This article was written by Christine Friese, Assistant State Librarian, Vermont Department of Libraries

Recently, Library directors, trustees and staff from 10 public libraries, representatives from the Vermont State Library, and members of the Vermont Digital Economy Project spent a day at the Brown Public library in Northfield with consultants from IBM, learning all about leveraging the power of various social media tools to benefit library outreach and fundraising efforts. As part of the Vermont Digital Economy Project, IBM provided two consultants through the company’s Services Grants Program to lead this workshop, the second such workshop donated to the Vermont Digital Economy Project.

“Vermont’s public libraries rely almost entirely on local funding and fundraising,” said Marty Reid, Vermont State Librarian. “Library staff, trustees and Library Friends spend a large amount of time planning for and executing fundraising campaigns and projects each year and must learn to integrate social media into their efforts to build more effective and resilient libraries for Vermonters to enjoy.”

The purpose of the day-long IBM workshop was to set a baseline on the attendees’ understanding of social media, provide a framework for the attendees to better understand their organizational identity, and then help develop a road map for each participant to leverage social media tools for their organization. The outcome of the workshop is two-fold: the social media road maps for individual organization and content for a replicated workshop that will be used by public libraries throughout the state for creating effective social media campaigns. It also established good policies and best practices for the use of social media.

Most attendees already use Facebook, and several use Twitter, in addition to having a library website. The workshop helped the librarians identify potential audiences for their social media campaigns through a persona exercise, as well as how to grow that audience and plan the content for ongoing communications or targeted campaigns. The consultants also offered hints on improving existing sites and accounts, from updating background images to providing followers with actions to take such as donating money, “liking” the Facebook page, or participating in an online discussion.

In the morning session, representatives from each library spent time documenting what makes their individual library unique and taking inventory of their relative strengths as institutions. This work on the organization’s identify is very important in crafting overall messaging and was used later in the workshop for targeting specific audiences, or personas, as well as laying the foundation for social media road maps for each organization.

Said Richmond Library Director Rebecca Mueller, “The persona exercise was very useful in defining specific audiences and thinking about most effective avenues to connect with them.” Each persona is created as a unique individual that is representative of an important audience for the library. Some of the personas developed by the group included government officials, funders, and millennials.

Lynne Fonteneau-McCann, the director of the Bennington Free Library, said her first task will be finding extra time for a staff member to work on social media. The consultants assured the attendees that a library can have a very effective social media presence with about two hours dedicated per week per social media platform used. Mary Kasamatsu, from the public library in Waterbury, was relieved to understand that a lot can be leveraged from relatively little effort and is eager to work with her staff to effectively use these tools.

The two IBM consultants gained several insights about the libraries in attendance, including the Vermont State Library. They will combine this input with additional resources and craft preliminary social media plans for each library to implement. Over the coming six months, attendees will work on one or more of the social media tools and then come back together for a review of their outcomes and to share best practices. The Vermont Digital Economy Project’s nonprofit adviser, Rob Fish, will help turn these plans and best practices into a social media workshop for Vermont libraries that will be shared with all Vermont libraries to help improve their communications and fundraising campaigns.