What should be the librarian's role with digital and social media in 2020?
Social media today has become a major force in society, often shaping the discourse on important topics. Social media sites have seen enormous popularity by providing easy and fun ways for people to connect with friends and colleagues and to share personal and professional content. It provides powerful communications channels for individuals and organizations to distribute content and opinions. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have increasingly supplemented—or even displaced—traditional print and broadcast media for significant portions of the population. Apart from the churn surrounding news and politics, social media also has become one of the main channels in which organizations connect with their clients and customers, through commercial advertising as well as organic interactions. These broad generalizations set the context for how libraries and librarians can approach the involvement with social media on behalf of their organizations or for their own personal or professional use.
Libraries often employ marketing professionals with great expertise in digital marketing to manage their social media channels. While I naturally defer to these specialists, I can offer a few general suggestions on the topic based on my observations and experience on the technology front.
One benefit that libraries expect to gain from social media relates to fostering engagement with their community members. Social media postings can reach an audience of potential library users beyond the registered members. Such efforts can function as a supplement to more formal marketing campaigns carried out through email, SMS, and other direct channels. Libraries are increasingly managing their marketing through services such as Patron Point, Constant Contact, or other marketing automation products. One component of a social media strategy might involve drawing in those expressing an interest in the library via social media to register as patrons and to be active users of the library's collections and services. Likewise, it is important to promote library services to those more receptive to social media channels than email or text.
The key dynamic of engagement via social media should be directed toward the library's own virtual services and physical facilities. Promoting programs, content, and resources on social media are successful when they increase participation and use. While it is important to build followers on each strategic social media platform, libraries should avoid pathways on their websites that transfer visitors from their own resources to external social media sites. The strategic vectors of interaction should be designed to draw visitors in, not eject them.
Once a library has established a social media presence, it is important to be attentive. It is common for individuals to direct questions, suggestions, or complaints to an organization's social media account, expecting a timely response. Participating in social media means a commitment to constant monitoring of any incoming messaging and active responses to these conversations. Checking in every week or so is inconsistent with the expectations of immediacy associated with social media.
These types of social media strategies have been the mainstay of libraries for the last decade. The recent coronavirus crisis has brought vast changes to libraries and elevates the importance of engaging with its community members virtually since in-person opportunities have been limited or eliminated. Social media can serve as an important channel for libraries to publicize their online events. Some libraries may opt to take advantage of Facebook Live and other popular live video platforms for online story times by their children's librarians, to facilitate book clubs, or for other community-facing events. Libraries will naturally want to take care with these platforms to be sure that they do not handle patron information in ways that conflict with their privacy policies.
Libraries may also want to use their social media presence especially rampant in recent times. Librarians can exercise their reference skills to highlight vetted information sources from trustworthy sources. While it is not necessarily realistic that librarians can effectively counter widespread disinformation campaigns, they can at least provide more reliable information resources to their own communities. Librarians are naturally well suited to contribute to Wikipedia on topics within their areas of expertise.
These are only a few obvious suggestions about how to make use of social media to help libraries support their communities. The opportunities are vast, and every individual and organization will find their own ways to use social media as a creative outlet.