We have all been indoctrinated in the importance of incorporating social media in our libraries’ outreach/marketing strategies, to the point one almost has to explain by way of apology if their library isn’t on social media. I am wondering, however, where is the evidence? How do we know, first, that social media has any effect on our institutional bottom line other than from social media supporters connecting dots (e.g., surveys indicating social media use, and references to other supporters) and saying, “of course it does!” Where’s the data?
I am still exploring, so help me out if you actually have the evidence documented somewhere (e.g., an article or data set?). But mind you, we are talking about libraries, and library-like institutions here, not commercial operations for which the conversion metrics of Google Analytics (or others) nicely work. Because hopefully we already know that libraries don’t so nicely fit that commercial model. Also, considering the sources used to justify the swooning over social media, the percentage of a national or global community’s use of social media does not necessarily translate to a library’s base (i.e., the community that pays for and uses it).
Focusing just on the U.S., because I work in a region within the U.S., I did find an interesting data set about what libraries are doing with social media and how they are handling it: http://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/libraries_data/1/ (with a shoutout to the authors/librarians involved who evidently believe in open data and data sharing!). It’s an appropriately complex set of data, but a quick scan through the survey, especially the write in responses, indicates social media integration is pretty hodgepodge, as if validating a feeling of distrust (as in, “what it this really going to do for us?”)
Doing a cursory literature search (limited to the last few years because this is such a quickly changing landscape), I came across one helpful article: Marketing Finding Aids on Social Media: What Worked and What Didn’t Work (http://americanarchivist.org/doi/10.17723/0360-9081.78.2.488), in which a research team selected ten social media sites to promote content, using email lists as well, and tracked and evaluated the click-throughs using Google Analytics. Although it presumes that social media marketing is needed (and I don’t dispute that position), they actually have the data to prove (1) its effectiveness, and (2) which ones give the best results. Why can’t we have more like this?
Why can’t we have less “jump on the bandwagon” programs and courses and classes, and more instruction on assessment of need and measurement of impact? How about classes that teach what data can be gathered, how to gather it, and how to use it? Because maybe we should distrust social media’s usefulness. What is it going to do for us? Is there really a social media ROI for library-type institutions?