What Does This Mean to Me, Laura?


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What Does This Mean to Me, Laura?

Keeping Up

Building social capital

16th September 2009

If your library is on Facebook, Twitter or other social media site, congratulations.  You’ve started down the road to helping your library engage in new forms of communication and public relations.  However, just being there isn’t enough, and it may not help you in the long run.  It’s time to take the next step:  building social capital.  (Yes, I know, these posts are all about making more work for you, right?)

What is social capital?

Take a look at the Wikipedia definition.  Essentially, social capital is connections to others.  Not just the number of connections (although many marketers would have one believe that), but the quality of those connections.  Numbers of friends/followers can be misleading.  If you have a small  number of connections and most of those consist of people who connect back and are active, you’re still better off than the company that just bought 1000 followers who don’t give a fig for the company.

Why do you need social capital?

When push comes to shove, it can allow your library to mobilize troops quickly.  The Save Ohio Libraries campaign demonstrated this clearly.  In less than 3 weeks, the associated Facebook group had more than 50,000 members; hundreds of tweets on Twitter used the #saveohiolibraries hashtag.  OLC reported that the legislature had never seen a response as fast and heavy from the public.  Is your library planning to go out for a levy?  It may be too late this year to really build enough social capital to spend, but it’s never too early to start for the next time.  Think of building social capital as building goodwill and direct connections.  Not just direct connections into your community, but connections to a wider community that can get the word out for you.

So how do you build social capital?

There are entire books devoted to this topic, and many tips to help you (and maybe I’ll write about some more another day).  I’m going to narrow all of it down to two basic things your library needs to do to get started.

  1. Turn the bullhorn around:  Stop talking and start listening.*  Who do you want to be friends with–the person who listens to all your stories, or the person who only talks about themselves?  If your library is just promoting itself and not listening to its patrons, it will not build good relationships.
  2. Social media is about conversations.  Start having them. This is really the corollary to #1.  Don’t always wait for someone else to ask or comment first.  Remember, people put this stuff out into the ether with the hope that someone will comment.  Give your library a human voice.  A sense of humor is critical.

What does this mean to me, Laura?

  • Social media is a completely different way of doing PR.  The good news, however, is that most of us know how to be human and talk to others of our species.  It’s much less about promoting and much more about relating.
  • Timing is important. When someone asks your library something or comments via a social network, it’s essential that a response be made–QUICKLY.  Remember that a lot of this stuff is happening in near real-time.  Make sure someone is monitoring your social media outlets constantly.  (Remember, real social media is real work.)
  • Don’t overplan.  You don’t plan out every encounter you have with other people during the day; don’t do it with social media.

*From The Whuffie Factor by Tara Hunt.