Why bother with social media? (more notings)

Prefatory Sighs.

Considering that social media (or conversational web or that other over-laboured term) is merely the web with pimples (or perhaps a severe case of acne), the reasons to use social media are the same as the reasons to use the web.  As are the cautions and provisos and limitations.

For all my reading over the years very few projects of libraries involving social media leap out at me as showing significant success — therefore this is something I had hoped to receive from this subject.  By success I mean actively engaging their customer base as shown through continuing high activity *by library patrons*. Sure libraries continue to publish their blogs and post updates – but that (if without conversation) to me is *not* successful social engagement – it’s just persistent advertising — and is anyone reporting how they measured the results of such advertising?  My searching has failed to produce any papers that report significant successful patron engagement through social media, perhaps my search strategies are at fault — please tell me if you have found papers that report success on rigorous grounds.

When is our Ordeal going to be Over? (the Surreal Swallows Series Continued)
Creative Commons License Keith Williams via Compfight

Meantime, what did I get in these readings?  Please do not read if you do not enjoy moderate doses of cynicism.


Brookover (2007)

Brookover, S. (2007). Why we blog, Library Journal, 15 November. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6497263.html

One paragraph has a synopsis of procedure for any library project – nothing new here.

  • why you will [do x] blog,
  • the time commitment required,
  • the scope of topics,
  • whether or not to allow public comments, and
  • how you will measure success.

institutional wall?

On reading: “Terri Bennett, … believes blogs have the power to break down the institutional wall between libraries and their community members.” No evidence of an ‘institutional wall’ was given.  Where is the evidence that there was/is a wall?  If the library was not soliciting and using feedback (through face-to-face communication and surveys) prior to blogging becoming so easy, what makes anyone think blogging [particularly if they might not allow comments] will make a difference?  If the library tends to report only positive feedback from surveys, why would blogging the same make patrons feel they’d been heard?

validation through hanging in the same space

Next it quotes Hennepin’s manager about the dialog being ramped up and reach being extended – but it does not quote any evidence she might have given.  “Reaching out to and having conversations with users through a medium they already know and enjoy send the message that you are aware of and participating in trends that matter to them.” [ I do agree with this being a potential, although the statement lacks evidence that this is the message received, and depends on an assumption that conversations will be had. ]

internal communication

An internal group blog used at one library (did not replace email or in person contact but) reportedly was more enjoyed by staff because “we use the blog to communicate about day-to-day things, to help us all keep informed about what we’re all up to and what needs doing”; and “posts cannot be lost or accidentally deleted” ; “eliminates the confusion that can result from second- or third-hand communications and offers the advantage of allowing department members to use the comments feature to discuss and resolve issues raised in blog posts”.  No actual examples are included, nor figures showing the level of engagement.  Given revelations about personality, hierarchy and workplace culture inhibiting staff engagement through social media (eg Thorn, 2005; Marten & Milve, 2011) I wonder just how far the reported enjoyment extended, whether it endured, and if so what impact it had on work processes.

expressing opinions

voicing opinions on technology” (when I look past my scepticism about the internal likelihood) reminded me to wonder whether it would be feasible to form a local social media interest group – of other public institutions, businesses and customers around experiences with social media, and potential for collaborative projects.


One of the most interesting and revolutionary uses is in the area of transparency: Josie Parker at Ann Arbor mentioned their blog’s value for revealing why decisions were made.  Their two most recent blog posts (17 & 30 July) about votes for library funding did attract more comment than event advertisements tend to; if not as much as the post about the Summer Game Shop. [Aside: Hm, Ann Arbor appears to be only 10% larger than Ballarat, would a Summer Game work here?]

Additional references

Marten, A., & Milve, L. (2011, August 30). ‘Every change is difficult’  A case study of employee behavior in Mölnlycke Health Care’s intranet. Gothenburg University Publications Electronic Archive. Retrieved from http://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/26608
Thorn, W. J. (2005, June). Developing and implementing a user-centred intranet: Organisational culture, communication and knowledge management. Auckland University of Technology. Retrieved from http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10292/101/ThornW.pdf;jsessionid=CC1A5111500AB6DED54D6908B3E6BDC2?sequence=1

Casey & Stephens (2009)

Casey, M. & Stephens, M. (2009). You can’t afford not to do these things, Library Journal, 15 March. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6639942.html?industryid=47356

Believe that social media…

(if planned, implemented and reviewed to involve listening, dialog, transparent actions, founded on trust and communication):

  • improves customer service
  • boosts staff morale
  • fosters change
  • builds a management & communication style that is win-win for staff and administration

Although I think that any medium of two-way communication which has those provisos (planning, implementation, review, listening, dialog, transparency and trust) would also do all four of the above.  So the challenge is not the social media, but the institutional culture and competence.

