Your Virtual Front Door: Defining the Use of Social Media for Archives and Libraries: Part II

[This was first published at AMPed.]
Part II: Social Media Simply Explained
When we presented on social media at AMIA last year, we opined that social media could be easily explained by two statements:

  • Social networking is about connecting people with similar interests on a much larger scale.


  • It is about conversations.

A year later, I still firmly believe that it really is that simple. As I said last week, the problem, however, is that in the last year there seems to be plethora of presentations, sites, workshops, and classes (to name a few) that will push the need for social media in libraries and archives but rarely will define what social media is. One hand, this is great as it gets the word out for the need of using social media as part of a librarians or archivists daily job routine. On the other hand, the pushing of the tool without defining the tool is still causing huge resistance in using that particular tool.
One answer is that the approach seems to be, “Everyone is doing it, so should you.” This approach is hugely problematic. If one cannot understand the foundation of using a particular tool, one is less likely to even use the tool. It is with this understanding that I believe is one of the reasons why social media has yet to be adopted more widely across libraries and archives.
I would like to add one more statement to the above list:

  • Social media is your institution’s virtual front door.

Just as one would not barricade the entrance to an institution’s physical location, why would one barricade or remove the front door to your virtual institution?
It is easier for an institution to visualize that, “No, we won’t barricade the front door of our library!” because by doing so would be incredibly silly. By applying the same logic to their virtual presences, it provides a better rationale (perhaps even logical) way to approach the why on using social media.
Many institutions still firmly believe that their virtual presence is not as important as their physical one, while the Pew Internet & American Life project illustrates the complete opposite. Information seeking behavior, according to Pew, is constantly changing and as such, content providers (i.e. the Internet) need to make sure they are keeping up with those changes. For example, within a year (2009 to 2010), the amount of seniors (defined as those aged over 50) using social media has doubled from 22% to 42%. While Pew documented that were also huge jumps across other age groups, the largest was with seniors.
What does this mean? It reshapes the perspective that the only ones getting online and using online tools are the younger generations and also illustrates the growth in the older market, as it were, is only going to increase as the population ages.
Let’s take a step back for a moment: The reason for this series is to explain social media and networking, what it is, why you should use it as well as giving tips and tricks to making the most out of it. So, let us answer the questions posed at the beginning of this post:
What is social media?

  • Social networking is about connecting people with similar interests on a much larger scale.
    It allows for libraries, archives, communities of any type or sort to create advocacy, marketing, public relations, transliteracy and communication device to its community both near and far while also acting as a discovery tool for that community.
  • It is about conversations. 
    Social media is dynamic. It allows the institution to engage with community and for the community to participate and be a part of the institution.
  • Social media is your institutions virtual front door. 
    Just as an institution is concerned with its physical appearance, it too should be concerned with not only having a presence online but also how the presence is being utilized. Having a website is good, having an active website is even better. Engaging with your patrons and community via your online presence is ideal.

Next week: Part III: Using Social Media for Advocacy