The Language of Flowers by Leslie George Dunlop, 1885
The Language of Flowers by Leslie George Dunlop, 1885

I’ve been mulling over a fascinating bit of research just released by the Pew Research Center. It focuses on the use of social media platforms by adults. There are some big findings for library content marketers.

1. Use of all social media platforms is on the rise, though Facebook continues to be the dominant social media platform across all age groups. 70% of those polled engage with Facebook daily… that’s a huge number. Yet, the number of new Facebook users has slowed while other social media platforms are seeing growth in use. Here’s another relevant content marketing fact: 65% of Facebook users frequently or sometimes share, post, or comment on Facebook. They’re not just reading or viewing content. Engagement is good!

2. Half of young adults use Instagram. The platform also saw growth in use in every demographic group. And here’s another key finding: half of Instagram users are on the platform every day.

3. Twitter saw a drop in daily use from 2013.

4. Pinterest use is mainly confined to women–no surprise there–but the platform saw a significant increase in the number of older users and a jump of five percent in the number of men engaging on the site. So, that’s something to think about!

5. Half of online adults frequent more than one social media site on a regular basis.

The study breaks down the users for each social media platform by demographics, which you can compare with your cardholders to get a rough estimate of where your audience is prone to hang out.

But there are two problems with this study. It doesn’t talk at all about how social media users are interacting with brands. And it has no statistics for YouTube use. We keep hearing about how video will be the big craze in 2015 for content marketers and billions of hours of video are uploaded and consumed by millions of people every day… so I admit it amazes me that YouTube use wasn’t part of the survey. But the survey can help libraries begin on the path of creating a strategy for their social media use.

So here’s my confession: Until last week, my library did not have a documented social media strategy! We basically were posting on all platforms and trying to be all things to all people. It’s like feeding a monster who never quite likes what you have on the plate. It’s exhausting and our resources are already stretched. It wasn’t working to the extent that I would have liked. So, we decided to make a plan– to define who we are and what we wanted to do on each social media platform. You can too! Here are my tips, derived from months of research and weeks of discussions with my team.

Ask yourselves:

1. What is going on right now? Start tracking your customer’s use of your social media platforms. Try not to focus on “likes”, “follows”, or “fans.” The more important metrics are engagement-oriented. Are your posts starting conversations in the comments? Are your posts being shared? Are your posts generating clicks to your website, blog, or collection software that you can link to activity like increased holds, blog views, or program attendance increases? My co-workers create a weekly report with a list of the most successful posts and the engagement rates for each. It takes just a few minutes to read through but the data helps everyone to have a clear, concrete idea of what works and what doesn’t. Whenever we do a specific push to a part of our collection, we gather “before” and “after” statistics to track the number of holds or check-outs on that item within a 24 hour period of the post going public.

2. What is your competition doing? Start following the accounts of local bookstores, museums, Redbox, Netflix, and Amazon. Follow other libraries of similar size. Pay attention to their post successes and failures. Learn from them.

3. Which social media platforms will bring us the most benefit? If you are a small library system and your staff is limited, you’ll want to focus your energies on the places where you’ll get the most benefit. That many mean you ditch Twitter and Pinterest and just post to Facebook and Instagram. There are a lot of for-profit brands who have actually started closing down their Facebook pages because of the hit they’ve taken with the new algorithm. I can totally see the logic in that although I don’t agree with the idea of shutting down completely. I think your library should at least maintain a minimal presence on each social media platform, for no other reason than to keep trolls from taking your name and using your brand inappropriately. Stake your claim and maybe you’ll use the page later… we all know how much the social media landscape changes over time. In the meantime, post only to the platforms that give you the most benefit.

4. Create a strategy chart. My staff listed each social network, then defined a mission, tactics, and goals. We tried to make sure that the goal for each social media platform helped to support the library’s overall strategic mission. For instance, we are using Twitter to share information about our collection in order to help increase buzz and circulation. We set a metric for success, which involves engagements and tracking the number of holds and checkouts of the items we promote. Defining your goals, even in the most simple and basic ways, will help drive all the decisions you make in social media. And having a defined way of measuring success will give you some benchmarks and means that, in the future, you can make better use of your time by concentrating your efforts on the things that work!

5. Re-evaluate and adjust. Set a regular meeting to talk about each platform, how you are meeting (or not meeting) your goals and readjust your strategy as necessary.

Here’s the biggest thing all libraries need to remember: Social media is fluid. Platforms are constantly changing the rules for brands. It’s important to think of your strategy as a guide, not as set-in-stone and unmovable. When algorithms change, you’ll need to realign to keep working toward your goals within the new confines. But with a defined strategy, you’ll be able to chart a course for success and demonstrate how your efforts are making a difference for your system.

Share stories of your library system’s social media successes and failures in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you!

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Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.