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Social Media Best Practices for Libraries and Reader’s Advisory - Created by Dodie Ownes

Social Media Best Practices for Libraries and Reader’s Advisory by Dodie Ownes

A recent study states that one quarter of the world’s population uses social media. This means that 1,730,000,000 people are posting, pinning, tweeting, vining and instagraming. Every 60 seconds 4.7 million posts are uploaded to Tumblr; 277,000 snaps are shared on Snapchat; and more than five million videos are viewed on YouTube.

Not only is the age of the big smartphone here, but more people simply are spending more time on mobile. In the U.S., carriers' shelf-space for devices with 4.7-inch or larger screen displays increased from 4 percent to about a third in 2014 alone, matching a sales growth - larger-screen phones now account for more than one-quarter of all sales, according to NPD Group.

Millennials' smartphones never leave their side, day or night. And Facebook's most recent earnings report this week showed that while overall daily active users grew 8 percent in 2014, mobile daily active users grew 15 percent and mobile-only daily active users grew 34 percent. Where Facebook leads, others follow.

Set Goals for your Posts

  • Discuss the intended purpose of your posts with your colleagues, and if possible, patrons
    • To showcase readalikes for popular book titles, TV shows, movies
    • To build up interest for a visiting author event
    • To generate interest for new titles now available
    • To promote “hidden” collections, such as narrative nonfiction, graphic novels, etc…
  • Set common-sense goals for posts
    • Is the post intended to provide information? Is it one-sided? Is it intended to prompt an ongoing discussion? When should a post be vigilantly monitored and when can it stand on its own?
    • Determine a realistic frequency for posting, and how posts tie into your library’s overall communication strategy
    • Start with a small team willing to share responsibility and spread out the work

Practice Professionalism and Instill Notions of Respect and Courtesy in all Posts

  • Maintain confidentiality (“a regular patron said…” NOT Bob S. from the Broadway Branch said… - “many teen librarians suggest … “ NOT Spunky Terry Smith from the Broadway Branch said… )
  • Do not post confidential, proprietary, or protected information about a person or an entity – if you are not sure, DON’T POST!
  • Use good ethical judgment.
  • Follow federal guidelines and institutional policies, helping to guide these entities for the greater good when you see a need for change – need an example? See YALSA’s Social Media Guidelines for Board Members.
  • Regard, value, and recognize the different perspectives of others.
  • Seek inclusiveness.
  • Regard and value contributions, and recognize the advantage of a discussion with your followers, even when you don’t agree. This is reader’s advisory, after all, which is full of personal opinions, NONE of which can be “wrong”
  • Even if you provide a disclaimer saying your views are your own, be respectful and don’t post anything you would be uncomfortable saying in a public setting. 
  • Be thoughtful in the account-naming conventions you use to be sure they exhibit discretion, thoughtfulness, and respect for your colleagues and your social media supporter/community.

Be Trustworthy and Transparent in Your Posts

  • Be transparent and up front about your role and goals for your post.
  • Evaluate the accuracy and truth of your posting before making it public – for example, if a visiting author doesn’t make it to his/her event, get the details on why before flaming him/her in a Facebook post
  • Strive for accuracy, correcting errors quickly and visibly.
  • If you have questions about whether it is appropriate to write about certain material, ask someone you respect for advice.
  • Choose words and exhibit online behaviors that are consistent and reflect the highest ethical standards of integrity, truthfulness, and ethics.
  • Check your ego at the door, and post with honesty, openness, and respectfulness.
  • If you find out something you’ve posted is untrue after you post it, retract and correct it as quickly as possible.

Set Learning Goals for your Posts

  • Work, learn, and strive for excellence for the benefit of your patrons, other staff, and the reputation of your institution
  • Share both successes and mistakes.
  • Expect and set a continuous learning process for yourself.
  • Recognize that no one has all the answers and points of view will vary.
  • Remind yourself about copyright and other legal restrictions, such as the use of logos and trademarked or copyrighted materials.
  • Remind others to seek permission to use materials that are not their own.
  • Read the terms of service of the social media app you are using at least once a year because they can change.

Protect Yourself and Your Work Product

  • Exercise common sense in any online activity, realizing that anyone can access and view what you have posted.
  • Protect your identity. Don’t provide personal information about yourself or others that scam artists and identity thieves might steal. This could be something as simple as posting a book-ish vanity license plate of a patron,
  • Everything is public. There’s no such thing as a “private” social media site.
  • Read the terms of service before you sign up for any new service.
  • Master the privacy settings, and pay attention if the options change.
  • Remember that search engines can turn up your posts years later. Don’t post something today that may haunt you later.

