Crafting Engaging Content to Achieve Social Media Success
by Sarah Roye and Nick Tanzi
As is common to library outreach, we go where our patrons are. In Q1 2018, Facebook saw 2.19 billion unique users.1 Cognizant of these numbers, libraries have embraced social media as a means of connecting with their patrons and keeping them informed of programs and services. To achieve this, libraries commonly post about upcoming programs, assuming this will translate into increased awareness and boosted attendance. However, these types of posts are a form of hard-selling that is both ineffective and counterproductive. Your followers generally view these posts as unengaging and are disinclined to share them. Facebook can take note of this disinterest and lower the visibility of these posts.
In early 2018, Facebook announced a new emphasis on “meaningful social interactions,” a term that is meant to include traditional Likes and shares, but also places value on conversations.2 Facebook now gives higher visibility to posts that users wish to see—defined by their level of interaction with a given page. To truly succeed in this new social media landscape, a library must first establish itself as a preferred content provider to its followers. At its most basic, this means crafting posts that its users find truly engaging and subsequently interact with.
What Is Engaging Content?
We’ve established that social media is about building and sharing in a relationship with your audience first, not selling them a program or service. Facebook is a platform that gives you a space to start a conversation with your audience and deliver your library’s message. In order to develop that relationship and begin those conversations, you are going to offer the audience something of value, entertainment, or general interest. This will be the basis for your content.
Your content (the material that you post) will take one of two forms: created content or curated content. Simply put, created content is original content that you make, and it lives on your platform. Curated content is information that you have gathered and shared from another source.
Created content includes original bookface photos (which we’ll talk about later), videos that you film and edit, stories that you tell, and anything else that your library generates. Curated content includes memes, comics, articles from news outlets or third-party blogs, and posts that are shared from another source’s social media page.
The difference between engaging and unengaging content is whether your audience finds it compelling or not. We know from experience that hard-selling programs and services tend to fall under the umbrella of unengaging content, and posts that are fun, entertaining, informative, and/or speak to the library’s core values get a lot more traction.
Bookface photos have been a very popular form of engaging social media content; they’re ideal for public libraries because they reflect our values of celebrating books and reading. In a bookface photo, the photographer lines up the shot so that a subject’s face or body aligns with a book cover to merge the two into a new image. The resulting pictures are often intended to be funny, provocative, or a trick of the eye. Bookface photos offer a number of compelling advantages for libraries, including the following:
- Low cost of entry—any smartphone will take a good-quality bookface photo.
- All library staff members can participate, whether they’re helping to find usable book covers, taking the photos, or being a model. Ask your circulation and technical services staff members to identify possible books, since they see the books coming in and out.
- Best of all, the subject’s face is almost always partially or fully hidden behind the book, so shy staff members are much more likely to participate, even if they don’t usually like to have their picture taken.
The success of your bookface photo will depend on several factors, including the following:
- Matching the right book cover to the right person (approximating the physical appearance is key to a great image)
- Approximating the size of the book cover to the size of the subject’s face
- Matching the perspective and distance among the camera, book, and subject
- Matching the clothing/accessories of the subject to the book cover
Another high-value type of created content that is natural and accessible to a public library is its own local history collection. For this discussion, we categorize local history as created content, because it is essential to tell a compelling, interesting story when you share a historical item. Whether you tell a little-known fact about a photograph you are sharing or assemble a related series of images into a short video, you must add something of value and make it very clear to your audience why they should care about it. It’s not enough to simply post a photo (even a great one) without context.
This type of post is the ideal format for telling your library’s story. Share a photo of your building’s groundbreaking on its anniversary or share the cover of a mimeographed library newsletter from the early ’80s. Every library has stories to tell about its founders, the building’s history, its first director, the original board of trustees, or the most popular children’s librarian.
Consider if there’s an opportunity to tie into a national observance, holiday, library-wide event, seasonal theme, or on-this-day-in-history highlight. Using hashtags such as #TBT (throwback Thursday) can help create continuity in a series of planned posts. Some of your followers may begin to look forward to seeing your weekly #TBT post.
Don’t underestimate the power of nostalgia; it is a highly engaging and positive core value for many of our library patrons—one that connects libraries and individuals.
In the area of curated content, consider sharing memes and comics. A meme is an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned photograph) that is spread widely online, especially through social media.3 For our purposes, we are referring to photos that have bold text captions overlaid for comic effect. When we refer to comics, we are talking about “cartoon drawings that tell a story.”4
A quick Google image search for “book meme” or “library meme” will yield hundreds of results, and many will make for interesting content to share on Facebook. Memes aren’t only good for a quick laugh—they also serve as a good way to make a mundane announcement entertaining and engaging. Closed for snow? Find a funny or cute meme to help you spread the word. If the meme is funny or cute enough, your audience will happily share your post and help spread your message to their friends.
Memes and comics can also be a fun way to reinforce our core values of literacy, learning, and the joys of reading. Since memes are about shared culture, we can use them to celebrate our shared library culture and reader culture. When we capitalize on our common interests, we solidify our commonality with our current followers and grow our audience.
Be forewarned: It pays to do your research and make sure that you understand any underlying innuendo before you post. Naturally, there are some memes out there that have implicit meaning that isn’t appropriate for all audiences or that may be mean-spirited in nature. Exercise an abundance of caution before sharing them.
