Twitter tactics

How are libraries REALLY using Twitter? A project set out to analyse Canadian Research Libraries (CARL) use of Twitter.


Social media can be a powerful tool for promoting the library and its services as well as engaging users. Our research and the literature have shown that accounts are being used to promote library and institutional events, library services, institutional scholarly communication, and to engage users around current events, and research events. Therefore, even though libraries may be using the same social network, the purpose and ultimately the function of these accounts can be very different.

Much has been published advising libraries on how to effectively use Twitter. This advice seems to have been derived from a library’s or librarian’s experiences using Twitter. Several themes emerge from this literature.

Why are you using social media?

Social media requires an investment of time to initially set up the accounts and to maintain the accounts. Frequently accounts are be created and then left dormant or updated infrequently (Petit, 2011). This may be even more detrimental to the library’s reputation than not having an account since patrons may reach out and feel ignored (Burkhardt, 2010). Therefore, it is recommended that libraries create and follow a plan for the creation and maintenance of their social media presence (Jennings, 2012).

Who is Tweeting?

A fundamental aspect of a successful Twitter account is an authentic and engaging voice or personality (Jennings, 2012; Cadell, 2013). Libraries should aim to have consistent language and tone even if multiple individuals are tweeting.

What are you Tweeting? Are you listening?

Twitter can be used to promote library events and services, market library collections, link to articles and media that may be of interest to its patrons and engage patrons in a dialogue in order to solicit feedback and build a rapport (Burkhardt, 2010).

Social Media and Twitter, in particular, is not meant to be a one-way push of information (Sump-Crether, 2012). It is about listening to what users are saying to us or what they are saying to each other about the Library  (Bell, 2012).  It should be used to gather information (Sewell, 2014). This can involve following users and other appropriate organizations (Chu, 2013) and using keyword searching for indirect mentions (colloquially known as subtweeting). A library should use Twitter to build relationships and generate conversation between the library and its patrons (Sump-Crethar, 2012).

When are you Tweeting?

Twitter is often described as a firehose of information. Users rarely see every tweet from the individuals that they follow. In addition, while conversation can occur asynchronously, the most successful engagement occurs in a timely manner. Therefore, the conversation needs to be maintained and consistent in order to sustain the rapport (Burkhardt, 2010).

Our Project

There is relatively little research that looks beyond what libraries should be doing towards what they are actually doing. Our project is designed to systematically review how libraries are actually using Twitter.

In September 2012, we compiled a list of the Twitter accounts being managed by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) members. We then archived all published tweets and mentions of these accounts from 1 October, 2012 to 1 October, 2013 (a total of 52,106 tweets) in order to capture the range of events that occur over an academic year.

We created a coding system to categorise these tweets based on the content type and tone, and if the tweet is about the library (L), the organisation (O) (where the organisation would be the University or another department within the University) or something external (E). The type and tone of the tweets were coded as, scholarly communication or publications (C), an event (E), a non-informational, lighthearted or fun post (F), a personal interaction (P), a news item (N), a resource (R), or a service (S). Retweets (RT and MT) and mentions of the account by users were tallied separately.

Our presentation at Internet Librarian International will reveal the outcomes of our analysis and discuss what we view as the most effective and ineffective uses of Twitter that we observed. We also look forward to learning more about how your Library uses Twitter.

Angela Hamilton and Sarah Forbes work at the University of Toronto Scarborough Library.  Angela will be speaking in Session A202 - Meaningful Social Media.