How Personal Should a Library Be in Social Media?

How many social media accounts does your library maintain? How do you keep them lively and up-to-date? OK, keeping up-to-date part is relatively easy. You just need to post updates on your library’s Facebook page, to add new posts to your library’s blog, and to keep twittering in your library’s Twitter.

However, keeping it lively is much more difficult. How do you draw attention of library users to library’s social media accounts? How can a library provide the feeling that the library is there for you, its users? What it takes might be just the right amount of personal touch.

Jeff Swain recently wrote this blog post, Thoughts on the CIC Tech Forum” which reflcts on this issue.  He says:

“So the question becomes, why should our audience care to follow us? And how do we stay connected with them through these medium? Do we make informal chit-chat or do we simply post official announcements? It’s not a simple question to answer.

I know I struggle with representing myself and my unit in these areas. When I joined Twitter and Facebook I joined as myself (Twitter: jeffswain; Facebook: Jeff Swain). Quickly I encountered the problem of separating my personal stuff from my work stuff. It all bleeds together in the either where everyone can connect. Now I also am the persona for our symposium and e-portfolio initiative. Well, how do I represent them? Is it strictly business or is it personal?”

I struggle with the same question as a librarian who maintains and updates various social media accounts.  How do you engage your audience? The whole point of having a library’s presence in social media is to interact with library users.  But most libraries use their social media tools as an one-way announcement mechanism. While it may work fine for library staff as an easy broadcasting mechanism, how do you ensure that those messages will capture the scarce attention of library users?

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The problem is that people are much more interested in other people than in organizations, and in everyday miscellaneous stuff than in research and other library-related stuff. No matter how interesting library events are and how exciting new library databases can be, it just may not be interesting enough for library users to initiate a conversation with their library. Of course, there is an easy solution to this problem. Librarians can run library’s social media accounts as themselves with a little bit of personal voice added to them. But then, it seems that that is not quite a right thing to do because one individual cannot represent an organization properly.

While I am quite happy to babble about my daily activities in my personal Twitter account, I am often unsure about what to twitter for my library’s Twitter account. I don’t want to keep twittering about library events and research tools because I wonder that may simply bore my library users. But then what else can I twitter about that may be interesting to them without my personal interests mixed in? How should a library’s social media policy reflect address dilemma? What would users want from a library’s social media channels?

About Bohyun (Library Hat)

Bohyun Kim is the Associate University Librarian for Library Information Technology at the University of Michigan Library. Formerly, she was the Chief Technology Officer and Professor at the University of Rhode Island Libraries.
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7 Responses to How Personal Should a Library Be in Social Media?

  1. Jeff Swain says:

    Nice post. I think you hit a key point with the notion that we’re more interested in other people than organizations. The sweet spot is being able to do that without coming across as awkward, intrusive, or creepy. Also, I think you are spot on when you say folks are interested in the everyday miscellaneous stuff in these spaces. As Clay Shirky points out, Twitter is powerful not because of what people are posting but because we care about the people who are posting the content. What’s to care about an organization whether it be your library, IT department, or other services that are viewed as utilities? I would not want my electric company to follow me on Twitter and I sure would not follow them if all they were going to do was push out information. They can do that in the email newsletter I don’t read. Social media is all about discourse. And if you are an organization you have to be willing to engage in it. This means the positive and not-so-much. If you use this medium to deliver the same old message and think you can follow the same old practices you are doomed to fail because you’re missing the point.

  2. I wrestled with this same idea on my blog, and might need to wrestle with it again. Figuring out the problem of what to post as a library is easier if you think what interests you as a consumer of social media. What kind of tweets do you read or click through? What are interesting tweets?

    I know one thing that annoys me are people that constantly talking about themselves (you see this a lot with internet marketers constantly linking to the pyramid schemes they’re selling). I feel that posting only about your library may be boring or off-putting for users. If you only post events, or news, or library updates it can get a bit stale. Post some news related to your college or community. Recognize awesome work that other people are doing. Point out that October is Information Literacy Month. Retweet interesting posts from your followers. Not every tweet has to be related to your library in some way.

    Great post by the way. I think a lot of people are struggling with this issue.

  3. Michelle says:

    I think one point you miss is that some of these tools are extremely flexible and just using some simple plugins and widgets you can have a lot of them run through the library’s web page (in addition to the social sites). We can easily tie our Twitter feed through our library’s home page. Our Twitter feed displays on the home page as News and Information. When the library posts holiday hours or a mission critical system goes down (in medical research libraries, document delivery is a very mission critical system) we can easily write a quick tweet which will be easily, painlessly, and seamlessly displayed on our website under news. Additionally, some medical libraries have tied their cataloging systems into Twitter, this Twitter feed can be redisplayed on the web sited under heading new books. For libraries that have newsletters and use a blog as their newsletter, the feed of this newsletter can easily be sent to Twitter which will again post the feed under news and information or whatever they want.

    The important part that many in libraries are missing is that they are going out and doing these social networking applications but they are not re-working it and turning it around to feed itself and the libraries resources. They ahve a separate Twitter account which isn’t displayed anywhere but on Twitter or has a Twitter icon on the library web page (but what patron thinks to really use that). So the Twitter account is just floating out there and independent of the library’s main site.

    Not only is tying these resource together to feed each other more productive in their overall usage, but it saves a boat load of time for the one maintaining it. YOu have to think about killing more than 2 birds with 1 tweet.

  4. Pingback: How Personal Should a Library Be in Social Media? « Library Hat « cool memories

  5. Library Hat says:

    Jeff, you are quite correct. Just having an account and posting updates on social media itself won’t create any new value to organizations unless they are ready to engage their audience in the new way, that is, two-way communication and interaction. As you put it so nicely, the point is discourse, which didn’t happen in the past via traditional media. I also often wonder if many failures of organizations in making the full use of social media reflects their rigidity. It would be interesting to compare the manner of an organization’s internal communication with that of its outer communication.

  6. Library Hat says:

    Andy, thanks for great ideas! It would be definitely a good way to engage library users to talk about things that are not necessarily related to a library per se but of a wider scope that is still relevant such as news about a community or an institution to which a library belongs. I still think what draws people to social media most and prompts interaction is the personal touch. How to incorporate it to an organization’s social media is the tricky part. I love your suggestion to think about what to talk about as a consumer of social media. That is a very good perspective.

  7. Library Hat says:

    Michelle, that’s a good point. Many librarians invest a quite a bit of energy and time in managing and updating social media channels. So it would only make sense to “re-work them and turn them around to feed the library itself and the libraries’ resources.” This also gives me an idea to create a mega RSS feed that will include all social media feeds of my library that can replace current news feed in my library website. The only thing about library web sites is that they are much less popular with library users than with librarians. They just aren’t part of research process nor daily activities of library users more often than not. That is the issue that I often think about. Libraries put a lot of work into their websites, but how frequently and how well (in the way library staff intended) are they used by faculty and students? Can social media change that? Maybe. But it will take a different approach than just pushing out the same old messages one-way to users.

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