Original at guardian.co.uk
Four years ago, Hornsey library became the centre of my working life after I moved to London. I had worked there for a few months when I met the assistant director Diana Edmonds, and we had a chat about social media.
At the time I had been involved in a few conversations about social tools but had never run an independent project, and I definitely didn’t have ambitions about becoming a consultant. I was forced to come from working on some great projects in Nigeria to Hornsey where I didn’t know anyone. I couldn’t work full time, and I was looking to find any sort of work I could really get my teeth into but manage flexibly, and on my own terms.
To start the ball rolling I gave a presentation about social media to the libraries team and it was met with the usual fears. At the time (and even now) the rest of the council was still unsure about it all, with social media sites blocked across the council’s IT network. But Diana decided to go for it and give me free hand to start a Twitter account for Haringey’s libraries. It was a leap of faith.
Being considerate about local authority budgets I did it on the cheap, only working on the project one day a week, and I didn’t waste much time on non-essentials.
I started the @haringeylibrary account. For the next two months I wrote all the tweets for the service. I had practically lived in a library during most of my teens, so it wasn’t difficult to take on the identity of one. I invested time in building up the follower numbers and developed content from chats with the librarians and the local “what’s on” booklet, and if there were any questions coming back, I just asked for an answer.
I didn’t worry too much about statistics or reporting because the assistant director was interested in and able to follow what I was doing. She did, however, set me a target of followers to achieve by the time I handed over the account.
After two months I spent some time touring the nine library branches, holding workshops demonstrating what I had been doing and how it had worked, and asking for ideas on how to take the account forward. All this was done to make the project more human but without too much intrusion into anyone’s working life, so all staff ended up feeling ownership of the project.
After another two months of running the Twitter account and providing training and guidance to staff members, I finally handed over the keys (or in this case, passwords) to the assistant director. By then she had a good idea of what Twitter was all about, and what it was for.
By the time I handed over the account I had built it up to about 2,000 followers, all locals and members of the target audience. We also had cards printed which were handed out in the libraries. Since then, the assistant director has left the department but the Twitter account is alive and well.
I hadn’t set out to defy set perceptions about how social media is supposed to work. I just trusted that I could teach the librarians to talk about the work they are doing directly to library users. It seemed simple enough to me – and maybe that’s why it is simple enough for the librarians too.
But there were some things I didn’t do. I didn’t introduce social media measurement to the librarians – and on the face of it they don’t need it, because the don’t need to justify spending. I personally believe there is no good way of expressing social engagement in metrics. And there are no big social media strategy documents. There is a strategy paper, which the council’s communications officers insisted on, but it’s buried with all the other unread strategies. There were also no extra hires.
What the library department is left with is a working Twitter account, the ability to use it, constant encouragement to talk about its work, and a team that knows how to engage with its local community.
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