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Stop diminishing your library’s brand: unify its voice

I get to present workshops and courses fairly often, especially on social media-related topics (when you write books about a subject, people generally want you to talk about that subject).  One question that has come up repeatedly from attendees is the question of having separate social media accounts for separate physical locations.  Or, sometimes, it’s not a question at all, but rather a statement as if it is the most normal thing in the world.

In either case, it makes me cringe.

For a moment, let’s talk about why this even happens in libraries. Typically, it has its roots in two different issues (and possibly a combination of the two):

  1. Libraries are very cognizant of the idea of hyperlocal collection development…and rightly so. A library needs to serve its local community’s needs.  The problem is that this philosophy doesn’t translate to social media, which is not collection development, but rather a close cousin of marketing and community relations.  Which means that social media is part of a library’s branding efforts. A library system, no matter how many branches it has, has only one brand. (Remember, an organization’s brand is not just it’s logo, but all of it’s marketing efforts and user experiences as well!).
  2. Sometimes, this problem comes from a less idealistic philosophy and from a much more territorial one. In some systems, local branches may want to almost appear autonomous from the rest of the system and/or want to control its message.  This is an obvious personnel issue but, aside from that, it further dilutes the library’s brand.

In addition to the major marketing problem that individual branch accounts present, it also has great potential to confuse or even annoy patrons. I happen to use several branches of one of my local systems. Which do I follow on Facebook or Twitter? In my case:  none. I gave up. I don’t have time to follow multiple branches; I can barely keep up with my actual friends, let alone multiple locations of one organization.

One phrase I use consistently is:

One organization. One brand. One voice.

Intellectually, I think people generally get that. But there is always at least one or two that don’t want to give up the local control, even if its in the best interest of the library.  One question that often follows this is along the lines of “Well, then how do we promote our branch stuff?” That question actually makes it clear to me where the disconnect is! If you’re in a multi-branch system, it’s likely not your job to promote your branch’s “stuff.” That’s often the decision of someone who’s job is often described as public relations or marketing. You don’t have to like that, or the person doing that job. But it’s still their job.  (I can guess I just made some people kind of angry, right?)

Agree? Disagree? Post in the comments!


There are 2 comments

  1. In San Diego there are 36 branch and a main central library. From what I have seen Facebook is simply a billboard for events. I understand what you are saying, but if someone works in an office downtown – how can they possibly have an inside voice to a branch that is 20 miles away? Isn’t it possible for each library to have an interesting voice on Facebook that represents their community?

  2. So many points to make! I can see what you’re saying, Laura, and the ideal of a single voice on social media is admirable. I don’t know that it is always feasible.

    Our library system is confusing. We have a Central library and several city branches, that work as something of a unit. Then, we have several suburban member libraries, that are part of our library system, but work independently for their own communities. They are funded by their communities, have their own boards of directors, and their own policies. They have their own separate websites (although they have pages on the main site as well), their own social media, and their own relationships with their individual communities. They each do their own promotion and marketing. But there are some system-wide initiatives and resources that are promoted at the top level.

    Let’s look at the concept of a single voice in this situation. The suburban member libraries would most likely not agree to give up their individual accounts to fall under a single overarching social media voice. Central and branches might work. But how? Our PR/marketing person has no staff, and no time on her own. She could do all the “cool” social media stuff – post relevant articles, community connections, build relationships with city-wide partners – but would not be able to promote individual events for all the branches. There are simply too many. She could assign that part of our single social media account to folks in the branches, but how to achieve that “single voice” again? and is social media even the place to promote events? If not, where and how? See our conundrum? We’ve tried to solve it with an OCPL system account, but there are still accounts for every branch (who maintains them). Consistent voice is so tricky.

    Social media is complicated! I wish we were able to have a team devoted to social media! And I’d love to be part of that team!

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