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.
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”
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?”
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”
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”
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”
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.
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.
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.