Last month, someone contacted me about creating social media plans in libraries. From our email exchange, I think she was a bit surprised when I said that I think social media plans often get in the way and are a waste of resources. I told her that I could not send her a sample social media plan or a list of best practices for writing a social media plan. I told her that my suggested best practice was to not write a plan at all.
When I think about a “plan”, I mean a systematized set of steps that guide an organization through a process in order to achieve a goal. Plans are coordination tools. They layout steps, and they help people understand how they will work together. They are really useful in guaranteeing a course of action and preventing the group from deviating from that course. Plans work best when actions and goals are fairly well understood. Moving a library collection from an old facility to a new facility is a problem where a plan is absolutely vital. Having a technology plan for server upgrades or computer cascades is often important.
For a social media plan to be really useful, the planners would need to anticipate things they do not know as well as lessons they will learn along the way. They also need to anticipate new technologies that have not been invented. The plan will be in need of constant update.
We often overlook the fact that plans are not overly helpful when the goal is to learn, innovate, and adapt. As we know, social media are a set of technologies that are evolving constantly. They thrive in environments that are highly adaptive where organizational members can use technology to meet ever-changing needs. The decision about applying social media to needs should be located as closely to the ground as possible and not up at the top of the organizational chart.
This isn’t to say that effective use of social media relies on anarchy. Far from it. Organizations still need a structure around social media. Organizations can encourage social media by defining policies, workflows, guidelines, and best practices. These broad documents offer an outline where experimentation and play can exist around social media tool. The goal is to create a safe environment to play around with social media. Unfortunately, plans often fit our organizational DNA better than playfulness. Plans feel better than experiments, because plans require us to come up with outcomes in advance. Thus, we’ll spend six months developing a plan instead of spending that time developing an online services that advances our mission.
Many administrators like plans because they provide the illusion of making the unknown into something known. To me, this desire for a plan hearkens back to Michael Stephen’s warning from 2006, “Warning: failure to innovate while overthinking & underplanning library services may cause loss of library users & library staff.“. Social media plans too often fall into the category of failure to innovate due to “overthinking.”
Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.