Social Media and Stewardship

The topic of this week’s module has been Participation, which really seems like the core of social media use.  As Dean explains at the beginning of the module, “participation evokes the notion of ‘getting involved’” and social media provides the tools for this interaction and involvement.  Yet some libraries appear to have minimal success in engaging library users in conversations through their social media outlets, an issue which leads to a several important questions: How effective is social media at encouraging/enhancing library participation?  What can librarians do to encourage our users to participate via social media?  Ultimately these smaller questions seem to revolve around one big one: Why should libraries use social media?

I hadn’t really come up with an answer that I was completely satisfied with until recently, when I came upon this blog post by Brian Mathews.  Mathews writes:

Our purpose—the reason why we use the social web is to find people who “like” the library and give them a way to express it. We will use this platform to nurture that bond and move them from like to love. [Develop their passion.] We also want to enable them to share this experience and help bring others into this relationship.

Do you see the difference? It’s not about promoting the library, this is about building brand loyalty. It’s not about posting library news for students, but about building an ambassadors program, a network of friends and allies. The goal is a transition patrons from being library users to library advocates.

What Mathews is suggesting is a form of stewardship.  He’s moving away from the idea of courting the masses and instead suggests that we should encourage and reward loyal followers.  This was a totally different take for me and one that I could definitely get on board with.  Targeting and pampering those who already have some investment in the library seems both smart and effective, and more importantly it creates an online environment where the technology will be used interactively, as it was intended, instead of as a broadcasting interface.

It would be fantastic if we could widely engage all library users through social media, but if we (or they) aren’t there yet then I think focusing our efforts at those who are most enthusiastic becomes a very effective use of resources.  I’m definitely not advocating that we ignore new users, but finding a balance has definite potential in my eyes.  Enthusiastic users are already present online and social media applications provide an ideal platform for encouraging even greater participation.

What does everyone else think? Should librarians use social media to create an army of library ambassadors or should the focus of social media be to draw in hesitant or new users?

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