A Quantitative Exploration of the
Effectiveness of Online
Social Networking as Marketing Practice
Among Academic Libraries
April 29, 2010
Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are quickly becoming the primary means for people, especially younger generations, to stay connected. Through these sites they stay informed about their friends, families, and happenings in their communities and elsewhere. The author’s own library, in acknowledging these emerging technologies, tasked him with the creation of both a Facebook Fan Page and Twitter account for the Visual Resources Center. To that end, the author investigated the creation and implementation of these informational outlets by examining how other libraries are utilizing these sites. The research questions for the study addressed the integration of links, multiplicity of links, connections to other interdepartmental sites and the quantity of posts over time. The author utilized Facebook as the primary resource. Fifty academic libraries were quasi-randomly selected. The author assessed the effectiveness of the sites as promotional tools by comparing library patron counts to the number of “fans” on each fan page.
Social networking sites, that in the past found their primary usage among end users, are now playing a larger role in the library. During the course of this study the author evaluated 50 university library Facebook pages on the following criteria: the multiplicity of links, the number of posts within each page, and the integration of various sites into the libraries’ marketing and promotional efforts. The number of Facebook fans for each of these pages was utilized to determine the percentage of the libraries’ patron counts that are using Facebook as a means of staying connected with their libraries.
The sources reviewed in this document illuminate the role of social networking sites in library marketing and promotion. The books and articles discussed below articulate the relevancy of the concept of “web” or “Library 2.0.”
In Information Literacy meets web 2.0, Godwin & Parker (2008) provide useful examples of how Web 2.0 is being used in libraries for many different activities.
Kroski’s (2008)Web 2.0 for librarians and information professionals, explores common issues for librarians considering the implementation of participative technologies. This included chapters on common Web 2.0 technologies such as Blogs and Wikis, as well as useful examples of how libraries have used these new technologies, and best practices.
The article, Library 2.0 Theory: Web 2.0 and Its Implications for Libraries, Maness (2006) discusses the implications of emerging technologies upon libraries and how they might “necessitate a new paradigm for librarianship.”
Bianco’s (2009) Social Networking and Cloud Computing: Precarious Affordances for the “Prosumer” provides an excellent review of the complexity of the end user’s integration into social networking and some of the risks involved that could be applicable to an institution utilizing these sites for their own marketing purposes.
In the article, Social Networking Strategies for Professionals (Breeding, 2009), the author discusses strategies for the specific use of Facebook and Twitter as marketing tools for libraries.
The purpose of this study is to discover effective strategies for the integration of social networking sites as marketing tools. This provides data for librarians who need information on how other libraries are utilizing these technologies and how successful these libraries have been in reaching their patron bases.
The questions that will be answered are:
-Is the use of social networking sites more effective if the library is utilizing multiple sites?
-Does greater multiplicity of links on these sites generate a higher fan count on Facebook fan pages?
-Does a greater average of “wall posts” generate a higher fan count?
One assumption is that if a library utilizes a variety of social networking sites it will be more effective at capturing the attention of patrons. Simply put, a library with a broader online presence generates more incentive for patrons to join a library’s profile within a given social networking service. Another assumption is that if a library’s Facebook fan page provides links to multiple departments within a library (i.e., blogs, departmental websites, or Twitter Feeds), then it will have a greater fan count on its Facebook fan page. A third assumption is that a fan page needs time to generate a reasonable fan count. A fourth assumption is that if a page is well integrated by providing links to multiple social networking sites and other departments within the institution it will have a greater percentage of its patron base represented by fans. A final assumption is that if a library’s Facebook fan page has a high number of regular “wall posts” it will have a higher number of patrons represented by fans on its page. These assumptions were supported by the data collected.
Changes from the Original Research Proposal
In the original research proposal the sampling pool included public libraries as well as academic libraries. Identifying patron counts for public libraries presented a significant challenge, due to the time constraints of this study, the research proposal was modified to focus only on academic libraries. The academic libraries’ patrons were easily identified by looking up annual enrollment numbers on each respective institution’s website.
This shift in focus provided the opportunity for additional data collection regarding the number of “wall posts” and the monthly average of posts on each academic library’s Facebook fan page. The additional data collected resulted in the discovery of an unexpected correlation between the monthly post average and the participating patron percentages. Finally the original subject pool of 100 was reduced to 50 due to the volume of data being collected for each subject.
