Libraries and social media: the activity is important, not the tool

If we were playing a game of word association, what words would come straight to mind if I said ‘social media’? The chance is that you’d say things like Facebook, Twitter, maybe LinkedIn or Pinterest. That’s perfectly understandable, and in many ways that is what social media is – or rather, they are the platforms on which social media activities take place. In all honesty, there’s nothing really new about social media – it’s just a different way of doing what you are already doing.

Social media activities are communicating, presenting, promoting and marketing (among others), just using a different range of tools. I find it quite depressing when I hear people say ‘I don’t have time for Twitter’ or ‘I don’t see the point of Facebook’ because this illustrates a lack of understanding about their use and value.

To be fair, if you haven’t had a chance to use these tools they are going to seem like some sort of black art, so in this blog post I’d like to try and dispel a few concerns, and show you how important and useful it can be to include them in your daily routine.

Using Twitter to communicate and share
Twitter is not about what people had for breakfast. Despite the name, it’s not full of vacuous nonsense (well, no more than the rest of the internet at least!), but rather it’s an excellent communication tool to distribute short, concise, informative and valuable messages.

If you need to keep up to date with the news, there are plenty of news breaking channels that you can follow; Twitter is increasingly becoming the way that many people find out about new stories; not just international news, but also local information or content that relates to their profession or hobbies.

I follow over 1.500 UK librarians on Twitter and their tweets keep me up to date with what is happening in the profession – what I need to check out, what libraries are doing, people’s opinions and so on. If I can’t go to a particular conference I can still follow along online while people tweet excerpts from speeches, put up photographs and link to online resources. If I need help or advice a quick tweet usually gets me the answer that I need inside 20 minutes; what’s not to like about having hundreds of librarians available 24 hours a day?

Using Facebook to interact
If Twitter isn’t about breakfast, Facebook isn’t about friends either. It may well have been a long time ago, but it’s now a very hard headed business tool.

If you’re worried about security and privacy I can understand that, but do explore the settings – it’s quite easy to lock information down. If you’re still unhappy, then don’t post anything that you’re concerned that people might see, and just use Facebook as a tool to promote your library, club or hobby.

Moreover, you can use Facebook as an excellent search tool. It’s starting to flex its muscles now and is looking to go head to head with Google in the search field – it has over 1 trillion publically available status updates, more photographs are published on Facebook than anywhere else, and it’s also becoming the ‘go to’ place to post your videos, which is a worry for YouTube. Facebook also provides trending news stories as well, further putting Google news or traditional mainstream news media into the shade.

Perhaps, most importantly, you can use Facebook to make direct person to person contact with people who work in other libraries or organisations. Increasingly the website is becoming the brick wall covered in the graffiti of contact details, addresses and so on. That’s fine as far as it goes, but interaction – that whole process of communication – is now taking place on Facebook. If you want to talk to your users then set up a Facebook page for your library. If you want to have a book group, set one up on Facebook and get people to share their thoughts and ideas on it.

Facebook now has about 1.25 billion users, and I’d estimate that probably every second or third person in the UK has an account. That’s an awful lot of people that you can reach to market or promote your library and events.

Using Pinterest to connect via images
If you are interested in images; either finding them or promoting your own, Pinterest is a great site. It allows you to ‘pin’ images that you find on the net into your own folders, and you can also upload your own images as well.

It’s a tool that lots of librarians use, creating folders that they share with colleagues to discuss and comment on books that will appeal to different users groups for example. Other companies use Pinterest to link into their own products, while still others will create pictorial shopping lists of items.

If you are looking for good high quality images, then it’s worth checking out Pinterest (while remembering that you still need to check the legality of using particular images) and if you want to promote or market your own collection of images, it’s a key resource to make use of.

Using LinkedIn for discussions
Many years ago LinkedIn was the place that you’d go if you wanted to share your CV with other people and to research the possibility of getting a new job. It’s still a great tool for that, but it’s increasingly a great place to go in order to have discussions with other like minded people and experts.

I have given up using mailing lists, with their petty flame wars and unpleasant comments for the much more enjoyable environment of LinkedIn groups, where people do actually respect other people and their opinions rather more (in my experience) and you can have really good discussions.

Google+ for sharing
Google has come in for a lot of criticism over its own social network, and much of it is justified I think, but to completely dismiss it out of hand would be a mistake. Users can create their own pages; the New York Public Library has over 875,000 followers and has had over 16,000,000 views, so Google+ can be another really good way to interact with people.

There are also millions of special interest groups, from internet searching to the UK library community to book groups and so on. Google+ also initiated the ‘hangouts’ which allow people to have video conferencing with up to 9 other people, and they can share their screens, run presentations, hold training classes and so on, simply and easily.

Presenting with Powtoon
We’re all used to PowerPoint, and it’s a great tool when used well. Unfortunately it produces deadly dull results when used badly. There are plenty of other presentation tools around; Prezi is an obvious example. However, Powtoon is a slightly different tool in that it is designed to allow users to create rather more interesting and enjoyable presentations that can either run by themselves or used in a classroom setting.

Cartoons and animation are key elements of the tool, and if you’re looking for new ways to enthuse an audience when you’re teaching or presenting, Powtoon is a tool that is worth considering.

This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of course, and I haven’t even begun to mention home and start pages, bookmarking software, infographics and the rest! If you’re not sure where to start your social media explorations, I would suggest that you begin with you. What are you doing that you want to do better, quicker, easier, cheaper? What doesn’t work about your current attempts to market or promote your information service? What would you like to do that you can’t do at the moment.

There’s probably – indeed almost certainly – a tool out there which will help you to do that activity so much more effectively in the future. I will guarantee that if you can invest a few minutes of your time exploring and trying them out, you will reap the benefits almost immediately.

About the author:
Phil Bradley is a renowned information specialist, internet consultant and conference speaker specializing in search.

1 Comment

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    “Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic post.Much thanks again. Really Cool.”


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