Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Are Public libraries really more successful on Twitter? If so Why?

In my recent posts comparing Twitter accounts of libraries, I found that when listing by follower counts, only 4 out of the top 20 accounts belonged to Academic libraries.

In fact, when I looked at the top 50 accounts the situation looks even worse. I found that only 7 accounts belonged to the Academic libraries. There were OU_Library (Open University in UK), YaleScienceLibraries, Yale Law Library, LS! Librarian (College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn,), Peace Palace Library, OkStateLibrary (Oklahoma State University Libraries), Pace Law Library.

The 50th account right now has some 387 followers which means that only 6 academic libraries (Yale University library has 2 accounts in the top 50), managed to get over 387 followers.

Let's just take for the moment that "success" is measured by number of followers, how then can we explain this?

Hypothesis one : Academic Libraries have a smaller audience base compared to Public libraries, and hence you should be measuring success in terms of followers/ audience base

I would guess that a Library that serves a city or a state, would easily have a potential audience size (or should we just measure card holding members?) that dwarfs all but the biggest academic libraries. If this is the case it wouldn't be really surprising to find that Public libraries have the largest absolute Twitter follower counts.

Still this doesn't particularly explain the success of Yale University libraries, which has two accounts in the top 10. They have maybe 15,000 students and staff (which is respectable but not huge, my own institution easily exceeds 30,000), a combined Twitter follower account of over 2,400, which works out to a reach of 16% which is quite impressive even if you consider that not all followers might be Yale University student or staff (e.g. other librarians, interested public etc).

One day if I have a time, I might try to calculate this for accounts on Twitter though getting the audience base statistics would be quite painful. Still I would guess that getting an absolute follower count of 200-300 wouldn't be hard.

Verdict : Possible reason.

Hypothesis two : Public Libraries were first to get on the Twitter bandwagon

As time goes by, Twitter accounts tend to accumulate followers (particularly spammers who follow you in hope of following you better), if Public Libraries were first on Twitter, they would have a natural lead. Also possibly many academic libraries have not ye started or focused their energies on promoting their Twitter accounts (more of them are on Facebook?) and hence you don't see that many mature accounts from them yet. It would be nice to be able to grab the first twit dates from the Twitter league account to test this hypothesis.

Verdict : Unlikely.

Hypothesis three : Public Libraries are more aggressive in following users.

As most Twitter users know if you follow someone, changes are they will return the favor and follow you back. One can rack up a high absolute follower count simply by following everyone. Hence some measures of Twitter influence calculate Follower/Following ratios to take this into account. I calculated this for the top 100 library Twitter accounts (see future post for these and other statistics), and so far I do not notice Public Libraries having lower Follower/Following ratios so this is not likely to be a reason.

Verdict : Untrue.

Hypothesis four : The audience of academic libraries are not interested in Twitter compared to users of Public Libraries.

A commenter on my last post pointed me to College Students Don't Use Twitter as a possible reason . I don't quite buy this idea (at least in this general form, see next hypothesis) Clearly Twitter is still not mainstream and not many people (including college students) use it. But this doesn't explain the relative success of Public Libraries, unless there is evidence that the non-college using crowd (early teens and older working professionals) use Twitter a lot more.

Verdict : Unproven.

Hypothesis five : The audience of academic libraries are less interested in connecting via Twitter etc because they are automatically plugged in the system various other channels compared to public libraries users.

Here I'm saying that even if everyone had a Twitter account, University students and staff would not want to connect to Twitter accounts compared to users of Public Libraries. This is clearly a big speculative leap and I throw it out just for discussion.

If you are a university student, you have dozen of channels to hear about library news. You expect to hear it from your professors, your classmates, you get pushed information via your email, electronic courseware llike Blackboard etc. Most of this is even automatic without you lifting a finger. So yet another communication channel which you need to manually add doesn't particularly add much to you.

In comparison, a public library user is generally less connected to the library. My own public library provides a host of digital services, you can get RSS feeds, get email/smss updates and reminders of the books you returned, be warned when books are due etc. But none of it is automatic, and you have to opt into the service.

They don't yet have a Twitter account, but given that I am less updated and informed about library news from them, I'm sure a Twitter account would add value to me.

There's a certain irony here in that because my public library does not automatically reach out to me, it makes me even more hungry for news from them.

Verdict : Totally speculative.

Are public libraries generally more successful at outreach with social media?

Of course you probably noticed that the last reason (and the first reason) if they hold water for Twitter, it would hold water for almost all types of social media initiatives!

One would notice that on average public libraries would have more friends in Facebook, more subscribers in Friendfeed, more fans on their Youtube channels etc.

Anyone have evidence for this one way or another? If not, I'm going to try to find out.

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