The good folks at Virginia Beach Public Libraries asked me back this year to talk about building community with social tools. This was perfect timing because I had just read Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging and I’ve been working on an article and interview about/with Seth Godin for Digital Bibliotek magazine. His book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us has figured prominently into my thinking and teaching so far this year.
I always appreciate this type of synchronicity. Jenny Levine introduced me to Peter Block’s book – a fascinating look at transforming communities. Based almost entirely on creating community in physical space, his definition speaks to what I see as an important building block of online community: “Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness.”
Compare that with Howard Rheingold’s 1993 definition of virtual community: “Social aggregators that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.”
Many important keywords here: human… conversations… relatedness..relationships…
Godin simply states: “Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong.”
Godin’s Tribes is full of insights and ahas for me – as is the crowd-sourced companion PDF at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/files/TribesQA2.pdf. Download this one and give it a look after you read Tribes. It offers roadmap style planning points and loads of questions/answers for convening your tribe.
Combine all the above with these points from A List Apart’s post “The Wisdom of Community” that posits the ideas contained in The Wisdom of Crowds are amplified by the social web: “where they can reach their full potential.”
To enable online crowds to be wise, Derek Pozowak notes you need these things:
- Explicit vs. implicit feedback
So, from all of this inspiration and these authors’ brilliant thinking, allow me to submit for your approval:
Ten Ways to Encourage the Tribe*
Connect around a cause, a community or a concept
Create your online group around a current issue, a user population or what libraries have a lot of: ideas. Focus on materials: reading, viewing, discussion. Focus on community: what’s happening around town? Focus on the current climate: what programs, services and revamped services might you offer in light of the economic downturn? How can the library help?
Ravelry is a smoking hot example of a focused community that works. A librarian shared with the group I was with in California last week that her daughter was publishing video via Ravelry of spinning techniques for people all of over the world.
“The focus is to connect teens in the Puget Sound area that care about the same social issues so that they can create positive change in their communities.”
What cause, community or concept do you want to connect?
“Marketing is about engaging with the tribe and delivering products and services with stories that spread.” Godin writes in Tribes.
Can we say enough about the power of stories in libraries? The stories people share about libraries and how they use them – in person and online – are priceless for understanding the role we can play in people’s lives. I’m knocked out by 14 Days to have Your Say as a way to get students involved and talking about library service. Public libraries could do this too – internally, with the community, as a strategic planning step.
Presenting the library’s story is another option. Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Annual Report at http://ourstory.columbuslibrary.org/ is a perfect example of sharing the library’s story in a human, playful way (driven by technology, but it’s not ABOUT the technology).
Transparency leads to trust and buy-in. Secrets, deception, guarded details shared only as “need to know” demands hurts organizations. Give me an honest, open mechanism for sharing information and I’ll listen and react.
Michael Casey and I have been exploring these topics for over two years at Library Journal and I still see other folks like Godin urging business and organizations to embrace the concept. It’s foundational to building a healthy community.
Leverage the Social Tools
Use the tools to extend the library into realms where people are connecting and talking.
Godin notes in Tribes that “Internet companies have taken the original idea behind blogs and amplified it into a set of tools that anyone can use to tighten a tribe.” Facebook, Twitter and others allow interaction and information sharing – with replies built in.
“The biggest shift is going to be that organizations that could never have afforded a national campaign will suddenly have one,” Godin writes in a recent blog post.
Libraries – all shapes, sizes and types – can do this. We can take promotion online – make it viral. Recent online initiatives such as the New Jersey State Library’s campaign to share users’ video stories about the transformational qualities of libraries are ways to create low-cost, human, authentic marketing campaigns.
A perfect first step: set aside one meeting – not six months of meetings (or heaven forbid a year or more) – to craft your library’s social media policy and plan. Use this as a starting point:
The Social Media Do’s Explained 
- Be Polite – Talk the way you would if you were doing a job interview. 
- Be Courteous – Be sure to listen & ask questions. 
- Be Helpful – Offering tips, tricks & how-to’s goes a long way. 
- Be Conversational – Don’t just be a PR twit. Chat as you would with a stranger at a bar. Be funny yet interesting. 
- Be Intelligent – Provide some value. Don’t talk down. Offer insight. 
- Be Non-confrontational – Don’t start a flame war, it can & will come back to haunt you. 
- Be Transparent – Disclose that you work for the company, be honest & truthful. 
Remember the Mission
Have you looked at your library’s mission lately through the lens of social tools and conversational communities online? Checkout Evanston PL’s mission:
The mission of the Evanston Public Library is to promote the development of independent, self-confident, and literate citizens through the provision of open access to cultural, intellectual, and informational resources.
Creating an online community like any of the Ning’s I’ve written about or similar certainly taps into what this sample mission states, just as enhancing the library catalog does.
Redwood City PL’s mission states:
Discovering ideas and sharing within catalogs such as the community-focused SOPAC is a perfect example of fulfilling a mission like this in the 21st Century.
The Little Things count…a lot
Last December when I bought the new Subaru and tweeted about passing on the $250 Subaru charity donation promotion money to the ASPCA yielding a reply from said organization with minutes is a perfect example of a little connection, a little interaction, meaning a lot.
