8 Tips and Tricks for Managing a Library’s Social Media Accounts [Part 1]

When I was interviewing for my current position, my future supervisor asked me, “Would you be interested in helping us run our social media accounts?” Like a good interviewee I said, “Of course! That sounds like fun!” I did not, in fact, think it would be fun. 

I don’t have much of a social media presence. I lurk on Twitter, deleted my Facebook, and have posted on Instagram once since 2014. I was so out of the game that doing basic things, like making a post, took some reminding. 

Fast-forward eighteen months and I have done countless posts, stories, and videos. I’m here to tell you it’s not that hard. Our library follower counts have increased almost 45% and we get hundreds of engagement hits a day. As a neophyte, I was able to make this happen with small, but consistent, effort. 

Moreover, let’s say, for example, that patrons cannot come physically into your library. Maybe because, I don’t know, a pandemic. How do you communicate to your patrons what services you’re still able to offer? Do you want to send them another email that will get lost in their inbox? Certainly not. Why not insert that information into a platform where they’re already spending time? Besides, social media platforms are only becoming more popular, with 72% of Americans using them. 

Without further delay, here are the lessons that I’ve learned in the last year and a half:

  1. Know your audiences

This will inform what you end up posting. For example, we found that most of the people who followed us on Instagram were students (I work in an academic library). Twitter followers tended to be other libraries and professionals in the field. On Facebook, there ended up being a lot of former employees. As a result, we put more information about current services for students on Instagram. For Twitter, we saved news about the school and faculty at large. We have slowly been backing away from posting on Facebook, since our goal is primarily to communicate with students and faculty. 

If your library has social media accounts already, go through your follower lists. Do your followers tend to skew younger or older? Are they professions in the field or patrons? Are they parents or children? Once you figure that out, post content accordingly. 

If you don’t have social media set up, ask yourself, whom do you want to reach? It’s also essential to consider how you want to reach your audience, because that will affect which platform(s) you choose to use as well. 

  1. Know your platforms

Whoo-ee, this section could be its own article. I’m going to break it down as simply as I can.

  • Instagram is insanely visual. Classic feed posts (single-framed or carousel) are still the most popular form of post for libraries. It is still largely photographs, but text-based visuals or infographics are common. Stories are routinely used for posts that are temporary or topical. They’re also used a ton for reposting others’ content and are fantastic because they can be highly interactive. I’ve used stories for quizzes, polls, and questions, among many others. Videos, i.e. Reels and IGTV, are considerably less common because, as you’d expect, they take more time and effort. Instagram is the window into your library for people who aren’t physically there. Show your new books, patron or staff activities, exhibits, etc. here. 
  • Twitter is definitely more text-based. Again, many tweets are simply sentences (fewer than 280 characters!) that are concise and punchy. Don’t be afraid to add pictures or videos to your tweets though, because apparently they get way more engagement. The neat thing about Twitter, as opposed to Instagram, is that it is much more shareable. If you like a tweet, that will appear on your followers’ feed. If you retweet, it will not only show up on your followers’ feed, but it will also permanently stay on your profile. This is great for spreading news quickly, but be wary that people are more hesitant to like or retweet things than on Instagram because of this accountability. In short, Twitter is perfect for sharing and spreading information, like new events, cancellations, updates to services, etc. 
  • Facebook is a middle ground between Instagram and Twitter in terms of function. There’s less emphasis on aesthetics than Instagram and it doesn’t stress topicality as much as Twitter. Because of the considerable overlap though, you can post a lot of the same content on Facebook as you do on the other two platforms. One advantage of Facebook is the popularity of its events, which can even be live. With Facebook events, you can organize gatherings in the real world by setting up event details and inviting guests. If you would rather meet digitally, I recommend Facebook Live. Using this feature, you can pre-record or live-record book talks, storytimes, or instructional videos to keep your patrons engaged with the library. 
Screencap of a Facebook Live video promo with text "Live from the Library with guest reader librarian Zena: 'T. Rex and the Mother's Day' read with permission from Harper's Collins and 'Dad, Aren't You Glad?' read with permission from Penguin Random House," and a smiling woman and two children's books
Chicago Public Library is using Facebook to host a summer series of adorable story-times for families. Taken from the Chicago Public Library’s Facebook page.
  1. Pick your lanes

