August 30, 2014

Social Media Pitfalls

In the headlong rush to be "there" with social media — blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. — we may at times forget that online interactions are just as full of potential pitfalls as more traditional communication methods. In other words, you can blow it everywhere. How comforting.

One outfit, Clinical Reader, got a wake-up call about this recently when they blew it several different ways. Reported by various library folk as well as others, it should be seen as a cautionary tale about social media. As Steven Lawson put it, "The great and terrible thing about Twitter is the way it makes it so easy for an organization to shoot itself in the foot." However, it is more complicated than that, and more mistakes were made than simply blowing it on Twitter. But Steve is right in that many of these "on the fly" forms of communication make it all too easy to fire something off without second thoughts. In general, "sleeping on it" can be helpful, and streaming forms of communication like Twitter tend to oppose such caution.

Perhaps I have been taken in by fairy tales, but somehow I think every cautionary tale should have a moral. Out of all the blog sturm und drang prompted by this event, I like the lessons that Peter Murray has drawn from it. Specifically:

  • Given enough eyeballs, all falsehoods are shallow.
  • Mistakes happen, you can’t hide them.
  • Mistakes happen, own up to them.
  • 140 characters is too short to say important things.
  • Establish ground rules for shared accounts.
  • Don’t simply abandon your online presence(s).

These are all excellent points, and I urge you to read his entire post. In fact, it was his post that first alerted me to this controversy, since between ALA, a trip to the mother ship, and a weekend mini-vacation, I was pretty much checked out while this was happening. I even had a birthday and a midnight movie in there somewhere.

So I’m just sayin’, in the context of this column, that although many libraries are rushing to social media, and that is good, we must do it with our eyes open, our hearts in the right place, and our brains fully engaged. Anything else is simply a bad idea. Take it from Clinical Reader.

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Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.

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