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Susan Brown

RA 4 FB -- Creating a Social Space for Readers

by Susan Brown

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2012 RA News Newsletter. Sign up for this and other newsletters.

Does your library have a Facebook page? If so, what type of content do you post? Many libraries focus their Facebook posts on broadcasting program information and other library-related news, with updates like Mystery Book Club meets tonight at 7:00 pm or Library closed for Labor Day. But Facebook, like all social media, should go beyond broadcasting and engage followers with content that somehow compels them to interact -- by commenting, liking, or sharing. This interaction will not only make your followers feel more connected to you, it will also lead to an increase in all of your Facebook metrics: Edgerank, reach, and all of the other mysterious Facebook algorithmic measurements. More importantly, it will lead to even more people seeing your content and potentially following you.

At Lawrence Public Library, our Facebook page began as a broadcast medium, but we realized that we were missing the point. We started improving our Facebook presence by deciding to position our page as a space for readers -- where they could talk about books, find book news, and get book suggestions. They would be able to interact with us and each other. Here's how we did it and how you can, too:

Start with the low-hanging fruit

"...all social media, should go beyond broadcasting and engage followers with content that somehow compels them to interact..."

The local paper has a "Man on the Street" question each day and on Sunday, it is always "What are you reading?" When Lawrence Public Library started trying to engage readers on Facebook, we piggybacked on that and began asking this same question every Sunday on our page as well. Two years later, we still ask it.

Every week, we get anywhere from eighteen to thirty-six people responding to this simple question. Sometimes, our followers will start conversations with each other, posting follow-up comments like "Oooh, @John Doe, I loved that book!" One of our regular posters has been working her way through Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone books and we all get to watch her progress, as each week she posts what letter of the alphabet she's on.

"What are you reading?" is one of the easiest ways to get a conversation started on Facebook. But don't just ask the question, remember to participate as well:

  • Occasionally make a comment to one or two of the responses. If a responder mentions they are reading the third book in a series, you might mention that the fifth one of the series is slated for publication soon.
  • Encourage library staff to respond as well -- either posting as the library or from their personal account. This shows that you aren't just throwing the question out there, but you are actively monitoring and participating in the conversation.

Ask more questions, lots of them

One of the dictionary definitions of engage is "to induce to participate." On social media, participation is the goal and asking questions is one of the easiest ways to achieve this. At Lawrence Public Library, we ask all kinds of questions:

Bookish questions:

  • What's the ___________ book you've ever read? For Valentine's, we'll drop in "most romantic" for Halloween, it's "scariest." You could also try longest, funniest, most challenging, etc.
  • What books are on your bedside table right now?
  • What is your book club reading this month?
  • What are your kiddoes reading and loving right now?
  • If you had to read one book ten times, what would it be?
  • If you could have dinner with any author, dead or alive, who would it be?

We go beyond books:

  • Oscars are tonight, what's your pick for best pic?
  • Calling all Masterpiece Theatre junkies! What's your all-time favorite Masterpiece production?
  • Ralphie or Rudolph? What's your favorite Christmas movie?

We ask personal questions:

  • What's the best library program you've ever attended?
  • What's the best "hidden gem" you've ever found in our collections?

We have found that our followers love to answers questions like these. We aren't asking for long responses to an in-depth survey, just quick answers to quirky questions. As I mentioned last month, we sometimes re-purpose these and turn them into blog posts or reading lists or displays -- Patron Picks, Best Christmas Movies, etc.

Suggest books:

After hearing about other libraries doing Readers' Advisory on Facebook, we decided to give it a try ourselves. It has turned out to be of our most popular initiatives on Facebook! About once a month -- more during summer reading season -- we post something like this, "Tell us a book you read recently and enjoyed, and we'll suggest another one or two from our collections." The responses start to roll in almost immediately and don't stop all day long.

If you choose to try this, here are a few things to know:

  • It is a time commitment. We break up the day into two hour shifts and assign staff accordingly. The morning is always the busiest, and on those shifts, staff may not get much else done.
  • Turnaround time is fast on Facebook. Social media users expect quick responses. We try to keep response time under 30 minutes, but if it's a busy day on Facebook or the books mentioned are tough ones, we're okay with 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Don't think of this as the same thing as an in-person, in-depth RA conversation. You don't get to ask a bunch of great follow-up questions. In fact, if you ask the commenter too many questions via social media, it begins to feel like work. Instead, think of these as quick, off-the-cuff suggestions.

Here are a few from one our recent RA on FB days:

Reader: Weeds: An Environmental History of Metropolitan America. What's next for me?"Weeds: A History of Metropolitan America" What's next for me?

LPL:  If you like weeds, you'll love rats! Seriously, though, we think you might like Robert Sullivan's Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants.

Reader: Anything by Beth Gutcheon (I've enjoyed Goodbye and Amen, More Than You Know, Gossip, and Leeway Cottage).

LPL: Beth Gutcheon's one of those writers more people should know about! If you enjoy the complex plotlines and timelines of More Than You Know, we'd definitely recommend Sarah Jio, especially The Violets of March. A new book out - Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead - reminds us somewhat of Gossip. Finally, if you liked Gutcheon's book Still Missing, you might check out Heather Gudenkauf.

