Tag Team Tech February 2016

Social Media: It Takes a Village to Engage an Audience, Especially Teens

Kelly Czarnecki

There’s never been a shortage of social media sites to choose from to get your message out. Deciding which is right for you and your community might take some practice. Get some tips on building and managing a social media team at your library as well as how to better engage and reach teens with this important virtual service.

Communicating online with our teen patrons in 140 characters or less (soon to expand to 10,000 characters), connecting through using popular hashtags such as #TBT or #yalit, or creating attractive virtual ‘boards’ for frequently asked for reading categories is something most libraries have been doing for quite some time. Interacting with others through social media expanded our marketing capabilities, gives people options on how they want to keep in touch with the library, helps to tell stories, and builds relationships, albeit virtual. According to the “Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action” report, “. . .  social networking encourages the development of transferable technical and social skills of value in formal and informal learning.” Not only are we building relationships, we’re also providing access for teens to practice their virtual communication before they enter college and the workforce.

It’s also the situation that many don’t integrate social networking on a daily basis, particularly in classrooms. A recent study (August 2015) conducted by the University of Phoenix® College of Education found that some teachers are reluctant due to the conflict it might bring among students and parents, lack of student’s attention if they’re focused on social networking, and not having knowledge themselves on how the sites work are some of the barriers listed. While this article doesn’t delve into this angle, it does list resources at the end, including this article, to help you make a case for using social networking in your library or classroom.

Chances are many of us reading this article that utilize social networking to connect teens with the library and market services and programs have a variety of different models on how the process works.

  • Perhaps you’re a single department or even a team of one that manages several sites.
  • You may even have a number of the same social networking sites with each one dedicated to a specific audience such as adults and teens.
  • You could be part of a larger library system which utilizes a team of staff to engage with customers online.
  • There are probably other models and combinations as well.

Whichever model you fit in or are looking to take the next step toward, you’ll want what works best for your library while still finding ways to keep teens engaged. “Works best” could mean anything from the cost of the platform to workflow. Can posts be made in advance to become public at a later time using a platform such as SproutSocial http://www.sproutsocial.com)? Likewise, “engaging teens” will depend on how you determine what measures of success look like. Are you targeting a particular audience of teens with a specific interest? Do they respond in person or online by commenting or sharing with others to your content? Are they themselves involved in creating the content? Are your services being more utilized in the library or online as a result of communicating with social networking? If they consistently respond they found out about a program through Facebook or other site, you know something is working!

Establishing benchmarks and then reviewing them for relevancy to your initial goal is a great way to determine what could be done differently or continue what is working well.

Cleaning House

The first step to developing a social networking team might be to cull through all of the existing sites your library has. Just like weeding materials in the collection on a regular basis, we need to make sure our online communication is accurate. Are the sites up to date or is anyone keeping track of who manages them? If the answer is no, they probably are no longer effective in engaging library customers and should be sunset if possible.

When my library system decided to undergo the process of inventorying and having more centralized control through the marketing department of the sites representing the library, there were definitely some surprises. Several branches within the system had their own sites of which many staff weren’t aware. While at one point in time this might have seemed like a good idea, the information wasn’t updated on a regular basis and the staff that first set up the account didn’t necessarily work for the system anymore or pass along the information about a site existing in the first place.

Library customers, especially teens, are likely to return visiting online if the content is fresh and recent. Make sure to communicate this process to staff beforehand. You don’t want to delete an account that might appear to be inactive. You also don’t want to lose the enthusiasm of staff and the online audiences they’ve already built when you’re working toward consolidating. You can use help now more than ever!

Develop a Social Networking Team

Having a range of voices that can reach an array of people connected to teens as well as teens themselves, is important. Many teen librarians likely keep up with the latest in YA literature as well as technology that teens are using or could use. Within that expertise though some are going to be more knowledgeable about certain genres or software/hardware than others. Even outside of staff that are in teen services are probably a lot of hidden gems that might have a way of interacting with teens online or knowledge about the community that teens would be interested in. The staff member who seems more excited about the newest Divergent series movie coming out could be just the person you want on the team.

Not only opening the online door to staff throughout the library system and even teens themselves, particularly interns or volunteers, to start posting on the library’s social networks involves trust. Everything from sharing passwords to representing the library appropriately are areas that you are likely concerned with. However, if managed correctly, the results of having different voices with a variety of expertise can reap huge benefits for reaching a wider audience. Assigning roles to various sites such who needs access in the first place. If your library manages several sites, depending on the audience people are posting to, they might not need to on each one.

