For my last post, I’d like to discuss some library-friendly alternatives to ROI. We know that a social media strategy, when executed correctly, can be beneficial to a library, but we also know that measuring the success of that strategy may be difficult. If we eschew the more traditional focus on financial outcomes—profits and losses—what other measurements are still available to us? In other words: how do we, as librarians, know whether our social media strategy is working… or whether we should abandon it?
Recall that my first post on this blog discussed the disappointing results of a study which examined users’ interactions with their libraries on Facebook. That study was especially useful because it did not try to measure some secondary value derived from social media use, e.g. “How many more people are using the library’s services as a result of our presence on Facebook?” This, as we’ve learned, is frustratingly difficult to do, so a more reasonable approach may be to look at both the quantity and quality of the interactions on the social networking platforms themselves. If patrons are taking the opportunity to connect with libraries on social media—if they are engaged and interested in the services that their libraries provide, if they have ideas and feedback and questions—then perhaps the experiment can be considered a success. The benefits may not be immediately measurable, but remember, that’s often the case with social media, and user engagement is worth cultivating for its own sake.
Darlene Fichter and Jeff Wisniewski agree:
If your library has a blog, you can look at quantitative measures like site traffic and number of comments, but equally important are the qualitative measures such as the tone of the conversation and the degree to which readers and commenters are engaged… The reality is that quantitative measures can only tell a small part of the social media story and that qualitative measures are very important. Used together, they can help us answer the “what,” “so what,” and “why” questions that will help librarians chart their courses.
It is also possible to develop fairly sophisticated methods to analyze effects on reputation and the library’s “brand,” as discussed by Romero (2011, pp. 146-147):
The analysis we use to measure ROI can follow these lines:
- The consumption by previous users can be compared with that of current arrivals on the network.
- Comparisons can be made between the behavior of a user prior to following us on social media and after doing so.
- The extent to which the success of our new developments, events etc. has improved after being communicated in social networks can be measured.
- The influence of brand perception on users’ consumption and that extent to which the new media have changed this perception can be measured.
Note that this analysis makes no mention of financial outcomes.
Romero (p. 148) also reminds us of another benefit to social media which cannot be easily quantified: that of its “bi-directionality.” Libraries, according to Romero, should not only attempt to measure how many people are listening, but should also engage in some listening themselves in order to understand how they are perceived and how they can better serve their communities. The benefits of this approach should be clear, as user feedback is always of crucial importance. And if libraries are able to take this feedback into account when determining their long-term goals and strategy, the resources they’ve invested have already paid off (figuratively if not literally).
In conclusion: there’s no need for corporate fear! Libraries do not need to transform themselves into for-profit organizations in order to effectively use social media, and rejecting it altogether is like “refusing to have a telephone or a meeting room” (Romero, p. 148). In other words, the spaces exist, whether we use them or not; the conversations are happening, whether we join in or not. Why separate ourselves from the communities we serve, when we could start a dialogue instead?