Social media and libraries survey summary

WebJunction /

WebJunction and TechSoup for Libraries collaborated on a series of free webinars focused on libraries and social media. In conjunction with the 2017 series, we invited participation in a survey to learn more about how libraries use social media. The survey was open throughout the 3-month series and 486 responses were submitted, providing valuable information about libraries and their use of social media.

The survey helps us understand:

  • The social media platforms libraries use and how often they post
  • How the platforms are used
  • Who manages library social media accounts and how much time it takes
  • The reach of social media presence (followers, likes, etc.)
  • The biggest challenges to managing social media
  • The use of social media policies (See Social Media Policies Examples, for those shared in the survey)

TechSoup created an infographic to summarize the results of the survey, and we'd like to share some of the details shared by survey respondents.

Library Type and Service Population

The majority of respondents were staff at public libraries (72%), but we heard from staff at academic (10%) and school (3%), as well as others from consortia, state, special or other libraries.

Over 56% of respondents represent libraries that serve populations of less than 25,000 people, and 23% of those serve rural or small communities that serve less than 5,000. An additional 21% of libraries who responded serve communities with between 25,000 and 100,000 people, and 18% represent libraries in cities serving more than 100,000 people. A handful of respondents were unsure about their service population size.

Platforms and Followers

Libraries use Facebook more than any other social platform, with only 5% of respondents indicating their library does not have a presence on Facebook. Twitter is the next most popular platform, used by 67% of libraries, followed by Instagram, used by 56% of libraries. And while libraries don't post as frequently to Pinterest, over 42% reported having a presence there. YouTube is used by just over 40% of libraries, with most posting there just once or twice per year. A number of comments indicated that libraries have experimented with other platforms, including Goodreads, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Snapchat, but many respondents said they stopped due to failed experiments and low engagement. A few libraries are using Meetup to promote events and there were two mentions of libraries posting podcasts to SoundCloud and iTunes.

Followers or "likes" on library social media platforms fall mostly under 5,000, with a majority indicating there are fewer than 1,000 "likes" or followers on their accounts, which aligns with the fact that most respondents serve smaller communities.

Staff Roles, Time Spent, and Frequency of Posts on Social Media

When asked "who posts to or manages social media for the library," 71% of respondents indicated that social media is managed by staff who do this work in addition to their other duties in the library. And 33% responded that their staff member's primary focus is on social media management. Volunteers are counted among 3% as those that post to their library's social media. Within this question, respondents could also indicate if the management of social media is distributed, with multiple staff trained to contribute with some autonomy (27%) or centralized, with a marketing department managing posting across a system (9%). Many commented with details indicating a blend of the two, e.g. "We have district-wide social media accounts. All of our community libraries have Facebook; six of them use Twitter. Our teen staff maintain social media accounts and a blog."

More than half (56%) of libraries spend less than five hours per week on social media, and 26% spend 6 to 10 hours a week. When asked how frequently libraries post to Facebook, 40% percent said they post daily and another 40% post multiple times per week. On Twitter, 25% of libraries said they post daily and 22% post multiple times per week. And on Instagram, 44% of libraries are posting at least weekly, with 20% posting multiple times per week.

Uses for Library Social Media

Libraries are using social media in various ways, as indicated by the responses seen in the image below. The top uses include sharing information about upcoming events, photos from events, and highlighting library services and resources. Many encourage comments from followers and share posts from others about libraries or books, or feature other community events or local news.

In the survey, and in the final session of the webinar, we asked libraries to indicate features or approaches they don't use as much, but would like to explore. Those responses included:  

  • Live streaming
  • Staff, volunteer and customer profiles
  • Focused engagement, e.g. Twitter chats
  • Images of work life behind the scenes
  • Reference or readers' advisory
  • Leveraging hashtags
  • Artwork made or displayed in the library
  • Advocacy on public policy issues

Top Social Media Challenges

When asked about the biggest challenges to managing their library's social media presence, the top three responses were, "growing the audience or followers," "issues around staffing and time in administering the platforms," and "measuring the effectiveness, including using analytics." Related to staffing, one respondent noted a specific challenge is "Training staff new to doing social media for libraries. Not everyone can do it - it's definitely a skill!" One respondent indicated a blend of issues by stating, "…we don't want to just grow audience, we want to increase user engagement which is a measure of effectiveness."

TechSoup helps break down the top three challenges and offers solutions to make social media efforts more fruitful in their article, The 3 Most Common Social Media Challenges for Libraries and How to Overcome Them.

Social Media Policies

Library staff were asked if social media policies were in place for their libraries. The most common response to the question was "No," but 22% of libraries have social media guidelines for staff, 5% have guidelines for patrons, and 16% of the respondents have guidelines for both staff and patrons. You can review Social Media Policy Examples that were shared by survey respondents to guide policy development in your library. Thank you to these libraries for sharing their policies!

Webinar Recordings and Learner Guide

In preparing for the webinar series, we were interested in understanding more about the areas of interest on the topic. As we moved through the series, the outstanding presenters addressed many of these areas. We encourage you to explore all three sessions and the wealth of resources shared during each event, and encourage you to use the series learner guide to extend your learning with activities, questions for discussion, and ideas to implement, whether on your own, or with your team.