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Finding Your Social Media Voice

Social Media Voice Panel

(L-R) Kirsten Mentzer, Meghan Kowalski, Alex Zealand, Lennea Bower

This session was a conversation among the panelists:

  • Kirsten Mentzer, Technology Specialist, Northern Virginia Community College,
  • Meghan Kowalski, Head, Preservation, Catholic University of America,
  • Alex Zealand, Web Editor and New Media Developer, Arlington Public Library, and
  • Lennea Bower, Manager, Virtual Services, Montgomery County, MD Public Libraries.

If you are trying to figure out how to develop your social voice, where do you start? Determine your social media environment. Is there a policy in place or do you have to create one? What is the political climate in your town? Who do you answer to? Who is paying attention? Who will contribute? Survey all these things before you start.

Step away from the purely announcement mode and develop a personality. Know where you want to go. The stage where your accounts are has an effect on your social voice. It is good to have a vision of what you want to be in the library. Be engaging as contrasted to strictly informational. Everyone has a different case study, different environment, so what works for you today won’t work the same as next year. Constantly evaluate what you are doing. The way you do something probably won’t be what you expected.

How do you develop your voice? What does it say about you? What do you want it to say? Ask these basic questions as you look at your social media accounts. You can adapt your voice over time; determine how professional or casual you want it to be. Sometimes your users dictate what voice you want. A casual upbeat voice will attract undergraduates; graduate students tend to be more professional. Sometimes the platform dictates how you speak to users; Facebook is different from Twitter or Instagram, for example. If the library were a human being, how would it treat its users? Let your voice show its affection for users; the library loves its patrons and wants them to love it. Be respectful, kind, polite, and loving. Have a voice book for your social media platforms.

How many accounts and channels do you have? Match your platform and message, and tailor your voice to the channel. Twitter limits how much information you can discuss because of its 140 character limit; Instagram allows you to put up as much as you want. How you say something is governed by how you can use a platform. How many platforms do you need to be on, and how much time will you have to maintain them? There is a learning curve for people who don’t use social media. Think about what you can use and which platform does things well; many tools are available, and you can customize them for your use.

How many contributors do you have? Can other people use the site without you needing to spend a lot of time coaching them? If staff members tweet professionally, you can re-tweet them or create separate professional accounts for them. Try to get one librarian in each branch or each department to use social media so that you can have news from across the system which can be put on the main channel.

What is the sustainability of your voice? Who will take over the social media when you are no longer there? Will they take on your voice or create their own? If somebody is going away, make sure their voice is covered. Can you keep their voice going? Make sure your vocabulary and brand are consistent.

Social media environment. Know what is going on with:

  • Politics: local, national, internal
  • The activity level of your users: engagement vs. lurking
  • Who are you talking to?
  • Current trends, memes, and hashtags.

We are getting more scrutiny from the public because of the many changes taking place, which is strongly affecting us. Don’t use hashtags that can be easily searched on Twitter, and don’t use them unless your users are. Remember that this your social media voice, not your personal voice. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to remain neutral and unbiased, which can be difficult to do when you are passionate about something. You may feel like you are putting things out into the void, but there are usually many lurkers which you cannot see. Consider if this is the moment for something to be discussed. Know what a hashtag means before you tweet about it; you can put your foot in your mouth if you don’t know what you are tweeting about

If you have a team, you must ask if your organization will allow you to use personal account. You don’t want to invite trolls into your staff’s personal space; some people don’t want to have anything to do with work outside of the office.


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