How Your Library May Not Be Using Twitter But Should

I’ve been doing some workshops recently on social networking (especially Twitter) for our library system and thought I would collect some of this information here because I usually can’t cover everything I would like and it may also be useful information for other libraries.

Background

Plenty has been said about the banality of many Twitter messages. Enough of you probably realize there’s more going on than meets the eye if you are willing to dig. Hash tags, twitter search, and a true global chat (uh, yes, it is basically, in essence, a “chat”) open up entirely new ways to reach out and touch people.

Libraries have always been about books, but what is it about books that you’re there for? Essentially information and/or entertainment. The library does this while functioning as something of a community center. Twitter enables the library to reach people on all those levels and do so much easier, cheaper and more regularly than ever before.

What Do We Tweet?

When we decided to start a Twitter feed in mid 2008 we started experimenting with different techniques. We’re still experimenting and probably always will be but we’ve found some things that we like, and our customers seem to as well.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but just a jumping-off point for any libraries trying to get some ideas. If you feel pretty comfortable with Twitter and don’t need to experience my scintillating writing (ha ha), I would suggest jumping down to “Tweet 5″ at the bottom since this is the biggest way I think most libraries are probably not taking advantage of Twitter.

Tweet Style 1, or “The Average Library Tweet”

t1

There is nothing groundbreaking here but it still makes sense to promote events. Don’t overpromote because people will get tired of multiple tweets about the same thing, but put the information out there.

Tweet Style 1b, or “Uhm, Ya Know You Can Be a Little Creative Though, Right?”

t3

Sometimes it’s good to have a little fun with your tweets. Chances are, more people clicked on the link to this tweet by saying “Shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yippity boom sha boom” than if I said “Grease Sing-A-Long Cinema.”

Tweet Style 2, or “Promote Some Materials”

t2

People were talking a lot about the Iranian election. When people are talking a lot about something they often like to learn more about it. Who better to turn to than a library for learning more about something? We’re killing three birds with one tweet here (apologies for the pun). (1) We are staying relevant in a quickly changing world where news is immediate and constant. (2) We’re promoting a book that has been relatively overlooked in our system. (3) We’re promoting a current DVD and many people still don’t realize how good our DVD section is. All in 140 characters.

We’re even making it easy with a direct catalog link where a patron can place a hold on materials.

On top of all that I didn’t even personally come up with the idea for this tweet. It came from a collection development librarian (submitted via Twitter from the incomparable @Gamecouch) who thought it might be an interesting thing to link.

It doesn’t have to be traditional news events either. The day after the Academy Awards we might post links to winners, and the day after the National Book Awards we will link to those. Tweet a Lance Armstrong book during the Tour de France. Tweet a link to a book that is being made into a movie. Chances are if something is in the news or people are talking about it, they wouldn’t mind knowing that the library has something to offer in relation, and a direct catalog link is a bonus. (Now if the common library OPACs would get more mobile-phone friendly, then we’d really be getting somewhere.)

Tweet Style 3, or “Promote Things As They Happen”

t4

We talked about promoting events, and that’s a no-brainer, but if you have access to an iPhone or something similar Twitpic some stuff as it happens! Authors enjoy coming to libraries but they like the promotion too! If authors see your library will go the extra mile, and see they are not only being promoted to your own customers but across the entire Internet, they appreciate it. They come back. They tell their peers and their publishers. The authors *deserve* you to go the extra mile.

At this event we also featured Brad Meltzer. I took a Twitpic of him as well. Using an iPhone and Twitpic you can take a picture and post a tweet linking that picture just using a phone.

Before the event was over we had direct Twitter messages from at least three other well-known authors basically saying, “Hey, why didn’t you guys get me to do this? Keep me in mind for the next one!”

Tweet Style 4, or “It Doesn’t Have to Require a Library Visit”

t5

Sometimes I’m surprised when it seems like libraries only talk about events or other things that require a visit to the library. Remember, what we do is generally information and entertainment. That doesn’t mean it has to be in person. In fact, libraries will probably increasingly be fulfilling these needs in a setting that is entirely online. I love finding quirky and odd links like this that might bring a smile to someone’s day, and they might even check out a Philip Roth book while they’re thinking about it.

