Drive social media success that connects on a personal level

Brenna Hemphill, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pikes Peak Library District /

Originally published December 17, 2021 in OCLC's Next blog, written by Brenna Hemphill, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pikes Peak Library District.

How can you engage purposefully on social media with the different communities your library serves while also addressing larger, system-wide goals and policies? The concept of “social care” offers a clue. Social care differs from traditional customer care in that the purpose isn’t to address one issue, answer one question, or solve one problem. It’s also different than public relations in that it’s not about “one size fits all” for every audience. For social care, the goal is to nurture a more inclusive, longer-term dialogue.

At the Pikes Peak Library District, we’re using these principles to create local and program-specific social media personalities. All of our distinct voices closely align with the unique groups we serve and fall thoughtfully under a system-wide set of values.

One of the benefits of social media is direct, two-way interaction and engagement. And when your library serves very different constituencies, it makes having a social personality even more important. It’s one thing for documentation or a general announcement to sound a bit formal, but to care for individuals, they need to feel truly seen and understood. This is not always easy. It’s a tricky balance to create processes that accurately represent your institution in a personal and human way, but with an eye towards larger goals and library brand.

One family, lots of unique strengths

The magic formula starts with staff and processes. Social media is where department collaboration should shine—in messages, voice, and responsibilities. Our approach is to help staff experts, based both on locality and subject matter, guide how our central brand manifests as different brand personalities. Think of it like a family that all holds similar values. One sibling may be the sports star and another the music expert. Another might be a great teacher, while the fourth one is quiet yet great at listening. They all come from a similar place in terms of beliefs and ideals, yet they’ll do so with distinct characteristics. Which is great, right?

We interact with people based on how their interests and personalities fit with ours. So why not on social media, in ways that encourage engagement and enjoyment? Like all libraries, we have to embrace all of our users and communities. But we don’t have to do it in a bland, one-voice-fits-all way. We can empower different branches and program leaders to express our core values in ways that are most aligned with the people they know best.

4 steps to build characters with a consistent voice

  1. Get together on your central ideals. Driven by your mission statement and policies, everyone, regardless of branch or specialty, should agree on core values.

  2. Identify people for each “character.” This is staff who have a stake in the outcome, who love their location or discipline, and want to make it sing through social.

  3. Develop character personalities. Confirm what makes branches different and special, within the core values you’ve all agreed to share. Develop basic questions to support building the character. Do you mostly support younger, more mobile workforce audience? Lots of kids or few kids? High use of tech or physical resources?

  4. Set up regular roundtable meetings. Social can be intimidating. If you’re leading the effort, consider regular roundtables to exchange best practices and ideas, share challenges, and get new initiatives to stimulate creativity.

Facts tell, but stories connect

In many cases, your local personalities will grow and evolve on their own. A social care strategy supports diversity that can authentically connect with and reflect more individuals and groups. Here’s a recent example brought about during the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing into a post-pandemic world. Free Wi-Fi at two different branches may be popular, but for very different reasons. At one location, it’s used by people who want to come inside and get access with their laptops. In another, people may want to use it from their cars and phones. A single message of “Free Wi-Fi available!” doesn’t take those local differences into account. Tell the stories that include your users, rather than simply stating facts.

As different topics come up, you’ll get a feel for which are good fits for your different, local accounts. And for how to frame the stories in ways that best reflect your specific communities. That’s when it starts to get really fun—when you know that a particular branch will run with a story and will express it in a way that sets up opportunities for long-term social care.

Additional reading recommended by the author: Social Care and Professional Standards: Developing an Ethical Decision-Making Model, by Carolyn Mae Kim, Ph.D., and Karen Freberg, Ph.D.

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