Advice From a Professional (Interview with an Academic Librarian)

To learn more about running an academic library’s twitter account, I interviewed a librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This academic librarian represents library education and teaching initiatives for students and is the project manager for the social media accounts of the University of Wisconsin Academic libraries. I asked her a few questions about academic libraries and social media and have paraphrased her answers and advice here.

How does social media play a role in your work?

  • UW-Madison Libraries did not have a central media presence 3 years ago. It became clear that students wanted to be able to communicate the libraries on Twitter but the libraries would need a central voice to make this feasible.
  • Since it’s creation, the library’s Twitter account has become very successful on campus. This is partially because focus of the account is on students as the audience, so content is “edgy and fun”.
  • UW-Madison has also been able to get feedback from students using the libraries and promote their collections.

What kind of interactions do you have with students over Twitter? Are there reference questions?

  • There are some reference questions asked over Twitter (a few a month), maybe because Twitter has become a public services tool for the business world.
  • It’s important to include that an account is not always monitored, so students don’t expect an instant response from the libraries.
  • Libraries also get positive feedback on Twitter, which can be used to promote the library in other avenues!

What’s the role of social media in academic libraries, especially in a promotional sense? Why should academic libraries bother to promote themselves on Twitter?

  • Libraries are becoming an option of a place to study, instead of the only place that students can study on campus. Therefore “it is naive for us (academic libraries) to think we have no competition”. More and more library resource are online so students don’t have to enter the library. Libraries need to draw in students that are already on campus and prospective students.
  • The nature of promotion and collaboration on campus has changed over the past few years; it has moved to the social media sphere, which is constantly evolving and changing.

How do you use Twitter to promote things that are going on the library?

  • Every couple of weeks there are editorial meetings, where the librarians who help run the social media meet and look at what is happening on campus.
  • It’s important to find a hook and see what works on your audience. For example, in-line pictures tend to get more shares by followers. You need to think about who your audience is and what message you want your event to have.
  • “Tweets are like a river. Someone picks up a cup and takes a drink. Maybe your tweet is in there, maybe it’s not”. You need to post frequently for your followers to see and be interested in your twitter activity. According to this librarian, the UW-Madison libraries account has a minimum of two tweets and one Facebook post a day.
  • Coming up with content is very difficult, so it’s important to put a fun spin on the library events. Keep in mind that students are your audience!
  • Today, news stations follow library accounts and will pick up on library events. You can even target specific stations or stories to try to bring attention to your account. This is another great way to promote your library events and collections!

Do you utilize the trends on Twitter, like #ThrowbackThursday?

  • Throwback Thursdays are a really great way to promote library collections, especially if your library has a good archival collection with lots of photos. Other trending hashtags are usually not relevant to a library account.

How do you create a tone for your library account?

  • This is a discussion you should have with your staff to make sure you are all on the same page, especially if you have multiple people who are tweeting for the account.
  • Take advantage of other organizations on your website, especially those who have experience using social media or are involved in organizing social media on campus.

What are some challenges when running a social media site for a library?

  • Coming up with content is one of the biggest challenges with running a social media account. If the library only has one person on the account, this becomes an even bigger challenge. UW-Madison is such a large institution that you need more than one person to keep up with the events and content on campus.
  • Being edgy and fun while still maintaining a formal and politically correct voice is a challenge. It’s important to be mindful of what are sensitive issues on your campus.
  • Twitter is still relatively new, so there is a learning curve to adapting how to best utilize the technology for your library.

Do you have any advice for librarians using social media?

  • Use the resources available to you. Look for training documents on how to run a twitter account and reach out to any organizations on campus that specialize in communication. Also get your colleagues interested in helping with tweeting for your account. Try not to be the only person doing running the account, since it is a big job!
  • Stay organized. Look into taking advantage of platforms that can help you organize your social media content, like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck.

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