I spent some time working for Global Voices, and about five years ago alarm bells went off throughout the group over social media becoming too walled off and segmented. It was a perilous thought for an organization bent on reporting how cyberspace reacts to the world's events.
This was early in the Twitter explosion, and the fear subsided as everyone moved from more closed social platforms to place their content in the public eye. The fear of ghettoizing social spaces is back -- although in a tangential way. Which only means we must be entering another phase of technical and media change.
A few anecdotal reports have appeared claiming hoards are moving off Facebook and gravitating towards other platforms. These reports come in a few flavors: They either complain the ubiquitous platform bores them because all the elderly people inhabiting space on on Facebook, or it's bad because it's too addictive.
The real change
These anecdotes seem more smoke than fire. Marketers have pointed out there is, in fact, a move afoot. But It's more subtle than people leap-frogging to other social media platforms. A study in MediaPost shows a majority of shoppers have transitioned from viewing retail sites on their computers to spending a majority of their shopping time on mobile devices. (However, the study doesn't seem to investigate money spent by device.)
This proves that those who'd like to attract eyeballs must have a tight social media strategy, says Mitch Joel, author and marketer. As you'd guess, many companies remain behind the curve when it comes to greeting customers on a mobile framework. "In short, the vast majority of brands are still, sadly, tinkering away at very traditional e-commerce websites that are cumbersome and already out of date," Joel wrote recently in his blog.
For libraries, the future seems even more dire. From Joel's verdict, you could take away the terms "traditional e-commerce website" and replace it with traditional Library websites, many of which exist solely to provide simple information (hours, etc.) or as a weak link to other services. But the engagement gap goes deeper than that. A recent study showed that many of the libraries at the world's top universities don't have a plan for linking reference services with platforms like Facebook and Twitter. While many staffs have someone who posts on social media within the previous 24 hours, a few libraries will wait at least a week between updating Facebook.
“We have come to the realization that it [Facebook] works well as a marketing tool, but it requires regular and frequent updating…to keep it fresh and interesting,” one respondent commented.
The problem is Facebook and Twitter aren't the only answers. The study, written by two Librarians from the University of Western Australia in Perth, just seems to show underlying tendencies of the difficulty libraries are having keeping up with information technology. The world doesn't need another Facebook page or Twitter account. It needs solid content, says the Retail Prohet. As Joel and others have pointed out, organizations today need to create fully integrated content to be successful -- think of messages percolating throughout an entire system of websites, signs, blogs, media platforms, mobile devices, etc. Most importantly, the organizations must "leverage the inherent value of each channel...that amplifies an idea or benefit and moves people along their decision journey. "
The Topeka-based Librarian David Lee King shared slides from a recent talk he gave on Creating Customer Experience, where one of his suggestions included to "improve touch points." He was most likely speaking of physical space, but he could be talking about anywhere people come into contact with the library -- virtually or physically.
For libraries -- and any other organization -- getting these touch points correct is going to remain difficult. In the virtual realm, you certainly can't be everywhere. But you need to know where your patrons congregate (another point by David Lee King). One reason the fall of Facebook can be prophesied is because people may be moving away from one-size-fits-all solutions, Librarian Brian Mathews argues. But not just in social media, he says, it's also in video platforms or graphics programs. Library staffs, already struggling to keep up with the networked culture, have one more thing to rush to figure out. As Global Voices staff worried, an atomized media environment makes communicating much more difficult.