As you search for shareable memes, you’re almost certain to come across many comics that will be fun to share with your audience. Whether you are sharing a meme, comic, or any other type of curated item, make sure that you add context and value with your text. Your words can function as a caption, you can provide a link to relevant information, or you can use a hashtag that reinforces your message.
What are your library’s core values? Literacy/education, lifelong learning, community-building, that reading is cool? While you already know that your Facebook posts should reflect those values, have you considered how those values can serve as inspiration for what you post? Values-driven content answers the questions “why does what we do matter?” and “what impact are our services making?” Your post tells a complete (but succinct) story. Here are a few examples:
- You post a photo of a thank you card from a child and write a caption telling how much you love your youngest patrons, mentioning that library storytimes are proven to help prepare preschoolers for kindergarten. And you add a link to everychildreadytoread.org.
- You find an article from guysread.com about the need for school-age boys to read for enjoyment. You’re about to start a new boys-only reading club, so you share a link to the article alongside a quote that the purpose of the club is to help boys become self-motivated lifelong readers.
- You share a news item about a famous rock star starting his own book club and mention that reading is just as cool as rock ’n’ roll.
Understand that context is everything with this type of content. It is essential that you connect all the dots for the reader in the most clear and concise way. And as with any post, there should be a visual component—an image or video. Showing is always better than telling.
Using Videos for Maximum Impact
More than ever, social media is a visual medium. Simply put, a photo or video is much more likely to capture users’ attention as they quickly scroll through their newsfeed. Regarding format, photos are more engaging than text-based posts, drawing 53% more Likes and 104% more comments than text.5 However, video far outpaces either of these formats. A video on Facebook receives, on average, 135% more organic traffic than a photo. 6 What’s more, social video generates an astounding 1,200% more shares than text and images combined.6 Here’s our general advice for videos.
While the thought of shooting video can be intimidating, a modern Apple or Android device is capable of recording in HD. In the case of Apple, editing can take place in-app using iMovie, while Windows’ Photos app is simple-to-use, free software. Although we all aspire to produce professional-grade content, don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. The true keys to a successful video are as follows:
- Be authentic. There is no substitute for authenticity. A video that is flawed but earnest will still evoke positive reactions from your patrons.
- Consider that most viewers will be watching with the sound muted. Either your video tells a story in the absence of audio, or you should provide subtitles for the viewers.
- When sharing video on Facebook, be sure to upload directly to its platform rather than linking from a third-party. Facebook’s algorithm boosts its own native content and actually suppresses competitors such as YouTube.
- The average watch time is only 10 seconds,7 so when editing your video clips, keep in mind that you must capture the viewer’s attention almost instantly.
Knowing the potential that video holds for your organization’s social media strategy, let’s examine the types of content a library can easily employ.
Time-lapse videos are videos in which the frame rate is much lower than that used to view the sequence, which gives the illusion of speeding up time.8 Given the fierce competition for attention on social media, a time-lapse video is an effective way to tell a longer story within the context of a short video. Using an iPad, iPhone, or SLR camera with a tripod, you can easily film and edit a time-lapse video. This format is perfect for showcasing library content, including:
- Room decorations—Many libraries decorate their departments seasonally. Using time-lapse video, you can distill a process that is several hours long into an engaging video lasting less than a minute.
- 3D printing—Watching a 3D printer in action is fascinating, but it’s also time-consuming, as a model may take several hours to print. If your library owns a 3D printer, time-lapse video affords the opportunity to demonstrate the printing process beginning to end, as well as draw interest to your printer.
- Displays—When planning a book or other display, be sure to capture the creation process. Doing so provides you with high-quality content for your digital space at the same time you run a promotion within your physical location.
- Craft assembly—These can work as a teaser (assemble a prototype for an upcoming craft workshop) or as a retrospective (of a craft class you’ve already held). We suggest adding a still photo of the final outcome at the end of any time-lapse video, so the audience can see and appreciate what you’ve created.
Time lapses take advantage of our natural curiosity. Once your followers see something beginning to be built, human nature dictates that they’ll want to see what it is and how it will turn out. In an era of shortened attention spans, brevity is essential.
Video loops are short videos that repeat over and over again. By default, Facebook will loop any video that is less than 30 seconds.9 However, using an iPad or iPhone, you can create a “bounce” effect in which a video plays and then is immediately played in reverse. This can make an everyday occurrence a little more interesting. For a short snippet of a few seconds, your aim should simply be to provide an attention-grabbing moment. At our library, we’ve captured the following moments:
- Books falling into the book drop
- A big reveal during a program
- Fish swimming in our fish tank
- Teens playing a game on our foosball table
- A butterfly release
- Page staffers dancing a jig in their festive holiday outfits
- Toddlers playing with bubbles or jumping in a bouncy house
- Front desk staffers dancing around our giant library card
While some of these are specific to our own library, they should serve as inspiration. Simply identify fun, lighthearted moments that occur within your library and showcase them within a loop for a source of easy-to-make video content. Anything with interesting movement can become an effective video loop.
By focusing on the creation and curation of engaging content for your social media presence, your library can increase the reach and impact of its posts. As you shift away from a heavy rotation of hard-selling programs, you will find that more occasional program plugs will be seen by a greater number of patrons, as you’ve established your credibility as a preferred content provider. In time, your Facebook timeline will transform to one of fun and excitement, delivering value. Your followers will begin to investigate your program and service offerings by going to your website, asking questions on social media, and, of course, visiting your physical location. In the end, despite the immediacy of social media, a successful strategy involves playing the long game.