Libraries: Facebook Group, Fan Page or Friend Your Librarian?

I have gotten quite a few questions about Facebook and whether I think libraries need a Facebook page, how should they set one up and how do they mesure its usage.  All very good questions and my quick answer: It all depends.

Should my library have a Facebook page?

I don’t know.  Who are your users and what are they doing?  Is Facebook blocked at your institution?  If your users are medical students you might consider having a Facebook page.  If your users are older physicians who don’t even use email then you probably can focus on something else other than Facebook.  If your institution blocks Facebook, you probably don’t want to deal with trying to maintain a library page on Facebook since this will most likely be done on your home time and most of your users wouldn’t think to look for your library on Facebook since it can’t be accessed at work. 

Should the library be a group, should it have a fan page, or is it more effective to have people “friend” the librarian?

In the early days, Facebook was more for connecting people together and you had to be a little creative to set up a organization or company’s page.  Many librarians jumped on to Facebook and offered their librarian services to patrons who “friended” them.  I am not sure how effective that was and is.  Some librarians had good responses while others felt a lot like a person who emailed me, “I have been on Facebook for years and despite teaching classes and telling students to friend me for help in the library, I have yet to have one library patron friend me.” 

Personally, I just don’t think friending your librarian is all that effective.  It might have been an adequate work around in the early days of Facebook, but now libraries can have their own pages and I don’t see it as important.  I give this example.  One of my favorite restaurants is Melt Bar & Grilled, the Northcoast Shores sandwich is to die for.  They have a Facebook page and I have become a “fan” of them on Facebook.  I am not “friends” with the servers, cooks, or the owner of the establishment.  As a “fan” of the restaurant I am aware of events and sales taking place and sent out through Facebook.  If I was a “friend” of the servers, cooks, or owner I might get information about events, but I am going to get a lot of other stuff that I am going to have to slog through too.  I have nothing against librarians wanting to have patrons “friend” them, I just don’t think that it is most effective use of Facebook and libraries.

Should the library have a fan page or be a group?

Again this is question about how well you know your users.  Most libraries seem to have fan pages and to me that makes sense because most people tend to think of libraries as place.  However if you are a group of libraries or you have an active user group within the library you might want to consider creating a group.  Ann Smarty wrote a nice simple column explaining the pros and cons of fan and group pages.  Facebook Group vs Facebook Fan Page: What’s Better  has a nice little chart where you see what features are available to fans and groups.

How do I measure usage of my Facebook site, I don’t want to spend a ton of time on something that gets no use?

Nobody wants to spend any more time on anything more than they really have to, so it is understandable that people are worried about a library’s Facebook usage (or any library resource for that matter).  Once you looked at your users AND decided that they might be the type of people who would be using Facebook then you are going to want to look at how you can measure the library’s Facebook usage.  This is a little tricky because there isn’t something like those online usage statistics that we can get from journal publishers.  Additionally, Facebook is sort of a closed system, you can’t get in behind the scenes and start adding a little coding here and there to track usage.  The easiest method you can use to look at usage is to look at the number of people you have following.  The downfall to that is that this just one number, it doesn’t really look at how active those people are on your page.  Many people can simply be a fan and never visit your site again.  Obviously you may want to know a little bit more about what people are doing and what things they are clicking on.  One way to do this may be to look at the referring URLs into your own library website.  If you have links on your Facebook page going back to your website or to your databases, depending on your set up, you might be able to tell that a certain percentage of people accessing these resources or your web site are coming from Facebook.  Finally the last method to measure usage would be to create a survey.  Do an online survey and link to it from Facebook, Twitter (if you have Twitter) and your home page, ask people if they know you have a Facebook site, if they use it and how they are using it. 

Facebook is just one small tool in the outreach tool box for libraries.  It might be the most popular and trendy tool right now, but it is still a tool.  Don’t let the hype influence you to use it if there is no need.  Don’t force a square plug into a round hole.  Equally important, don’t ignore it. You should be familiar with as many tools in your outreach tool box as possible because if things change in your library or with the tool, you need to know if it might be relevant to your institution.  Three years ago I never thought I would have a need for my dad’s air compressor, but soon with a new home and basement remodel that little gem paired with a nail gun will be very helpful.  Two years ago I said Twitter and Facebook may not have any real use in libraries, times have change and some places have wonderfully proved me wrong using these tools effectively in their institutions.  Like I said, quick answer: It all depends.

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