Sunday, March 6, 2011

Facebook sharing and liking of library webpages.

I've being recently thinking of how disparate in general typical library systems are. My institution which I guess is typical is a patch work of self-hosted and "in the cloud services", including
  • Library Catalogues (New generation, "classic", discovery platforms, databases)
  • Institutional repository
  • Content Management Systems (LibGuides, LibAnswers)
  • and the main portal itself
While each of these platforms and servers have their own statistics (e.g. built-in stats for Libguides, IIS server logs)  and in some cases might even make more sense to have specialised statistics (e.g. COUNTER statistics for databases), comparison may not be possible across systems.

So what libraries have started to do is to start embed Google analytics into their systems which is general enough yet powerful enough that you could use on practically anything. See for example Library Analytics with Char Booth and Paul Signorelli for a overview on how to exploit this.

But are such statistics enough? How about capturing "social signals"? A page view might mean nothing, but a tweet, a social bookmarklet , a facebook "like" of the same page is much stronger signal that the page is useful.

While there are many full blown systems like Postrank that capture all sorts of social signals such as bookmarks on delicious, tweets etc, in today's world, there is only one social network that has the mass to be worth tracking on a large scale and of course this means Facebook!

I have being doing this in an ad hoc way has described here , but recently I began playing with Facebook Insights. My institution just launched a Facebook page and I was looking at Facebook Insights statistics for the page, and I noticed there is Facebook Insights for domain.

I followed the instructions (pretty simple even for me), and it allows you to have a look at how often pages on the domain that you claim are liked or shared on Facebook.

I only played with it on a subdomain (LibGuides and LibAnswers) and the results aren't particularly impressive. Not many likes or shares despite the fact that all LibGuides and LibAnswers pages have a "Add this"/"Share this"  button which makes it fairly easy to share on Facebook.

There are also statistics for age/gender of people who liked or shared the page, which can be exported into excel.

Why is there a relatively low "like" rate? One possibility is simply that the content isn't interesting. It's also possible that most members of academic libraries generally don't "like" academic content. Another reason is that the "add this" buttons on the libguides might not be that user friendly.

Can we improve on this by replacing it with just a  Facebook "Like buttons" ?

I've being toying with the idea of embedding facebook like buttons  , system wide on the library webpages. Why?

We know that Like buttons (and maybe dislike buttons) are far more likely to be used then voting or rating buttons even Youtube changed there 5 star voting system to this because they discovered most people were rating at extremes end of the scale anyway (human nature to vote only if you are very happy or very unhappy). Also the like button is a click action more transparent action, much easier than the add this widget.

You get a much better indication which pages are popular but also I discovered something else...

Why is this very powerful? 

One of the main reasons why libraries are starting facebook pages is because statistics have shown that not only is Facebook the number 1 most visited site beating google in the US, but more importantly users remain on facebook far longer than anything else!

Personally this doesn't surprise me,  in Singapore Facebook is anything even more dominant, I just have to look at all the screens on the computers in my library or during library sessions and I can see everyone is logged into facebook.

On the other hand, news posted on the main library portal is I suspect hardly read (worse if it's placed in a less visible area) since most users only surf to the library page when they need to, and when they do they usually have a specific task in mind such as searching or checking loan records and are not in a frame of mind to look at news posted. 

You could of course put such news very prominently on your website but that wouldn't be very user friendly since most users would be frustrated as they typically want to search (see this debate on this very topic on what to highlight, resources or news). 

Having a facebook page solves this problem, firstly it's opt-in. Secondly, users are already in a mood to consume news when they view their facebook account. I guess all this is obvious to almost everyone, and I knew it intellectually but only recently having launched our own library facebook page I began to really appreciate it when I saw how quickly it grew and how people seem to have actually reacted to even the most mundane news posted.

The problem here of course is that say you get a very successful library page, any status or news you post is not very targeted it goes to everyone who liked the facebook page. While you can send by language or country that isn't very useful usually for most libraries.

But what if  you could push news based on what they liked on your library page?

Not sure how doable this is. But what instead of pushing news to all the people who liked your facebook page, you could send it selectively? So if they liked your library pages on patents, you could send them news about a new patent database just subscribed into their facebook stream rather then to all the thousands of people who liked your library facebook page.

Still exploring this. Any one of you tried this? Are your library pages being liked or shared on Facebook? Would you consider embedding Facebook like buttons or are the privacy implications too great to embed facebook like buttons?

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