Growing a Social Media Presence: A Conversation with Memo Cordova and Elizabeth Ramsey
By Melissa Fraser-Arnott
Libraries need to engage with our target audiences in their physical and virtual environments. For many of our audiences, social media networks are a vital source of information, entertainment, and connection. If we want to reach these audiences, we need to engage over social media. But how can libraries develop a social media presence?
Jose Guillermo “Memo” Cordova Silva and Elizabeth Ramsey are Associate Professors and Librarians at Boise State University's Albertsons Library. Memo and Elizabeth lead the Albertsons Library’s social media strategy, with Memo managing the library’s Instagram account
and Twitter feed (@BSULibrary
) and Elizabeth managing its Facebook page
Memo and Elizabeth co-authored an article in the Marketing Libraries Journal
entitled Asserting Librarian Expertise and Value in Strategic Marketing Efforts
in which they outlined their experiences developing a library marketing campaign using free marketing tools and social media networks. Melissa Fraser-Arnott, Co-Chair of the LMD Marketing Section, spoke with Memo and Elizabeth about their social media marketing experiences.The Beginning of the Library’s Social Media Engagement
Memo joined Boise State University in 2005. At that time the library didn’t have a social media presence. When he interviewed for his position, he was asked what he would do in the role and his answer was that he would create an online presence for the library starting with a library blog. Building the library’s online presence ended up being a key part of his role. He started by launching the first library blog in the state of Idaho. From there he added an Instagram account, a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page. Even though marketing represented only a small fraction of his work (he also teaches research courses and serves on university committees), he saw it as an important way to reach out to students.Student Reactions to Social Media Initiatives
The response has been interesting and sporadic engagement. Students use social media channels to ask questions about library collections. They have noticed changes in the channels that students use. Activity on the social media platforms that the library has been using (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) has plateaued and students have been engaging on newer platforms like TikTok. The library has been keeping an eye on TikTok as its use by their target demographic explodes.
There tends to be a 3–4-year cycle of engagement as students graduate and staff change roles. Engagement is high when students start. Social media has proven to be an incredible tool for information dissemination for students navigating the university environment.Responding to Shifting Platform Use Patterns
Memo and Elizabeth learned the use patterns for each platform and adjusted their approach to accommodate them. When Twitter was the primary tool, they started by building up a list of users to follow. Memo started by importing followers from his personal account and then transferred them to the library twitter account. This gave the library a range of retweeting sources to share content that would be of interest to students. With Instagram, they discovered that there was more interest in photos of outdoor scenes, featuring the exterior of the library and the rest of campus than in pictures of the library’s interior. They responded to these interests in selecting photographs to add to the account. They considered retiring the Facebook account as incoming students use this network less than previous cohorts, but found that it is still used enough by alumni to justify its maintenance. Library staff initiated a Pinterest account about five years ago, but discontinued it recently due to the lack of a committed curator.
Social media platforms and their uses are not static. Understanding that each of these social media tools attracts different audiences means that different content needs to be tailored to each channel and its audience. Engagement on these platforms requires a steady foundation. The library maintains guidelines on the library’s online persona that allows it to be flexible in how it interacts on each of these channels while upholding the library’s values and public image.
There is no silver bullet approach to social media marketing. Interactions happen in the moment. There is experimentation involved. The library has worked with on-the-spot apps to assess their ability to meet the communication needs of the moment. Building a successful social media marketing strategy, regardless of platform(s), requires a steady presence. You build your social media presence like you nurture a plant. You continue to contribute content and interact in a way that lets people get to know you and builds trust.
Elizabeth and Memo are very professional and respect the norms of social media networks, making sure that they don’t intrude in someone else’s space. They take their social media presence very seriously because they know that it impacts the whole university. Prospective students and their parents research us before making their application decisions. Social Media as Part of a Marketing Strategy
The two words that best describe the Albertsons Library’s marketing strategy are commitment and coherency. The library uses multiple channels to communicate with students, including both physical and online methods. Content could be shared with students through social media, through “Toilet Talk” signage in library washrooms, and across screens in the library. The library was worked to establish a voice that serves as the foundation for their communications campaigns.Dealing with Negative Responses on Social Media
The library celebrates the human experience in its entirety, but has faced some resistance to certain content and included guidance on how to respond to negative reactions in its social media strategy. The social media strategy included guidelines on when to mute or block users in order to protect staff from egregious comments. The professional persona that the library has adopted on social media has limited the level of negative responses, but they have experienced a few cases of negative responses and have used these as teachable moments. They have used negative comments are opportunities to offer information and help solve problems. When the library receives complaints on social media, librarians respond by asking questions of the posters in order to understand the context of the complaint and then resolve it.Interaction with Other University Units
The library is part of the university’s “Marketing Minds” group. It is subject to the university’s official marketing and communications rules and is part of a marketing listserv that serves as a source of communications content. The library was an early adopter of social media. When they started posting, they were often the only university unit in the social media spaces. When the university decided to build its social media strategy and team, they bulled together all of the units with an interest in social media marketing. Because the library was a leader in this space, other units contacted the library for advice and this advice seeking developed into relationships. A key example was the library’s partnership with the university’s emergency response team. This relationship led the library to be embedded into the university’s emergency response strategy as an important part of the university’s communications to support students.Resource Needs
It takes time and energy to build a social media presence. You have to start by having people who are willing not just to start engaging on social media, but who are willing to put the time and energy into maintaining a presence. This requires daily commitment, and ideally more than one person working on social media in order to provide coverage over vacations.
