In the world of social web, the idea that page views and visit lengths on a library’s core website are still relevant metrics for measuring patron engagement is outmoded. Yes, there are some pieces of content that require a visitor to spend time on your main site. But increasingly, more of a library’s relevant content is available to people through multiple avenues of engagement, across multiple accounts on multiple platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc.
Many libraries, though, still determine their online strategy using page views and visit lengths on their core site as their main data input. There’s still substantial resistance to sending people away from the core library website. This is understandable – we librarians have a hang-up about all the unevaluated and uncurated data “in the wild” out there on the internet; what we present on our library website is known to be high quality and our impulse is to keep people there. Linking visitors to social media sites requires us to give up some control over the quality of their experience… and we don’t like doing that.
Moreover, linking patrons to your Flickr page, for example, feels like you’re sending them away from you. What if they get distracted out there and don’t come back to your site? I believe that this presents a false dichotomy and is an irrelevant fear. It makes no difference if they’re looking at your content on your site vs. seeing it on your social media pages – so long as they’re engaging with it. It’s still all you. The overall effect for marketing, reputation building, and engagement is the same. The added benefit is that you don’t need to dedicate server space to keep all this content in-house and you don’t need to carry all the bandwidth traffic for it.
The UX challenge for libraries is what to do when someone discovers your social media-based content without getting to it through your main website. In that case, how are they supposed to learn about and access all of the resources you have there: your catalog, your databases, your event calendar, etc.? There are a couple of central issues to address here:
- How do you make this person aware of what else you have to offer, either on your main site or on your other social accounts?
- How do you create an obvious and intuitive paths for this person to get from one site to the others?
The solution to these issues is actually very easy – talk to them through your social media accounts. This seems like a “well, duh!” statement but it’s amazing how many libraries don’t do it. If you’ve gone social the right way, then you’re engaged in an active online conversation with your patrons, and the ability to let them know about everything else your library offers is built-in. None of this engagement should take place in a vacuum, it should be part of an all-inclusive environment – one that your patrons like to spend time in. You should be available and responsive through all your social media accounts. If you’ve achieved that, then there’s no reason at all to worry about whether or not people will discover how to get to your main site, or your other social media pages. There’s no reason to worry about people navigating away from your main site. If they like spending time with your library, they’ll find you and keep coming back to you. If they don’t like spending time with your library online, then no amount of control over the environment is going to make them want to stay – you can’t trick them into engaging with you by keeping them locked into your core website.
It’s as the old saw tells us: if you love someone, set them free…
In the end, the online engagement metrics that really count are no longer page views and visit lengths on your main site. While these still serve a purpose, the real measure of your online presence and the success of your patron engagement are the metrics that come from your social media accounts.