Category Archives: Marketing

Facebook or Facadebook?

From time to time a discussion on a list such as ILI-L generates a post so intriguing that I think it deserves a wider audience. (Not that ILI-L doesn’t have a wide audience; it has over 4,700 members!) I was so struck by Camilla Baker’s comments on Facebook – especially how her mayor uses it, as a real person, not an office – that I asked her to write a guest post for ACRLog. Thanks to Camilla for taking me up on it! –Barbara Fister

Facebook or Facadebook? My Ediface Complex
by Camilla Baker
Reese Library/Augusta State University

For the past three years or so, there has been on and off discussion of social networks on ili-l@ala.org. The thrust of these discussions has usually had to do with how academic libraries can exploit Facebook/MySpace/Whatever to connect with college students. It used to be that corporate entities couldn’t have presence on Facebook. You had to be a person. But, some of those restrictions now have workarounds of various types. A common thread with most of these discussions, including the one last week (4/20-4/24), was whether it is appropriate for ’authority figures’ to be on these social networks, and whether students welcome our presence in their playground.

I’d like to talk about the ‘authority figures not welcome’ part of the last Facebook thread. It’s not all authority figures, it’s just the ones that individual students don’t know. The friending issue is pretty literal. Students will want to friend people that — hold on to your hats — they’re already friends with. If the university library can’t get students in the door under their own steam, they’re not going to get them on Facebook, either.

Now, having said that, I have a couple of anecdotes to share.

1) I’ve been a librarian for 30 years, so I’m not a native member of the e-generation; to them, I’m old. All my e-knowledge has been learned as an adult. I have two sons, 18 and 20. Back in ’06 when they were both in high school, they were the ones who encouraged me to join Facebook, and they were my first friends. For the first several years, my Fb friend base was composed largely of my birth children, my virtual children, and their friends. And, yes, I know you aren’t supposed to be friends with your children, but in this particular environment, it mostly works. Just like cell phone use, which I resisted for years, it’s another amazingly easy way to stay in touch with them. Now, parents are authority figures, right? But it’s a different kind of authority. Our Facebook relationships are completely personal. They all know I work at a university where a number of them are enrolled, but I’m Mom or Mama Baker, not the Library Instruction Coordinator that some of them see in the classroom. It’s only been within the last year or so that adults of my acquaintance have starting joining up. Some are the parents of the young adults that I’ve had in my friends list for the past three years, and some of them are my colleagues. This segues into the next anecdote.

2) I’m a friend — on Facebook — of the mayor of Augusta, Ga. In governance-speak, that’s an authority figure, too. But this particular mayor is forward-thinking, and several months ago started a campaign to recruit as many people as he could to his friends list, sort of like 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen Colbert, but small, local, and not so snarky. He’s not up for re-election this year, either. I don’t think he’d know me if he passed me on the street, but he posts links to articles in local and national media about the city, websites of local businesses and non-profits, data about the economy, etc. Not a day goes by that I don’t get an update, usually more than one. And, when I got a copy of a report about the positive impact of the university system on the economy of the state, with some local economic data for color, I shared it with him, and he posted that, too. Here’s the thing: I’m not ‘friends’ with the Office of the Mayor, which is how I’d have to deal with him in a strictly analog world. I’m friends with the guy who holds the office. He’s not trying to be a corporate entity, he’s trying to connect with his constituents in a different way, as individuals. The argument could certainly be made that he’s only connecting with those who share his views already, but that could be said of just about any politician.

My point is, if you want Facebook to ‘work’ for you, at some point you have to give in and be a person first. I really do think that’s what’s it’s intended for, and how it’s best exploited. If you have students you are truly friendly with, let them know you’re a Facebooker, and see what happens. Hey, it beats getting friend requests from “mature single writer,” whose only interest in a library is as a market for his unsold work – don’t laugh, I’ve seen library friend lists on MySpace populated with just such as these. It’s difficult to imagine institutions having social lives, and in a social network environment, the social life is king. I realize that many public, and a few academic, libraries have Friends with a capital F, but those serve a different purpose than to notice that you changed your profile picture or relationship status, or that you posted the latest pictures of your baby/puppy/car to share with your friends, or that you think you did well on your final exam (I always respond to those). That’s not a role that libraries can share. Librarians can, but you have to be a friend first.

Why This is Important to YOU

Lately, I’ve been in a marketing frame of mind. The information literacy committee I’m on is busy coming up with ways to spread the information literacy word and develop new and exciting PR techniques. My regional library is just starting production of a newsletter, geared towards faculty (informational, but a marketing tool nonetheless). I’m brainstorming ideas for my tri-sided bulletin board in the library lobby. I’m even getting hit with marketing advice at conferences: a few weeks ago I attended my regional ACRL chapter conference and who should the keynote speaker be? None other than the chair of the marketing department at a local college.

It seems strange, because I’ve never really given marketing much conscious thought. It just seems to sort of happen. Of course I know that libraries, like any other “business,” have to “sell” their their services. But wait a minute: are libraries really businesses? Should they really have to convince people to use their services? These questions are loosely tied to the old Patron vs. Customer debate. At the ACRL chapter conference I attended, there were some rather strong opinions about college students being viewed as customers of the library, since they do pay enormous amounts for tuition. And I’ve seen this debate elsewhere, too (take a look at the Information Literacy Instruction listserv archives for a heated discussion on whether or not instruction librarians should treat their students as paying customers) . Some librarians think it’s outrageous to view students this way, while others think it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t really see the “library as a business” model as all that evil; in some ways, it even makes sense. Any organization that wants the population they serve to be aware of and use their products must find a way to let the population know about said products. This is the same regardless of whether or not your population pays for the services you provide. And there we have it: the essentials of marketing.

Now that I find myself actively involved in library marketing, I have to think about these issues. To be honest, I really don’t think it matters at all whether or not we call the people who come into our libraries “patrons” or “customers,” or even “users.” Even if I worked at some sort of fantasy free university (can you imagine??), I wouldn’t treat the students any differently (other than being slightly envious, as I contemplate my student loans waiting to be paid off). I’d still have to find some way to let them know about information literacy, or our workshops, or databases that will be of use to them. That’s why we’re here, right?

This brings me to my last thought. How do I get the point across that these are things they need to know? What kind of marketing works for this generation of students? My info lit committee has come up with numerous ideas, including YouTube videos (in the style of the DePauw Libraries Visual Resource Center) and having a weekly column in the student paper. We’re even considering something in the style of Lav Notes: a marketing tool that consists of flyers and advertisements posted to the doors of restroom stalls. I think we’re on the right track, but students can be a fickle bunch. While we struggle to find ways of telling them why information literacy, and whatever else, is relevant and important, some new style of media may be grabbing their attention. In the end, I just hope that they’ll be curious enough, desperate enough, or maybe just conscious of their financial investment, to be swayed by our marketing techniques and come by the library to see what we can offer them. But, hey, if all else fails, I guess they’ll always need to use the bathroom, right?