Libraries of course have a wide range of audiences to reach through social networking. Even if you’re most focused on engaging teens, don’t forget about their parents or other adult mentors and caregivers in their lives. After school organizations likely want to know what opportunities there are for teens at the library. Developing online partnerships with them can be a great start to promoting awareness. Sometimes adults might even interact online more and in general provide much of the transportation for teens in the first place to get to the library if one of your goals is to bring more teens in.

If teens post content, sharing passwords isn’t absolutely necessary. You can either log them in or even have them view the site first and then draft their post on a Word document. Once they gain an understanding of representing the library appropriately through viewing past posts and generating some general guidelines, you may decide to relax some of the restrictions initially set in place.

“New to your library” Sites

If you oversee social networking at your library, you probably get requests often from staff or customers for the library to set up camp on a popular social network. You might hear things like, every teen is using Instagram. (http://www.instagram.com) Only to be replaced the next week by, “Snapchat (http://www.snapchat.com) is now really what’s hot.” But what a minute, what happened to Tumblr? (http://www.tumblr.com). Sometimes it feels like whiplash to try and keep up what platform teens are using. You probably even ask yourself if teens even want the library in their online space? While you can’t please everyone and “keeping up” might not be the best strategy, it can only help to involve teens in the process of building an online presence. Get their feedback on where they think the library should be (and shouldn’t be) online and why.

Determining when the library should take on an additional platform should be done strategically and vetted through a department. Otherwise, what can end up happening is having abandoned sites if the original person that started it is no longer contributing content or there wasn’t a thought out plan in the first place and that’s not a good look for the library.

It’s about finding a balance of knowing when to sunset a site and when to take on another one to engage with your customers. Sometimes the best laid out plans don’t work. If you have a written proposal, outcome measurements in place, and a plan for who is posting what and when, you’ve covered a lot of your important bases already. Sometimes you just have to take a risk and try it, allowing your presence to evolve along the way.

Posting Content

Information many libraries tend to frequently post online is an invite to a program.  While programming is a big part of what we offer at libraries and spend time preparing for and delivering, we’re also in the business of telling stories and building relationships. If we want to move a bit deeper and beyond asking teens to come to the library we can expand on our content. Using the library’s strategic plan and calendars can give us a start. Famous bands, actors and actresses and content from the latest celebrity newsfeed can also give us plenty to post about, all while tying it back into the library if we choose to do so. Appropriate humor (where no one is being made fun of) and photos can be popular as well. Staying away from political or controversial stories, depending on your audience, is probably a good rule of thumb. It is one that my library practices and are reminded about particularly around election time. Responding quickly and professionally if someone asks a question or leaves a comment goes a long way to building a relationship with an online teen. Involving teens to not only post but comment as well, can help start a dialogue and leave a trail of responses that show you are paying attention. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for posting content that will increase your followers instantly. A contest that worked a year ago might not this time around. Also, don’t be afraid to post information beyond the library. It doesn’t always need to relate back to material in the building. Sometimes we might just need to read a joke in order to make us laugh, not to check out a book with related content.

Again, having a social networking team with a variety of voices and expertise will help cover more ground in successfully reaching and hopefully engaging the interest of teens who follow the library because it is important to them and they feel like they matter to you and your organization.


Pew Research Center

Pew periodically publishes reports on teens and social networking uses as well as other related topics.

The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: Project Report

This report delves into libraries embracing technology, including social networking as an important way to connect with teens and help them build skills.

University of Phoenix® College of Education National Survey

This August 2015 national survey looks at how teachers in the classroom are using social networking (or not). The end of the article gives tips on how to get started such as using ‘safe’ sites without compromising student learning.

Using Technology to Connect Public Libraries and Teens
Susan M. W. Aplin, San Jose State University

Even though this article was written a few years ago, the content is still relevant. It takes a look at connecting with teens through the library’s web site, social networking, and mobile devices.

YALSA’s Resources for Librarians about Online Social Networking

YALSA’s approach to social networking is all about educating librarians and teens on keeping safe but at the same time recognizing that these tools are commonly used in college and the workplace. Using them responsibly is key!

YALSA Instagram of the Week

YALSA News of the Month (formally Tweets of the Week)

For inspiration on what is going on in the lives of teens as well as some tips on using social networking tools at your library.

Czarnecki headshot, used with permission Kelly Czarnecki is a teen services librarian in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has written extensively on teens and technology in libraries and teaches online classes for American Library Association. In her spare time she enjoys learning how to grill, watching the Chicago Bulls, and training for her next triathlon.




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