Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

I love libraries. I work with libraries. I talk to library staff every single day. I like, share, and comment on library social media posts.

But every time I open my app for any of the platforms, I NEVER see content from libraries.


The odds are never in our favor, thanks to algorithms.

It’s a daily battle that libraries face. Social media is free and easy.

But it’s also not free and easy.

It’s incredibly, insanely difficult to figure out what works on social media when the rules are constantly changing. If you don’t have time or staff to keep up, it can be exhausting and demoralizing.

But like it or not, libraries must use social media to promote their services, collection, and events. We must do our best to work with the algorithms, for better or worse.

Starting next week, I’ll begin my annual six-part series laying out best practices for the top platforms used for promotion by libraries.

I chose these platforms because of a survey you, dear readers, so graciously answered. Nearly 300 library staffers let me know which social media platforms your library uses for promotion.

Before the platform best practice series begins, it’s important to set your library up for success by creating a social media style guide.

This is different than a social media policy, which lays out guidelines for how your staff will use social media to communicate with the public and sets rules for how the community interacts with you and others on your library’s social media accounts.

A social media style guide will ensure your posts are clear and consistent, no matter what platform you post on. It will take the guesswork out of many aspects of posting and make your work more efficient.

A social media style guide has seven parts. Here are the key decisions you should make now to ensure future success on social.

Make a list of all your social media accounts

Include your library’s handle on each platform. This will give you get a clear picture of the naming conventions you’ve used for your accounts.

Are the names consistent across channels? If not, choose a style and note it in your style guide.

Then, the next time a new social media platform is launched, you can claim and name your new account in a way that will make it easily discoverable for your existing fans.

Identify your library’s demographics for each platform.

Look at the insights for each of the platforms. Who is interacting with your posts? Your audience will be different for every platform. Make a list of the different audiences.

Because of the algorithms, you have very little control over who sees your post on any given platform. But you can get to know your available audiences and create content that will engage them.

If you are struggling with time management and you want to cut down on the number of social media posts you do, you can look at your lists of demographics. Identify the platforms with the audiences that will help you achieve your overall library and marketing goals. Post to those platforms and put the rest on hold.

Create a mission statement for each platform.

Look at your library’s goals for the year and what you know about each platform. Then write a one or two sentence mission statement for each of the social media platforms, lining up your library’s goals with the currently available audience for that platform.

For example:

  • LinkedIn: Discover career advice, business tips, and free resources that will help you succeed at work.
  • Twitter: Get regular updates on our collection, library events, and the literary and entertainment world.
  • Instagram: Photos tell the library’s story, one snapshot at a time.

These platform-specific mission statements, combined with the demographics you identified in the previous step, will help you visualize your audience every time you post. You’ll be able to connect with them because you’ll know who they are, and what they expect from you.

Decide the voice and tone you’ll use for each platform.

You want to use the same language and tone across platforms for consistency. The goal is to make sure your audience recognizes your posts no matter which platform they are on. Some things to consider include:

  • Whether your library will use formal or conversational text.
  • The words, phrases, and names that are specific to your library and can be used in posts. For instance, does your Maker Space or your Bookmobile have a specific branded name? Include that in your list.
  • Make a list of the acronyms your library commonly uses internally, along with the full spelled-out versions of what they stand for. Decide whether it’s appropriate to use the acronyms on each social channel, or if the full terms should be used.
  • Include parameters for inclusive language that will be standard for your library. For example, will your library remove the use of pronouns to be inclusive to all genders? How will you refer to people living with disabilities?

Choose an expert to make grammar and punctuation choices for you.

You can define whether you’ll use an existing style guide, like the Associated Press Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style. Or you may decide to rely on add-ons like Grammarly.

This decision will take the guesswork out of your library’s use of serial commas, headline capitalization, dash style, dates and times, and more.

Define the aesthetics.

This section will lay the groundwork for the visual portion of your posts. Decisions to be made here include:

  • Will you use your library’s defined brand colors?
  • Which fonts will your library use in images, cover photos, and for short-form social media posts like Instagram Stories and Reels?
  • How will your library’s logo be used on social media? Will it be used as the profile photo for your platforms? Can it be added to images? If so, where will it be placed and how large should it be?
  • Will you use emojis, GIFs, and memes? Which ones? How many? On what channels? How often?
  • Will you include a call to action in every post? What kinds of action words will you use in your call to action?
  • How often will you include links in your posts? Will you use a URL shortener?
  • Which hashtags will you use? How many hashtags are acceptable on each platform?
  • Will your library use filters and effects in your posts?

Formalize curation

Your library can share the blog posts, infographics, case studies, and interesting posts created by other organizations on your platforms. This is a great way to add value for your available social media audiences without creating new content of your own. Some key decisions to make around curated content include:

  • Which sources will your library share from?
  • Which sources will you not share from?
  • How will you cite third-party content?

You May Also Want to Read These Articles

Three Design Tips For Creating Beautiful Social Media Graphics for Your Library

Why It’s OKAY for Your Library To Pull Back on Posting on a Social Media Platform!

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