NAG social media workshop
The following is a write-up of the social media workshop I ran at the NAG conference last year. The article was published in the Winter 2014/2015 edition of NAG’s Taking Stock journal. The slides I used in the workshop are also available online.
In the current climate, how we communicate with our users within both academic and public libraries is more important than ever. With funding tight and an increasing demand to deliver ‘value’, communications technology has become an increasingly vital tool. With the growth of social media, we have tools at our disposal to build relationships with our users and engage with them in ways that were previously simply not possible. That the tools that have become increasingly important are also free to use (if you discount the data you give away of course!), has made them especially attractive when budgets are tight.
However, whilst there is the temptation to dive straight in and create a range of social media accounts sharing all sorts of content, it is important to consider why each tool might be useful and how it can be used effectively. A little bit of time considering how each tool can be most effectively utilised can make a significant difference in terms of what takes off and what does not (although there is nothing wrong with ‘failure’, so we should not be afraid of things not working so long as we can identify the reasons why it went wrong). One of the key factors we should consider when determining how and why each tool should be utilised is, of course, the user themselves.
Understanding user behaviour is key to developing and delivering a successful communications strategy. As White and Le Cornu note in their paper on online engagement, there is a complex dynamic at play that is far removed from the typical digital natives dialogue we often encounter when engaged in discourse regarding behaviours online. White and Le Cornu argue that rather than a digital natives/digital immigrants distinction, there is in fact a fluid continuum where people’s behaviours flow between two distinct behaviours: visitors and residents. These two behaviours are defined as follows:
Visitor – visitors get what they want and go, they don’t see the internet as a social space and have no interest in prolonged engagement.
Residents – residents see the internet as a social space and are happy to engage with others.
People are neither firmly in one camp or the other, it’s a continuum that sees people float between the two depending on the purpose for which they intend on using the internet. So some users would act as ‘visitors’ for certain purposes and ‘residents’ for others. There might be a small handful at either extreme that remain fixed, but in general people flit between the two behaviours dependent on their needs. It was within this context I wished to look at social media within the workshops I hosted at the NAG conference.
The workshops opened by outlining the foundations (why should this be something we are engaging in?), moved on to explain how I use the tools we would be looking at (Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram) and then provided the delegates with examples of various accounts, asked them to investigate each one in their groups and ultimately think about how they could use these tools back their workplace. I find this to be a good way to learn about new tools, from seeing them in action and considering how they could be adapted or enhanced within my own working environment. Sometimes just looking at other accounts is enough to prompt great ideas about how to utilise them within your own environment.
I chose these specific tools to focus on because Twitter is a pretty standard tool to discuss in relation to social media and is increasingly popular across the profession. Pinterest is gradually being utilised in libraries, but there is still some hesitance in its use, perhaps predominantly due to the various copyright concerns it raises*. Finally, Instagram is an interesting tool that some libraries are beginning to explore, but it’s potential in libraries is particularly compelling because there appears to be growing use of this tool by a key demographic (both in terms of academic and public libraries).
In the content of the visitor/residents continuum, I see each of these tools as having specific benefits in meeting the needs of certain behaviours. For example, I see Pinterest as a place that lends itself towards Visitor behaviour. It enables a curator to pull together interesting and useful resources in particular themes, which suits visitor behaviour. For example, on one of my boards I have aggregated EBSCO YouTube clips demonstrating the database’s search functionality. Rather than flicking through YouTube finding the key clips, they are all aggregated in one place. Likewise, I have a board that pulls together all the study support pages on our website. As the various useful pages are distributed quite widely, pulling them all onto one board provides a simple ‘one-stop shop’ for the Visitor to quickly access what they need and go. This contrasts with Twitter and Instagram which are more suited to Resident behaviours.
Perhaps the best demonstration of how these tools fit into the Visitor/Resident continuum, is through the amount of time users spend on them. Whilst the average user spends about 98mins per month on Pinterest, Instagram users spend approximately 257mins per month. Clearly one lends itself to more prolonged activity, suggesting one tool lends itself more to Visitors than Residents and vice versa.
Once the background was established, I asked each group to look at some suggested accounts for each tool. In terms of Twitter, the usual comments were made about the need to keep the tone of tweets pretty informal, to be human and have a sense of humour. One particular account (The Library of the University of the West of Scotland – @UWSLib https://twitter.com/uwslib) was highlighted by the group for being very visual in terms of its use of photos in a lot of its tweets. Although providing a range of media can be difficult within a work context (varied content means spending more time managing it effectively of course), it is definitely well worth spending the time to plan content or develop ideas for interesting content.
On the basis of some of the comments made in the workshops, Instagram is increasingly seen as an important tool for many. In one of the sessions, a delegate explained how her daughter had used Instagram to share photos of their family holiday rather than Facebook as they had done in the past. This raises one of the difficulties regarding the use of social media: the need to keep on top of trends of usage. Clearly for some, Instagram has become the place to go to share photos rather than Facebook. The question is, will these behaviours remain the same when they come to university? In which case, shouldn’t we engage in this space?
In terms of the library accounts I shared, there was some interesting uses of their Instagram accounts. One that stood out particularly, was the University of Glasgow’s. Having undergone some moves, they posted a photo of the location of the new enquiry desk (including the people that staff it) and explained the new arrangements. Of course, this is far more useful than text telling students where to find the enquiry desk. Of course, some people prefer visual information to textual. Furthermore, as Instagram allows for interaction and exchange of comments between users it builds additional value into the information.
For those that are able to utilise social media, I would certainly recommend taking some time to consider each tool and how you utilise it. Look at examples of other accounts that are out there and see how they are utilised, then consider the needs of your users. Also consider the ways in which they interact online and try to meet these behaviours through your communications strategy. Consider the needs of Visitors who just want to source information quickly and go, as well as those who see the internet as a space in which they are Residents. By doing so, we increase the chances of developing a successful communications strategy.
* Since writing this article, I’ve pretty much given up on Pinterest as a useful tool for students. Much of the content can only be accessed by people with Pinterest accounts, which is a bit of a shame as I found it a useful way to pull together good content for students. I’ve not abandoned it entirely, but I’ve put it on the back-burner for now.