Social media is fast becoming a regular part of our everyday lives. Its online communities carry a strong and influential voice, and there is much to be gained from engaging directly with people through these channels, whether that be to network, promote a product or service, or just stay up to date with the latest news.
Social media presents a good number of opportunities for libraries, but also many challenges. With most social media platforms only having been in existence for less than 10 years, can anyone really claim themselves an expert? How best to navigate the multiple sites and onslaught of information to ensure you achieve the maximum impact from your library’s social media presence?
Taylor & Francis sought to address these issues by conducting research to compile a white paper investigating how libraries are currently using and applying social media. It aims to provide a benchmark from which libraries can measure their own social media activity, and provides best practice recommendations which may inspire libraries to try new approaches.
The research was carried out on a global scale, with over 600 librarians worldwide contributing their ideas, experiences, and opinions on social media use. This included focus groups held in the UK, USA and India; telephone interviews with thought leaders from the library community; an online survey; and a Twitter party, where followers of the Taylor & Francis Library Lantern Twitter feed shared their experiences during an hour long discussion.
The online survey in particular provided some very insightful results as to how libraries are currently using social media, and how this might develop in the future. Five of the most interesting discoveries made were as follows.
61% of libraries have been using social media for 3 years or more
With such a high percentage of librarians having used social media for more than 3 years, we can make the assumption that social media is reasonably well embedded in library communications.
When questioned through our survey, only 10% of librarians stated they had come to use social media within the past year. So it seems that most have been aware of the potential of social media as a communication tool for some time.
30% post to social media daily
The purpose to which social media is being applied is less clear, but when combined with the fact that 30% are posting on at least a daily basis, it confirms that social media is moving towards a central role in how libraries are communicating with their end users.
25% of libraries have more than 5 individuals updating their social media pages
With regards to who the individuals are behind the messages being posted, the responses to this survey question were more widespread.
While an impressive 25% have a considerable workforce behind their social media pages, with more than 5 individuals updating content, 42% only had one or two individuals managing the output.
Where just one person was managing the account, the individuals were either Head Librarians or Reference Librarians, and so most likely this would be the solo librarian in that department. Conversely, where more than 5 individuals provided output, it is likely that every member of the department posts content in some capacity.
Facebook is the most popular social media channel
A very interesting discovery is the preferred social network highlighted, Facebook, with 58% of librarians stating they used it on a regular basis. Twitter (46% regularly use) and blogging (30% regularly use) were also mentioned as being in significant use, but following on from this other platforms begin to tail off. Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, Academia.edu and ResearchGate were all only used by a very small minority of less than 10% of all those questioned.
This is particularly thought-provoking when contrasted with comments received through the focus groups stating that students were increasingly leaving Facebook, as they saw it as a platform for an older generation and less relevant to their communication needs.
One librarian mentioned that “students are searching by image first, text second”, suggesting that visual channels are becoming a preferred means of communication with younger users. Yet, this possible change in the usage of social media is not yet reflected in how libraries are targeting communications.
72% of libraries have no social media policy or plan in place
Finally, a significant majority of librarians stated that they currently had no policy or management framework in place for their social media output, with 75% posting messages on an ad hoc basis.
A small minority of 28% had a policy already in place, with 30% planning to introduce one in the near future. This reaffirms the experimental stage at which social media is currently being applied in libraries. Of those who were using a policy to manage output, advantages of doing so were cited as being able to provide evidence to Library Executives of the value in expending time and resource on social media, and being able to make strategic decisions about how to grow audience reach and engagement.
That 30% are planning to implement a policy in the future may indicate that benefits can be seen in using a policy to help monitor the impact of their social media activity and plan for the future.
What’s next for the research?
These highlighted statistics form a small representation of all of the research conducted, and there is a wealth of further material to be found in the white paper.
The document was produced to act as a benchmark so that libraries could more easily see how their own activity compared with others. The aim is for the white paper to be a starting point from which librarians can map out their current usage, and be encouraged to think about different methods for developing their social media pages further and plan for the future.
Taylor & Francis have started sharing best practice recommendations based on the research collated to date, and plan to delve further into several of the issues raised by looking in turn at several of the key topics shown to be of main concern and interest, such as how to measure the impact of social media activity, how to use it as a successful customer service tool, how to promote social media accounts, and a closer look at regional use, such as libraries in Asia Pacific and Africa.
These supplementary instalments will be made available online over the coming months. At this page you will currently find practical best guidance recommendations in a webinar recording, along with visualisations of the key findings, and free access to the full top level data behind the survey.
The future of social media
Predicting the future of social media is a very difficult task. The topic was of great importance to a large number of the librarians taking part in the research, demonstrated by 88% answering ‘yes’ to the question ‘will social media become more important in the future?’.
How and what that future will look like is open to intense debate. Some suggested a need for libraries to be more strategic, merging social media activity with other communication channels to make it more closely linked to library services.
A key concern was how it would specifically impact librarian roles; 73% agreed that more roles dedicated solely to social media would appear in the future, and there was general consensus in focus groups that libraries will need to embrace digital literacy if they are to survive in an increasingly online world. Overall, it seems that whatever form it takes, social media will become a central part of everyday communication with library customers.
About the author
Jodie Bell is Communications Manager, Library & Media Relations at Taylor & Francis Group.