One step beyond - using social media to engage with customers

We should encourage our users to participate and not just consume our services

Information Professional of the Year, Hazel Hall, used her keynote speech at Internet Librarian International to encourage delegates to ‘get real' about social media.

Although librarians have been early adopters of social media there is so much more to do.  New tools are being developed every day but librarians must stay focused on the functionality of the tool rather than the tool itself.    

Hazel has conducted formal and ‘conversational' research into how librarians are using social media.  Libraries have proven themselves in using them as an additional platform for traditional information delivery - an extension of existing services.    Additionally social media tools are being used to support professional development and to conduct professional conversations with each other.  Additionally the tools are being used to raise personal proiles.

Social media is just another form of technology and experience tells us that the functionality of technology is in the eye of the beholder.  Take for example Wikipedia.  If we were asked to describe Wikipedia, most of us would say ‘it's an online encyclopaedia'.  In fact, it is used for so much more than this - to broadcast breaking news for example.  A corporate intranet is another example of a tool that might perform a number of functions depending on who is engaging with it.  Very many new technologies take on a variety of roles depending on who is using them.

The tools are already being used for marketing and PR purposes.  There are excellent examples of training modules on YouTube.  But the next key step in maximising social media is to focus on engaging collaboratively with our users rather than on pure ‘stewardship'. 

Examples might include the development of a user generated wiki or using crowdsourcing techniques to generate a blog name (as the new Cilip president  Annie Mauger has done).   Our users want to participate, not just consume. 

The biggest risk of using social media is not that of ruining organisational reputations (although Hazel recommends we are clear about our online identities) but missing the boat when it comes to user engagement.  

You can follow Hazel on Twitter at HazelH.