An advantage in cash-strapped times…

…the economic crisis should not stop the move to use social media (along with the underlying premises of trust and transparency and tools) because “honest dialog goes a long way toward addressing staff worries and concerns” and cost of meetings (travel) can be reduced by using online tools. Also “tight budgets should foster creativity and the exploration of free online tools for outreach and low cost programming that taps into user needs”

Casey & Stephens were identifying the importance of listening to constituents, but their example of overcoming the challenge of not being able to get to all locations is to post a video of the director talking to users. Not exactly listening. No other examples of how social media helps listen either.

reallocate time from unimportant activity

On the topic of the cost of time, they argue that time can be reallocated from activities that have little return on investment. “a few hours here and there devoted to something as simple as a bulletin board can add up to misallocated time.”  So the bulletin board passed and potentially browsed (and could also be used interactively) by everyone who walks into the library is not as important as the Facebook page potentially visited by patrons who use Facebook?

Offers ideas:

  • extend “town hall” budget concern discussions with online videos and video responses.
  • Ask users to promote the library with “their own video or graphic creations”, [the example library had 3 video responses and 66 comments]. [The proposed contest prizes are hardly inspiring.]
  • Mine the relevant data and check in with users before making sweeping changes.

“The above is within reach at little or no cost and an outlay of staff time.” Stated with no evidence to back it up, and passing over the point that staff time is usually the largest cost the library has.

Burkhardt (2009)

Andy Burkhardt’s post Four Reasons Libraries Should be on Social Media  (August 25, 2009).

A summary [and my first reactions]:

  1. Communication – “Social media is another way that you can get into contact with your patrons”
    [Humph: A slightly absurd statement? – unless there is a library out there that has already begun allowing patrons to nominate their social media accounts as a primary contact point?].  Social media still operates as broadcast.  For that purpose (broadcast), yes, some people are shifting to select feeds to read.
  2. Respond to feedback – people say good and bad things about your library in social media channels.
    [This could be a crisis if it indicates an egregious failing of care for health safety or human rights. Not such a convincing argument to spend a lot of money to watch for people complaining about the temperature, cost of printing or having trouble with computers. Except, we cannot be sure which we’ll get.
  3. simply another form of media for marketing & advertising.
    [But please don’t base your arguments on the number of people who use social media altogether… how many of YOUR section of the population use it?]
  4. Understanding Users Better – the revelatory opportunity of conversations.
    [this is an interesting promise, but Andy does not give any examples]

Griffey (2010)

Griffey, J. (2010). Chapter 5: Social Networking and the Library. Library Technology Reports46(8), 34

cites Boyd & Ellison definition of a “social network site”

=  “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.”

This definition therefore specifically includes Flickr, Youtube, LibraryThing.

Privacy tensions:

  • Libraries lean towards protection of private information of patrons [who you are and what you like].

Apparently that people might use library computers to give that information away through social networks bothered some libraries? Odd.Oh – this must be libraries who retained digital records of patron computing activity… why would they do that?

  • Libraries that blocked social networking sites contravened the bill of rights.
    Libraries that allow them breached privacy policy? [um, how? unless the library was keeping records that might be subpoenaed?]

Children & protection

DOPA “to protect children from the possibility of being preyed upon by adults”  Griffey suggests that the concern was over misunderstanding social networking sites and jumping to conclusions.  While I disagree with the Act, I also disagree with Griffey’s summary.  Social networking, by encouraging–through making it easy to give, asking for, and trivialising interpersonal knowledge of personal information and making it harder to understand how to keep that information private in that environment–does present more of a risk by children (if absent good believable trusted guidance). And predatory adults do what they do.

third-party software & unreliability

Prior to organisational pages on Facebook, accounts “were for use only by actual individuals and not by fictional characters, groups, businesses, or schools and libraries”  Good grief I cannot believe Griffey’s summary of this problem: “Some libraries spent time creating accounts within Facebook, friending and being friended by patrons, pushing content into Facebook, only to literally go in one day and fnd their accounts gone. This just highlights issues with trusting library information and communication channels with nonlibrary controlled sources and shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a condemnation of social networks in general.”

THAT was what he got out of the situation?  No condemnation for libraries misrepresenting their organisation as a person and contravening the intention and probably the conditions of the service?

Ongoing issues: Facebook’s decisions about privacy and data that make people uncomfortable, including a default public setting for new services.

The question: “Why bother” was asked about libraries and social media & social networking in the title of Module 4 .  However there are other dimensions to the adolescent web discussed in the original “web2.0” meme that are less about “social” attributes and more about technological development.  Are the latter (eg: harnessing the long tail; interoperability) more important for libraries?

I guess I am frustrated that so much reading material so far has been superficial.  I wished for more from higher education: a foundation in evidence, not collections of anecdotes and promos.

Black and White Dandy
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