October 26, 2009

Twitter is a two-way street

Well, I took a really long break from updating my blog, apparently. Since my last post, I've been hired back at my previous position that I was laid off at due to budget issues (a lack thereof); I'm so excited to be back there, even if just for 4-6 weeks (and am still looking for permanent employment). I was brought back to continue working on the three websites I had been essentially webmaster of, and might be able to incorporate some emerging technologies and social software into outreach. This was originally brought up from my contribution to a logic model for grant writing, where I was tasked with describing the value of the center's websites through inputs and activities, and then showed progression to immediate and future outcomes. I proposed some ideas I'm excited about working with if my supervisor gives me the go ahead at our meeting next week.

Looking even more closely at incorporating web 2.0 into our site, and after recently reading more marketing and library outreach books, I'm really noticing even more where a 2.0 presence can be lacking for libraries and similar institutions. Andy Burkhardt's Information Tyrannosaur blog discusses what libraries should tweet and how to improve listening skills; I couldn't agree more -- libraries need to be part of the discussion and not just making one-way announcements. It seems odd to me when I see numerous library profiles that have followers, but follow no one back in return. Twitter and other social media (but Twitter exemplifies this point the best here) should be a platform to hear what people think of services and collections and enter into a discussion with users for not only improvements, but also to just show the library is listening.

Instead of just announcements or answering reference questions, projecting a personality can help users connect more with the library. Brian Mathews's book, Marketing Today's Academic Library, relates to this with excellent ideas. Users should want to incorporate the library into their personal brand by being associated with it via their web presence (and of course in person). The most popular 2.0 entities seem to have this going for them, where it's not just informational but also entertaining to read updates and look at links. Not all posts should be just about what's new with the library, but show the students that the library is a hub of useful information to them in general (Mathews discusses this as well). An example of this is Mental Floss Magazine on Twitter; although not a library, they post interesting facts each day as well as "did you know..." type questions making followers interested in finding the answers. When new materials come into the library, perhaps instead of just announcing this in a very straightforward way, positing a trivia question about something the new items could answer could intrigue students. As Burkhart's blog and Mathews's book also both mention, promoting others' events can benefit the library. Promoting student group and university-wide information might make others want to in turn promote the library. This can be accomplished through re-tweeting on Twitter (and Facebook), and off the computer through flyers and other traditional methods.

When I see a library account with followers that follows no one in return, I get an impression that the library either has no interest in what the people who are interested in the library are thinking or doing, or is just not savvy enough to realize following the followers is important. Granted, if a library has thousands of followers, it would be difficult to keep up with this, but if feasible, someone(s) should try to devote more time to the social media presence. I've seen time and time again how people judge customer service of corporations from responsiveness on Twitter, and that can entirely make or break loyalty.

As a disclaimer, I do sound obsessed with Twitter since I haven't touched on other aspects of web 2.0 as much, but I just think it serves as an excellent example. Something I proposed in my section of the logic model was to incorporate more crowd sourcing to our teacher site for environmental health lesson plans and resources, by using Del.icio.us. This is another way to show users their input is valued, by allowing them to contribute. Posting a Del.icio.us feed to the front page showing new resources (instead of just updating the pathfinder links) could not only involve users, but also provide better statistics for us on what information is being sought out and what is currently important. (On Del.icio.us, you can save a link for someone else, and then once they approve it, it is added to their links page.)

I haven't used Flickr as extensively, but if there is a way to save photos for others, this would be great too. If someone else took photos at an event or of just the library in general, their images could be added to the publicized feed with credit to them.

I'm really excited about working on these ideas and am continuing to read related books and blogs for more inspiration. Hopefully, my next update won't be too far in the future and I will keep track of how these ideas are coming along.