Thursday, August 30, 2012

Portraying a Professional Social Media Presence

I recently read an article called "11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn't Run Your Social Media", written by digital entrepreneur Hollis Thomases. The article's focus seemed to be on larger companies that might hire interns to set up and run social media for them, such as Facebook and Twitter. While not all of what the article said might be relevant to libraries, I think it did bring up some good points about our own social media accounts.

Many libraries will use younger staff or volunteers to maintain a social media presence because they feel that this group better understands the medium and will better be able to connect with the audience. While this may be true - and I do think using younger staff or volunteers for this task isn't a bad idea - it's important that you ensure that they are equipped to accurately and professionally represent your library - that is what they are doing after all. 

Here are some tips to ensure that your social media presence is a beneficial marketing tool, rather than a public relations disaster:
  1. Ensure that the person posting, tweeting, etc, knows your organization. They should have experience within your organization in some form or another. If they are 'working' for you (even in a volunteer capacity) they should go through the same orientation process that you would provide to any new employee. Ensure they understand your policies, practices and procedures.
  2. Make sure they have the same values that your organization encompasses. You don't want someone representing your organization that doesn't believe in the value of libraries. Think about the other values and beliefs that your library encompasses: protection of privacy, intellectual freedom, access to information ... these are all important tenets of librarianship. You don't want someone who doesn't understand or believe in these representing you, as they are likely to contradict them at some point.
  3. Ensure they understand they must act professionally at all times. This means, not interacting with their friends on your Facebook page, not re-tweeting inappropriate material and so on. It may be tempting for them to use these tools in a professional manner the same way they do personally, but that is really not what you want. In social media in particular, who your 'friends' are matter, as they can affect your image by tagging and posting to your organizational accounts without your permission.
  4. Ensure you have guidelines that outline your purpose, goals and audience in having a social media presence. Let your social media person know what they are there for. Is the intention to promote library resources, or to get patron feedback, or to reach new audiences? This will help guide their activity and ensure that you are making the best use of yours and their time. There are sample social media policies available online (here is one example: Chinook Arch also has a social media policy that we are happy to share as a starting point.
  5. Ensure that they understand what is appropriate and what is not. Remember that they are representing your brand. How do you want that to look? For example, humor can be a tricky element to use. Recently there was a news story about a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion that included an offensive joke in their newsletter. The person who included the joke was just trying to add some humor to the publication, but it caused a public relations nightmare. Be clear about what is acceptable and what is not.
  6. Ensure they have good communication skills. This is what social media is all about after all. Take a look at a sample of their writing. Although good capitalization and punctuation don't seem to be the hallmark of a good tweet, you do want to ensure that they present a professional demeanor, that includes correct spelling and appropriate language.
  7. As Thomases puts it, you need to "keep the keys". Ensure that whoever is setting up your accounts does so using library email addresses, and that the login information is shared with you immediately. Unintentionally or not, you don't want your accounts left abandoned because you can't access them (or worse yet, with someone from outside your organization having access to them).  Passwords should be changed if the person managing the accounts leaves the organization.
Remember that social media is about marketing, customer service, public relations, crisis management and branding. Do you really want to have someone representing all these aspects of your organization with no guidelines, training or accountability? While social media can be a powerful tool, it should be used responsibly.

You can read the entire article mentioned above at:

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