Social media is here to stay. Facebook arrived on the scene in 2004, Twitter in 2006, and Instagram in 2010. Facebook now owns Instagram and other major social messaging and networking platforms, making it even more of a giant in the industry. Having an active presence on these platforms to engage with those who are interested in your library is critical to patron engagement in a world increasingly dominated by digital interaction. Due to shortages in staffing, time, and digital experience, libraries struggle with how to create and maintain a following, craft engaging content, and manage their online persona. In this NewsBreak, I hope to impart some knowledge I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, about how to make a library’s online profiles the place to be.
How to Create an Online Presence You Won’t Regret
It might be hard to believe, but there are still countless libraries that do not have any presence on social media. Some libraries still do not even have a website. These problems are easy to fix and must be addressed in order to effectively promote the library’s services and events.
Before you create or grow your library’s online presence, make sure you are committed to the task. Once you start developing content, setting patterns, and allowing patrons to expect to find information about the library online, you will need to maintain that work and meet their expectations. It is also paramount that you set parameters for what is expected from library staff in coordinating the accounts. Are staffers expected to merely create and post content? Are they expected to reply to all comments and messages? Are they expected to create discussions? Lay out your ground rules early.
ALA has a helpful primer on setting clear intentions for library social media and how to write a social media policy or mission statement that will guide your online interactions. Having a written document to back you up is as useful for online interactions as it is for in-person issues.
How to Create a Following
If you are not already following libraries on social media, start! No matter the size of your institution, you can always get ideas from other libraries that can be scaled up or down to meet the needs of your patrons. You can also learn from how other libraries market themselves, post content, and interact with their followers to create a model for how you want to operate. Here are some tips to follow.
You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create interesting designs. Sign up for a design tool such as Canva (which has great options for nonprofits) to produce eye-catching designs that will drive engagement among your patrons. The more they share your posts and events, the more likes you will receive and the more people you will reach.
Design content that matches your library’s aesthetic, or design around an aesthetic you hope to create. At my library, we use a lot of bright colors with bold, easy-to-read fonts. For events, we include the same basic information on each visual post, such as title, short description or catchy phrase, date, time, and target age groups.
Don’t forget to cross-post. Facebook might be your biggest platform, but it should not be your only one. With design tools, you can resize your graphics so they are suited for multiple outlets. We put our program graphics on Facebook, Instagram, hard-copy fliers, and a television we have mounted above the circulation desk that solely runs advertisements for whatever is going on at the library. When patrons see the same ad repeatedly in different contexts, the better chance you have of actually reaching them.
Encourage your followers to share posts in community Facebook groups and with their friends. The more eyes you have on your content, the more people will be attracted to your page. If you seem to be getting an influx of shares on a post, consider running a contest in which if you reach a certain number of likes by a specific date, someone will win a library tote bag or another type of prize.
Be consistent. Develop a style that is recognizable to your followers so that when scrolling through post after post, they know it’s your content. Spend a day scheduling your posts for the upcoming month so you know they are not overlapping, saturating timelines, or conflicting with other big community events. Pick a typical time of day to schedule certain types of posts. Is your library’s storytime at 11:00 in the morning? Try posting your storytime reminder content around 7 a.m., when parents are getting kids ready for school and taking a minute or two to check social media.
More graphics, less text. Yes, we are libraries, but on social media, people do not want to read a novel. Digital media is image-driven, so put your most important information in your graphic and keep the narrative to a minimum.
And probably most importantly: Inject a healthy dose of humor, and be authentically you. Media is historically filled to the brim with depressing stuff, so try to make the library page a place where people can come to find information and laugh. Keep it lighthearted unless there is a central piece of library-related advocacy that you need to release. People like weird things that are off the beaten path. Post about wacky holidays, book-themed news, and local throwbacks, and even post a kid-friendly joke or two (National Dad Joke Day in June is perfect for this!). Make the library a fun place to be both in person and online.
Pros and Cons of Social Media
Now that you are online and have an established presence, it’s time to maintain that presence. Social media gives you a reach that you might never have experienced before. It is critical not to let the control shift from the library to the users.
Getting information out through digital channels is fast. You can measure the response of users with Facebook Audience Insights, Instagram Insights, and Twitter Analytics. After about 6 months of posting, dive into your insights and analytics to see what is and is not working. The insights/analytics pages give you data about your post reach, audience, engagement, impressions (likes, comments, and shares), and more. Are you reaching the right audiences? Could you be posting on a more high-traffic day or at a better time? If you feel you are spending too much time getting posts coordinated, try a social media management tool such as Hootsuite, which helps you coordinate and cross-post seamlessly.
The biggest simultaneous blessing and curse of getting your library online is engagement. Libraries need to be engaged with their patrons, and online is no exception. Having an online presence creates the expectation that someone from your library will be available to reply to comments, answer messages, and mediate the forum created by its existence.
Depending on your institution’s policy about working outside of regularly scheduled hours, social platforms can often demand constant attention. Be sure to separate your work life from your personal life so that you are not repeatedly inundated with messages and requests. Most social platforms require that in order to have an institution or business page, it has to be managed by an individual with a profile. I made the mistake of linking my personal Facebook with the library’s page and thus was kept awake by constant notifications. I could not unplug because there was always something happening.
To combat this fatigue, I created business-specific social profiles for myself through which I could manage our library pages. We also set up an away message feature that sends an automated message to anyone contacting the page saying that we are currently closed but will get back to them as soon as possible. This feature saves our message response rate from plummeting, allows patrons to feel seen, and lets staffers maintain those important boundaries.
Creating and maintaining a presence on social media is not as easy as it may seem. If your page does not have a lot of traction, don’t get discouraged. Try different posts, new designs, and unique incentives until you start seeing some progress. Mediate your expectations to what is feasible in your community. If you have a service area of 5,000 people, it isn’t a failure to not have thousands of shares. Creating a space for your library online is an extension of public service and should be treated as such.
In the 21st century, the majority of our patrons are online in some capacity. Without the restrictions of service area or physical addresses, the online version of your library can reach many people it cannot in person. Libraries are more than the physical space we occupy—we are the idea of service and refuge for all people and can serve as such in an even greater capacity through our digital media presence.