You need to be flexible and willing to experiment. You will need to create a different approach for each platform. Every platform has a different vibe. Take time to build your understanding of the platform as an individual user before you build the library’s social media account. When you build your library account, start on the downlow. Start by listening and following and then begin growing.
Although the time and commitment costs are high, the monetary costs of engaging on social media are low. The library uses established and low-cost options because they don’t have a social media budget. They use what’s freely available to create content like graphics. Not having a budget does give us the freedom to experiment and try new things. The risk is low if the experiments don’t work. They look for social media tools that are free and easy to use.Evolution of Social Media Engagement
When choosing tools, Memo and Elizabeth choose things that align with our outreach mission. They wanted to engage over social media because they saw this as a way of connecting with our students. Now these tools and online interactions are critical. They have seen constant changes over social media tools and they have changed our approaches to align with student needs. Right now, the emphasis is on student care. The need for online access to resources is also at an all-time high. They retweet and use hashtags to collect and compile relevant information that students need to navigate the COVID pandemic.Library Social Media Persona
The library’s online persona is based on the values of seriousness of action, trust, and professionalism. They are always courteous, friendly, and professional, but they sprinkle in some humour. They find that people respond to humour and empathy. They like to know that there is a human behind the account. The content that they post tends to run the gamut of information, but it also reflects the tone and personality of the librarian making the postings.
In order to preserve the library’s social media persona, Elizabeth and Memo have to make sure that anyone posting on the accounts understands how to balance professionalism and approachability. It can be a challenge getting students to help with postings to accounts, because they need to learn to navigate this communication tone. Library staff contributing to social media posting add their initials to every post so that people know who is posting. This increases the level of responsibility that the poster has for their posts.
They have been successful of treading the line of spreading reliable information and engaging with the student community without ruffling feathers. There have been times when they’ve made a mistake in their postings. When mistakes happen, they acknowledge the mistake and either correct or remove the postings. They appreciate it when people give us feedback, even when it is negative feedback, because it means that they are paying attention to library posts and they care enough to comment.Building Relationships
Developing relationships with students was one of their objectives in engaging over social media. They have found that being on social media makes the library team more approachable. People are more comfortable to complain over social media than they are in-person or even over library chat. People can be flippant over social media in a way that they wouldn’t be in physical interactions. They see complaints as a win because it means that people care enough to post. Social media provides a bridge for connection. Final Thoughts on Social Media Marketing
Use readily available tools to get started. If you want to use social media for marketing, you need to have an active presence. You need to be there through thick and thin, posting whether or not you are receiving responses. This requires time and energy. Social media marketing may not be your primary job, but making the commitment to maintain an active presence can give your library a big reach.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Elizabeth Ramsey is an associate professor and librarian at Boise State University’s Albertsons Library. She is the liaison to programs in the School of Public Service, as well as the Center for Global Education. Among her research interests are critical information literacy and outreach to underrepresented students in higher education. You can find her work at http://works.bepress.com/elizabeth_ramsey/.Jose Guillermo (Memo) Cordova Silva is an Associate Professor/Librarian at Boise State University's Albertsons Library. He is a graduate of Boise State University (BFA) and the University of Washington (MLIS). His research interests center on how emergent technologies affect information behavior in libraries and everyday life. He is an advocate and practitioner of open access and open educational resources; supports undergraduate research endeavors of the university's McNair Scholars program; promotes social media best practices; and has co-chaired THATCamps (The Humanities and Technology Camp) on campus and around the Boise area. His works can be access at https://works.bepress.com/memo_cordova/ ORCID ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5255-5807Melissa Fraser-Arnott is the Co-Chair of the Leadership and Management Division’s Marketing Section. She is the Chief of Integrated Reference Services at the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada. Melissa has a PhD from the SJSU-QUT Gateway PhD Program and an MLIS from the University of Western Ontario.