Adding to your library’s social media strategy can be daunting when time is valuable and limited, but Eleanor Austin has a few ideas to get you thinking about what could make your library stand out in the digital sphere.
My memories of libraries as a child started with the impression of dark places where we had to be quiet, and which were characterised by confusing (to a child, anyway) book rental systems. However, I remember loving the video rental sections. For me, that was the original draw of the library, and in visiting weekly to borrow and return videos, I started to notice the books. Before long, I was renting and reading comfortably in an environment I now knew how to use and appreciate.
Older students are not that different to my childhood self. This is particularly true of the many students that might not have had much access to libraries before, and therefore might not be aware that a library is much more than a place to borrow books.
Many institutions recognise that social media is a really great way to reach this generation of digital natives. This is even more true for libraries than you might at first think.
The following ideas might inspire you with ways to tap into your audience and get the word out of all the services a library can offer.
Be open about open learning spaces
We all know libraries can be a great place for students to meet and interact with each other, contrary to the stereotype that they are for quiet individual learning only. But while many libaries have open learning spaces on offer, making students aware of this as early as possible will boost engagement. Sussex University’s ‘Open Learning Space’ hosts events and talks that support students using the library and they are always Tweeted about.
Ask your students what they want from their library
Not only will this help you make good and beneficial decisions, but students will be encouraged to come to the library if they feel they’ve had some input into its development. One of the best ways to do this is by casting a vote by adding a poll in the Tweet compose box—this is free and quick to do and takes no time commitment from students already scrolling through their Twitter feeds.
Many companies spend a lot of resources asking for feedback forms and questionnaires. One of the best ways you can get this invaluable information is through social media.
We all know that one of the downsides of social media is that people have a tendency to say things they wouldn’t say in real life, and this can sometimes be rude. However, utilise the criticism. If students aren’t giving you feedback in person, then listen to (or even encourage) it online. Say a student Tweets about how terrible they find the library guide you carefully constructed (ouch!), ask them why and try to see it as a chance to show your students that you respect and listen to their thoughts rather than wanting to cover up the bad stuff.
Use your cafés
The library was invented long before café culture. Café culture is huge for this generation of students and the truth is, the university library is competing with coffee shops for the study attention of students, especially because so many offer good quality, free Wi-Fi. However, libraries can incorporate elements of café culture to create the best of both worlds.
Library cafés can be a pleasant place to study, take a break or have a snack in themselves. Making them a nice place to sit and chat or do some work with more background noise is critical. You can incorporate your café into the general library culture by including it in your social media. This could be as simple as posting pictures of your delicious cakes on Instagram—you might be able to snag a hungry student who was wondering where to spend their lunch break.
Make use of trends
Everyone knows the best marketing campaigns sell a lifestyle instead of just a product. So, don't just try to inform students of the library's services. Rather, sell a lifestyle that students will inherently begin to associate with their university library. The rising popularity of the Danish concept ‘Hygge’ in the past few years has really encouraged people to value staying in with a book and a cup of tea. Young people are drinking less and partying less than previous generations. Instagram is spattered with images of people’s cosy set-ups, and from this has grown the trend of the ‘book selfie’.
#Bookselfie, #bookobsessed, #booksofig, #booklover. These are all tags people use to take photos of, or with, their books. Does your library have any particularly interesting publications or beautiful books that could act as props for some library snaps? Utilising these trends will bring the library into the student’s social media sphere and portray it as a desirable place to be. It will encourage them to include it on their own personal Instagram, some great free marketing! After all, if students see their friends cosying up in the library with some sophisticated Plato and a hot chocolate on a Friday night, they will want in.
The University of Essex has a Twitter page called @essex_cat which Tweets as the cat that lives on campus. Warwick also has a campus cat
(@RolfatWarwick). Students delight in snapping photos with these cats and find their online personas very entertaining; the libraries are also quick to get in on the action when these famous felines pay them a visit. I know not all universities have their own residential cats but there may well be other quirks about your library or campus that go unnoticed or are taken for granted. Creating a hype or a community around something that is unique or that students are interested in is a great way to boost your social media presence and students’ interest.
Communicating everything your library has to offer to students is really about getting inside their heads. University libraries are unrivalled resources for learning. You don’t need to convince them of this; they most likely already know it. They may, however, need convincing to head onto campus to work during their free time, or be informed of what else they can do at their library besides borrowing books and quiet study, or even be persuaded to feel comfortable asking staff for help and advice. You just need to get into their world and lure them in with the promise of warmth, Wi-Fi, Instagrammable content, and coffee.
About the Author
Eleanor Austin is Bibliographic Assitant at CLA, working as part of the Bibliographic Reporting Team. Before starting at CLA, Eleanor studied Philosophy at university.