The fine art of maintaining a social media presence

LibraryScienceList.com recently came out with a post on the most social media friendly state libraries for 2013. The good news? California ranked 12th on the list. The bad news? California ranked 12th on the list. You can read all about the list and the libraries’ rankings here.

What exactly did they measure?

“To determine which state libraries are doing the best job of managing their social media presence, we gathered usage stats for each of the 50 libraries on the top social media platforms. Points were assigned based on the amount of activity and number of followers and weighted to put more emphasis on the platforms that were used by the most libraries. The maximum possible score was 100, with 28 points possible for Facebook, 22 for Twitter, 21 for Flickr, 20 for YouTube, 5 for LinkedIn, 3 for Pinterest, and 1 for Google Plus.”

It’s a surprise to see, however, that the “usage stats” don’t appear to measure activity so much as messages sent out and subscribing audience (not participant) measures. Further, weighting the measures to accord with how many libraries used the particular media channel seems odd: wouldn’t the number of users of the various channels herald a more accurate report of activity effectiveness?

Beyond these intitial observations of the study’s construction, another glaring oddity is obvious: the only accounts tracked for the study appear to be the general ones held by the State Library as the overarching institution, rather than any of its numerous areas and divisions of specific interest. Let’s use the analog of the American Library Association. Yes, “big” ALA has social media acconts and uses them. And the social media accounts of its various divisions, chapters, and projects (e.g., the Young Adult Library Services Association, REFORMA, the Office of Intellectual Freedom) maintain accounts that would and are used much more to do exactly what thenLibraryScienceList study says it tried to measure. Does anyone interact regularly with a whole building, or more with locations within it or activities in specific locations?

For California this means that among the Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media accounts left untracked are those in which many interactions occur: Infopeople’s, the California Library Literacy Initiative, and many so ons. The same is true for all other states in this survey, one can be sure. For example, the California State Library, according to this study, had tweeted 1,185 times at the time of the study and that is the sum of the California State Library’s reported tweeting. Yet, during the same period of time, Infopeople had tweeted over 4,000 times and other aspects of thenCalifornia State Library were also tweeting.

While enumerating how this counting of social media activities by each platform–Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.–is similarly telescopic channel by channel (and state by state) would become tedious, there are other aspects to the study that also warrant examination. What is counted, in each case, is the raw number of outgoing communications made by the particular library and the number of “likes” or “followers.” This leaves quite a laundry list of other numbers that would speak to the study’s stated goal of reporting the “social media friendliness”  of each state’s top library office:

  • How many social media messages went viral–either by “sharing” on Facebook, “retweeting” on Twitter, etc.?
  • Is the platform being utilized by the State Library as a way of sharing out real-time interactions, such as tracking a webinar speaker’s points through Twitter hashtags?
  • What types of State Library supported services provide social interactions through their social media use? Promotion and marketing? Library advocacy? Brainstorming intended to include the library profession? Town hall-type brainstorming intended to include state residents?

One area of the California State Library’s online structure that provides quick access to those seeking interest areas of the Library to consider linking with via social media is the Library Services and Technology Act projects. While messages posted by the broad State Library may not provide the best opportunities for engagement, choosing to follow, friend, link to, and especially respond to interactive possibilities, vesting your interest in pursuing any of these social media attentions with Get Involved: Powered by Your Library, offers just the right platform for Pinterest; Facebook seems a great choice for connecting with Transforming Life after 50; and Infopeople offers a variety of channels for interaction including Twitter (@infotweets) and this blog. But this very plethora of offerings makes it pretty tricky to truly measure the clout of the State Library’s social media friendliness – and the success of those efforts.

Really, this report mostly raises lots of questions. How do you measure your library’s social media impact? What tools work well, what tools don’t? How important is it to track the impact of your social media presence? Do you have a single “identity” you use for all efforts?

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