Saturday, July 7, 2007

Kentucy Libraries: Social Networking Software: Facebook and MySpace

Internet Review: Social Networking Software: Facebook and MySpace

by Stacey Greenwell and Beth Kraemer, University of Kentucky Libraries

Kentucky Libraries 70(4): 12-16 (Fall 2006).

[snip] The new trend for libraries looking for a web presence that appeals to the younger generation is Social Networking. Public and academic libraries around the country are experimenting with this new trend and the University of Kentucky has established profiles in both Facebook and MySpace, two of the most popular services. [snip]

[snip]

MySpace and Facebook are particularly popular with “Net Generation” users. An estimated 85% of students in high school and college have at least one profile in at least one of these sites. The central feature of this particular kind of social networking site is the ability to identify a group of friends whose profiles become linked to yours. Your group of friends becomes a network with unique communication privileges. Your friends can post comments that will appear on your site. You are able to broadcast announcements that go to your entire group of friends or your network in one stroke. The personal connection encouraged by these sites is both the strength and potential vulnerability of this type of social networking.

[snip]

With user education to reduce problems, we see exciting benefits in social networking sites, particularly MySpace and Facebook. The sites integrate web, email, chat, blog and media-sharing in one neat package. Institutional users – such as libraries - can use the sites to facilitate two-way communication with users rather than the traditional one-sided web presence. User comments can enhance the site, making it more personally appealing to this audience and more timely. Patrons can post questions to the site and your answers will be visible to all visitors. The “friends” feature also provides a focused group for advertising, such as promoting library classes and services of interest to younger patrons. Finally, MySpace and Facebook are wildly popular with this particular audience. Profiles are free and easy to create. The only investment is the time required to create and maintain content. This is a high-visibility arena and participation is cheap and easy; having a library presence there makes sense.

MySpace

MySpace is the most trafficked internet site in the US. A MySpace profile can be created by anyone with an email address. The ability to customize the “look” of your profile makes it popular with high school students and anyone looking to advertise to this younger audience. [snip] Libraries – particularly public libraries – have also begun to create MySpace profiles as another way to reach this set of their user population.

A basic MySpace profile is created by completing a form. Some questions on the form are required (e.g., birth date) and others are optional. The optional sections will display on your profile if you have provided content, and won’t display if you have not. You can provide information ranging from your favorite movies, where and when you went to high school or college, your sexual orientation, and where you work.[snip]

After your basic profile is complete, you may add optional elements like blog entries, pictures, videos, etc. The basic look of the site (colors, font, some layout elements) can also be customized, and a variety of sites exist where you can download free MySpace layouts for your profile. [snip]

Facebook

For the most part, Facebook is open only to registered users with a valid education-oriented email address. As a result, access is considerably more restricted than MySpace. A Facebook user has limited access to view profiles outside of one’s network (the network typically being the educational institution of which one is affiliated.) Like MySpace, individual users may choose to limit who can view their profile by adjusting privacy settings. [snip]

NOTE: Anyone with a valid e-mail can now join Facebook.


Facebook is particularly popular with college students. On a sprawling and unfamiliar campus, Facebook can serve as a lifeline to staying connected with old friends and can aid in meeting new people. [snip] Students can create groups based upon interests which can further help in connecting with others.

When creating one’s Facebook profile, the user will be prompted to enter basic information such as gender, birthday, email address, phone, etc. Sections are provided for personal information as well—political interests; activities; interests; and favorite music, movies, TV shows, books, and quotes. Like the basic contact information, a Facebook user can adjust the privacy settings to hide this information from others—across the board or for specified users only. Facebook users can also choose not to fill in these personal information categories at all.

The Courses portion of the profile gives faculty the opportunity to become more involved with Facebook, as students or faculty can indicate courses taught or taken by course number. Increasing faculty use of Facebook is not too surprising, especially considering that some of the newest faculty are of the social networking generation anyway. [snip]

Another important part of the Facebook profile is one’s photo. Photos vary widely from profile to profile—some users will post a current photo, others may post a childhood photo, dog, cat, friend, movie star ... [snip]. Facebook users who do not upload a photo will appear as a question mark. Facebook users can also create photo albums. [snip]

In addition to all of the user-supplied information (contact information, personal information, photos), profiles include several essential social parts: friends, the wall, and groups. Like MySpace, users can request a “friend” linking with another profile. Recipients of friend requests are notified and can accept or deny friend requests. Friends are grouped by networks—first within one’s own local network and then within other networks, typically by college or geographic area. [snip]

Facebook users can create groups which can be open to anyone or restricted. Groups are considerably wide-ranging, from groups affiliated with a campus club or activity, to more general groups ... . Groups can provide an easy way to share information with others and message all members; they can be particularly useful in planning an event or a regular meeting.[snip]

Should Libraries Get Involved?

Since an email address is all that is essentially required to create a profile, virtually anyone or anything can have a profile. [snip] As far as setting up the profile, it takes a matter of minutes. As with any online presence, what is most essential is, of course, the content.

Students are increasingly using these social networks, to the degree that some are choosing the messaging feature in these social networks over traditional email and other communication methods. [snip]

[At the University of Kentucky Libraries] [w]e try to reach students in a variety of ways—by hosting open houses, distributing flyers, setting up a table at campus or community events. Since social networks are where an overwhelming number of our students spend their time, it makes sense that we would want to be there as well. Setting up library profiles on social networking sites can serve as just one more way to put the library’s contact information out there. In addition to providing information about the library, the profile can serve as just one more way for students to provide feedback to the library. [snip] If even a handful of students find the library in a social network and use its services as a result, isn’t it worth it?

What’s Next?

Initially most of our “friends” in both MySpace and Facebook were other libraries around the country. We’re all experimenting, and exploring the profiles of other libraries is one of the best ways to get ideas and learn what is possible.[snip] Students at the University of Kentucky are primarily Facebook users. We expect to see more MySpace usage as high school students with elaborate profiles established in that service go off to college, but for now we are seeing more activity in our Facebook account.

After our profile was established and had a certain amount of content, the next step was to attract friends.

We decided not to solicit directly to students. There is some question about whether students would see that as an invasion of “their space.” Our strategy was to send friend requests to students we knew (primarily library student workers) and faculty at UK who had Facebook profiles.

[snip]Once our profile became linked to those profiles, the friends of our friends were able to discover the library profile and several new students sent us friend requests as a result.

We combined this less aggressive form of direct advertising with other methods, such as promoting our Facebook profile during student orientation sessions.

We plan to continue updating our profiles regularly with new content. [snip] In addition to basic contact information and tips on using the library, we regularly add items that we hope will be of interest to students.

At the beginning of the fall semester, we included tips for new students as well as information about obtaining and activating the campus ID card.

We linked to some tips for using Facebook wisely and featured information about a campus safety seminar which discussed responsible use of Facebook.

We have created a series of photo albums to give the site some color, including an album of sketches of the future Information Commons, a collection of campus banners on display in Young Library, and a fun series of librarians on vacation and just generally having fun. In general, we strive to keep up with what’s new. [snip]

Social networking sites give libraries ... another option to reach our clientele in new ways. [snip]

Author's Note: Shortly after this article was submitted for publication, Facebook disabled the University of Kentucky] ... Libraries profile, citing a violation of their Terms of Agreement which they say specifies that organizational profiles are not allowed. Profiles must be created for individuals only. We are disputing this interpretation of the Facebook Terms. Facebook recommends that Libraries create individual profiles for librarians and establish a "Facebook Group" to represent the library itself.[snip]

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