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Discovery & User Experience

Social Is As Social Does: What Libraries Can Learn from Cory Booker and Ben & Jerry’s

While DUX is not directly responsible for the Libraries’ social media presence (primarily Twitter and Facebook at this point), social media content is still content and as the Web Content Specialist, I definitely have some thoughts about it. I see a lot of libraries and other organizations trying to negotiate the brave new world of social media, and I see quite a few of them floundering. It’s useful to look at some organizations and even commercial brands that are using these channels effectively and try to learn from what they are doing.

I feel strongly that social media is, at its best, a conversation. Not a place to stick up a billboard and hope somebody happens to drive past and see it, but a way to actively engage your customers (patrons), learn more about them, find out what they want and need, and yes, share information with them. There are two huge requirements that must be met in order to do this:

  • You have to connect with your customers and engage them somehow (if they don’t know you’re there, there’s no point).
  • You have to find out what they want and need from you.

In some ways, this is not so different from what we do at the reference desk. We have to let people know that we’re here and give them some idea what kind of services we can offer them, and then when they show up, we have to find out what they want and need (which often involves helping them figure out what they really want and need). We have to offer this service in a way that is consistent with the mission of the Libraries, and that maintains the character and type of service that our customers expect from us – not too casual, not too stuffy, but “just right” for their needs.

I had a fun experience on Twitter on Valentine’s night with a couple of “brands” that seem to me to be negotiating these aspects of social media particularly well. I follow Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, NJ, and watch him as he interacts with his constituents on a daily basis. He responds to questions and requests, fields complaints good-naturedly, and exhibits a great sense of humor without ever belittling the people who ask him questions. On the evening of Valentine’s Day, I noticed the following tweet (in this embed you will also see the tweet to which Booker was responding):

I had two responses to this in my head. One was “That’s really cute and funny” and the other was “wait, Ben & Jerry’s has a Twitter account! I love Ben & Jerry’s!” What did their social media person do right, here? First of all, they tweeted at Cory Booker – a high-profile tweeter with lots of followers and a strong history of interaction. They knew that he was likely to respond to a friendly, cute tweet, and that his thousands of followers (over 1.3 million at last count!) would see the response and perhaps investigate. Notice that Booker’s tweet was retweeted 39 times and favorited 54 times. That indicates that people were paying attention.

My next response? Well, I’m also pretty highly interactive on Twitter, and I do love me some ice cream, so I fired off a humorous tweet of my own:

Within moments, I had a response:


So what’s happening here? Ben & Jerry’s didn’t sell me anything directly. They didn’t advertise at me. They gave me a cute, humorous, quick, and very personalized response that, I’ll admit it, made me feel kind of special for a second. And yes, they put a smile on my face, and I immediately followed their Twitter account.

Does that translate into ice cream sales? Well, not immediately, no. I didn’t put on my shoes and run out to the grocery store or anything. But it made me think “I love Ben & Jerry’s! They’re so cool!” By following their Twitter account, I’ve given them the opportunity to send additional messages my way, in a way that is completely opt-in on my part – unlike traditional advertising.

And, by including a unique hashtag (#lovebenandjerrys), they’ve made it possible to track all their tweets throughout this campaign, as well as other tweets that quote or reference their campaign. Yes, “campaign” – they were on it all evening, tweeting and responding to people right and left, with a large number of graphics at the ready so that they weren’t just firing out the exact same tweet at everyone. You can tell it was an actual human being, not a bot, because they were responding to others’ tweets and their responses were completely contextual and relevant to what people were tweeting at them, and often included the first name of the person they were responding to.

In short, it was indeed an advertising campaign – one that stemmed directly from Ben & Jerry’s intention to position their brand as friendly, fun, sweet, a little flirtatious. Which is exactly what you want your ice cream to be, right? A funeral home would not have had good success with a similar campaign. A funeral home tweeting at me would probably creep me right out. (I can imagine a good use for Twitter for funeral homes – they could tweet out links to information about upcoming services and online condolence books – but they’d have to be really, really careful about following people, and probably only follow people who’d followed them first. Because ewww, creepy.)

So what lessons can a library draw from this? Like any publicity or outreach campaign, it’s important for the library to define the message it wants to convey and design its campaign to convey this message consistently. This message should be consistent with the mission of the library and with the “personality” that it wants to convey. I would venture to say that this personality should be welcoming, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and helpful.

Like Ben & Jerry’s, a library should be eager to reach out to its customers and potential customers, but not obnoxiously so; Ben & Jerry’s didn’t tweet me out of the blue, but when I showed an interest in their brand, they quickly capitalized on that interest. An academic library probably shouldn’t jump in and tweet at every student or faculty member it can identify, but it should pay attention to that community and jump in when it might be helpful to do so. Just like a librarian walking around the stacks, you don’t want to interrupt everybody and ask if they’re finding what they need, but if somebody looks lost, then you can do a lot of good by offering to help.

Also like the librarian walking around the stacks, you want to be easily findable and recognizable. For the librarian, this might mean walking around frequently and wearing a badge. For Ben & Jerry’s, this meant tweeting at Cory Booker. For the library’s Twitter account, this might mean following other university or community entities and interacting with them in such a way as to be visible to potential followers. The football team’s Twitter account posts the time of the upcoming major rivalry? Maybe the library offers a link to a web page featuring archives of news items about past games against the rival. The main account for the university tweets “good luck with your finals”? Perhaps the library piggybacks on that with information about extended hours and study carrels.

So what can libraries learn from Ben & Jerry’s?

  • Figure out where your potential customers might be lurking. Ben & Jerry’s made a very good call when they tweeted to Cory Booker, who has well over a million followers, many of whom like him because of his sense of humor and his high level of interactivity. Libraries can figure out who the Twitter leaders are in their own community, and interact with them.
  • Once you find your customers, listen to them! Give them what they want, even if they didn’t know they wanted it (I didn’t know I wanted to follow Ben & Jerry’s on Twitter, but apparently I did). Don’t just make announcements at them – engage with them. But don’t be creepy in the process.
  • Be respectful of your customers’ attention once you have it. Make them smile. Don’t give them a bunch of irrelevant information (I once unfollowed a local restaurant, even though I love that particular restaurant, because they were sending out dozens of tweets every day with nothing but silly jokes). Give them something they want, and then mostly get out of their way.

Have you had great interactions on Twitter that have led to an increased sense of brand loyalty, or that have told you something about a company or an organization that you didn’t already know about them? What’s the difference between being tweeted at by a commercial brand, and being spammed by them? Have you had good or awful experiences interacting with libraries via this medium? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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