Academic libraries are leveraging social networks to increase opportunities to connect with students and faculty. Facebook or Twitter are the primary social media tools used for this purpose, but others are exploring how geo-location sites may play into a social strategy. It’s not clear how academic libraries are tackling these new methods of marketing and promoting services and resources. Is oversight for social media accounts and activity assigned to a single librarian? Is the same staff member who oversees marketing and PR taking on social networking? Are all library workers empowered to contribute to the effort? We know little about how social media responsibilities are handled, but it’s unlikely that any academic library has yet to create a dedicated Social Media Librarian position – although whenever I say something like this in a post before the end of the day there’s a comment along the lines of “No you’re wrong – we have a Social Media Librarian here”. With Facebook reaching its 500 millionth member and Twitter members tweeting over 50 million times per day these behemoths can’t be ignored. Corporate America certainly isn’t ignoring them.
Two trends point to a growing interest in taking social network marketing quite seriously. First, many companies that market to consumers are rushing to create positions for social media officers – and that’s at a time when no one is even quite sure what someone in this position even does or what qualifies someone for such a position. But who’s waiting to figure all that out? Not companies like Sears, Petco, Ford, Pepsi and many others. Second, MBA programs are adding courses in social media to provide students with the skills needed to get jobs as social media officers or at least help their future employers create social media strategies. According to the article these courses “focus on thinking broadly about social media, not just Facebook and Twitter. Topics include the underlying psychological and sociological foundations of social media and the metrics and measurement tools for gauging the effectiveness of social media campaigns. Students are required to participate in social media marketing projects for big brands.”
An important point made in these articles is that someone who is merely a user of or participant in social media is not the same as someone who truly understands how to use it in a business or marketing context. Just because you tweet all day and watch lots of YouTube video doesn’t mean that you know how to turn social media into proactive tools for getting consumers excited about your organization and what it offers. For businesses social media is all about influencing purchase decisions. How does that translate to an academic library environment? One way in which academic librarians might become better at using social media to influence library use decisions is to become more adept at using the tools to get user community members to do the work for us – by sharing the word about the library with their friends. That’s what happens when your user community members share your library video with their friends – but you have to know how to get that started. Another is to pay more attention to what is happening in the world of business to learn how companies are leveraging social media. Having said that, I always like to remind my colleagues that saying we should pay attention to what corporations are doing is not a statement that libraries are businesses and should be run like one. Some good ideas emerge from the world of business, and we should pay attention when they do.
Does librarianship, like the MBA programs, need to provide more opportunity for LIS students to gain these skills, and if so how should it happen? I still lean on the side of not dedicating entire courses to social networking and media tools. There are too few courses LIS students get to take, and they can learn about the mechanics of social networking tools on their own time. Perhaps what is needed is a course dedicated to library marketing and promotion. Marketing and promotion appear to be the primary reasons to use social media in the context of library operations. If that’s the case we should be educating LIS students how to leverage social networking and media tools to create more library awareness and to get the community to spread the word. That seems like a sensible way to introduce these increasingly important skills for the Social Media Librarian.