What Happened and Why You Should Mind Your Social Media Strategy
by David Lee King
The recent Twitter fiasco is a weird mix of interesting, troubling, and head-scratching confusion—what the heck!—all at the same time. Let’s explore Twitter’s recent confusing moves and discuss what we, as libraries, need to do with our Twitter account and other social media accounts in light of recent events. I’ve had a Twitter account since March 2007, and Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) has had an account since January 2009. TSCPL has consistently used Twitter to connect with our customers, share library news, and have some fun. Personally, I used Twitter to help grow my career and to share interesting trends about libraries.
|What should you do with your Twitter and other social media accounts?
Early on, Twitter was fun and useful. However, it has been going through a rough transition in the past couple of months. As you probably know, Elon Musk purchased Twitter and took it private. Then he laid off approximately half of its staff, including some of the executive leaders. Here’s a brief timeline of Twitter’s recent changes:
—Musk purchases Twitter and takes the company private.
—Musk lays off about half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees.
—There are lots of starts and stops over a reworked Verified blue checkmark.
—Twitter reinstates users who had previously been banned from the site.
—Journalists are permanently suspended. These are mostly journalists who wrote about Musk and/or the recent Twitter transition.
—On Dec. 18, Musk tweets a poll asking if he should continue being CEO or should step down. More than half vote for him to step down.
—And, 2 days later, Musk announces he will step down as CEO once a replacement is found.
Those are some recent highlights. My guess is we will see more rough spots during this transition time. Will Twitter continue or fold? The platform has been around for 16 years; it launched in March 2006. But also, technology companies come and go, even if they have been in business for a long time. As of this writing, Twitter is still around, and I’m still gaining new followers on my account—but I’m also losing followers, so it’s balancing out.
Personally, I think Twitter will survive. MySpace and Yahoo are somehow still around, so it’s not a stretch to think Twitter will continue. Having said that, it is possible that the service might drastically change. So the question is how should you respond to Twitter’s recent changes, as an individual and as a library/organization? Actually, we can apply some action points to include social media use in general.
What should you do with your Twitter and other social media accounts? I have three points to make:
- Evaluate the platform.
- Try new platforms.
- Focus on what’s important.
#1 Evaluate the Platform
You should regularly evaluate your use of social media (both personally and as an organization). Here are some questions to think about as you consider Twitter and other social media accounts:
Do you use the tool? Does your library use its Twitter account? If so, then great. Keep using it (unless, as maybe in Twitter’s case, the company strays far from what your organization wants to support).
Do you get value from it? This is a better question than simply “Do you use it?” What does “value” mean in this context? It could mean any number of things. For an individual, it might mean things such as are your friends there? Do you feel a connection with people using the platform? Do you find interesting things in your feed, such as news and information about your favorite hobby or other interests? For an organization, you might consider these questions: Do people visit your website from a link in a tweet? Do customers connect with you on the platform? Do they interact with your organization via the platform—do they ask questions, participate in discussions, or click links that you share?
Do you not use it? This is another way to look at the question, “Do you use the tool?” Are you active on Twitter (or other social media channels)? If you have a social media account that you or your organization hasn’t actively used for a year or more, perhaps it’s time to deactivate it. Although, an organization might want to keep the account as a placeholder, just in case its interest changes in the future. For example, my library has plans to use Link-edIn, but we haven’t done much with it so far; however, we’re not planning to delete the account. If you decide to keep an inactive social media account, it’s a good idea to post something in your account profile that says you aren’t active here and to share a link to places you are active.
What are you doing there? Evaluate what types of posts you make to Twitter and other social media accounts, and try to discern if what you do there is working. Do the posts get interactions, Likes, clicks, or shares? If not, do you need to change your approach? Take the necessary time to evaluate what you do on each platform, and figure out what’s working, what’s not, and how you can improve.
Don’t stop with Twitter. Now is a great time to evaluate your use of Twitter, since it’s currently experiencing major hiccups. But don’t stop there. Evaluate each social media platform you use to see if there are ways to improve how you post and share.
#2 Try New Platforms
Be on the lookout for new social media platforms and for social media platforms that aren’t necessarily new but would be new to you or to your library. When you find out about a new platform, download the app, sign up for an account, and try it out. Find some people you know, follow them, and then start interacting. Use the platform and see if you find it helpful personally or if there’s potential to use it to reach your library customers.
If nothing else, start by exploring personally, even if your library is not quite ready for the new platform yet. For example, I have a TikTok account (tiktok.com/@davidleeking), and although my library doesn’t have one yet, we are considering it. Since I am familiar with the platform, I can discuss pros and cons with our staff.
