18 Aug 2017

Make it Snappy: Communicating the Library Message to Students

Michelle Breen is a librarian at the University of Limerick. Michelle manages the library’s social and digital communications channels, conducts a range of assessment activities and performs research linked to customer service and quality initiatives in an academic library. Michelle is also responsible for liaison with university alumni and corporate library members. 
Michelle has presented widely on information management and assessment topics and has had her work published in conference proceedings, LIS practitioner literature and in the ISI journal, PORTAL; Libraries and the academy. 

Data from IPSOS MRBI indicates that Snapchat is the highest daily used social messaging platform in Ireland. A large percentage of incoming third-level students will already be Snapchat users and this presents our libraries with an open communications channel on which to engage with this most important student group. 
The University of Limerick’s Communications & Marketing division uses Snapchat in a targeted way to engage prospective students and reach new students arriving on campus. Emulating UL’s model the Glucksman Library began using Snapchat in the academic year 2016/17. A student posted updates several times a day on behalf of the library. The content was themed and the librarian responsible for communications guided the student regarding tone and message. 
Universities use Snapchat as part of their communications strategy and a growing number of libraries are using Snapchat for student communications. The Glucksman Library’s Snapchat account added an extra dimension to the library’s communications and was used to highlight specific library services and to proactively address questions received on the online query service (QuestionPoint). Students were invited to screenshot certain snaps that contained detailed information, that they could continue to use from their own phones e.g. how to change a password and Study Skills and Time Management information.  Snapchat was also used to advertise ‘Citing & Referencing’ classes and ‘How to be Smart Online’ classes run by UL’s Student Engagement & Success Librarian, Michael Smalle. When exams were approaching students were told about additional study spaces on campus and the details of the desk clearing campaign (Every Seat Counts) were explained in detail via this very student-friendly mobile app. 
Concurrent information campaigns ran on Facebook and Instagram but students at the Glucksman Library really welcomed the updates via Snapchat.  Feedback from students about the library’s Snapchat was that it was informative, yet witty, which made them want to keep up to date with what was going on. Information and support was provided in a helpful but engaging tone. A LibQual comment in 2016 said that the Snapchat account was appropriate in its tone; “Excellent service, great staff and hilarious snapchats!! Some students snapped back to say thanks for posting certain content or for highlighting services that the library provided. Within the University’s Social Media Community there was a good deal of interest in how the library was using Snapchat. The UL Social Media Officer complimented the library’s use of Snapchat and remarked that the tone was appropriate and there was an impressive level of interaction on it. The usefulness of Facebook posts aimed at students is currently under review at the Glucksman Library while Instagram and Twitter both have strategic focus areas also. 
Snapchat is an emerging, mobile only platform and as such has constraints such as limited analytics and the need to create live content which disappears after 24 hours. Although Instagram and Facebook now have elements of the ‘story’ in their apps the content from Snapchat is not usually suitable for cross platform sharing. 
Snapchat can give your library a direct and relevant communications channel with your students. If you decide to introduce Snapchat in your libraries I’d recommend that you try and maintain an informal yet helpful tone in your Snaps. This seems to be what students liked about it at the Glucksman Library. If you can, use a peer voice on your Snapchat account. In our case we were targeting undergraduates so we used an undergraduate student to run the account on our behalf.  Despite media reports about Snapchat being on the wane, I believe there is untapped potential for it as a communications medium in academic libraries.  By growing your Snapchat followers and even scheduling Q&A sessions via Snapchat you can have real engagement with your incoming students this year.  


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