Definitions (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009)
Web 2.0 – the next envisioned iteration of the World Wide Web, in which the 2.0 appellation is used in analogy with common software naming conventions to indicate a new, improved version.
Social Network – an online community of individuals who exchange messages, share information, and, in some cases, cooperate in joint activities.
MySpace is a free advertising-supported service that allows users to create Web “profile” pages that feature photographs, express their interests, and, most importantly, link to other people’s profiles.
Facebook – American company offering online social networking services. Facebook was founded as a social networking Web site in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes, all of whom were students at Harvard University. Membership was initially limited to Harvard students but gradually expanded to include all college students, high school students, and, eventually, anyone past age 13. The site generates revenue through advertising.
Twitter – online service for distributing short messages among groups of recipients via personal computer or mobile telephone. Twitter incorporates aspects of social networking Web sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, with instant-messaging technologies to create networks of users who can communicate throughout the day with brief messages, or “tweets.”
Blog – in full Web log or Weblog . Online journal where an individual, group, or corporation presents a record of activities, thoughts, or beliefs. Some blogs operate mainly as news filters, collecting various online sources and adding short comments and Internet links. Other blogs concentrate on presenting original material. In addition, many blogs provide a forum to allow visitors to leave comments and interact with the publisher. “To blog” is the act of composing material for a blog. Materials are largely written, but pictures, audio, and videos are important elements of many blogs. The “blogosphere” is the online universe of blogs.
The sampling element was a Facebook fan page or Facebook profile that represents a library. Using the singe-field search tool within the Facebook social network a simple search was conducted using the search term “college library.” This generated a list of quasi-random results from which the researcher chose the first 50 results that represented libraries.
Data on each library’s degree of social networking usage collected from Facebook fan pages and respective institutional websites is organized into an Excel chart. This states the library’s name (each name is also a hyperlink to the respective fan page), number of fans, date the fan page was created, number of library patrons, number of links to other social networking sites (i.e., MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs), and the number of links to departments within the subject library. Finally, the number of “wall posts” was recorded; both the total number of posts and the monthly average of posts.
The quantitative method was used to analyze the data. The number of Facebook fans, library patrons, links, and social networking sites, interdepartmental links, and wall posts were counted and the percentage of patrons represented by the number of Facebook Fans are represented graphically with correlations between number of interdepartmental links and social networking sites. A graph demonstrates the average patron percentage as it correlates with how long the fan page has been published.
In February of 2004 “Mark Zuckerberg and co-founders Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes and Eduardo Saverin launch[ed] Facebook from their Harvard dorm room” (Facebook, 2010). By December of that year Facebook had achieved its first 1 million members. In the following years Facebook membership would grow exponentially each year. Today Facebook has more than 400 million active users worldwide. (Facebook, 2010) Only in the last few years have academic libraries started jumping on the band wagon. Of 50 subject pages, the oldest, UP Diliman University Library’s fan page was created in June of 2007, about 6 months before the second oldest, Purchase College Library, in December of 2007. 50% of the pages (25 out of 50) were created within the last 12 months.
Where’s the Beef?
The overall research findings support the theory that users (patrons) are drawn to content. A page that has few links to other resources and a meager amount of wall postings is, simply put, a boring fan page. The only non-content related element explored in this paper was time. It takes time to grow a fan base for a page. The following graph demonstrates that pages older than a year have an approximate average of 30% more fans (patrons) participating in their social network than those younger than a year.
The rest of the research focuses on content. Content is links to other resources and regular posts on the “wall” of each Fan Page.
Links to other social networking sites are the first explored. This measurement has the least impact on patron participation percentages. Only 28% of the libraries include any reference to other social networking sites. An average of 1.2% more patrons participate when they do. An assumption is that Facebook is a hub for other social networks. As a user can add on applications that provide feeds to multiple social networks from a Facebook wall, the majority of participant libraries may have felt that linkage to other sites might be redundant. However, the research demonstrates a slight increase of patron participation if they do include such links.
Links connecting to other websites or resources that exist within the academic institutions is the second type of content measured. The statistics suggest that providing more than 2 links to resources within a subject institution yields an average of 6% more participating patrons. Only 32% of the subject libraries provided more than 2 links to institutional resources on their fan pages. However, the jump in patron participation averages is significant.