Here are some social media platforms you might want to check out if you haven’t yet:
TikTok—This is a short-form, video-based service. Most people younger than 30 are there. If you want to reach teens and twenty-somethings, it’s a good place to be. And it’s not difficult to use. Check out Milwaukee Public Library’s TikTok account (tiktok.com/@milwaukeepubliclibrary), which is creating some fun content. A few caveats: Some government entities have been banning TikTok from government-issued devices, so the platform might not be an option for a government-based library. Another consideration is the time required. Since it’s a good idea to post multiple times a week, that might keep you busy creating content.
Nextdoor—Nextdoor is a neighborhood-based platform. Think of it as a hyper-local Facebook for your part of town. If your library has a sizable group of customers using Nextdoor, consider setting up a business page.
YouTube—Video is huge, and I think your library should take advantage of that fact. If you create videos for YouTube, you have the added benefit of being able to share those videos on other social media platforms. You can also embed them on your website. Even if you share a weekly or monthly “What’s Happening at the Library” video, that is useful, consistent content that will be watched by your library customers.
Podcasts—A podcast isn’t really a social media platform, but it’s a communication tool that your organization should think about using. Podcasts are simple to download and listen to these days, with easy-to-use apps on most smartphones and a variety of ways to listen using a computer as well. They’re also easy to create: Just talk into a microphone, and press record. OK, so they’re a bit harder to create than that, but the technology and the process of posting a podcast to the web are straightforward.
#3 Focus on What’s Important
Finally, make sure to focus on what’s important to your local community, even when using a globally accessible social media platform. Here are four things to do with your social media accounts to make them useful to your local community:
Don’t focus on going viral. Your goal is never to go viral (but it’s lovely if you do). Instead of putting energy into making sure millions of random people like your post or video, do this instead: Simply focus on creating useful and fun content for your customers/community. Also focus on being consistent. Post the same time every day/week, without fail.
If you do this, your customers will notice. They will follow and share with their friends. Your account will grow. A viral video is exciting, but it’s not the goal. Focus on what matters: your customers and your own unique, local community.
Do focus on your local influencers. There are two types of local influencers in your community: 1) people who have large, active accounts on social media and just happen to live in your community and 2) the actual “movers and shakers” in your community. The second group includes people on local boards and action groups or young professionals who are listed on those “20 under 40” lists in your area.
You want to connect to these people, both on social media and in real life, because they share things they find interesting with their local network. They share with their friends and colleagues at work, and on boards, with action groups, or at awards banquets. They might also share using their own social media platforms. That type of hyper-local sharing has the potential to help get your library (and all the great things your library does) noticed more, simply through those local connections.
Do some poking around, and find out who has lots of followers, who engages with you on your various platforms the most, and who seems to be a local influencer in your community. Start interacting with these people, and share interesting things your library is doing with them. Invite them on your podcast and to events (with their cameras). Make sure your information gets on their feed. For example, when TSCPL recently opened the Level 2 Tech Center (our new makerspace/recording studio space), we purposefully invited local influencers for a sneak peek of the new facility with a very direct ask: Please share with your networks. They did share, and our new space is busy.
Post! Post! Post! Make sure you are active and posting on your social media accounts. That might mean you need to assign staff and set posting schedules. It might also mean that you have to purchase tools for staffers to use to post—such as cameras, a video camera, or work-owned smartphones. Or you might need to figure out the details of allowing staffers to use their own mobile devices to post library content.
Take care of your homebase. Social media platforms are great, but you don’t really own your account; you are borrowing space on someone else’s platform. As we have seen recently with Twitter, those borrowed platforms can change direction or even fold at any moment. Even if that doesn’t happen, people tend to move on from one platform to the next new thing, as we’re seeing with younger people migrating from other social media platforms to newer services such as TikTok.
Keep in mind that your website should always be treated as your virtual homebase. It’s the one online presence you control. Make sure it’s up-to-date, interesting, and useful. Do a refresh/redesign if needed. Make sure you staff it—it’s a “real” place that people visit, after all. Then point everything else online to your website. This is a great way to help draw your community to a platform that you own and control.
What’s Your Endgame?
Where does that leave us? With Twitter, I’m not certain. If it’s a good tool for you, continue using it, with a critical eye on any upcoming changes. But Twitter is just one platform out of many. Find social media platforms that your community uses and be present on them. Also make sure to regularly evaluate what you are doing on those platforms, and keep making improvements as needed.
Finally, remember your end goal: Connect your community to your library and resources. Share what you do on your social media platforms and your website, and use social media tools to reach out to your community and to engage with them. Platforms will continue to change and evolve, and it will be a fun ride as our libraries change and evolve with them.