Libraries are using social media more and more in order to connect with patrons. It is a very good idea if done well. In order to avoid sloppy or haphazard use of social media, I propose the following guidelines.
Mission: All social media activity should support the library’s mission and strategic plan. Social media should not be used simply because it is cool. It should be used for a specific purpose, a means to meet a goal. For example, if the strategic plan includes the goal of meeting patron needs, social media can be used as a method of identifying patron needs and determining whether they are being met.
Empathy: If patrons use social media to post complaints about the library, do not discount, delete, or distract from their messages. They deserve to be listened to because they are relating their experiences from their points of view. Their comments should be acknowledged as valid, heard, and understood (do this by paraphrasing the comments), and only then should the library perspective be given. If possible, a solution or compromise can be offered, but patrons should never, never be told that they are wrong.
Professionalism and Accessibility: The target audience for social media is library patrons of all ages and all backgrounds. For this reason, library jargon should be avoided whenever possible. If unavoidable, explanations should be included. Also, accessibility should be balanced with professionalism. Slang should not be over-used, and profanity should be avoided no matter what.
Inclusiveness: Not everyone uses social media. All library announcements delivered through social media should also be delivered through less technological means such as posters, fliers, radio spots, or newspaper ads. Also, a feedback method such as a physical suggestion box should also be made available to patrons and monitored frequently.
Staff involvement: Social media can be time-consuming, especially if used well. Recognize that fact, and assign the responsibility to someone who is truly enthusiastic, who likes to write, and who has the time to do it. If necessary, tasks should be reassigned to create time for the added responsibility of social media. Job title might even be reworded; for example, the staff member responsible for the social media might be given the job title of Library Marketer.
Frequency and Timing: New content should be posted on a predictable schedule. For example, a weekly blog will always feature new content on Mondays. This makes the blog reliable and predictable. If patrons expect new content on a consistent and predictable basis, they will count on it and look forward to it. It then becomes more like a conversation with predictable turn-taking: library blogger posts on Mondays; patrons read and comment; library blogger posts on Wednesdays; patrons read and comment. A sporadic blog will come across as random blasts, more like lecture than conversation, and it will not hold anyone’s interest.
Grammar and Spelling: Content such as a blog post should be proofread by someone other than the employee who composed it. The proofreader should look not just for grammar and spelling but also clarity. The purpose of proofreading is to ensure that the library staff is seen as intelligent. Many people will not notice grammar mistakes, but many will. The goal should be to satisfy the standard of those people who do notice grammar mistakes.