The 3 Most Common Social Media Challenges for Libraries and How to Overcome Them

Library books with social media icons on the covers

Not enough time to post on social media? Unsure of who to delegate your social media tasks to at your library? Don't worry, you're far from alone — and we have the data to prove it.

In a collaborative survey done by WebJunction and TechSoup (see infographic below), we surveyed over 400 libraries to try and get a better understanding of how they are currently using social media — and some of the biggest challenges they face.

The final survey results revealed that the three most popular platforms were Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. No surprise there. However less than half of the libraries were posting on these platforms multiple times per week.

Top Social Media Challenges for Libraries

In a time-strapped and resource-strapped industry, many libraries saw recurring challenges that didn't prove that the effort was really worth it. However, when done correctly and consistently, social media can be a truly powerful tool for cultivating a community.

In this post, we break down the top three challenges and offer a few solutions to make social media efforts more fruitful. We also include links to some useful tools that will help streamline your efforts.

Challenge #1: Growing Your Social Audience

One survey responder shared, "We plan to add LinkedIn as soon as we can. We have moved away from Goodreads and Tumblr due to low engagement and use Instagram stories instead of Snapchat."

Oftentimes libraries will post, and they will see little to no response. Or if they do see responses, they won't have time to stay focused on growing their audiences.

Solution: Trial and Error

Social media is all about trial and error. However, we recommend that, before you give up on a platform entirely, you give it a few months of consistent posting before you determine what's working and what's not working.

In the words of Tolstoy, "The two most powerful warriors are patience and time." The same applies to social media.

When it comes to growing your audience and getting them to engage, it's important to remember key statistics, too. Videos perform better than pictures. Pictures perform better than just text. There is data that shows that video on Facebook and Facebook Live performs extremely well. So the next time you have a reading at your library, why not live-stream the event on Facebook or do an Instagram story? This will likely catch the attention of your patrons more than just plain text or even an image.

Ask yourself honestly, if you saw this Facebook post, would you respond to it? If the answer is no, then don't post it. Try and think of content that you know will be engaging. Look around at some of your favorite social media pages, think about why their content is interesting, and try to apply the same approach. Use videos and images and have fun with the content you're posting. Your audience will definitely take notice.

Also, if you have budget, you can run a few paid ads or try promoting one of your high-performing posts to give it a little extra boost. Or another great way to increase followers is by doing some sort of giveaway; just be sure to follow any necessary legal guidelines. You can also try things like "Caption of the Week" where you post a photo and your followers have to put a caption to the image.

Engaging activities like this will help organically grow your users and keep existing users engaged.

Useful video and image tools: Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, Canva

Challenge #2: Not Enough Time and Resources

"We're a small, rural library with only three full-time employees, so our social media time is limited," stated one survey participant.

The second largest challenge that libraries face is lack of time to spend on social media. Our survey found that 81 percent of libraries spend 10 hours or less on social media each week. We suspect that this is due to having a small staff or a lack of understanding of how to do social media marketing efficiently.

So how can libraries optimize the little time they do have to spend on social media?

Solution: Schedule Posts in Advance

When you're working within social media platforms, logging into several different accounts two or three times a day is extremely inefficient — and truthfully, probably unlikely to happen. By using a social media scheduling tool like Hootsuite or CoSchedule, you can set up all of your posts at once and have them drip out over the week so you don't have to log in and post every single day.

Once you do this, you can just spend a few minutes each day responding to any comments or questions that people may have once your post auto-publishes. Also, try and spend a few extra minutes writing posts that are relevant anytime you post so that if you skip a week, you have enough content to get you through busy times.

Not sure how many posts to write for each platform? Check out this helpful post by the popular tool CoSchedule that advises you on how often and exactly what time to post on each platform.

If you're unsure of who should be in charge of this task, it's not uncommon to ask a few trusted librarians to help with copywriting, responding to questions, and keeping an eye on notifications. Just make sure there is dedicated time to write copy and schedule posts for the week.

Useful scheduling tools: Hootsuite, CoSchedule, Buffer, Lightful

Challenge #3: Measuring Your Social Media Efforts

"Facebook is our most popular social media platform. We have 14,106 fans and we budget $600 a month for targeted Facebook ads. We use Facebook advertising instead of newspaper advertising," reported another survey participant.

According to our survey, the third most common challenge for libraries is knowing if their social media efforts are even worth it. So how do you measure the effectiveness of your campaigns?

Solution: Set Goals and Work Backwards

The best thing to do is set your goals in advance for each month. For example, New York Public Libraries has some of the most successful social media campaigns. They set goals such as brand awareness, increased traffic, and creating community. Having your goals in mind helps you determine which platforms will help you achieve success and what types of campaigns you need to create.

Some common metrics that libraries may want to monitor are things like

  • Increase in followers
  • Engagement with posts: reach, comments, likes, retweets, hearts
  • Traffic to the library website

Once you feel confident in these metrics, you can try moving on to bigger goals, such as

  • Increase in library card sign-ups
  • Attendance of library-related events

We recommend keeping an Excel spreadsheet of these metrics to see how your campaigns are growing or not growing. Try introducing fun new ideas to your social media such as

  • Reader of the Month
  • Book clubs using Facebook Events
  • Quotes by popular authors, with images
  • Announcements of when popular new books arrive, with pictures of the books

Useful measurement tools: Google Analytics, Facebook Audience Insights, Hootsuite

The Final Results of the WebJunction and TechSoup Survey

Click here to view a larger version of the infographic.

Libraries and Social Media - Social media plays an important role for libraries to update their patrons, promote events, and highlight upcoming collections. It has the potential to increase community engagement with new and existing library patrons. TechSoup and Web Junction collaborated here to provide a snapshot of how 486 libraries connect with their patrons on social media. Infographic sections: Organization Types Surveyed, Hours Spent per Week on Social Media, Social Media Followers, Frequency of Social Media Posts, What Libraries Use Social Media For, Libraries' Biggest Social Media Cahllenges

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