We will even occasionally post a link to an interesting or artsy video like this one. Question: how many people have said it’s inappropriate to link to a video like that (on YouTube, the horror!)? Answer: zero. It’s not book-related, not really informational, but it’s artsy, creative and probably will make people smile while brightening their day a little bit. Oh, and they also might think, “Gosh, maybe I should stop by the library on the way home today and check out a book or a DVD.” When we post tweets like that we’re solidifying our image as a hip, entertaining, vibrant, and fun place. It isn’t just about selling your materials and services, but creating your image as well!

I make heavy use of categorized RSS feeds. I follow some obvious ones and some that are like dynamic searches, including Twitter search. More on that below.

Tweet Style 5, or “Interact!”

I admit I can’t constantly interact on Twitter, but I try to make it work as efficiently as possible. There is a secret weapon in the world of Twitter and people are still finding new ways to use it: Twitter Search.

t6

For those that haven’t used it, Twitter Search allows you to do very detailed and specific searches. It allows me to search within a certain location’s radius for a word like, uhm, perhaps “library?” Then you can even subscribe to an RSS feed for that particular search!

So get this: if someone within 25 miles uses the word “library” in a tweet, it is in my RSS feed! It’s not as much as you might think, anywhere from 15-30 a day usually. Some may be talking about their “iTunes library” or one of the city libraries (our county system is separate), but it is very easy to skip past the irrelevant results.

While it may seem a bit “Big Brother”-ish, Twitter is a public platform and anyone wanting to protect their updates can do so. People don’t even have to be following the library or even know we have a Twitter account. I see someone mention the library and if it is something I can help with, <zing> I arrive and interact. Sometimes I can help and sometimes I can’t. Often the person in question didn’t even know we had a Twitter account but will follow us. They also know they can reach us if need be.

This is one of the most useful ways libraries can use Twitter but don’t.

Take the concept a bit further. You’re running a yoga program and not getting exceptional turnout. You think: “Oh well, might as well post something about it on Twitter and see if that helps.”

But wait! Is there something else you can do? How about a Twitter search with a 25 mile radius of the library branch for the word “yoga.” Remember something important here: many of the people that already follow your library tweets are probably library regulars and know about what is going on. But how about those people that would never think to come to a library for yoga? There’s probably a lot of them. Reaching out in this way with a perfectly targeted local search is invaluable. Send them an @ tweet with some details. Twitter is such that it can easily be ignored if they aren’t interested. You reach some people based on a specific interest, they become new patrons, and they may even have friends of similar interest that come along as well.

Did I mention something briefly about being a “community center?” You’ve just used an online community center (Twitter) to bring people to your real-life community center, and it was all a non-invasive experience and focused directly on their interest. Facebook is useful, but even it can’t do this. In their system, you have to trust that the target audience “becomes your fan” and then you can reach them.

Where Do You Find the Time?

I admit it is tough to find the time to do all of this. At some point I’m sure we could have a full-time person just doing Twitter and other social networks. I just do what I can when I’m not knee deep in Drupal for the new site or some other required routine.

Learn to become friends with RSS. Have some other people that you can RT occasionally (RT is short for “re-tweet”, i.e. repost). Don’t feel like you have to do a ton. It is certainly fun to get tweets more often about the random or unique things (@scott_douglas is a great example) that happen in a library setting, but we just can’t do that in our specific circumstances yet. Don’t go several days without saying anything either, though.

Conclusiony Stuff

This certainly isn’t meant to be some exhaustive list or dictionary of library tweets. I just thought I’d throw together some ideas and hit some high points. At some point I will probably do “Part 2: Revenge of the Tweets” even if solely to have a better outline for future workshops. There is a lot more that can be covered.

I get questions like:

  • Who do you follow back?
  • How do you gain followers?
  • What kinds of online tools make Twitter easier/more useful?
  • How do you convince a hesitant administration that Twitter is a viable and/or important way to dedicate time?
  • Where do you see Twitter (or some similar tool) in 5 years? 10 years? etc.

I certainly don’t have the perfect answer to all of these, but I can offer what I’ve found to be the case for us. If there is a demand and others may find it useful, I will certainly write more, perhaps in the form of a screenplay, epic poem, or a series of haikus.

Until next time.

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58 thoughts on “How Your Library May Not Be Using Twitter But Should

  1. sorry, but style 5 doesn’t sound big brotherish… it sounds like creepy lurking. I don’t Twitter yet, but if the future of the system is that every time someone tweets about being hungry they get bombarded with twitter ads for restaurants, then count me out. The same thing goes for the library. I’m all for proactive service and unique marketing ideas, but this is over the line in my opinion.