You can post whatever you want on social media, which is one of the things that is so wonderful about it. Still, I offer some words of caution. There needs to be consistency in the type of content that you post. Generally, people want to know what to expect when they look at your page. They will keep coming back to it if they enjoy what you’re posting. If there is no unified plan of action, your page will appear haphazard. 

Let me give you an example of what I mean. I work in an academic library and we’re using social media to engage with students. After trial-and-error, we’ve decided on four major lanes:

It may take you time to figure out what your audience responds to. That’s ok. I recommend taking at least 6 months to a year to figure out your posting style. Fortunately, there are ways to measure how successful you’ve been.

Screencap of an Instagram post from a desktop, featuring a building with fireworks in the night sky in the background and photoshopped Nicholas Cage stealing the Declaration of Independence in the foreground
Happy Fourth of July, followers! What better way to mark the occasion than with a semi-alarming photoshop of Nic Cage? Photo from the law library’s Instagram.
  1. Check your analytics

We’re (aspiring) librarians, so we love data. The good news is you can access a ton of information to gauge your post’s impact. There are subscription platforms like Sprout Social or Hootsuite that will aggregate your data across social media platforms and organize it with sleek reports and charts. That said, there’s still plenty of information for free in the apps themselves.

  • Instagram shows you the data of how your posts are doing under “Insights.” It includes accounts reached, content interactions, follower growth, and much more. You’ll want to look beyond the sheer number of likes. It’s critical to note how many shares you’re getting, the number of comments, any time your post is being saved, etc. Basically, the more total engagement you get, the more likely Instagram’s algorithm is to give you a boost. In order to stimulate engagement, try using hashtags (they work) since they’ll expose your post to accounts that don’t follow you (yet). It’s also worthwhile to post when people are most likely to be on social media. You can check this within Instagram’s analytics section, but it’s generally in the morning to lunchtime and at the end of the workday. Lastly and most critically, you do want to post consistently. In my experience, making some kind of post (feed, story, or whatever) between two and five times a week works well. 
  • Twitter lets you check analytics on single posts and your account overall (although the account analytics seems to be available only on desktop, someone please correct me if I’m wrong?). On individual tweets, you can check the number of total impressions (times people saw the tweet), number of times someone clicked on your tweet if there was a link or media in it, likes, retweets, profile clicks, and replies. For the overall account, the analytics will show your tweet impressions and follower count, and whether they’ve gone up or down, with a 28-day summary. Like Instagram, the more engagement, especially retweets and likes, the more likely your tweet and account will be seen by others. 
  • Facebook also has “Insights” which will provide information about your page’s performance. These can give you information about number of likes (or unlikes), when those have occurred, the number of views your pages has had, and the demographics (age, gender, area, device, etc.) of the viewers. There is also information about reach, comments, shares, and more. It’s no surprise that a lot of the data you can get from Facebook is similar to that of Instagram.
Screencap of Instagram analytics page, with a horizontal bar graph showing followers' age group, a pie chart of men vs. women, and a bar chart of followers most active times
Just a piece of Instagram-provided analytics, here covering follower behavior and demographics. Photo from Hootsuite.

Alright, everyone. That’s plenty for now. I’ll be back next time with the final four tips and tricks for making your library’s social media accounts pop. Did I miss anything? Want to add something else? Questions? Drop it in the comments section, please!

Featured photo by dole777 on Unsplash.

Melissa Grasso lives in Boston and will begin at Simmons University in the fall. She works as a library assistant where she specializes in course reserves, copy cataloguing, and social media management. You can find her on Twitter @grassbro or LinkedIn.

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