This is the first of a three-part series on social media activities for academic libraries. The other articles in the series are "Instagram: the new way to connect with students" and "Using Twitter to connect with faculty."
It’s summer, a time of year for academic librarians to reflect, assess and revamp. For me, it’s a time to reflect on social media, which has become an essential way that our academic library connects with students. In the past couple of years, I have experienced both successes and failures managing our social media channels. But the secret to our successes, big and small, has been our social media committee (SMC).
At our institution—a technical college serving 27,897 students across five distinct geographic locations—our social media strength is entirely driven by the SMC. It has taken several years to conceptualize and create efficient administration for this group, but the reasons for its existence has always been clear. The library’s social media voice is that of its staff. It must represent employees at various levels and from different locations. Communication with patrons should encompass a sense of camaraderie, individuality and creativity.
This team’s work allowed us to run a successful “gain likes” contest on Facebook that resulted in more than 800 student likes over five months. Over time, the longstanding members of the team have developed essential skills in programs like the graphic design tool Canva and an understanding of how to promote the library’s voice and brand. Members often contribute to creative efforts outside of social media, such as email promotions and internal newsletters.
Email Graphic Created by an SMC Member
Here are some tips for creating an effective SMC. They can be applied to many types of organizations that are looking to up their social media game.
1. Harness and share your library’s voice
Although all SMCs will have technical functions, their main focus is developing and sharing an organization’s voice. Ensure membership represents your library’s workforce. Our committee consists of six members, including four from technical service departments (reference, interlibrary loans, marketing and branch management) and the marketing and user experience librarians. There is at least one member from each campus library location. The library’s voice is defined in our social media guidelines:
Most team members joined voluntarily. That said, throughout the lifetime of the SMC, some members have been “volun-told” to join in an effort to fill locational gaps. If you need to recruit employees into membership, try to give them less intimidating roles that don’t include administrative duties. Include them in conversations and use their ideas. Over time they may want to start creating content and administering platforms, but don’t force it.
2. The user or target audience informs all things
Not all platforms are worth your time. Don’t try to be all things to all people or to have a presence on every social media platform. Assess your audience, in formal or informal ways, and choose your platforms accordingly.
I often use an informal assessment strategy. When I have face-to-face interaction with students, I simply ask them what platforms they prefer. This usually occurs when I am facilitating library orientations at the beginning of fall and winter terms. My method is simple: I ask them, “By show of hands, who uses Facebook? Instagram?” Over time I’ve seen fewer hands for the former and more for the latter, and lately I’ve received many an odd glance that I would even suggest a student does not use Instagram daily.
The SMC also takes advantage of more formal feedback channels, by submitting questions to our Library Advisory Council and to the library’s biannual institutional survey.
What have we learned? Since 2013, when we started collecting feedback, our students have been and remain heavy Facebook users, and Instagram is edging in swiftly. Therefore, these are our platforms of focus for reaching out to students.
3. Meet regularly
This is essential. Regular meetings ensure a forum for discussion, brainstorming and (oftentimes) grievances. We meet monthly via videoconference to prepare for the following month. When we meet in January, posts for that month have already been planned and scheduled, so we are discussing February’s content and post assignments. Here is our standing agenda:
- Successes and loose ends from the previous month
- Post ideas for the following month
- Post assignments
- Additional miscellaneous items
We also meet once each spring to discuss successes and failures from the past year and our plans for moving forward.
4. Be flexible
Have conversations and listen to your members. Allow them to try new things. The key strength of the committee is that it harnesses the creativity of each member, so if a team member has an idea for a new post, let them try it, as long it doesn’t contradict your library’s mission. Don’t micromanage. Nothing kills creativity like rigidity.
@SaskPolytechLibrary June 2019 Instagram Profile combining important National Events and Promoting Summer Reads
5. Use analytics
We use Hootsuite to pre-schedule posts, work collaboratively and pull analytics reports.
It’s crucial to pull analytics from all platforms to assess the previous year’s performance. Discuss what worked and what didn’t. Make sure the team is included in decisions.
Social media is not a one-person job. There was a time when I attempted to run our library’s social media alone. I found it stressful and couldn’t make an impact. The reason we have experienced our various successes (for instance, a gain of more than 1,000 student likes on Facebook since 2016) is largely because of this team.
Social Media Committees
- Verishagen & Nann: Social Media Committees: Sharing Your Library’s Voice
Assessing your patrons
- Sich & Polger, 2019, How to Assess Student Social Media Preferences: A Comparison at Two Academic Institutions.
Social Scheduling Software
- Paul & Holt – Using Scheduling Apps to Streamline a Social Media Workflow).
- Swan - The Right Social Media Platform for Your Library).
Facebook Gain Likes Contest
- Verishagen & Liang: Buying Likes: How Our Library Jumped from 200 to 1000 (student) Likes in 8 Months
Library Connect is pleased to offer our readers an exclusive look at one of the chapters from the author's edited book, Social Media: The Academic Library Perspective. Use the link below to download a complimentary PDF of Chapter 2, Social Media Committees: Sharing the Library’s Voice. This chapter gives a more in-depth look at social media committees and provides examples from two universities on what it took to develop, operate, and sustain these committees.
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