This is the second in a series of posts with tips for making social media work for your library in 2020. Visit this page to read the first installment, which will help you set up your strategy and give you tips for dealing with your workflow on any platform.

The Facebook algorithm rules them all.

It used to be that, on all social media platforms, posts would appear in a user’s feed in chronological order. Those days are long gone. Now platforms use an algorithm to determine what posts your users will see. And that has a lot of consequences for libraries.

Facebook leads the pack in algorithm changes. When Facebook adjusts its feed, all the other platforms follow suit. And Facebook owns Instagram, so that’s usually the first platform to re-adjust its algorithm after Facebook makes a successful change.

That’s why my advice for library marketers is to watch what Facebook is doing closely. Keeping tabs on Facebook will help you predict changes to the other platforms.

In 2018, Facebook changed its algorithm to emphasize what it calls “meaningful interactions.” This change was made as a way to deal with the fake news epidemic on the platform. I heard Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, explain the thought process behind this algorithm change in a fascinating interview with Katie Couric. Read this article about that interview–it was pretty intense.

Here’s what to avoid if you want good reach on Facebook.

Spam: Spam involves contacting people with unwanted content or requests. This includes sending bulk messages to followers.

Click-baiting is the act of writing a headline or a post that over-promises, over-sensationalizes, or misrepresents whatever content you are linking to. The easiest click-bait headlines to spot are the ones that contain the words “You’ll never believe” or “What happened next will shock/embarrass/outrage you.” For more on click-baiting and why your library should never do it, read this.

Like-baiting is the practice of trying to compel Facebook users to click the Like button associated with a piece of content. The practice is similar to link-baiting.

You should also avoid repetitive posts, text-only updates, and content that’s too promotional.

So, what do algorithms like?

Facebook will always prioritize posts with a lot of likes, comments, or shares, particularly if that engagement all comes in a short time. It will also prioritize content that is liked by your followers friends. And they give an organic boost to your page to followers that interacts with you frequently.

The bottom line is this: if you can get people to share your posts, their friends and family will see it. If your followers friends and family share your posts, you’ll get more traction.

It sounds exhausting! But there is a simple trick. The best, more shareable posts on Facebook are informational, fun, and helpful. Facebook followers love recommendations and stories. Focus on those kinds of posts on Facebook, not on overly promotional content.

Do not post program posters on Facebook and Instagram.

In fact, if you need to promote a program, don’t post a graphic at all. Use a photo, either stock or organic, of people enjoying the activity you are promoting. A photo of the presenter also works. Put the information that’s on your program poster or graphic in the post itself.

Better yet, ask the presenter a few questions about the event and use that to weave a small, interesting story that’s about three sentences long. Start your post with that story and then put in the details of the program–location, date, and time. You’ll catch the attention of the reader with those first interesting sentences and get more engagement.

Use hashtags on Instagram, not Facebook.

A BuzzSumo study of one billion posts came to the conclusion that Facebook posts with hashtags perform worse than posts without hashtags. This bears out in my own observations of the platform. Don’t worry about hashtags on Facebook.

Instagram is a different story but there is one catch: many libraries (and individuals) use too many hashtags. Instagram allows you to add up to 30 hashtags in a single post, but my recommendation is that you keep it to seven or less. There is data to suggest that 91 percent of posts by the top brands use seven or fewer hashtags. As always, experiment with your posts and see where your library’s hashtag threshold stands.

Spend money on Facebook and Instagram. It is worth it.

You’ll need to spend money on Facebook and Instagram ads or boost your Facebook and Instagram feed posts to see any significant organic traffic for your other Facebook posts. That said, you don’t have to spend much money at all. Most libraries can spend about two to three dollars a day to boost a post or promote an event and see results. You can link your Instagram account to your Facebook account to buy identical ads for both platforms. So, when I talk about building ads in Facebook, I really mean Facebook and Instagram.

As always, you’ll have to look at your library’s overall strategy to determine which posts to boost. Facebook makes it very, very easy to set up your ads for maximum effectiveness. You can choose the audience based on a huge list of demographics, including geographic location, age, and interests. Facebook will help you craft a call to action and a headline that will work best for your ad.

