Help Your Library Avoid Social Media Disaster

Let’s be honest. If a doctor makes a mistake – it’s a big deal.

If a social media marketer or librarian makes a mistake, more than likely, the sun will rise again tomorrow.

However, that doesn’t mean we should be careless.

My first job in journalism was at my college’s student newspaper. I started at the bottom as a news writer. My main responsibility was compiling the community calendar. I boiled down press releases and announcements from campus organizations to a couple of sentences.

All of the upcoming events were different — but the structure of the calendar listing was pretty much the same. Time, date, place, etc. Plus a headline. The closing line was almost always “open to the public.” I wrote a dozen or so of those for each edition of the paper.

Except one time, in one of the announcements, I forgot a very important letter in the word “public.” Yup. It was the L. Yup. I put the word “pubic” in the college newspaper. Yup. It made it to print. Yup. 10,000 copies were distributed across campus.

Yup. I was mortified.

Of course, no one died. (Even though I wanted to.) I learned from my mistake and spent four years at the paper, eventually becoming its editor-in-chief. And you can bet — I never wrote the word “public” without checking it twice.

Handy lesson. Especially now that I work for a public library and all…

Much like in journalism, when you make a mistake on social media — it’s out there for everyone to see. Mistakes will, at the very least, ding your creditability. As libraries, we pride ourselves as lovers and protectors of the written word. We’re not just the place you can find an answer — we’re the place you can find the right answer. We’re under more pressure to get it right. Rightfully so. With great power comes great responsibility.

So even though we’re not doctors, our reputation is on the line. Your social media channels represent your library. And you want to make sure they help your image in the community — not hurt it.

Here are eight rules to follow when representing your library on social media. Share these with anyone contributing to your library’s social media efforts.

1. Keep it classy
Write in a business casual style. Keep things professional and appropriate, but also have fun and be conversational.

Find the right tone for your social media posts. Go with business casual for your library posts.
Find the right tone for your social media posts. Go with business casual for your library posts.

2. Proof your work
Read over content for mistakes before you publish it. Check and re-check for spelling, grammatical, and factual errors. Ask a coworker to double check your work.

3. Vet your links
Review everything. Follow links before you share them. Carefully read all outside content in its entirety. Don’t trust a headline. Make sure the information is appropriate for your audience and in line with your organization’s mission. (Read that BuzzFeed list top to bottom. Don’t think just because 1-9 of a top 10 list is safe, that No. 10 doesn’t have a big, nasty f-bomb.)

 4. Avoid posting live
Unless you’re part of a planned live tweeting event — use a social media management system to schedule your content ahead of time. This will make the review process easier and help you catch mistakes before you can’t take them back. (Facebook, of course, has its own built-in, free scheduler for brand pages — and the free TweetDeck can help with Twitter. Or HootSuite Pro and SproutSocial offer souped-up versions for a monthly fee.)

5. Don’t steal
Never plagiarize. Include attributions and sources where necessary. Be mindful of copyrighted material including graphics and photos. For platforms such as Instagram — use a reposting tool like Iconsquare or Regram to give credit where credit is due if you’re sharing someone else’s Instagram post.

6. Be vigilant
Monitor user comments and brand mentions. (Another plug for SproutSocial here: It is great for this too. It displays all of your Facebook and Twitter comments as messages and allows you to check them off after you’ve responded to them or handled them as you see fit.) Be sure to answer questions in a timely fashion. Know who to contact at your library if you’re unsure of how to respond to a comment or question on social media.

7. Protect yourself
Keep all passwords and log-in information safe. Log out of your computer when you’re away. Change your passwords on a regular basis. Conduct an audit to see who has access to what channels. Not everyone needs the keys to the castle. (On Facebook, take advantage of the five different types of roles for people who manage pages: Admin, Editor, Moderator, Advertiser, Analyst. Facebook explains what each one means here.)

8. Remember who you are
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, if you’re using the same device for your personal account and library  account, take extra care not to confuse the two. You could get yourself in big trouble by sharing something you meant for only your friends to see and accidentally posting it to the library page. Check and double check. Don’t be like this poor person:

Make sure your personal tweets don't wind up on the company page!
Make sure your personal tweets don’t wind up on the library’s page!

Social media should be fun and exciting — it’s the only way to keep things lively and engaging. Just remember to use caution and play by the rules so nobody gets hurt!

Have you had a near disaster on your library’s social media accounts? What lessons did you learn? Tell me in the comments below!


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Learn more about the author.

Opinions are my own. This post does not necessarily reflect the views of my past or present employers.

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