Reader: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I've read it too many times now. Help me find an alternative, please!

LPL: Depending on what you like about The Red Tent, there are lots of possibilities! For a fictional take on great women of The Bible, Pope Joan is a good choice. For more historical fiction with midwifery and women's lives at the center, try Hearts & Bones by Margaret Lawrence. It's the first in a series of three mysteries set in the Revolutionary War era.

Don't forget to count these transactions in your stats! Be sure and count the number of RA questions you responded to and pass them on to Reference or Adult Services or whoever keeps tracks of Reference/RA daily stats. When we do this, we usually get close to thirty responses.

Turn the tables:

Our followers know that we love to ask questions and answer them, but we also occasionally ask them to be the Readers' Advisor with questions like these:

  • Fantasy fanboys and fangirls! What books would you recommend to someone who has never read fantasy but wants to give it a try?
  • We're in the mood for something fast-paced and thrilling, what would you recommend?

These are very popular, and allow our followers to share their particular reading passions.

Questions aren't the only posts:

We wanted to position ourselves as a destination for area booklovers, so we post all kinds of content that readers will enjoy. Here are a few examples:

  • Book news, from the passing of a favorite author to the announcement of the Booker shortlist
  • Author birthdays, along with a picture, a quote, or just a "Happy Birthday" wish
  • Quotes about books and the reading life

On Facebook, the more visual, the better -- this means posting a photo of the author you mention or a photo of a staff member holding the book they are recommending in a post. Instead of typing out a funny quote, posting those same words in the form of a graphic is better. Images like this e-card below are clever, engaging, and more shareable, giving them a better chance of becoming viral and giving your page a chance to become more visible. When we posted this recently, seventy-seven followers liked it and twenty-four of them shared it.


Have fun!

On our Facebook page, we have a lot of fun asking all kinds of quirky questions, posting funny images, and sharing memes of all sorts. This solidifies our position as a place for booklovers of all sorts.

  • We asked our Facebook followers "Who's more well-read, cats or dogs?" and asked them to post pictures of their dogs and cats reading as evidence. Although we posted this months ago, we still get entries to add to our Facebook photo album. And if you're wondering, cats were the clear winner.
  • The dog and cat question was so popular that every Saturday is now "Caturday," when we post a photo of a cat and books -- a cat reading, a sleepy kitten on a pile of books, etc. Totally goofy, but our followers love it.
  • We post images of DIY bookshelf ideas, famous celebrities reading, the world's most beautiful bookstores, themed reading lists, and more. Where do we find this content? Here are a few great sources to mine:
  • Follow other libraries and organizations on Facebook -- Seattle, New York, and even NoveList!
  • EarlyWord is a great source for book trailers, book-to-movie deals, new releases, and more.
  • Book Riot is full of smart and spunky book news, reviews, and essays. Their Book Fetish series is full of fun visuals to share on your Facebook page, from jewelry made from books to bobble heads of famous authors.
  • Huffington Post Books shares great content from others sources, like their recent reposting of Flavorwire's article on "Literary Insults for Every Occasion," as well as their own original content, like their recent blog posting about seven great literary femme fatales.
  • Pinterest is the most visual of all social media platforms and is full of great bookish content. Try searching Pinterest for "books," "booklovers," "book fun," etc. and you will find great content for your site. You can also check out Lawrence Public Library on Pinterest for inspiration.

These are just a few of the ways we engage readers on Facebook. How do we know it worked? Our followers have steadily increased -- at the time of writing this article, we are at close to 3,000. Our Facebook stats are on a steady upward trend, from our Edgerank to our reach to the number of people "talking about this." Beyond the quantifiable numbers, we know anecdotally that our Facebook followers enjoy what we do -- they comment regularly, share our content often, and one Facebook follower told us recently that although he goes to a different library to get his books, he comes to our Facebook page "to feel at home among a community of booklovers."

Finally, I've told you what we post, but I haven't said how we post it. A sustained and engaged social media presence takes a lot of work, time, and commitment. We rely heavily on Hootsuite to schedule posts on both Facebook and Twitter. Our social media is organized into teams -- one each for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and our blog. Each of these teams has a leader who organizes content, recruits team members, and sends out weekly reminders about who's posting what and when. Although I coordinate our social media group, our Facebook team is headed by my colleague Jenny Cook who has boundless creativity and great organizational skills -- two essential things needed for great social media. Finally, when organizing your library's social media presence, look beyond Reference or Adult Services. Jenny is actually a librarian in our Children's Department. Heading our Facebook team both allows her an outlet beyond her daily duties at the Children's Desk and brings a great perspective to our page. From her perch at the Children's Desk, she took photos of children and families as they turned in their summer reading forms. This visual, personal, local content proved to be some of our most popular of recent months.

If you want to see all of this in action, find us (and follow us!) on Facebook.

Susan Brown took her first library job to earn beer money while in college. After several years in academic and government libraries, she finally found her true calling behind the reference and reader's advisory desk at a public library. Before moving to Kansas, she worked at libraries in Virginia and North Carolina and has her M.L.S. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently the marketing director at Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, KS and is passionate about readers' services, social media, and marketing and merchandising for public libraries. Susan blogs about practical marketing for public libraries at 658.8 – Practical Marketing for Public Libraries.