During my recent stint as the chair of my school district’s bond issues, I played around with Facebook ads nearly every day. I would put $1 a day behind an ad and test it for a week to watch the response. If people interacted with it, I would re-boost it with more money… but never more than $7 a day. It was super cheap, easy, and effective in reaching audiences I would never have had access to otherwise.

You should be doing a lot more on Instagram.

Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. The network has one billion monthly active users. Every year Instagram makes library marketing easier and more targeted through an extensive list of features and analytics tools that help you attract followers, build engagement, and develop insights into your followers.

Instagram stories are the best use of your limited social media time.

If you have to post on stories and ignore the regular feed, do that. Stories don’t have to be long or complicated. They do need to be visually appealing. Wide shots or quick panning shots of a room are not interesting or engaging. Get close, show emotion and excitement in the faces of the people interacting with your library, and you’ll get more interest from your Instagram followers.

This Instagram story series at my library did amazingly well. We posted 21 stories featuring “Skelly” at various library branches over the course of several days. Each story got an average of 693 views and 16 replies.

Instagram takeovers are an easy way to get more reach.

In this scenario, all you have to do is arrange for a partner organization, library department, senior leader, or fan to take over your account for a day or during a special event. Not only will this expose your library to their followers, but it will also give your library external credibility.

You can actually do this without giving your takeover partner the password to your account. Click here to see a sample Instagram takeover document. You can personalize this and establish the boundaries of the takeover without jeopardizing security. Then ask your takeover partner to create their story BUT instead of posting each slide on their own account, have them save each individual slide to their camera roll. Then they’ll email the slides to your library and you’ll upload them, one by one, to your Instagram story.

We did this takeover with a nearby library system. It gave each participating library access to a new audience. And people loved it! Each story got an average of 605 views and four replies.

Instagram polls are easy and fun.

Instagram allows you to poll followers and monitor the result so you’ll get immediate feedback and valuable insights into customer behavior, values, and needs.

Polls are a good way to get feedback on your services. You can also get great ideas for other kinds of content, like topics for future blog posts or book displays your followers would like to see inside their nearest physical branch. Here’s a great example from Penguin Random House.

Instagram highlights let you save your best content and extend reach.

Unlike regular Instagram stories, which disappear after 24 hours, highlights are saved to custom categories on your Instagram profile, and they live there until you delete them. Think of highlights like containers for similarly themed Instagram stories you share. After you add content to your story, you can choose to highlight that content by saving it to one of these containers.

You can see our highlights below as the circle icons under our account info. If you go to our Instagram account and click on any of those icons, you’ll see the best of our content from the past six months.

Other tips for Facebook and Instagram general feed posts.

User-generated plays well on both platforms. People LOVE IT when you share the content they create. If you look at my library’s Summer Adventure highlights on Instagram, you’ll see a bunch of examples. These are the EASIEST posts because you don’t have to do any work!

Video plays well on both platforms. Post live video or short snippets to get the maximum reach. You don’t have to have a production budget or even a “real” camera. Your smartphone will work just fine! If you have a longer form video, try posting it to IGTV on Instagram. My library has been experimenting with this. We had no idea if anyone would watch but we got a surprising amount of views.

Use faces that express emotion in your posts. A study presented at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems measured likes and comments of one million Instagram photos. The results show that photos with faces are 38 percent more likely to receive likes and 32 percent more likely to receive comments, even after controlling for social network reach and activity. The number of faces, their age, and gender do not have an effect. Find faces that your users can relate to. If they’re expressing a strongly identifiable emotion like happiness, surprise, anger, or fear, you’ll get better reach.

The most important thing is to post consistently.

My recommendation is to post once a day to Facebook and two to three times a week to the Instagram feed. Create an Instagram story that’s at least two to three slides long every single day. If you post consistently in your Instagram stories, you’ll train your followers to come look for your content. They’ll start interacting with your stories which will tell the Instagram algorithm to start showing them your posts in the regular feed more frequently, which leads to more engagement… and you win!

Check the Upcoming Events page for a list of webinars and conferences where I’ll be next. Let’s connect! Plus, subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.  

There will be no posts the weeks of Dec. 23 and Dec. 30. I’m a big believer in taking a break for your own mental health. You can read about that here.