Sunday, January 26, 2014

Creating Community Online: A Top Tech Trends Talk

I spoke this morning at the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference, in Philadelphia. Our panel covered "Top Tech Trends," and my topic was how libraries can do a better job of creating community online. What follows is a fleshed out version of my contributions to the panel discussion. I think it is applicable beyond libraries, to any business or organization that wants to use social media to create real relationships with their following.

To put it simply, the libraries and organizations who understand that social interactions on the internet are real are going to be more powerful and effective on social media.

This means having the same thoughtfulness and interest and investment in others that we do at our service desks. It also means to be yourself, to be real.

Why not do programming? Why not share jokes? Why not put effort into acknowledging special days? Why not make the place you live and work present in what you post? Why not share secrets every now and then? Why not show how much you and your colleagues enjoy what you're doing?
Courtesy of Hillsdale Public Library Facebook page
Write (and photograph) with a Sense of Place
One of my favorite Facebook pages is the one written by the Hillsdale Public Library, in Hillsdale, NJ. They've created a running internet joke based upon the signboard positioned outside the library. Every time I read the update I picture a real person with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye. A recent favorite appeared at Christmastime: "Max out your library card this holiday season." Always, the post is a photo of the sign with the library's entrance signage just behind it. It works because it is clever, timely, location-specific, and corny fun. They've created their own meme that is directly connected to their physical existence, a link between the experience of the people who walk through the doors of the building with the people who visit them online. I see their pictures shared well beyond Hillsdale, on other library's and book lover's pages. How great is that?

A birthday card
On our accounts I have shared personal photographs of our city and location, a scenic valley between 4 mountain ranges. Sharing an extraordinary moon rise or a freak snowfall as the library is easy to do and has always been very popular. Aside from the visual appeal, I think these work because they remind readers that yes, their library staff live there too, and love what they love. It doesn't have to be all books and events.

Kitchen window with seed library seedling
Be Yourself, and Share your Passion for What You Do
Another example is the Seed Library of Pima County's page, written by one of my colleagues in Tucson. Justine Hernandez and her team regularly get out of the library and to photograph our library gardens, community gardens, and farmer's markets. She has even photographed her own garden and shared her squash failures along with her tomato successes. No stock photography here.

Here's the payoff. In 2 years, the Seed Library Facebook page has become the second largest page on sustenance gardening in the southwest, and a strong voice in Tucson's local food movement. Even more dramatic, the seed library was launched at a time when our Community Relations Coordinator position was vacant and there was no press release, no publicity poster, no traditional publicity*. And yet, the grand opening was attended by about 2,000 people including 20 vendors representing gardening clubs, seed preservation groups, the food bank, and community gardens. She has positioned the library at the center of the gardening community in Tucson.

It's important to point out another factor in their success: Justine, Susannah and Kelly consistently get out of the library into the community and build relationships in person too. What's different, I believe, is that they've integrated their social media presence with all their programming, as well as how they've been willing to be themselves online and talk to their readers as friends.

*There was a substantial article in the local newspaper, but it was because an alert reporter heard about the Seed Library in the works.

Try programming on Facebook or Twitter
We learned from Multnomah County Library the possibility of doing live reader's advisory on Facebook. Though staff-intensive, "What Do I Read Next Day" one of the most popular things we do. Advertise the day/hours, and the morning of the event make a post asking your community to comment with a list of the last three books they've read. At the library a group of our best-read library staff field the requests and reply to the comment with books custom-selected for their reading tastes. Our Facebook community tells us they love seeing everyone's requests, and they chime in when they have additional recommendations.

Another type of participatory programming I've tried is to go beyond fill-in-the-blank posts and challenge our readership to make something simple and send it to us. National Poetry Month is a natural for this. Last year I asked everyone to send in poems written with spines of books, and posted 2-3 every day for the month. Everyone loved the project and that their contribution was recognized by the library. Another year I asked staff to write haiku about books, reading and libraries, for sharing with our readers on Facebook and Twitter, and posted one a month during April.

Cosplay at a library event, with props created for photographs
Bake Social Media Behaviors into Event Planning
You know how everyone loves to photograph each other having fun to share online with their friends? Build this into your larger events by providing photo backdrops, props, or just a photography area. At Potter parties over the ears we've made signs to pose with (above) or detention slips for "Professor Snape" to hand out. At our Manga Mania!! mini-con we have a photography area where we will document the amazing costumes made for the event. After the event they are posted on our Flickr account, and (selectively) on our social media accounts.

A tweet from the same event
Hashtags are more powerful than ever
Most of the major social media platforms (specifically Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and now Facebook) turn hashtagged words into links to everything else tagged with the same word.

This means that for large, photogenic events it is worth the time to choose a hashtag before an event, and advertise it before and during the fun. Include the hashtag on the posters, slide decks, signage, etc. at the venue, especially near any photo opps.

Why? You can look at the hashtags after the event and curate the story of the event as seen through the eyes of people who came, using software like Storify. An event narrative like this is a great way to report on an event after the fact (see what fun you missed?) and as a thank you to your programming partners. By the way, Storify only pulls from public posts, and notifies the creators of the inclusion of their post in the story.

Multiply Your Channels Through Your Programming Partners
Are your programming partners on social media?

Communicate with your partners and sponsors when you post so they're sure to share your posts, and be sure to share their posts. The easiest way is to tag them -- if they're paying attention they will be notified of your post (and hopefully share it).

The thing is, they will reach people who haven't discovered your page yet, or even your library, and their posts will magnify your reach.

True story: in 2011, we put on a party when Harry and the Potters came to perform. We figured (based on previous performances) that 500 people would come, planned on 1000, and were amazed when nearly 3,000 people showed up, in costume. I think the difference was that it was the first year we had programming partners (a big used bookstore, a beloved toy shop, and the hotel where we held the event) with a strong following who were great about getting the word out to their following.

Holiday cards

Make Greeting Cards, Plan Online Holiday Programming
This is something I learned from online fandoms. Holidays always have special events that fans look forward to.The shenanigans surrounding April Fools, and May the Fourth Be With You Day are a huge draw to their websites. Give your staff a heads up when Funny Hat Day (July 9th) nears, and celebrate it on social media too.

I've made special "greeting cards" for holidays like Veterans Day and New Years that feature staff and our scenery (above).

Please share your own discoveries in the comments! 

The next post will be looking ahead to a post-Facebook world. Thanks for reading!  --Lisa

1 comment:

  1. Some great thoughts on integrating social media with your events. Thanks!