DKPublishing’s gift to me of a tour guide to Vancouver because of my tweet about their books or recent discussions about Oak park Public Library’s collection are further examples of how a tiny little expression of kindness or bit of feedback can go a long way.
What little things can you do with your users online? What little kindness can you extend?
Listen & Talk (like a human)
“Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.”
If you are going to participate in the conversations going on around your library and within your community, do so in a human way – authentic, real, emotional. Every chance I get, I echo the Cluetrain in my talks, saying: “People can smell PR speak a mile away and they do not respond well to it.”
I spoke recently with librarian who discovered unpleasant reviews of his branch on Yelp. He realized the best move he could make would be to respond to the reviews with thanks and insights about the feedback. I like this thinking.
An interesting example comes from the discussion I lead in Phoenix and Virginia Beach about library databases. In this transparent world, what would happen if the library actively put out there what is spent on electronic resources and encouraged the public to weigh in on what’s purchased. Would there be an uproar? User involvement? I think it would be a very open, honest thing to do: “Hey, library patrons, we spent $125,000 of your tax dollars last year on ________. How should we spend it this year?” Has anyone out there done this?
How could you listen and talk with your tribe?
Create a Culture of Caring
Through reading Tribes, the Tribes Q&A and Block’s book, I was struck by the emphasis on making real connections with people via caring and support. This speaks to my personal emphasis on “encouraging the heart” in everything we do. A quote by Darien Library’s Kate Sheehan from Cindi Trainor’s recent TechSource post about Computers in Libraries 2009 sticks in my brain too:
In the time since I’ve been home from CIL, the moment that has bounced around in my head most often was a quote from fellow TechSource blogger Kate Sheehan. During her part of “Innovation, Services and Practices,” she remarked “The chief export of our libraries is kindness.” It seems so obvious, so nostalgic—and distinctly low-tech—for a librarian to announce that we are, above all, kind to our patrons. Yet many people in our service industry, well, aren’t. I once heard a reference librarian refer to her stone-cold demeanor as “business-like.” An otherwise merry librarian, she probably would have been horrified to know that students thought her “mean.” In this age of snark and snipe, anonymous and named, a little kindness goes a long way, and I’m taking this one to heart.
Amen. In our recent Cheers & Jeers column at LJ, Michael and I mentioned this as well:
Cheers to the folks using emerging tools to enhance conferences and learning opportunities, such as Skyping speaker, UStreaming a trends session, or tagging tweets, posts, pictures, and more with a common moniker.
Jeers, however, to some who criticize in the conference back channel. We’ve been disappointed with snarky chatter and lack of respect for speakers and conference attendees at some events.
Constructive feedback and disagreement fostering debate are wonderful things. But mean-spirited criticism does not have a place at conferences or inside your online community.
How can you encourage your tribe’s collective heart today? What little bit of kindness can you extend?
“Faith is critical to all innovation.” Godin notes in Tribes on p. 80.
Faith and trust are building blocks for online social engagement. Until you get past worrying about how you’ll control your tribe and trust them, the results of your online community building might not fare the best. Open comments, ask for feedback, and trust the responses – the genuine ones will rise to the top, good and bad.
Trust your staff to post and interact with the public. And trust the public to do the same. A quick meeting of all of the minds involved will get everyone on the same page – mission, vision, guidelines for participating in the conversation — instead of having a year or two of meetings to hash out how it should all work with social media. See the policy above for inspiration. Hey libraries – post your social media policies so other libraries can adapt and use them.
What can you do right now to trust your community? What changes can you make?
Value EVERY Member
Every member of the tribe you want to create should be valued: for participating, for lurking, for shaking things up, for calming things down and for simply contributing. NO ONE should be denied access if they are a part of the group. This goes for public tribes and for your staff tribe.
Public tribes might include your young adults, your 20-30-somethings, etc. It might also include those folks you haven’t extended any services or outreach to as of yet. It certainly should include the groups you’ve marginalized for whatever reason.
Planning this talk, I checked in with John Blyberg from Darien Library. I’ve long used the “Front Desk” blog example in my talks as an example of involving and engaging all levels of staff. Via the new Darien Library site, all staff who want to can post to the fully-integrated Drupal-driven site, including folks from circulation:
“All staff are encouraged to post, no matter their position,” Blyberg told me. “We don’t moderate—posts just go up, but our User Experience team will work with staff on spelling and layout issues, etc if necessary. We never criticize them on content, because that would discourage them, though we would intervene if something was inappropriate. We have told our staff that their posts should not betray a political bias because the of the library’s non-profit status as well as our desire to be seen as an apolitical community resource. I would say that 90% of our full time staff posts and maybe 50% of our part time staff.”
I urged the good folks at VBPL (and members of the city government who also attended my talks and workshops) to consider Godin’s Tribes carefully and to look for ways to blend his vision with what libraries do. It strikes me that gathering folks around ideas and letting them communicate is very much in line with what our mission should be.
I was glad to finish out the Cheers & Jeers column with this:
Cheers to marketing guru Seth Godin and his book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Portfolio)—a touchstone for us this year. We agree with Godin that the market will reward organizations and individuals who choose to lead while those stuck within archaic rules and outdated practice—or guided by fear—will not flourish.
Which will you be?
* at Your Library