this type of problem. He argued that if employees were to be given the responsibility of posting content to a company’s social media profile, it was essential for that company to monitor all the published content in order to ensure that its social media updates were accurate and appropriate.
The second presentation of the day was from Adrian Wakeling from ACAS who discussed the risks and opportunities which might result from using social media in a workplace environment. He outlined the various typical managerial and employee perspectives on the use of social media during work hours and pointed out that if a company does not have clear guidelines on what employees are entitled to do, this may result in problems and disagreements.
Such problems could include inappropriate messages being posted by staff on social media sites, excessive use of social media by employees, or alternatively overly restrictive managers who prevent employees from using social media at all. Adrian pointed out that social media can potentially offer many positive opportunities within a workplace environment; for example, allowing staff to post social media content can give them a greater voice within the company and enable them to use their creativity. However, he argued that a clear written policy on the acceptable use of social media at work is essential in order for a company to protect itself against liability for the actions of its workers and to provide employees with guidelines about how social media should be used when at work.
Following Adrian’s talk was a case study presented by Eddie Byrne from Dublin City Libraries who discussed how his library body was currently implementing social media guidelines similar to the ones that Adrian had described. Dublin City Libraries has multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a blog, and they also make use of other platforms such as Youtube, Vimeo, Slideshare, Netvibes and Flickr. They have a standard, minimalist, outward-facing social media policy which is clearly linked to from all their social media accounts, and in addition to this they also have internal guidelines aimed at staff.
Eddie explained that their approach was to moderate social media content only after it had been uploaded by staff as he argued that there needs to be a certain amount of trust when it comes to allowing employees to post social media updates. He also explained that Dublin City Libraries’ staff don’t necessarily respond to every single question that they receive via social media, but rather they respond to the general themes which emerge from the comments that they receive. Monitoring and analysis of engagement statistics was undertaken using Hootsuite, which could also be used to schedule tweets so that pre-written updates would be sent out at regular intervals during the day.
Eddie explained that in addition to general usage guidelines, there was also a risk management element to their social media policy based on the fact that the libraries were relying on third party tools in order to create their social media presence. Due to the potential risk of losing data or services, back-ups were taken of important information, and alternative platforms, along with any associated data migration issues, were identified in order to ensure that the libraries’ social media presence could still be preserved if one of their chosen platforms ceased to operate in the future.
After a break for lunch, Sarah Hassan and Eileen Brock gave a presentation on how Norfolk County Council’s social media policy had been put into practice within Norfolk public libraries. Sarah explained that the library and the County Council were both trusted brands and that a key function of their social media policy was to support the preservation of this trust. Their policy therefore incorporated specific instructions about tone and conduct which staff were asked to consider before posting any social media message.
Staff were also asked to consider which medium was best for their message before posting it and to consult their in-house style guide to ensure that posts were made in plain English. An awareness of data protection regulations and knowledge of policies on information security, customer service and internet use were also essential for staff updating the social media accounts. Staff were also encouraged to think about their tone and conduct on their own personal social media profiles and to ensure that it was clear though the use of disclaimers whenever they were speaking just for themselves and not on behalf of the County Council.
Eileen explained that the posting of content on the library social media accounts was undertaken by staff who were designated ‘social media champions’. These staff members were trained in all the relevant policies and took it in turns to spend half an hour each morning creating and scheduling tweets and updates. Using Hootsuite, updates were set to be published during peak periods of the day when most of the libraries’ followers were likely to be online. A dedicated mailbox had also been set up to enable library staff from around the county to suggest content for the social media accounts and there was a central team which monitored and responded to enquiries received via social media. In addition, all community librarians across the county were required to attend courses on social media to enable them to support the social media courses and surgeries which Norfolk libraries offered to library users.
Norfolk libraries currently have approximately 2600 followers on Twitter and 870 fans on Facebook, as well as a successful blog and presences on Pinterest and Youtube. Eileen drew attention to the necessity of measuring the impact of your library’s social media presences, and in addition to counting follower numbers she recommended the use of Klout as a tool for measuring your library’s influence within social networks. Eileen also pointed out the importance of marketing for libraries that wanted their social media profiles to be successful. As such, she recommended that a library’s social media contact details should be added to all email signatures, flyers, posters, websites and business cards and that Twitter feeds should also be embedded on relevant websites where possible.
The final two sessions of the day were on social media marketing, presented by Nick Ellison, and the use of live video within Google+ Hangouts, presented by Mike Downes. Nick introduced us to the concept of the social graph, which is generated by all the data that we input into social media platforms such as Facebook and which marketing companies can potentially exploit in order to create targeted advertising. He pointed out that Facebook has recently developed a Graph Search which allows you to search via user data, such as likes and interests. Within the context of libraries, social graph searching could possibly be used as an advocacy tool in order to identify people who might be interested in particular library services and then target relevant advertising towards them.
After this session, Mike Downes introduced us to the various video-chat functions of Google+ Hangouts and explained how these could be utilised to publish live media broadcasts of conversations between people in different parts of the world without the need for specialist technical equipment. He gave us lots of different examples of when this had been done successfully. He explained that Google+ Hangouts could additionally be used for public or private video, text or phone conversations for up to ten people at a time and he drew our attention to Google’s ‘Hangouts on Air’ which enables users to broadcast their conversations to a wide audience for free. Mike argued that Google+ Hangouts could be used as a way for individuals or public services to engage with their communities.
I’m really glad that I was able to attend this event as there were some fascinating talks and I’ve come away with a lot of food for thought regarding the creation of my own library’s social media presence. There is clearly a lot more scope for creativity with social media than simply setting up a Twitter account and I’m looking forward to exploring all the different options and approaches. Many thanks to the speakers and organisers for such an interesting day!