Utilizing social media is not an easy feat and for libraries who are constantly under budget constraints and may be short on resources they need to plan on the best ways to reach their patrons. For this marketing critique I focus on the Alameda County Library System.
The county library system does appear to be doing its best to utilize various types of social media with several branches having their own blogs, having a Twitter account (@aclib) and several branches also having a Facebook page. One interesting aspect of the libraries approaches to social media is that there doesn’t appear to be any consolidated guidelines for each branch to follow. Each branch appears to take their own approach to blogging and Facebook with some being more successful than others. One of the problems with this approach is that it can be difficult for patrons to find all the resources the library system provides because the links are spread all over the web and with no unified interface it is hard to tell that they all fall under the umbrella of the Alameda County Library System.
Until doing research about whether or not our library is on Facebook I never realized my local branch had a Facebook page. There is no link to it from their home page which is poor design. The only way to navigate to the Facebook page from the library’s website is to click on the banner at the top of the page and this takes you to the county library’s home page and from there you see a Facebook icon. There are multiple problems with this approach. I would think most people are going to be starting from their own library’s home page and not the centralized county page so having a Facebook icon there is key to advertising their Facebook page. The second problem is there is no indication that the header will take you to the county library’s homepage. I found this out by clicking around trying to figure out how to get to the main county page.
Once you find the county library page and click on the Facebook icon you are taken to a page that lists the libraries within the system that have Facebook pages. This Facebook landing page is a nice resource as you can click through to each library’s page on Facebook.
Photo from the Alameda County Library’s Guides website
One possible oversite is that this page doesn’t list Facebook pages that are affiliated with the county libraries as a whole. For example, as I was exploring the Teen section of the Union City branch’s homepage I saw an image for a Facebook page for Alameda County Library Teen Services but the link takes you to your own Facebook homepage. So unless you do a Facebook search there is no direct link to this community.
After visiting each library’s Facebook page patrons are again faced with a wide variation in quality. For instance, the Castro Valley branch is using the timeline interface and I couldn’t find any link to Events, Links, etc where as the Centerville branch’s page had clearly marked links to upcoming Events, Book News, ways to get involved with the library and more. Centerville is one of the smaller branches but just based on the Facebook page I would be much more interested in visiting their branch and I can find any needed information all in one spot.
The county library system has a surprising number of blogs related to the various branches but finding them all is not an easy task. My local branch does have a large banner on its homepage that says “Read Our Blog” and they update it often enough with interesting information that I added it to my Google Reader to follow their updates.
What took longer to find was that there were also blogs that focused on children’s books, YA books, etc. It took quite a bit of surfing and following links to stumble across a guides page that lists all of the county library blogs. Even after finding this page it was hard to believe all these blogs were created by the same library system. The appearances vary widely and it was impossible to find one unifying branding across the sites. They all did have the county library logo but they were in different spots, the color schemes varied widely and the logos on some blogs were blurry as if they tried to enlarge the image without using the correct resolution.
The most glaring blog in need of a redesign is Teens Read blog. Initially I browsed away from the blog without reading it too closely because the banner states “Teen Summer Reading Program 2011”.
It wasn’t until closer inspection that I saw that the blog was still being updated in 2012 and there were links to a large number of other teen resources available through the library. It is sad if this resource was overlooked because of a misleading banner.
The county system has one Twitter profile (@aclib) which came as quite a surprise to me when they replied to one of my tweets. Again from my local branch’s website there is no Twitter icon indicating the library system even had a presence on Twitter. It is nice that they do tweet about upcoming events but they do not tweet often enough to make them a user that people will check often for updates. Their account can go days without a tweet which makes it hard to keep them in people’s eye sight.
Marketing Improvement Suggestions
If I were to be hired as a social media marketing consultant I would commend the library branches that have already entered the social media market but also suggest that there be a general guideline that each branch try to adhere to. For example, don’t make patrons have to go on a hunt for relevant information. Provide links to Facebook, Twitter and blog accounts from each branch’s home page. Most patrons are going to be looking for information relevant to their own area and are not going to be going to the county wide library page.
For Facebook pages there should be a minimum information needed guidelines such as library location and a link to their events calendar. Why should a patron have to go to a library’s Facebook page, click on their Information link, then follow that to the library website and then find the link to local events?
My last suggestion would be to engage with community at a greater level. Providing the same information that can be found on the library website isn’t enough incentive to get patrons to visit the various Facebook pages, blogs, etc. The librarians need to seek comments from visitors, respond to those comments and try to get a dialog going. This engagement is the main focus of what social media is all about. These outlets can be more than just posting library events. The kids books blog is great at featuring a weekly post on Mondays that focus on reviewing a variety of children’s books. This could be expanded to teen books, mysteries, etc.
The more engaged a library community is the more likely they are to fight to retain library resources and realize the library is a key component to the community.