September 24, 2016

Study Raises Doubts About Effectiveness of Facebook as Outreach Tool for Academic Libraries


A new analysis of user comments on the Facebook page of academic libraries indicates that most students “appear to reject connecting with their libraries on Facebook.”

The study, which appears in the current issue of D-Lib Magazine, by Michalis Gerolimos of the Alexander Technological Educational Institute in Thessaloniki, Greece, examined 3,513 posts on the Facebook pages of 20 U.S. academic libraries.

Significantly, Gerolimos found that 91 percent of the posts did not generate any comments, and the few comments that do appear are primarily by library personnel rather than by faculty or students.

The pages also had, on average, fewer than 600 followers.  And if users did participate, they did so most frequently (over 82 percent) by pressing the “like” button; however, 60 percent of the posts did not include “likes” at all.

“Developing a Facebook page as a new tool to reach out to a library’s current or perspective users, but finding it is supported primarily by its own staff, cannot be considered a complete failure, but it would be no more effective than a library repeatedly circulating a collection of books that appeal more to library personnel than users,” Gerolimos wrote. “If becoming ‘friends’ with the library and user comments are two measurements of the success of the outreach and/or marketing efforts, then we can safely say that, based on this research, Facebook is thus far not an effective outreach/marketing tool for libraries,” he wrote.

Gerolimos’ research also showed that users were not interested in sharing personal data via library Facebook pages.

“If we consider how easily students ‘like’ a page, add a group, post personal information, or simply interact with Facebook pages, then we must face the fact that library pages are amongst the least attractive to students,” he wrote.

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  1. Did anyone else notice that the author only looked at one library at each school? Large academic institutions usually have multiple libraries that often have their own Facebook pages. UM is a great example: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library alone has 787 “likes.”

    • Emily, having likes does mean that the page is effective in it’s outreach. I think often people will click the like button on a page, and then never visit it again. Also, if an individual has 50 pages they “like” and 100+ friends, the chances that a single page’s posts will come to the attention of that user are very small.

      In fact, library (and other institutional) facebook pages are attempting to make facebook into something it was never intended as: a way to market to people. This study (sure, it’s only one) shows that this strategy is ineffective, and provides basis for abandoning it in favor of richer presence/development in other areas of the internet.

  2. Headline should read:

  3. yitznewton says:

    @Spencer: Great. But in case you’re not trolling, there are a lot of studies which reveal the unexpected. That’s one of the reasons we study stuff – to rid ourselves of false assumptions.

    I can confirm this phenomenon for Touro College Libraries – we have 138 followers out of 7385 registered users, and rarely get a like or comment from end users.

  4. Gosh

  5. “If becoming ‘friends’ with the library and user comments are two measurements of the success of the outreach and/or marketing efforts, then we can safely say that, based on this research, Facebook is thus far not an effective outreach/marketing tool for libraries,” he wrote.

    For academic libraries, but not necessarily other types of libraries in particular public libraries.

  6. The draw of Social Networking for Public Libraries (at least in my neighborhood) seems to center around their daily and after-school programming, announcing events, asking for patron input, and keeping the rest of the neighborhood involved. Although Academic Libraries may participate less beyond their campus, their Archives and Special Collections (whose successes depend largely on their out-of-campus outreach) may benefit from starting their own pages.

  7. The study ignores the value of Facebook as a channel for “pushing” library news to users who “like” the page but might not regularly visit the library’s main website. For our library, Facebbok is another channel (like Twitter) by which our blog stories can reach a larger audience. Whether readers like or comment on the posts doesn’t necessarily mean its been ignored.

  8. I hear you J.R., and from what conversations I’ve had with libraries, many institutions use Facebook and Twitter as broadcasting tools. They are interested in interaction. They would like interaction. But when people don’t “like” or comment on their FB posts, they don’t call the effort failed and stop. Having another broadcast channel for sharing news is valuable. But generally, it’s not a social (connected/interactive/participatory) activity on either side.

  9. Has anyone recently encountered a similar study in American libraries? Care to share a link?