It’s about interaction
“Librarians often envision the role of the library as a community center. Social media allows them to put this philosophy directly into practice…when a library involves itself in social media…it’s going to be expected to interact.” (Solomon, 2011, p. 2).
The most successful service companies build customer loyalty through one-of-a-kind customer experiences that bring the public back wanting more. They build these experiences by actively trying to understand their customer bases’ wants and how they as an organization can respond to those wants (Bell, 2009). In other words, they interact with their customers.
In her handy little volume recently published by the ALA, veteran librarian and social media expert Laura Solomon applies this focus on interaction to the use of social media in libraries. If a library is going to jump into the realm of facebook, twitter, delicious, etc. then it cannot use these tools for SHARING information and conversations as a means to BROADCAST information. In other words, we can’t treat facebook or even YouTube like a television or radio ad. By its very nature, social media is interactive, a back and forth among multiple voices. Too often I watch organizations of all kinds try to force social media to be one more media outlet when in reality it is not an outlet at all. Social media is a communal act of creation and dialog, and if we’re just pushing out information, it’s like we’ve got our fingers in our ears to what the other people in the conversation are saying to us and about us (Solomon, 2011).
A recent Library Journal article on the use of Facebook as a tool for Reader’s Advisory illustrated the difference between interaction and broadcasting brilliantly. The library in question had developed a social media “presence” sometime ago, but only saw dramatic value in that presence with a special project to engage individual patrons in acts of public reader’s advisory via their facebook page. The response was so high they had to shut down the project after 8 hours, but the value of it in terms of building relationships and meeting patrons where they are was evident (Kastner, 2011). Read the full article here.
I talked about this concept of interaction a bit myself with my own recent research project on using social media tools to create catalogable content for public library collections (Howard, 2011). Social media participation means content creation. This is content that is public and communal by nature. Constantly being consumed, reconstructed, recycled, and re-imagined. If libraries can tap into this ongoing conversation, develop ourselves as not just a participant but a valuable resource to facilitate the dialog, then we go a long way to ensuring our viability and value in a digital age.
With that being said, in some ways I think the constantly-creative element of the social media process is somewhat subliminal, or at least beyond easy comprehension. This seems especially true for those of us born on the edges of the digital native generation. The internet, email, facebook, they’re all a daily part of my life and have been so seamlessly for what feels like ages. That said, I am much more like my parents than my nieces and nephews in the way I interact with these tools. I consume media and information from them, like I would a television show or a magazine. I don’t often contribute to the conversation, and when I do it’s often just to put my own thoughts out into the ether and watch what happens (which is what I’m doing now).
Thus I think the challenge is similar for many libraries and for myself. Many of us these Web 2.0 tools every day, but do we really understand them? What else can we be doing to get more out of them, for our own benefit and for the benefit of the communities we belong to? How do we make the leap from consumer to community member?
I’m working on it. Maybe you can let me know how I’m doing.
Bell, S. (2009, August-September). From gatekeepers to gate-openers. American Libraries, 50-53.
Howard, B. (2011, April). Patron-created content: Building digital collections without fear. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the Kansas Library Association, Topeka, KS.
Kastner, A. (2011, May 1). Facebook RA. Library Journal, 136(8), 24-26. Retrieved from http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/communitylibraryculture/890008-271/facebook_ra.html.csp
Solomon, L. (2011). Doing social media so it matters : a librarian’s guide. Chicago: American Library Association.