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The Twitter tipping point.

Twitter as a communication medium has hit a tipping point. If your library has the lights on and a website, it needs a Twitter presence. This isn't just social media cheerleading on our part. When any communication medium becomes so ubiquitous and has such an immediate impact on your community, a presence is essential for both proactive and reactive reasons.

Proactively, a Twitter presence positions your library as a player on a social media platform that community members engage with, that community leaders, politicians, and the news media monitor. It provides opportunities to connect, reflect, contribute, educate, and network. Using Twitter effectively requires a thoughtful approach that fits with your culture. You should apply best practices for participation to enhance your library's brand. Develop a strategy and ensure that the Twitter channel is closely tied into your overall communications strategy. Library leadership should be up-to-speed on how to use Twitter for updates and announcements.

On the reactive side, having a well-established Twitter presence can save you in the event of a misinformation storm. It can start with something as simple as a minor complaint about services or a book--or it can be a malicious attack by someone stirring up trouble and flame wars. Either way, internet hoaxes, rumors, and misinformation spread like wildfire online. It's far easier to stomp out a small fire than to extinguish one that's engulfed large sections of forest. If you're part of the Twitter community, you can engage with the community, join the conversation, and clarify what actually occurred.


In the event of a rock star good news event at your library, Twitter is a great channel to use to publicize it. What's a rock star moment? It can be planned or accidental, but your library becomes the focus of a lot of attention. Perhaps your library is used a set for one of the scenes in the new Marvel superhero movie. One person tweeting about what's happening in the library and on the set can engage everyone excited about the movie and the local tie-in.

Using Twitter, you can update the status of an event quickly, share photos, and stream live video with Q&A to reach your community and the media. Mobile users inside and outside the library can see updates or share them with families and friends. If it's a rock star moment, it can create a real "now" moment where everyone is sharing in the experience with their neighbors, friends, or strangers who are interested in the same event.

Similar to a positive rock star type of event, there are local disasters and crises. In the event of a fire, flood, or civil unrest, the library's response as the event unfolds can be shared via Twitter. The immediacy of these situations requires the ability to clearly and quickly provide timely information. Twitter provides an opportunity to answer questions and provide real-time updates to your community.

Many libraries are active on multiple social media platforms, so why are we suggesting that you focus more closely on Twitter? Before we make the case for Twitter as worthy of the lion's share of your social media efforts, it's worth noting that during the past year or so, Twitter has been aggressively rolling out new features, functionalities, and partnerships in its quest to become the dominant platform on the social media landscape.


If you haven't taken a look at Twitter lately, now's the time. It's easy to think Twitter is as it ever was--all tweets, retweets, followings, and hashtags. Of course, none of that has gone away, but Twitter's feature set and its reach are broader than ever. Some of these features are very new; some have been around for a bit. Some are available to all users and some not. For those that aren't, it's not a stretch to think that, if successful, they'll be rolled out more widely.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Here are some recent changes:

* Twitter has a partnership with Google that allows tweets to show up in search results as soon as they are posted. When tapping or clicking a tweet in Google search results, you're taken directly to Twitter, where you can view that individual tweet and discover additional relevant Twitter content.

* Similar to Facebook's post boosting, brands can now choose a tweet that has already been posted on its timeline and promote it via its Twitter dashboard.

* Twitter's new Curator tool enables the creation of sophisticated queries to surface the most relevant tweets, which can then be displayed on platforms outside of Twitter. A sample query might be find all users who have been on Twit ter for longer than 3 months who have more than 100 followers, who tweet about such and such a topic. Right now, Curator is available to news organizations, production companies, broadcasters, local governments, and concert venues.

* Twitter itself is in the curated content business. In an effort to help broaden its appeal and retain users who might find it overwhelming at first, Twitter has launched several "channels," the most recent being Twitter Food, that sifts through the countless tweets on said topic and curates collections of tweets, usually from high-profile accounts.

* Twitter has a new recap feature called "While you were away ..." that surfaces high-engagement tweets that users may have missed while they were away from Twitter. This possibility extends the lifetime of your tweets and maximizes exposure of your content.

* Twitter is introducing a new way to surface and organize relevant tweets about products and places on dedicated landing pages. These pages will feature images and video about the product alongside information such as a description, price, and an option to buy, book, or visit the website for more information.

* Twitter now makes it possible to import, share, and export lists of blocked accounts, leveraging the crowd to keep trolls, bots, and other undesirables from muddying the Twitter experience. This helps gain and keep user trust.

* Twitter bought and integrated with Periscope, a live video streaming app. When you start a stream, your followers get a notification. In addition, they can ask questions and post comments during the stream, which you see on your device. After the broadcast, the streams are available for 24 hours, then disappear forever.

