8 Jan 2012

Successful social media and networking in libraries

Social media and networking websites are often seen as a free, accessible and easy marketing channel for libraries. However, doing it right is usually a very time consuming process and not a quick win. Instead the real benefits are derived over the longer term, by increasing the visibility, accessibility and convenience of library services for users, and building stronger and deeper relationships.

Many libraries have latched onto one or more of these channels over the past few years (be it blogs, twitter or facebook), and many it must be said, have also been largely unsuccessful in their efforts, perhaps because they have underestimated the true costs in terms of the time commitment involved in maintaining fresh, relevant content for users. After all, there are companies who specialise in these aspects of social marketing for a reason.

One library which has so far expertly captured the potential value offered by these technologies is the National Library of Ireland (I will declare my vested interests in having worked there in the past!). The NLI may previously have been viewed by some as esoteric and detached from large swathes of the public. However, by utilising Twitter and Facebook so effectively, and more recently through the NLI blog, the Library has reached out to a new user base, illuminating the Library’s collection in the process.

Indeed the most remarkable aspect of the NLI’s strategy has been the way they have managed to engage directly with the public by promoting and exploiting one of their core strengths - the rich archives of photographic and other visual material in its collections. Facebook campaigns like ‘Flash from the Past’ where users take a photo of a present-day location or landmark in Ireland, matched up with a historic picture of the same place downloaded from the NLI’s online database of photographs, encourage people to view and engage with the library’s resources in a unique and interesting way. Moreover, posting visual material on Twitter and Facebook can help fill in unknown gaps and historic details, as it is likely that somebody, somewhere has a connection to the picture.

Several elements have made the NLI’s approach so successful in my opinion, including:

Content – Communications are structured around content of substance and frequently updated. This is the cornerstone of any success in social marketing: fresh content.

Consistency across channels, which emphasises and reinforces the NLI’s key messages, brand and overall strategy, and

Contemporary – Almost counter-intuitive to their historic collections, posts and updates are current, relevant and fresh, and engage with today’s users in an informal way (their posts and updates are also damn funny :))

Follow @NLIreland on Twitter
Connect with the NLI on Facebook
Read the NLI blog


  1. I have just followed them on Facebook. They have some really interesting updates right enough.

  2. Nice to see this is also the topic at this month's A&SL/HSLG networking evening!


    Hope all the Dublin folk are planning on attaending and can fill me in accordingly!