13 Aug 2013

If you think social media is free, you're doing it wrong

Why are you using social media in your library? Well, it's free so what is there to lose? The answer is quite a lot actually. Because using social media effectively is a time sponge, and that well-worn equation time = money has never been truer.

Firstly, social media typically needs some form of valuable content, whether it's a well-researched blog post or an attention-grabbing tweet. In short, content costs. Relevant, engaging and valuable content costs even more. You also need to think about how you brand your social media communications; this doesn't mean you need a shiny new logo, but it does mean devoting some time and attention to the consistency of your content, tone and the look and feel across different platforms.

Answering queries at an always-on pace, replying to every comment and RT with a customised and considered response, and taking the time to seek out, follow and understand your users online may be a full-time job in itself if you are working for a large or busy organisation.This is before you take into consideration the time it takes collecting and interpreting your analytics. Add to this the difficulties (read near-impossibility) of quantifying the benefit or impact, if any, of using social media, and the clock starts ticking louder still. How do you justify time that some may see as fruitlessly surfing the internet?

Further still, the more successful you are at using social media, the greater the level of engagement with your users, and ultimately the more time consuming it becomes. So why do we do it? Because information behaviour is changing, and as the balance of power shifts from search to social, failing to establish ourselves in this space could be dangerous. Given this challenge, I think it is better to try and 'do one thing well', rather than ending up with a half-hearted presence across multiple platforms if you don't have the time to devote to a more extensive strategy. There is nothing worse than an unloved Facebook page or a tumbleweed Twitter account. If this is your only option, it may be better to steer clear of social media altogether, or better still focus on the single tool that you think can deliver most in terms of relationship-building, interaction and engagement given your goals. You may need to go back to basics and even ask yourself why you are using social media in the first place. But remember, if you think social media is free, you're not doing it right.

CC Image: Mark Smiciklas

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