* Project Lightning provides the ability to follow events, as opposed to following people or organizations. These events will be curated by live human editors, not algorithms or hashtags, putting them squarely in the journalism camp. Critically, the event feeds will be available to users who are not logged into Twitter as well.


Looking at what's new in Twitter makes it easy to see ways you could use it to connect with the community your library serves. But is Twitter really a better choice than other social media platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, or LinkedIn? Assuming most of the content that you want to share is intended to be publicly available, there are a few key ways that Twitter offers an edge over other platforms.

First and foremost is reach. So much of what is created by Twitter lies in the public realm, where anyone can read, see, share, and respond to it. You can view most Twitter discussions without having to request to follow someone or logging on. More and more content on platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest is private, and you need permission and/or an account to view it. Tweets also show up prominently in Google's search results. However, not all is rosy. The number of people who use the site is much lower than Facebook. Pew Research Center reports that as of September 2014:

* 71% of online adults use Facebook

* 23% of online adults use Twitter

* 26% use Instagram

* 28% use Pinterest

* 28% use LinkedIn

Based on the raw numbers, Facebook is the big gorilla in the room. Let's dig a little deeper to see why the sheer number of users on a social media site isn't the end all and be all.


Twitter has the edge over some of the other platforms such as Facebook for reach and networking. For networking on Twitter, you can simply follow most of the key influencers for an area, and, over time, by using hashtags, retweeting, and commenting, build your network and brand awareness for your organization or business.

Trying to follow and start a conversation usually isn't nearly as open and easy on Facebook and LinkedIn as Twitter. LinkedIn and Facebook have more private content, messaging, and following systems than Twitter. In terms of reach for your content, Edmund Ingham points out how disappointing Facebook is for business startups and entrepreneurs who create a page and wait for likes to come rolling in ("Here Are the Reasons Why Twitter Is the Best Social Media Platform for Your Start-Up Business," Forbes, May 31, 2015; ingham/2015/05/31/here-are-the-reasons-why-twitter-is-thebest-social-media-platform-for-your-start-up-business).

The competition to have your wall post show up in Facebook's newsfeed, even to your own followers, is fierce. Ingham sums up the picture perfectly when he writes, "[Y]ou are competing for space on newsfeeds not just with every other company's Facebook page, but with paying advertisers, and with Facebook itself, which means you are left with one option if you want to achieve any kind of reach; start paying yourself."

Just like startups, libraries don't have big advertising budgets to ensure exposure in Facebook newsfeeds. While some reach can happen on Facebook with organic content and posting, your reach is limited.


With Twitter, your tweets quickly amplify your message. Organizations, companies, and celebrities are using Twitter as a news channel to announce new products, services, and developments. Instead of holding a press conference or sending out a press release and hoping your message gets passed along by the news media, you can talk directly to your Twitter followers, to the news media, and the wider community online. Your fans will pass your message along. What happens on Twitter is grist for the news mill. It's hard to listen to the radio or TV talk and news shows without some mention of something posted on Twitter.

Twitter, at its heart, is a "live" medium, reporting and reflecting on what's happening in the moment. This immediacy can be a critical factor in its utility. At any given moment, the spotlight might shine on your library (someone famous visits) or some unforeseen event (a flood happens in your community). Twitter is a channel that has reach and impact in these situations.

Take as an example the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which remained open in Baltimore during the riots and state of emergency after the death of Freddie Grey while in police custody. The Pratt library used Twitter and other channels to communicate to its community and the world ( status/592993409415180288). Not only did the Pratt Library's actions become a news story, but the story also included quotes from Twitter users (

Sharing what Pratt Library did during these times spread not only to Baltimore but also across the United States and beyond. The story traveled farther because of Twitter. After the unrest, the Pratt Library received a donation of $170,000 in computers and equipment from Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen and Marc Andreessen, Netscape co-founder (baltimore. Its Pennsylvania Avenue Branch also won Tech Logic's first annual People First Award, which was presented during the 2015 Annual ALA conference. Tech Logic developed the award to celebrate and publicly recognize people who have done extraordinary things within their library's community (


Every social network out there is vying to be dominant in both market share and mindshare, so it's important to keep an eye on this shifting landscape. Of course your goals and target audience are important drivers of where to place your efforts, but Twitter has worked hard to reposition itself, so while it might not have Facebook's market share, its mind share is obvious, and Twitter seems intent on growing both. As members of their communities, libraries need to be where the action is, and right now, there's a lot going with the little blue bird.

Darlene Fichter (University of Saskatchewan) and Jeff Wisniewski (University of Pittsburgh)

Darlene Fichter ( is librarian, University of Saskatchewan Library. JeffWisniewski ( is web services librarian, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh.

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Title Annotation:control-shift
Author:Fichter, Darlene; Wisniewski, Jeff
Publication:Online Searcher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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