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?

Change Revisited: The Future is Nearly Behind Us

It’s one thing to write and post an Infoblog article on the subject of change, as I did last week. It’s an entirely different and far more visceral (learning) experience to observe projected changes occurring so rapidly that they are in place before we have time to digest predictions regarding their impending arrival.
One day after writing about Paula Singer’s current full-day Infopeople workshop— “Building Leadership Skills: Leading Change,” which continues statewide through February 25, 2009—I had moved on to a different endeavor: reading the 2009 Horizon Report, posted online on January 20, 2009. Having been introduced to what the annual Horizon reports offer trainer-teacher-learners shortly after the New Media Consortium (NMC) and EDUCAUSE posted the 2008 version, I was looking forward to seeing updated predictions on technological innovations which “are likely to have a significant impact on teaching, learning, or creative expression in higher education” over a five-year period.
The topic was already on my mind because I had heard predictions about Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 while attending a session at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Conference in Denver late last month. One of the speakers at that ALA session had mused about the possibility that our mobile devices would soon be able to provide information including where the nearest Whole Foods market is, and would also notify us if one of our friends was in a Starbucks coffee shop two blocks away from us. Audience members’ reactions to the latter possibility ranged from “wouldn’t that be cool?” to “that’s creepy”—or, as one friend asked, “isn’t that cool and creepy?” Regardless of the reaction, the underlying message was that this was an idea to watch for over the next few years—a period which immediately shrinks when we read the 2009 Horizon Report.
Among the technologies evolving rapidly and which are meant to reach a new level of maturity over the next year, according to the Horizon authors, is mobile technology, and interesting innovations are already in place: “Applications designed for mobiles can…record a photograph of a CD, video, or book, then identify the artist or author and display that along with reviews of the piece and information on where to buy it” (p. 8). (Watch out, Whole Foods; our mobiles know where you live.) Furthermore, “(a)n increasing number of mobile and web-based services can respond to geolocative data in creative and useful ways…Mobile Twitter clients…add the user’s location to tweets (postings via Twitter), indicate nearby friends, and show messages tweeted in the user’s vicinity” (p. 15). (Watch out, Starbucks, we know who is Twittering at your tables and counters.)
So as I read that January 20 report in early February and thought back to predictions I heard at the end of January about what was literally on and in the Horizon, I suddenly understood at an emotional level what Paula Singer had said about “living in an age of permanent white water” and needing “the skills to help ourselves and others deal with change successfully.” And how much all of us can gain from Paula’s workshop and the recognition that the future is nearly behind us at times as change occurs even before we have heard that it is coming.
N.B.: To register for remaining sessions of “Building Leadership Skills: Leading Change” —Arden-Dimick Library in Sacramento (2/20/09); San Francisco Public Library (2/23/09); and Fresno—Woodward Park (2/25/09) —please visit the Infopeople website.

ALA Midwinter Conference: Web What.0?

It wasn’t all that long ago that Infopeople instructors helped introduce many of us to Web 2.0. Our colleagues at OCLC this afternoon upped the ante by hosting “From Linking to Thinking: How We’ll Live When Information Surrounds Us” at the American Library Association (ALA) 2009 Midwinter Conference here in Denver.
Featuring presentations and a spirited yet collegial debate by David Weinberger (author of Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder) and Nova Spivack (founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based technology venture Radar Networks and the Twine.com project), the session featured plenty of predictions of how Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 are going to develop over the next two decades and lead to the development of online artificial intelligence.
For those of us involved in training programs for library staff, members, and guests, the picture is exciting, dynamic, and more than a bit daunting. We’re going to be working even harder than we already are to keep up with the expanding nature of information retrieval/sharing through online social networks so we can help our colleagues in libraries meet library users’ evolving needs. And, Weinberger asserts, we are going to have to do it together through the sort of group efforts and collaborations which produce tools including Wikipedia.
Even the sort of innovations we saw through the daylong “Mashup the Library” conference at Santa Clara University last spring already seem familiar in comparison to what Spivack described during his “Library 3.0” presentation this afternoon. Drawing from material posted online a couple of months ago, he provided a concise decade-by-decade summary of the continuing evolution of the Web: 1980-1990, the PC era; 1990-2000, Web 1.0; 2000-2010, Web 2.0; 2010-2020, Web 3.0; and 2020-2030, Web 4.0, culminating in the “intelligent web.” Then he described some of the work being done through Twine.com, a new, free service which allows users to “collect online content—videos, photos, articles, Web pages, products—and bring it all together by topic, so you can have it in one place and share it with anyone you want” in the latest expansion of social networking and information retrieval and sharing.
“The Web literally is becoming the nervous system of the planet, and like any nervous system, it doesn’t merely take input, it generates output,” he said in an interview included in an OCLC brochure given to participants at this afternoon’s session. “This is truly as if our species is evolving to a new level of collective intelligence.”
Key roles to be played by libraries in this setting, Spivack suggested to his audience, include “digitizing everything”; placing increased effort into finding, not searching; and asking whether questions about libraries’ relevancy should be rephrased to become questions about how libraries might best market what they do so they can effectively meet user’s needs as we move toward a Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 world.

Web 2.0 Revisited: How Quickly We Have Grown

When Infopeople and its wonderful instructors introduced many of us to Web 2.0 through a magnificent series of workshops underwritten by the California State Library last year, we couldn’t have imagined what a difference it was going to make in how we viewed and interacted with the world. Those of us who had not explored any of the online social networking tools and services at all, read or written for blogs, or done anything beyond giggling over how silly the word “Wikipedia” sounded in comparison to the names of the solid and respectable encyclopedias we still admired— even if we rarely opened them—were in for a big surprise.
Looking now at the massive transition we have made as a result of our acquaintance with and use of Web 2.0 tools, we have to acknowledge what a difference a year or two of experience can make.
Absorbing several news and journal articles this week for a graduate-level online course I am taking through the University of North Texas, I was struck by how quaint some of those articles written about the Internet not so long ago felt. Pieces like Benjamin Barber’s “The Uncertainty of Digital Politics” from the Spring 2001 issue of the Harvard International Review, and “The Internet Paradox: A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being?” from the September 1998 issue of American Psychologist—both written before Web 2.0 tools began to be widely documented and promoted—warn that Internet use might divide rather than unite people and that it runs the risk of destroying rather than creating communities. Barber’s suggestion that “students are increasingly ignoring social life, community, and school activities in favor of time alone on the computer” (pp. 44-45 in the original publication) has been somewhat overtaken by students’ use—our use—of Internet access to a variety of information sources (including libraries); social and professional networking tools (including LinkedIn); and services such as Skype which combine computer time with social and academic life. The political divisiveness which he was seeing in 2001 certainly is far from gone, but the two most recent presidential campaigns demonstrate how candidates, their advisors, and their supporters united through efforts such as MoveOn.org have learned to use Web 2.0 tools to do everything from creating online and face-to-face communities to encouraging political involvement and donations from large numbers of previously unengaged voters.
Barber’s prediction that “we will have to start not with technology but with politics” if “democracy is to benefit from technology” (p. 47) is closer to fruition just a few years after Web 2.0 tools began spreading as a means for communication and community-building. His fear that “many of our problems today arise from the fact that we no longer know how to talk to neighbors, to husbands, to wives, and to fellow citizens” seems to have missed the mark in the sense that the existence or nonexistence of online communication is not going to increase or resolve the problem: these problems are resolved or exacerbated, as he concludes, through our own efforts to confront them (p. 47), and those of us working in or with libraries are in a great position to help the members of our extended community learn better how to use these online tools to their—and our—advantage.