How To Use Social Media in Libraries

Brigham Young University‘s Harold B. Lee Library shows us this week how librarians can use social media to broadcast their message well beyond the library walls.   On July 15, 2010, they released their send-up to the Old Spice’s Smell Like A Man, Man, viral marketing campaign:

Did you know that 8 out of 5 dentists say that studying in the library is 6 bajillion times more effective than studying in the shower?  Study like a scholar, scholar.

Librarians will surely find this clip funny – how can’t we?  It’s about libraries and using them.  It promotes the use of libraries as an effective learning space on the campuses students go to learn for four years.  But I think the commercial (that’s what it is – it has serious promotional value) teaches us a lesson when it comes to using social media and innovative technology to promote what librarians do and what goes on in libraries.

BYU’s New Spice Man hits the ball out of the park by embedding two messages into his speech – that libraries are great study spaces, and that libraries have an inordinate number of resources for students to use.  In between torn shirts, flash-cut set changes, monster sandwiches and carts, students learn that the library’s got what they need when it comes to completing assignments

Even more important, I think, is the video’s popularity.  This Youtube clip was viewed more than 112,000 times in one day (see the original youtube page for info).  This is a direct result of its high production value.  Clearly, serious planning – and a fair number of resources – were employed to ensure this clip can effectively get the message out. The video’s statistics show us why librarians need marketing and PR skills: because if we can’t explain to our patrons (or whatever you want to call them) what we can do, then the resources won’t be used as often they could be.  Our inability to show people what can be done in libraries means missed opportunities.

I’m not suggesting that libraries ditch all communication models for this single approach.  That wouldn’t work because:

  1. Not all libraries has the financial resources to do what BYU has done, and
  2. The communications approach used in this video was likely chosen to fit the message and the medium.

The second point is the most important: this video’s message is sheer PR – come to the library.  And the message’s medium or vehicle – viral movement across the internet through Twitter, Facebook, etc – fits the cheeky satirical approach BYU has employed.  Good on them.

This is the sort of creativity we should all pay heed to, especially when we approach students by using communications channels outside of the typical academic setting.  Students don’t expect to hear from their library on Facebook or Twitter, so when they do, the message must be crafted to work with the texts and videos that cross on these platforms.  If we don’t do this, then there stands a good chance that the message will be willfully ignored or not even noticed, which means our work will be lost.

Here are two other videos that show what libraries are doing right with online video.  ASU’s Library Channel is seen as the pinnacle for Social Media PR in academic libraries because it quickly produces videos that provide helpful information, and it produces them in a manner that won’t bore the user (i.e., it uses this tech to answer mainly directional reference queries).   And the following A Plagiarism Carol, from the University of Bergen Library, shows us all what we dream of doing if we had the time, energy, and creativity that these people do.

What do you think libraries should be doing with social media, and how can they do it effectively?  Or, how mindful are we of the different types of content we need to deploy, as well as the tools we use to broadcast to our audience?

[Update: even The Chronicle has taken note of the video.]