Finally, the monthly average of “wall posts” is established for each library’s fan page. Wall posts provide an easy means for patrons to keep abreast of the happenings within a library. Each time a Library posts to the fan page wall it appears in the Facebook feed of the participating fan or patron. Wall post averages are divided into 0-5, 6-15, or 16 or more (posts per month). This particular measurement proves to be the most statistically significant. 70% of the participants provide less than 5 posts per month. 22% provide 6 to 15 posts per month. Finally, only 8% provide more than 15 wall posts per month. Statistically, the 8% that provided the greatest amount of content see an average of 12.48% of their patrons on Facebook. Contrast this with the 22% that only provide 6-15 posts per month and only see 7.65% of their patrons on Facebook. Those with the higher number of wall posts see an average of 4.83% (approximately a 33% increase) more of their patrons on their fan page.
In closing, the research supports that time and content are crucial for utilizing Facebook as a marketing tool. A significant volume of meaningful content reaches more patrons over time. Substantive content moves the fan page beyond being a mere tool for outreach. The fan page, a node in a vast network of individuals and corporate entities, then becomes a hub were the patron can be directed to multiple resources and connect with other patrons. In this day and age it is possible that social networks are becoming the first contact that a potential enrollee has with our institutions. These pages can either serve or work against the goals and missions of our institutions if not well executed.
Given that half of the subject institutions’ fan pages are less than a year old; collecting updated research data would be beneficial. This would allow more libraries to participate and give their fan pages the opportunity to mature. Given the relative newness of the Facebook phenomenon there is a lot of room for further research in the realm of social networking. Facebook in and of itself is in a constant state of flux and issues of privacy, safety and security are growing concerns that might impact participation in the future. In order for librarians to successfully utilize online social networking as a marketing tool there must be a continuous exploration of which practices reach the largest percentage of an institution’s patronage. Future researchers could expand the study to include additional variables, such as the number of patron comments and “likes” on a fan page that are indicators of patron participation.
Social media is an emerging technology; as it evolves so too will the means in which we, as library professionals, utilize these resources. It is important to stay abreast of advances in participative technologies and to be open to new means of engaging our constituents.
Bianco, J.S. (2009) Social Networking and Cloud Computing: Precarious Affordances for the “Prosumer”. Women’s Studies Quarterly , 303-312.
Breeding, M. (2009). Social Networking Strategies for Professionals. Computers in Libraries , 29-31.
Godwin, P., & Parker, J. (2008). Information Literacy Meets Web 2.0. Facet Publishing.
Kroski, E. (2008). Web 2.0 for Librarians and Information Professionals. Neal Schuman Publishers.
Maness, J. M. (2006, June). Library 2.0 Theory: Web 2.0 and Its Implications for Libraries . Retrieved November 15, 2009, from Webology Volume 3, Number 2, June, 2006 : http://webology.ir/2006/v3n2/a25.html
Facebook. (2010). Press Room. Retrieved April 23, 2010 from Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
|Library||Patrons||Fans with % of Patron Count||Fan Page Published||Links to Social Networks||Interdepartmental Links||Number of posts with average number of posts per month|
|Burris Library||20000||184 (.92)||Jul 2008||0||0||54 (2.6)|
|Crown College Watne Memorial Library||1300||99 (7.6)||Mar 2010||0||1||11 (5.5)|
