Recently, someone asked this Libraries and Social Media Facebook Group if anyone from Lawrence Public Library would like to share how we operate our Facebook page. In the first installment of this series, I wrote about how we approach social media and what our routine entailed, but now I’d like to share some concrete ideas you can implement in your library.
Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Kansas is a single branch library in a liberal college town with a population of about 100,000. These ideas aren’t going to work in every library, but here’s some inspiration for posts that we’ve had varying degrees of success with.
Facebook Post Ideas for Public Libraries
What are you reading?
We ask this question every Sunday night. We usually get 50-100 responses. What’s really cool is that it’s become a place where people who aren’t actually friends in real life to interact about their favorite books and other media. Talk about community building! (Seriously. I noticed several likes and comments on a response my sister gave to our weekly post, and I knew they were from people she didn’t actually know). Sometimes we’ll throw up another book related question.
- What is your favorite book?
- What book do you re-read again and again?
- What is your favorite childhood book?
You get the idea. We crowdsource booklists of all varieties. This gives us new content to share on our blog, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. Basically, it’s social media gold. Smaller communities might have trouble getting in the groove of this. I know it sucks to throw questions out and get no response and feel like you’re talking to yourself. My advice is to patient and consistent.
What book is this?
Every few months or so, we post a picture of a page from a well-know books, usually a children’s title or a classic, and ask “what book is this?” We don’t do it weekly, because it’s difficult to find enough books that resonate with our audience or have enough recognition to sustain it. But two or three times a year, for a few weeks at a time, we’ll post a series. Another twist on this idea is to just post the first line of a book and have people guess it.
We ask quirky questions to our patrons all the time, and they love guessing. What popular children’s toy has is featured on the cover of the children’s book that has circulated the most times this year? Here’s a beat up copy of The Hunger Games –– how many times did it get checked out before we had to withdraw it from the collection? How many ebooks are available through Overdrive? Guess what movie just got a Lifetime Achievement Award for highest lifetime circulation? More complex questions don’t get quite the response. The trick is to word it so the prompt is fun, but relatively easy or harmless to engage with.
In addition to just getting people talking about what they’re reading, we also like to help people find their next great book.
We offer virtual RA services quarterly (we’re hoping to offer them monthly in the future). What this means is anyone who tells us what kind of books they like or are looking for on a specific day gets a personalized recommendation. It can get a little unwieldy, and it’s challenging, to be sure, but it’s a lot of fun and people love it. The way we do it is to divide up the schedule and teams of two take a couple hours out of the day and all they do is respond to inquiries. It helps to be in the same room with your partner so you can communicate about who you’re responding to, etc. The person at the end of the evening has the fun job of “batting cleanup” and making sure everyone got a response. If people ask us specifically for RA services outside of the designated day, of course we respond, just as we would in person. Establishing your staff as the experts who are willing to offer these kinds of services is why they ask in the first place. These events get you much mileage and street cred as readers’ advisors with your target demographic of engaged and active library users, with the added bonus of attracting new people and showcasing your personalized services.
We also do less labor intensive and specialized RA content. We create images and post links to our best book lists that have the widest appeal, post links to flowcharts and graphics we create, post links to blog posts and reviews, etc.
It’s not all about you! One of the best ways to give a shout out to local partners is to promote their events. For example, our local pet store maintains our aquariums, so we might mention that they’ll be hosting a special animal storytime at their location. We regularly partner with our local makerspace and the arts center, so we plug their events, too. Our friends at a local art gallery are hosting Harry and the Potters, the wizard rock group and founders of the Harry Potter Alliance? That is the kind of information our patrons want to know about it, and we deliver it.
Of course, there’s a down side to this. We often get messages and posts to our page from outside organizations who want us to promote their events, and we’re selective about what we do pass on to our followers. Balance is key. Do you have a relationship with the organization? Does their event or content further the mission of the library? Will it be of interest to your community? These are the questions we ask ourselves.
Behind the Scenes
Dude, people LOVE seeing the real people that make the magic happen at the library. Whether that’s posting about a staff member’s service year anniversary, showing a book self-portrait, or a staff member showing off their awesome KU basketball t-shirt collection during March Madness, people respond to anything that shows that human connection. It’s totally voluntary, and if people don’t want their picture on the library’s Facebook page, it’s no big deal (they can send us their cat pictures). Luckily, we have lots of staff willing to share their personality and interests with our fans on Facebook. Creating that personal connection between library staff and the public they serve is one of the strategic ways we utilize social media.
Tech Services and Collection Development
Whether it’s unpacking the summer reading giveaway books, tech services processing all 15 copies of Game of Thrones Season 3, or that library book that just got returned even though it was due in 1992, anything that gives patrons a backstage pass to the library, it’s usually a hit on Facebook.
Overheard in the Children’s Room
Kids say the craziest things. Enough said. We had an entire series of these over the summer, and they were social media gold.
Beyond Books and Programs
I’m pretty sure that NYPL started this. They have Patience and Fortitude, after all. But we post something book or cat (preferably both) every Saturday, and they are generally successful. Does it play into a librarian stereotype? Yes. Is our social media team genuinely fond of cats? Yes.
If you don’t approve, blame it on Spike. He’s so damn cute in his bow tie. (Yes, my cat sits on the library board. No, it wasn’t my idea).
These are things I feel are kind of obvious, but still see some libraries doing. Think of these as a best practices for using Facebook in public libraries. (Or in life.)
1) Don’t automate the same posts to go up simultaneously on Facebook and Twitter. They are different audiences and the posts just need to be formatted differently, period. While it might be preferable to automate certain things, like reminders about upcoming events, sometimes even these benefit from being posted separately. We use Hootsuite, but don’t like the way it displays images. Sometimes it’s nice to share more information and detail on Facebook, when you have to be concise and brief on Twitter. And yes, I know hashtags work on Facebook too, but I just…I can’t personally support them being used there. It’s also important to consider the way you tag individuals or organizations on Facebook versus Twitter is completely different. It may be a little extra work, but take the time to tailor (most) messages to their respective platforms, and only duplicate if it’s important and necessary.
2) Encourage library employees to share your status updates, like your posts, etc. So, I get it. It’s easier to explain how to maintain a following than to grow one. I saw the first few years of the success of the library’s social media from the patron side. The robust following and high level of engagement was already happening when I started working at LPL two and a half years ago. How do you grow? Start with those who have a vested interest in the library: your employees. I mean, they don’t have to turn their personal feeds into 100% library promotion, but sharing the programs, events, and posts that they are personally involved with, identify with, or support, is generally a good thing. Once their friends and family see the library posts, they are more likely to like the page and start to engage with it themselves. This will ripple through their friends and family, and you’ll experience growth. Engaging with key influencers in your community also helps. Tag organizations and businesses you partner with, and you can all grow together.
3) Variety, variety, variety. We post about our events and programs, but honestly, these have the least amount of engagement, so we’re picky about what we promote. (On Facebook. We tweet a lot more of this kind of information). Still, this informational aspect is a key part of social media. Whether it’s story time, an author visit, or a Smash Brothers Brawl tournament for teens, these are the kind of things that should supply a constant source of material for social media. Not only should you be able to promote events and programs this way by linking to the calendar posting, you can share the during and after photos of your events. Libraries also offer a lot of services and resources, and by all means, promote those on Facebook. Give a shout out to your ebook collection or tout your genealogy resources. But if this is all you’re doing on social media, you’re doing it wrong. Draw from all areas of your library. There should be something for everyone, but not every post has to appeal to your least common denominator.