There’s an idea in the social media-verse that “conversation is the content.” That kind of quote makes me angry. In the article linked to (which isn’t specifically about libraries but for other businesses engaging in social media) Christopher Rollyson is talking about marketing and how content doesn’t mean anything when you’re talking about marketing. For him, social media being social is about not outsourcing your social media to marketers because “people can smell manufactured content a mile away,” which is a different thing. I think too many people involved specifically with Social Media! ignore the idea that collaboration about nothing is empty, and having good content is bedrock essential.
Now, Rollyson has a good point, clouded by a stupid italicized quote, especially in the library world. Manufactured content is dumb and nobody wants to waste their time with it. But equally bad is the idea that a library can just be there being social with nothing to talk about. Chatting about nothing, trading jokes like a real person does on Twitter might be engaging but isn’t useful for a library or organization.
I think you’ve got to have cool stuff to talk about before you start a conversation. That’s how you get Rollyson’s “human spark of knowledge and caring.” Maybe that’s just my aversion to small-talk, but if you want someone engaging in conversation on behalf of your institution that person needs something to talk about. Just talking doesn’t mean shit. If you want an audience to return you’ve got to be doing good work (or at the very least spotting good work others are doing and pointing it out) to be talking about.
We’ll be getting into this more in our course when we’re talking about Creation, I’m sure, but the Rollyson article ticks me off because the blueprint for success in social media needs Vision, Strategy, Test and Services (though the services bullet point is so filled with marketing buzzwords I can’t even read it). Nowhere there does he talk about making something worthwhile to be talking about.
That is my biggest problem with social media. Just because “the medium is the message” doesn’t mean that’s a laudable state or that you can ignore your content. It seems that people get so starry-eyed about it they forget that there needs to be good work going on to be promoting.
Chatting and collaborating just to garner retweets, favourites +1s, or buzz in whatever new digital form is empty bullshit that I for one don’t want to be participating in. I’m in a substance business, not advertising, and though we can use social media to promote our items of substance the medium can’t be our goal.
Information professionals should be using social media if they care about the rest of the world. I mean, I’m a fan of cataloguing in a cave, but engaging with your community is important. Even if you’re the most locally focused librarian ever in a community where none of your users give a shit about Twitter it’s important to be using it to pull in information and to show off the knowledge being created in your community.
One thing we learned in our Community-Led libraries course with Beth Davies and Annette de Faveri was the importance of not coming into a space with an agenda. Not showing up and saying “Here are some awesome things the library can do for you!” but hanging out and asking what is happening with them, letting the community lead the library. That takes a long time. I think participating online requires a bit more push than that, because if you’re just hanging out as a library, not talking on Twitter, you’re invisible (in a way you aren’t when you’re sitting in a halfway house with a box of donuts).
I also think the idea of a limit to our participation in social media is stupid. I mean, sure, posting pictures of patrons on Facebook without their permission is a bit sketchy. But stopping information professionals from being part of the world just because of who their employers are is bullshit.
A story from work: A library in Northern Australia was making use of some of Koha’s features to integrate a blog onto the front page of the OPAC. The library staff were creating this information to participate in the wider world and were really proud of it. And then their Communications Department found out and shut it down. Not because of something bad that happened but because of stupid bureaucratic power disputes that said librarians aren’t authorized to create publications. That story makes me incredibly angry. To have participation curtailed by the communications department who wanted more control over messaging is kind of terrible.
Part of my visceral reaction to that story has to do with my personal history working at a public library that had a regressive attitude towards people talking about things online. I was disciplined for blogging about work on my personal time. The disciplinary hearing involved the director of our library telling me I was not fit to be a librarian and shouldn’t go to library school because of my disrespectful attitude. This experience led to my disclaimer/explanation page you can see linked to on my library blog’s on Opinions page, and you can read some of my other ruminations about privacy and the like when that former library actually created a social media policy because of me. That link includes a response to a danah boyd article.
Some of the conversations taking place in the first week of LIBR559m (Social Media for Information Professionals an online course taught by Dean Giustini @ SLAIS – Summer 2011).
I don’t really understand why libraries wouldn’t use RSS. Maybe if your library doesn’t do anything you want to keep people updated on?
A really basic use for RSS (and Twitter) is to have a constant stream of interesting things past your eyes. For a library, spotting the things in those streams that might be useful for passing on to their users is great. It shows they aren’t siloed off in their own little world of books, and acknowledges that the world of the internet is part of the library. Even something as simple as subscribing to feeds from your user groups’ websites to know about the events they’re having is a big deal. That’s how you become part of the community. You can’t rely on people coming into the library to tell you things. You have to be proactive and give the users a way to shape their own experiences with your institution.
An example of things librarians can do to make their catalogues more accessible with RSS is to make it easy to set up RSS feeds of OPAC searches or tags or lists. If as a user I come to the site looking for books with strong female protagonists and I find that the users have tagged a pile of great books with “badass heroines”, if I can subscribe to that tag cloud those books show up in my feedreader that’d be sweet.
RSS can push the library out into people’s consciousness without requiring them to come all the way to the site to see what’s new. People are lazy and if they can get the information they want given to them in the way they want it, that’s great.
I wrote about the use of social media for inforgs on Librarianautica.
trunk.ly is a link-organizing/social bookmarking tool that connects up to your social networks and attempts to parse out all the links. The idea is that bookmarking takes up mental effort so instead of you having to categorize/tag links and then go back and find them to blog about them or whatever, trunk.ly just grabs all the links you put through the rest of your socially-mediated life and makes them nice and searchable.
So as far as affordances go, what does trunk.ly suggest or invite users to do with it?
The QR code is kind of the killer feature for me. With a single click you’ve got a simple way to transfer a bookmark from your computer screen to the smartphone of someone right next to you. That person doesn’t have to type in a trunk.ly address on their tiny touchscreen device if they’re in proximity to your computer screen. This encourages an over-the-shoulder, actually in the same place kind of sharing, not just through the digital realm.
The things it doesn’t suggest:
I feel like this is going to be an issue with many of the newer forms of social media. While blogging and wikis are all about content, it seems things are getting terser and terser, leaving less room for people to think about and contribute.
I don’t know how I feel about trunk.ly, but the nice thing about it is how it gets out of your way and just sucks things in from the other feeds. It affords you the luxury of not having your cognitive load added to while it does its thing. That’s worth something I guess. Enough that I’m not shutting down my account.
Hashtags (#hashtags) are a way to label, collocate and provide meta-commentary for online communication.
Closely related to the idea of tagging in general they were originally conceived of in 2007 by Chris Messina. Hashtags have primarily spread through Twitter where with the 140 character limit, space for organization is at a premium. Using the # symbol smashed into the tags without spaces makes hashtags uniquely searchable.
Since Twitter integrated their function to make them clickable they’ve become an excellent way to bring together tweets from many different users about a subject. By 2011 many conferences (including ALA’s events) have quasi-official backchannels set up through hashtags, like #ala11. Through the use of this ungrammatical tagging (with its roots in irc channels) a person doesn’t have to follow everyone at a conference to get an idea of what’s going on. A saved search for a hashtag covers much more ground, and can be easily abandoned when the event is over.
Hashtags are also good for more ad-hoc tweetable events like #libchat, as well as a means to participate in memetic trends (such as Charlie Sheen’s #winning earlier in 2011). Being a relative of leetspeak the use of hashtags can also be an important internet in-group signifier.