|Lesley University Library||9625||25 (.26)||Mar 2010||0||1||6 (3)|
|Macon State College||6600||41 (.62)||Feb 2010||0||1||15 (5)|
|Saddleback College Library||39000||37 (.09)||Feb 2010||0||2||5 (2.5)|
|Southern Crescent Technical College Library||886||12 (1.35)||Jan 2010||0||2||7 (1.75)|
|The Library at St. Mary’s College of Maryland||1850||71 (3.8)||Mar 2010||0||2||3 (1.5)|
|Odessa College Learning Resources Center (Library)||5000||23 (.46)||Mar 2010||0||1||2 (1)|
|Reed College Library||1481||166 (11.21)||Mar 2010||1||1||5 (2.5)|
|College Library (University of Wisconsin)||42099||813 (1.93)||Feb 2008||0||1||215 (8.27)|
|Eastwick College Library||800||25 (3.1)||Feb 2010||0||1||13 (4.33)|
|Hackney Library at Barton College||1330||123 (9.2)||Apr 2009||3||1||34 (2.83)|
|Dartmouth College Library||5800||452 (7.79)||Apr 2009||3||6||233 (19.41)|
|Alma College Library||1444||305 (25.1)||Nov 2008||0||1||61 (3.59)|
|Harper College Library||25817||137 (.53)||May 2009||0||2||92 (8.36)|
|Barnard College Library||2389||82 (3.43)||Jan 2010||2||4||81 (20.25)|
|Felician College Library||2300||84 (3.65)||Jan 2009||0||8||185 (12.33)|
|Penn College Madigan Library||6500||97 (1.49)||Mar 2010||0||11||10 (5)|
|Clarkson College Library||789||19 (2.41)||Feb 2010||0||7||17 (2.5)|
|San Juan College Library||20733||112 (.54)||Mar 2009||0||2||88 (6.77)|
|UP Diliman University Library||18935||5344 (28.22)||Jun 2007||1||3||757 (22.26)|
|Green Library||15319||1606 (10.48)||Jun 2008||0||8||553 (25.14)|
|Purchase College Library||3850||113 (2.94)||Dec 2007||1||2||77 (2.75)|
|Champlain College Library||2000||129 (6.5)||Jan 2009||0||2||129 (8.6)|
|Ithaca College Library||6894||541(7.85)||Mar 2009||0||1||58 (4.46)|
|Albright College Library||1625||81 (4.98)||Jul 2008||0||3||8 (.38)|
|Langara College Library||19000||145 (.76)||Feb 2008||1||2||12 (.46)|
|Parkland College Library||18000||131 (.73)||Feb 2009||2||1||65 (4.64)|
|Swarthmore College Library||1490||98 (6.58)||Nov 2009||0||1||9 (1.8)|
|Brooklyn College Library||17029||627 (3.68)||Feb 2008||0||1||47 (1.81)|
|Seattle Central Community College Library||6695||49 (.73)||Mar 2010||0||1||5 (5)|
|Wellesley College Library||2300||487 (21.17)||Mar 2008||0||7||44 (1.76)|
|Huntington College Library||1000||162 (16.2)||Aug 2008||0||1||185 (9.25)|
|Yuba College Library||9060||105 (1.16)||Oct 2009||0||4||23 (3.83)|
|Art Center College of Design Library||1450||417 (28.76)||Feb 2009||1||3||116 (8.29)|
|Burke Library||1882||159 (8.45)||Nov 2008||0||2||65 (3.83)|
|Mitchell College Library||1000||99 (9.9)||Jan 2010||0||1||18 (6)|
|Sinclair Community College||25345||222 (.88)||Mar 2008||0||1||128 (5.12)|
|Daemon College Library||2716||211 (7.77)||Aug 2009||0||2||18 (2.25)|
|Linacre College Library||400||130 (32.5)||Feb 2008||0||5||10 (.38)|
|Middlesex Community College Library||8124||99 (1.22)||Jun 2008||0||3||14 (.7)|
|Jones Library||1300||114 (8.77)||Oct 2009||1||1||7 (1.17)|
|Midlands Technical College||16000||150 (.94)||Jul 2008||1||3||72 (3.43)|
|Columbia College Chicago Library||12228||212 (1.73)||Feb 2009||1||2||74 (5.29)|
|Sierra College Library||17000||72 (.42)||Nov 2009||0||4||21 (4.2)|
|The Fred Parks Law Library||1252||54 (4.31)||Feb 2010||1||2||18 (9)|
|Tutt Library||2011||115 (5.72)||Mar 2008||3||2||62 (2.48)|
|Sweet Briar College Cochran Library||811||284 (35.02)||Nov 2009||0||3||7 (1.4)|
|Martin Luther College Library||717||66 (9.21)||Apr 2010||0||2||8 (8)|
|Bay College Library||5000||131 (2.62)||Feb 2010||0||1||18 (9)|
(These would not translate directly to WordPress, please contact me and I will be happy to send you the original document)
Data Analysis Graphs
Growth in Facebook fans overtime from fan page publication:
Percentage of patrons (Facebook Fans) relative to whether or not there are links to other social networks:
Percentage of patrons (Facebook fans) relative to number of interdepartmental links
Number of monthly posts relative to average percentage of patron participation on Facebook: