Monday, 9 February 2009

RT @DarthVader "Come to the dark side - we have cake"

Vader_normalJust how, you might ask, is the statement above of any use to an information professional? And you'd have a point. Personally, it made me laugh, so that is good in itself but I can see that to justify using Twitter in the work place a lot of folks will need more business justification than just getting a chuckle every now and then.

I've been using Twitter for a couple of weeks now and it's made quite an impression on me. This post is an attempt to clarify how I've found it so far and work out some of the pro's and con's as I see them.

Email, instant messaging, phone, visitors blog comments - why on earth would I want another distraction from my "job"?

So, how did I come to Twitter? Well, I'm finding that if you using one Web2.0 application tends to expose you to others. In my case I've been blogging about new resources inside the firewall at work for about 2 years now. Inevitably, I was exposed to other blogs and some I now read regularly (as well as browsing recently published posts every now and then). I feel I've received far, far more useful information than I've published but that's one of the benefits of Web2.0. When you get a group of active users adding content there is soon going to be a massive store of information that everyone has the potential to benefit from. Recently I've seen quite an increase in the number of blog posts about our internal version of Twitter, to the point where I decided to check it out, again as a means to publicise new library resources. Initially, I just wanted to scope out the scene so I posted a "hello world" and sat back to observe the etiquette and norms. Alot of the chat was very technical but every now and then someone would post a question that I was able to answer. This felt kind of good. One of my favourite bits about being a librarian is answering questions. Wheras my initial interest was about promoting new books through microblogging I soon found that it had the potential to be another channel for users to communicate with the library. To answer the question above: put simply, the distractions are my job.

Joining Twitter outside the firewall was sort of serendipitous. I'd posted a comment on librarything and one of the responses (from @jmgold) led to my first dipping my toe into Twitter. I still maintain that he'll be contacted by my lawyers re: the rehabilitation costs.

Effect on connecting with new users, good. Effect on workflow, stress levels and time management, v. bad!

This might just be me but I've found that opening any new channel of communication is very stressful and disruptive. I won't lie, the last couple of weeks have not been my most productive. BUT, I have stuck with it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I went through exactly the same when I first tried Second Life at work, and when I first started blogging. With the blog, I've found that as you get more experienced with the medium you work out how to manage it. With Twitter there is a very strong compulsion to check for new messages every five minutes. This kind of wears off after a while and learning to manage who you follow and getting a good sidebar viewer helps alot. I've even found that posting a sentence about what I'm doing every now and then helps me to focus on the task. My second reason for sticking with it is that I have proof that it is generating new library users. At first it was hard to guage the effectiveness in promoting new resources until the other day, literally seconds after tweeting about a new ebook I got an IM requesting an ebooks login. They said they love the book tweets and often follow the links to the library blog. 1 new user seems like a small payoff but I've been in this game just long enough to know that if 1 library user contacts you, there are probably another 10 who are accessing your resources without making themselves known. Sure enough, when I checked ebook usage today, it's well above average. If you manage it correctly the overhead is low. Posting a 140 character message takes what? A minute?

Who cares what you had for breakfast?

Talking to users and other librarians, I've heard quite a few objections to using Twitter. One is the shear amount of rubbish information on there. And to be fair, this is true. However, the point is that it is very easy to filter the information. At work, the user base is low enough to follow comment on the tool. Outside the firewall, you don't really want noise from a population equivalent to a medium to large country. Particularly, if you are using it in a professional capacity, you soon learn to only follow Twitterers who give good value. Everyone posts the odd whimsical post but most of the Twitterers that I continue to follow also post useful links, provoke discussion or raise awareness of important issues (or just have a different take on things). As a solo librarian, I have to say one of the main benefits of Twitter is that I now feel just that little bit more connected to my profession.

Social Media - the clue is in the name!

Another, criticism that I've heard is that it's hard to get the right kind of people following your Twitters. This can happen - for example, I seem to have collected a moderate following of spammers and life coaches!?! I think there are some ways to minimise this though. Firstly, get over the concept of using the Internet as a broadcast medium. The social web is just that - "social". Think quiet chat down the pub rather than standing on a soapbox with a megaphone. In practical terms I think this means following the sort of people that you want to follow you. If you complain about getting the wrong "types" of followers but make no attempt to connect with your library users (or potential users) then I think you're kind of missing the point. If you find it hard to justify spending work time "friending" people on the net just think of it as customer research. The penny pinchers love terms like "customer research" and who knows, you might learn something new about your users!

The second thing is to tweet. If you tweet about your field (i.e. library stuff) you will find relevant followers. More accurately, they will find you as one of the techniques for finding people to follow is to search entries for keywords. If your tweets contain relevant keywords and hashtags then people interested in the #library will find you. I guess relating to this, use your existing network. People who already follow you are likely to have contacts who would also be interested in following you.

To summarise in 140 characters or less...

Well, to be honest I can't, but here (as briefly as I can) are my pro's and con's:

I love Twitter because of...
Reaching new library users;
Finding out more about library users interests/ needs;
Professional awareness/ networking;
Useful sources of information, links, etc.;
Promoting resources

Twitter sometimes does my head in because...

Checking in with it can become addictive;
It's another channel of communication to "learn";
The spammers and life-coaches are sometimes annoying

Can you think of any other pro's and con's? I'd love to hear them if you can.

p.s. I rarely eat breakfast as I'm not a morning person :-)

1 comment:

  1. I should add a couple to the list after today.

    Something along the lines of inducing identity crises and taking humorous digs at your professional body.

    Not sure if these are pro's or con's yet though...