    • I certainly understand the concern about advertising on Twitter. I think anyone who has used it regularly knows spammers are increasing exponentially.

      But if you think companies aren’t going to try to use it to market creatively, the news I have to break is they already are. I remember when tweeting Gmail was down a while ago and getting a message from a coffee company saying why didn’t I enjoy a nice cup of coffee while waiting for it to come back up. It was inherently advertising but I thought it was cute and clever.

      I generally only do it if I think I can genuinely help and that the person might appreciate it. That’s one of the differences. Our business is helping people. The business of most companies is selling you something. If you’re worried about this kind of thing, a library is going to be one of your least concerns.

  2. Great article, I plan to pass it on! We are currently pushing out events through a feed from our calendar, but I like your idea of tweeting events to a targeted group (ex. yoga) near the library. We are just TODAY starting to interact by feeding a Twitter search for our library name into our meebo account, so those at the Info Desk can see what people are tweeting and respond with help or just thanks, we’re glad you had a good experience.

  3. Great post Kelly. I really enjoyed the idea of searching for events like yoga in the area and @replying to people. That is excellent marketing and a great way to get people thinking of the library.

  4. Absolutely loved this! Seems like we have almost the same job. lol. This gives me more and VERY relevant ideas for our lib, the libs in our co-op, as well as for our patrons and community. Thanks so much!

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  9. The library system I work for is looking into social networking ideas, and I think that Twitter is a good option. I’m just not sure how much time to set aside to “manage” a library Twitter account. Any ideas?
    Thanks.

    • Ya know. It’s a difficult question.

      It doesn’t inherently take a huge amount of time to do just a little bit, so you could start slow if you wanted. You won’t necessarily build as quickly if you’re not using it a lot, but our feed has evolved pretty slowly.

      Even now, I am going to have times where I can’t do a lot because we’re ramping up with the new website design. I like to spend a lot of time searching out interesting links and book related stories, but I probably won’t be able to do that as much as I would like.

      At the same time, it’s a bit of a turnoff if someone sends your library an @reply on twitter and no one answers. It’s also a turnoff to go to a page and see the last tweet is from 2-3 months earlier.

      If a reference librarian is going to maintain it and they aren’t at a super-busy branch, I think it can easily be maintained in a few minutes here and there every day, even while at an info desk. So I think it *can* be done in 15-20 minutes a day as long as you’re okay with it growing slowly. @ replies and direct messages should obviously be maintained but I think they would be very sparse at first (in fact, we really still don’t get *that* many).

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  12. Greetings David – Will you be at ALA in DC next June. I’m in charge of the program for the Rural, Native and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds Committee. I want to do a program on twitter. Unfortunately, ALA has no money to help pay expenses. Many thanks. susan

    • Not sure if I will do ALA, but I would lean towards not. With the way the budgets are, I doubt our library system could pay, and I doubt I could justify the expense personally either. I tend to consider the internet a bit like a permanent ALA conference though.

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  14. I am the recently retired Executive Director of the Ontario Library Association. Would you object to our posting this really helpful Twitter article on the Association’s social Web site (www.libraryng.com)? Thanks.

  15. Excellent topic, great suggestions. I’m confident that this is the route Twitter’s going to take at large, and inevitably a whole truckload of Twit style 5. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – it has the potential to make our lives easier and innovatively suggest opportunities we mightn’t have otherwise considered.

  16. Glad to see libraries getting on the social media bandwagon. It’s great for marketing and will certainly extend the reach of library news and events. Always a good thing to hit up the younger demographic.

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  18. How many people would you recommend tweet at a library as whole under 1 library account? I could see many problems if more than a few people are doing it (tweeting events twice, missing tweets of events b/c person thought other person/dept tweeted it)…what are your thoughts on this?

    • That’s a good question. I think it’s probably something you just have to try different ways and see what works. I’m really the only one who tweets on our official account, but there could be a day when we really need multiple people to handle it. I don’t know if it would be that hard to guard against mentioning things twice with a quick look back at the history, but there still might be some questions about capturing a consistent tone in the tweets, consistent methods of linking, etc.

  19. I am the recently retired Executive Director of the Ontario Library Association. Would you object to our posting this really helpful Twitter article on the Association’s social Web site (www.libraryng.com)? Thanks.

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