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David Lee King

The Social Web and Libraries: Listening to your Community



Many of us work on listening to our user communities. In the library world, we listen at the reference desk and the circ desk. We hear about the library when we’re at the grocery store (and get asked questions, too :-) and at the local board meeting.

But how do you listen to your local digital community? How do you hear what your online customers are doing / saying / liking / or not liking about your library? Here are some possibilities, from the late 1990s – early 2000s. We’ll call these …

Traditional Listening Tools:

  • email: providing an email link and/or an email address on each page of the site, usually in the footer
  • An Ask Us page – can go to email, can also be the ask a librarian service point
  • a digital comment box (this was fancy back then!)

I’m calling them “traditional listening tools” because there are many more interesting ways to listen now. Check these out …

Shiny New Listening Tools:

  • Google Alerts – finds blog posts, newspaper articles, local media mentions, etc.
  • Technorati alerts – finds blog posts about you
  • Twitter searches (was Summize) – captures twitter conversations (more on Summize/twitter search in the next post)
  • Youtube alerts – do a search, then subscribe to the corresponding RSS feed.
  • Flickr alerts – subscribe to a tag related to your library
  • Subscribe to local blogs and local twitter feeds. This captures conversation in your community, by your patrons.

When you listen using both the Traditional Listening Tools and the Shiny New Listening Tools, you hear very different things. Traditional Listening Tools pick up specific conversation that is purposefully directed at you – via email. Someone has a question or comment, and sends that comment to you.

Shiny New Listening Tools help you discover actual conversations taking place. Those conversations are not necessarily directed at you – but they can certainly be about you. Listening in on Twitter, for example, might find things like this: “The comics section at the Seattle Public Library is f**king STUNNING.” (actual tweet from today). And this type of tweet is a golden opportunity to START a conversation. Let’s pretend this comment happened at the reference desk for a sec – how would you reply? Possibly with something like: “gee, thanks.” That’s a polite response… some of us would probably go one further, and say something like this: “Cool – thanks! So… WHY do you like it? How could we improve it?” This type of response continues a conversation, and pulls out useful info in the process.

DO THAT SAME THING IN YOUR SHINY NEW DIGITAL SETTING.

Again, more on that in my next post… but you get the idea. When you’re eavesdropping on conversations, you have the opportunity to chime in – correct wrong info, add to conversations about the library, and generally help humanize your digital branch by “talking back.”

Wow David – That Sounds Time-Consuming!

Does all this listening take a long time? No – not really. The set-up (doing the searches and subscribing to the feeds) takes the longest amount of time. But once your feeds are set up, it really doesn’t take much time to quickly scan through the results, looking quickly for questions, praises, suggestions, and conversation.

Start participating with those customers using your digital branch. If you do this fully, your listening experience can be transformed from one of eavesdropping to what amounts to a shiny new service point for your library. One that’s called Community Manager in the corporate world.

Your customers are already talking – are you listening?

photo: http://flickr.com/photos/practicalowl/433659667/

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