Asking the WRONG question
Home | Blog | social media | Asking the wrong question

Asking the wrong question

Sad Teenager with Laptop“Any suggestions on how to get more followers? I’d like to get more for the [insert social media site here] account I created. Thanks!”

I see a fair number of this kind of question on library forums and from people who have participated in my social media webinars and courses.  And, every time I see or hear it and its ilk, it makes me cringe.

On the surface, it seems very innocuous.  And, it’s probably a question I might ask myself, if I were relatively new to social media.  But this question hightlights a major issue that most libraries have yet to address, when building a presence in any particular social media channel.  That issue?  Why is the library there? What’s the point of starting up an account on Pinterest, Google+, Instagram or whichever?  That question typically has the following sorts of answers, for most libraries:

  1. “Everyone else is doing it.”  This hasn’t ever really been a good reason for anyone, ever, but it happens all the time in libraries.  One library sees that all of its neighbors are doing XYZ, and that’s reason enough.  The patrons must expect it, right?
  2. “It doesn’t take much time, so having a presence on XYZ is beneficial.” Firstly, this doesn’t answer the “why?” question. Secondly, no matter how much time it does or doesn’t take, that’s not a measurement of “beneficial.”  Make no mistake:  doing social media at all costs your library money, typically in staff time (which is still money, and often public money at that).  If you can’t justify what you’re doing with some kind of ROI, it’s not worth doing.  Unless you work in a mythological library where there’s not enough work to do.
  3. “XYZ is popular with teens.” Maybe.  There is certainly some better data now, more so than there used to be, about what teens are doing online. However, have you checked with your library’s teens, to see where they are?  I’ve talked to many librarians that have told me their particular groups of teens are not where the stats say they are; for example, a number of librarians in California have told me that many Latino teens were still using MySpace, long after most others abandoned it for Facebook.  (Even if your teens are on XYZ, will they actually care if you’re there?  Historically, the answer to that is often “no.”)
  4. “XYZ is popular.”  Go back and read #3.  You’ll get the general idea.

What does this mean to me, Laura?

So, let’s go back to the original question, and give it a little more thought.  Having more followers, i.e., bigger numbers, is often completely meaningless.  Sure, your director or your board might be impressed, but impressing administrators is not usually an actual goal of social media.  This means that the question needs to be re-phrased as something along these lines:

  • “We are using Pinterest to promote new releases at the library.  How can we make this more effective?”
  • “Our library uses Instagram to post event photos. Are there kinds of photos that create more engagement than others?”
  • “The demographics for Google+ seem to indicate that it might be a good place to engage with our local maker community.  What kinds of posts might be best for reaching them?”

TL;DR = Know why your library is in a particular channel, and what job it has to do there.  Numbers of followers are not often a good way to measure much in the social media realm.