As a manager, how can I support our library staff who use social media on our behalf?

As usual I've been slack at updating this blog. Because life is what happens when you're busy making other plans :/ The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right, and I bet most of them are mine. So here I am with an offering of sorts after having been absent for so long. An offering that will, hopefully, be useful to somebody. I am not an expert on social media in libraries. I don't consider myself an expert in much of anything except eating chocolate, and Jensen Ackles. (And if I imagine the two together that's nobody's business but mine and the interwebs). And none of what I talk about here is a one size fits all thing. So if you're okay with that, let's rock on with our bad selves.

Something that crops up quite a bit in my inbox, whether it's from people working with social media in libraries or from the people who manage them, is "What kind of support should I be asking for from management?" and "How can I support our staff?" I decided to queue this query up next because I think it needs to be highlighted.

Query: As a manager, how can I support our library staff who use social media on our behalf?
Short answer: Stop cockblocking your staff.

More thoughtful answer: You've put people in charge of your social media streams. For a reason, one would expect. Hopefully, the right reasons. And by that I do not mean "Because all the kewl kids are doing it and so should we." That's the worst reason of all. I'm hoping it's because you truly want to engage with the people who use your library services wherever they are. I'm also hoping it means that it's because you want to take that feedback and use it to shape your services so that they're more relevant to the people who use them. Thereby making YOU more relevant. I try to narrow everything down to three things. Someone once told me "If you have to get your point across in more than three moves, you lose." Here's how I believe you can best support the people in your library who use social media on behalf of the organisation:
  1. Give them your trust - Wholeheartedly. Either they have your trust or they don't. Remember that they are - very probably - the ones who use social media on a daily basis which means that they may know a little more than you do. (I'm being polite here, because chances are they DO know more than you do, so let them get on with getting on). Don't impose restrictions such as how many times a day/week they can post, or who they should follow/like/engage with. And whatever you do, don't tell them you're watching them to see if they make a mistake so you can reign them back in or, worse, close your social media streams altogether. Nobody works well when they're waiting for the other shoe to drop. You don't - so why would they? And please, god, allow them to give your streams some kind of personality. Your customers are 'real people,' and so are your staff. Your streams should always reflect that. Allow them to take chances/risks. Don't, for crying out loud, lock down your walls/posts from comments. If you're not being 'social' in social media, then why be there? Allow them to have opinions, and thoughts. Let them be controversial. (There's a huge difference between being controversial and offensive). Let them talk about the stuff that others won't touch. Support them in actively seeking feedback - don't put limits on this. And when they do come to you with feedback, USE IT.
  2. Give them dedicated time - Don't be that guy who blithely expects your staff to be able to do this on top of their usual job. They can't do it properly if you don't give them at least that much recognition. You set them up to fail otherwise. Ensure that they have all the resources and tools that they need to be the best at what they do. If they're working at home, and using tools there that they don't have access to at work, change that. Change your work guidelines/policies so they're not feeling like they have to work against you to get what they need. (Library staff are good at being subversive but, really, we wouldn't have to be if the systems and processes set up in place to help us get our job done actually did just that). Don't make them feel guilty for being online. Not ever. Allow your staff time to play, and develop, and explore in those spaces. More often than not, it's not a 9am-5pm job, so give them some leeway in terms of how and when they work. If they're fielding your streams in the weekend, give them that time off during the week in the way of longer lunch breaks, later starts, etc. Sure, queueing helps a lot, but (and every time I say this people laugh at me) there still needs to be a sense of spontaneity. And fun. Encourage your staff to read as widely as they can about social media. Nine times out of ten I find the professional development I need in reading a number of blogs, and websites, and by having lots of discussions with people on Twitter. It is legitimate work. Urge them to connect with other library people - locally, nationally and internationally - to share ideas and discussion.
  3. Get out of their way


  1. As a manager, I fully concur. I have two eager beavers, half of the average age of the rest of us, that have taken on our social media roles, so it is good to get this reminder, as I have had whispers from staff, hinting that they always seem to be on FB/Twitter...I then ask if they would like to take over the role ;) I'm sending this to our Library Managers' list...

  2. Hi de hi! My apologies for the VERY tardy response :/ Sounds like you guys are doing good work. And yes, the whispers are common about people a lot like myself. I'm often told "You get paid to play on Facebook all day?" *sigh* I love when my job is reduced to this. It makes me somewhat grumpy because I don't assume that librarians are all 'checkout operators.' There's a heck of a lot more that goes into what they do. And there's a heck of a lot more that goes into what I do, and what your staff do. If they - or you - ever need someone to bounce ideas off of, or ask for ideas/advice, I'm more than happy to help out where needed. You can find me on Twitter - @catatonichic - or here on the blog, or by email:


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