Create the Image of Being a Team Player

  • Foster positive working relationships through inclusive approaches. That is, seek input and involvement from those who respond to your statements and ideas. Ask others to comment on your ideas, or comment respectfully on theirs.
  • DO NOT publicly discuss or speculate on institutional, departmental, or other policies or operations. Find alternative ways to create change for an institution when you think it is needed instead of ranting about it online, to an inappropriate audience.
  • Create a posting environment that allows you to stretch your thinking beyond what even you thought was possible, and publicly acknowledge your changed thinking. In the RA world, this may include admitting that you enjoyed a literary title in translation, or a romantic comedy movie, or being seen at a Comic Con type event.
  • Accept responsibility and accountability for your ideas. Admit your mistakes.
  • Place the greater good above your personal goals by thinking twice – and keep yourself from posting a derogatory statement about a fellow staff member, patron, or author.

Content considerations:

Social engagement is not limited to promotional updates. Adjacent content to consider includes, but is not limited to:

  • Tips and Tricks – library resources which provide passive RA, such as online databases, suggestions from library catalog, online bookmarks, how to place holds and manage patron account, etc..
  • Responses – don’t be afraid to riff off of responses to institutional posts; your followers want to be respected for their ideas and opinions, just like you. Keep conversations going!
  • Community outreach – do you have amazing volunteers? a new partnership with a local agency? an especially great experience with the restaurant that provided lunch at a staff day event? a tremendous turn-out for a fine amnesty day? Toot your horns!
  • Job openings – check with your human resources department on this first, but social media is a great place to get the word out about job openings, both paid and volunteer.
  • Quote of the day: there are many great sources for library and literary quotes, and this is a super-easy way to guarantee that something get posted! See http://libraryquotes.org/, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/library.html, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/library - just to get started.
  • The ASK - Ask for help. Really, it is that easy, and helps keep your followers informed on what is going on at the library. Want your community to help or participate in a particular way? Instead of saying you need volunteers to unpack boxes for a book sale, tell them that you have a secret weapon for discovering what library patrons have been reading, or offer a “reward” for finding the most unusual whatever found inside of a used book! Not only will this deepen your relationship with them, these posts can help advertise coming events.

Frequency of updates

Determine what is appropriate for your organization, and your community. For example, news organizations or media publications could easily be expected to update multiple-to-many times per day; even a large library system would be exhausted by this rhythm as would its followers. You definitely don't want to talk just for the sake of talking; if you don't have anything of value to add, don't post updates just to meet a quota. That said, you will need to make sure your account updates regularly enough to entice users to follow along. You want them to know they could be missing out on some good stuff if they don't.


Fostering engagement in the library’s social media efforts requires attention to two major efforts. The first is responding to users mentions, questions, commentary, etc. When the institution starts to post, it must be very present and active, and every effort should be made to respond to most user commentary and all of their questions. The volume at this stage in the game should be fairly manageable for most, and will let staff build a social media rhythm that works for both them, and engaged followers.

The second area of attention is to have a solid data-driven content strategy. By looking at things like search queries and social conversations, you can begin to build the foundation of a solid content strategy. As you're sharing this content throughout your community, you should collect data on how your audience reacts to it and engages with it. Consider all of this data to be feedback on how you're doing. You might re-evaluate the timing of your updates, the format or sentence structure you use (are you asking questions, making bold statements, etc.), and even the type of media you're using. This is much harder, as many posters may feel that if they’ve done their “Throwback Thursday” tweet, there’s no reason to look back – but there is!

KISS (Keep It Simple, S(c)itizens!)

If you only have time and staff bandwidth to do two outlets well, stick to those two. If your Pinterest board is only updated once a month, your followers will definitely sense a lack of commitment, and will not feel the need to keep up. Nor will you… If your teens aren’t using Facebook, don’t make them go there – set up an Instagram account just for communicating with them. Review your social audience interest and match your social media energies and outlets appropriately.

Cross Promotion on Media Outlets

“I tried to find my library on Twitter and there is nothing there!” There's nothing worse for a patron than not being able to find your content, and cross-promotion is an easy way to help keep that from happening. Naming conventions are REALLY important! If your community knows you as WashCoLibs, don’t get all creative and create a hashtag #URWCLIBS… Ensure your blog is linked to from your social properties. Keep all of your profile names the same across all social channels (utilize a service like KnowEm to be proactive on this one), and cross-promote your accounts. And consider this - why would a customer need to or want to follow you on Twitter, if they already follow you on Facebook? Is the messaging different? Or just redundant…

Monitor and listen

Ah technology … this is where apps help the rubber meet the road. Utilize services that will help push notifications to you so you can ensure you're not missing meaningful conversations across the web. There are countless apps for Twitter and Facebook (SocialEngage, HootSuite, TweetDeck, etc.) available, and you can set up alerts, as well (Fresh Web Explorer, IFTTT). Often the admin tools of various platforms will have this functionality built in. Listen to what your customers tell you. Social listening data provides endless insights for institutions willing to listen. This is part of your feedback channel, your user experience consultation, and even your early warning system for when things gone awry.


What is our brand voice and personality?

What do we stand for, and what do we represent?

What is our value proposition and differentiating factors?

What are our defined visual branding elements (logo, mascot, font, colors, etc.)?