‘Follow Us On …: Using Social Networks And Technology To Reach Readers’ – a CPD25 event

Follow us on...social media

On Tuesday I attended the above CPD25 event at the London Mathematical Society in Russell Square which was organised by Caroline Fletcher of UCL with minor assistance by myself (well, I helped line up one pair of speakers anyway!).  The speakers lined up for the event were:

Dave Puplett (LSE) – Fill the communications vacuum – engage your users online.

Emma Woods and Ellie Murphy (Westminster) – Blogging at the University of Westminster.

Tim Fletcher (Birkbeck) – Twitter Case Study: Birckbeck Library.

Ironically, given the subject matter, Emma and Ellie offered to deliver a presentation after I put out a call on Twitter for someone to talk at the event about blogging in a university library context.  Luckily for me, Emma got back to me pretty quickly and she very kindly agreed to present on blogging with Ellie.

First to present at the event was Dave Puplett.  Dave talked about how important he felt it was to be where the users are.  This was particularly important for LSE as there are a large number of distance learners and part-time students, who are obviously unable to interact with the university in quite the same way as other students.  He also suggested that using tools such as Twitter was a good way to find out what users think about your service in a way they would not necessarily have shared with the library through official channels.  As such, LSE use Twitter to find out what students are saying about the library, identifying any issues that they might have raised, and then addressing them directly to remedy the situation (usually using more formal communication tools such as email).  Comments that students have made about the library are regularly collected and shared across the library team to raise awareness of any areas of concern or, of course, anything positive that was being shared.

Dave highlighted one particular issue where someone was unable to locate a journal they required, publicly complaining about its lack of availability to their followers on Twitter.  This was picked up by a member of staff who was then able to locate the journal and point the complainant in the right direction.  The complainant subsequently declared how impressed he was and how ‘pro-active’ the library was for resolving it in this way.

I had had a sneaky peak at Dave’s presentation prior to the event, and it certainly provided plenty of food for thought about how social networking can ‘fill the communications vacuum’ with both users and non-users.  It also made me appreciate that Dave has a substantial archive of Henry hoover images to call upon!  If you want an interesting image utilising a Henry hoover, I strongly suggest getting in touch with him…

Dave Puplett’s presentation:

Next, Emma Woods and Ellie Murphy spoke about their experiences blogging for the University of Westminster Uni.  Both Emma and Ellie maintain a couple of blogs each covering Resources for Electronics and Computing, Resources for Transport and Tourism, Resources for Fashion Business Students and Resources for Business Students.  As they did not have subject pages, it was decided to try using the blogs instead to share interesting and useful resources for students.  Amongst the tools they used were a LibraryThing widget to share the latest titles added to the library, RSS feeds from relevant news sources and, on the business blog, a business resources FAQ page to help resolve some of the issues faced by students in making use of online resources.  When consulting with students they found that there was some interest in blogs maintained by librarians and wanted them to be a space where they would find links to journal articles, advice for finding items and general library news.  They also found that the best way to promote their blogs was through the academics as this seems to drive up traffic to the blog.  They are currently looking at ways to make the blogs more visible and raise awareness of them amongst students.

To break-up the presentation a little, Ellie and Emma asked us all to discuss in groups what we thought a successful blog would look like.  There was a fairly unanimous feeling that it was important to get the tone right, not to sound too formal and to make use of the author’s personal style and voice.  It was also suggested that they should be regularly updated with timely and up-to-date information as much as possible.  Both points I couldn’t agree more with.  I very strongly believe that communications with students via blogs, Twitter etc should be in a vain that students would appreciate, not in the way that the institution would prefer.  If it becomes too much of the latter it can make for a very dry read.  Personality has to be key in any communication via social media – else what is ‘social’ about it?

Emma and Ellie’s presentation:

Finally, Tim Fletcher from Birkbeck spoke about how the library uses Twitter to communicate with students.   Tim noted that to date the Birkbeck library Twitter account has attracted 1,322 followers.  Birkbeck see Twitter as an alternative way to communicate with students about the library and the services it offers.  Whilst Twitter is used regularly to communicate with students, they are always referred back to the library website as the ‘official’ source of information.  The content that they tweet varies from urgent information to advanced warnings (eg any systems related downtime) to social tweets welcoming students back to the university after their breaks.  They particularly found it useful during periods of heavy snowfall to inform students that buildings were closed or that icy conditions made certain parts of the campus dangerous.  They also made a conscious decision not to ‘follow’ students as they felt that this would make students uncomfortable.

Finally, they use RSS feeds from various aspects of the website to feed information through Twitter automatically, reducing the need to manually tweet items and helping to keep the information current and timely.  This is particularly useful when the regular administrator is away on leave or otherwise indisposed.

Tim did have a one word of caution however.  It is essential to consider how to deal with messages directed at the Twitter account in the appropriate way.  Should they be dealt with via email or via the Twitter account?  Clearly there is the danger of failing to deal with the issue appropriately (particularly given the character limit that is central to the service) and policies should be put in place to ensure that such issues are managed professionally.  One thing you certainly don’t want to do is get into a very public spat with a student/academic – it would not look good in the timeline and would certainly undermine the effort made to build relationships with students/academics.  It is far more sensible to deal with ‘hot’ issues privately and promptly to resolve them to the satisfaction of the complainant.

I certainly found the event very interesting, particularly as I have a strong interest in the use of social media to promote services (it’s one of the reasons I was quite keen to oversee the Voices for the Library social networks when we first started out).  Certainly my experience managing the VftL Twitter and Facebook accounts chimes with much of what was said yesterday.  Sometimes I have had to deal with ‘difficult’ or critical messages sent to one of our social media accounts.  How I dealt with it often depended on the nature of the comment.  Sometimes it is best to ignore, sometimes it is best to provide a measured response.  One thing is absolutely certain however sometimes you definitely need to be able to take a bit of criticism on the chin.  Once you stick yourself out there as a ‘brand’ you are bound to attract some criticism – it’s the nature of the beast.

Of course, the beauty of an event like this is that the environment is constantly changing.  New networks crop up all the time.  Since the event was planned, Google+ has already come on the scene and who is to say what the landscape will be like another year from now?  What other essential tools will crop up in that time?  A year from now another similar event could be put together and it wouldn’t even mention Twitter.  But that is the nature of the internet and that is the challenge we all have to deal with.  It’s not easy, but I certainly think it is vital to keep on top of the latest trends and services that are emerging (I’ve even recently signed up for Foursquare despite vowing never to do so!).  One thing is for certain, you can guarantee that your customers/users most definitely will be in tune with the latest developments.


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