Deborah Price-Ewen (2015), "Successful Social Networking in Public Libraries", The Electronic Library, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 157-159. https://doi.org/10.1108/EL-09-2014-0150
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Walt Crawford’s latest publication is for every public library that has or is considering investing time and resources in Facebook and/or Twitter activity. Successful Social Networking in Public Libraries comprises eight chapters, most of which expand and flesh out “a rolling snapshot” (p. vii) of 5,958 US public libraries in 38 States that were surveyed and interviewed by Crawford in 2011. Crawford relies almost exclusively on these 2011 findings to promote successful social networking, which, by the time of publication, is almost three-years-old. Do a quick search on hash tags in the index of Crawford’s book, for example, and you will draw a blank. Yet, the use of hash tags to expedite a wider Twitter audience, beyond personal or institutional followers is paramount to raising one’s Twitter profile. Despite this lag in currency, however, Crawford mines some useful gems of advice that can be used by public libraries to harness the social-networking tide.
The first chapter, in fact, challenges libraries to consider harnessing this tide, with the statement that libraries should be active within their communities and visible to their patrons. He challenges his readers further with the follow-up statement: “Libraries should be where patrons want or expect them to be, when that’s feasible and appropriate”. It is useful at this point to pause and think about these statements. What is the “climate” out there in your community: among your patrons and potential patrons? What does the latest census data say about your community’s needs and wants? Is your community as “connected” as you think?
According to ebizmba (www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-networking-websites 2014), Facebook still trumps the social networking top ten list at 900,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors. Twitter comes in at 310,000,000 with LinkedIn and Pinterest vying for third place at 255,000,00 and 250,000,000, respectively. Google+ is also clawing its way to the top at a slow but steady pace: now ranking fifth at 120,000,000 unique visits per month. Given these numbers, a library wanting to increase its profile and harness real and potential mileage from social networking, would do well to look closely at this top-five list. Service beyond four walls; increased patronage; e-book lending; database usage, even the good old-fashioned business of promoting a book or author – all may benefit from your library harnessing social-networking media. There is also larger scope, I believe, for libraries to harness slightly unconventional social media: YouTube and the game of Minecraft, as examples.
Once connected to these types of social media, what constitutes success in one’s library is a good question – one thoroughly explored in Crawford’s book. Correlating contact numbers (patron’s connected) versus the effort spent by libraries establishing a Twitter or Facebook connection is taken into consideration. Success, according to Crawford’s findings, may initially be defined as between 1-10 per cent of patrons’ contacted. Frequency (the rate at which updates or tweets appear) and reach (the extent to which the account is reaching users) are the external measures that are used to improve on this initial success. Crawford is conscious of reminding readers, however, that no single model of activity makes sense for all libraries. He advises libraries that look to other libraries for success measures to focus on those comparable in size – and to keep in mind that libraries should only do what they consider makes sense to them.
Crawford also makes a useful digression into why a lack of cohesion between the authentic, originating library website and its Facebook community page and twitter account, results in fractured search result rankings. These disparate results can lead people off the scent when trying to link into the authentic library website. It seems obvious that libraries should be trying to avoid this from happening but Crawford found that the majority of libraries he surveyed had a fragmented presence. Whilst on this subject, I flipped to the index of Crawford’s book to see if he touched on vanity urls, which are more likely to be clicked when they come up in search results. Utilising vanity urls is an easy and effective way to create cohesion in search results and link back to the originating website. However, Crawford makes no mention of them.
The second half of Crawford’s book focuses on concrete examples of strategies employed by libraries to ensure success in social networking. The final chapters are also statistic heavy. Indeed, the statistics occupy at least one-third of the entire contents of the book and appear only to have relevance in so far, as it is useful to compare American states with American states. Nor is it stated why these statistics are important, unless one presumes that “the data” makes the findings more real. This makes the book an overtly American-centric read and many global readers can be excused for skipping through to the end.
To sum up, I’m going to reiterate the fact that Crawford’s book has somewhat lost its currency between survey, data gathering and publication, but this is perhaps an unavoidable result of a fast-changing scene. Perhaps this loss in currency can be mitigated, if there were to be a next time, by it being published in a more readily editable format – such as an e-book or PDF? Overall, however, there is some great coverage on social-networking best practices and success strategies.