September 14, 2014

No Such Thing As Too Many Cat Pictures: Q&A With Amanda Brennan | The Digital Shift 2013

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Amanda Brennan

Amanda Brennan

Social media is becoming a more and more important way for libraries to interact with their patrons, and one ingredient of that is passing along interesting pieces of information about the library’s many programs and activities. Another very important part, though, is posting the occasional cat picture or funny video, or other piece of viral content, commonly known as memes. At The Digital Shift: Reinventing Libraries virtual event, held by Library Journal and School Library Journal on October 16, Know Your Meme‘s resident librarian, Amanda Brennan, offered her thoughts on how libraries can use memes to engage their patrons and boost their followings on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. We revisited that presentation, and picked Brennan’s brain on some other points, in a Q&A that offers some pointers for beginners looking to make their library’s Facebook page a must read.

For some of our readers who might not be familiar, what is a meme?

A meme is an idea that’s spread from person to person. It can manifest as a video, an image, it can take the place of slang—like LOL or BRB—but really it’s just anything that people can see and think about and pass along.

What are some of your favorite library memes?

It’s hard to say, because a lot of library-specific ones have gone by the wayside and aren’t as popular as they once were, and you can’t tell what the next one is going to be. You don’t want to go back and dig up a thing from two years ago just because it’s about libraries. You want to stay on top of what’s new and make contributions to it as well. When in doubt, you can always go with image macros like lolcats. Cats always do well on the Internet.

What resources are available if people want to try their hand at creating a meme of their own, rather than just passing things along?

You don’t need Photoshop to build your own simple image macros. There are a lot of tools on the internet that will easily help you create those. icanhascheezburger.com has a tool for doing it, as does imgur.  I prefer cheezburger’s because it doesn’t have a watermark at the bottom. It’s a quick and easy process.

There’s no formula for a 100 percent success rate, but don’t be afraid to try things. And don’t be afraid to fail with things. If something makes one of your co-workers laugh, try it out as a meme. If it works, it will get shared. If it doesn’t work, its not the end of the world, and it’s a lesson going forward.

How can libraries use social media for marketing?

The thing to remember is, memes are less about promoting your library in particular and more about building connections and finding something interesting that a person will want to share. Even though it’s not your library making something, just something that shows people doing cool things in spaces like yours or that your community can relate to is going to help get people engaged with you. These are not a way to sell people on things, but a way to interact with them.

What’s the proper way to credit a meme you repost?

It’s different for everything. The best rule is to give credit where you found it. That’s easiest on things like Facebook and Tumblr that have built in share buttons.  If you found it somewhere other than where it was made, or you’re not sure someone created the thing you’re sharing, you can try a Google image search of it to trace it back to its source. Crediting is a complicated process, and there’s no real set in stone way to do it right, but linking back to where you found it is always a good start.

Where can librarians interested in testing the water on this start?

The best place to start is to look at other libraries doing the same thing. Find one you want to emulate—see what’s working, and what is not. Look at who’s getting people interacting, and take lessons from what they’re doing. Places like the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library in Arkansas can give you a good idea of how to get people engaged. And be sure to talk to people on platforms like Twitter. There’s a really strong community of librarians on Twitter, and they’re happy to talk about what works and what doesn’t.

Speaking of what doesn’t work, what are some common pitfalls people should watch out for?

Rookie mistakes—don’t post too much. You don’t want to overload. Don’t forget you are a community building block, and don’t be passing along just-made macros all the time. It’s very important to stay relevant to programs that you have. Play to what your strengths are and what your readers are interested in, and understand that memes can be a lot of things. If you have a strong cooking program at your library, share recipes to promote it, because that’s something that’s going to get people engaged with you.

How many cat pictures is too many cat pictures?

In my opinion, there is no such thing as too many cat pictures. In practice, though, probably one or two a week is enough for most places. And remember, there are also dog pictures! Dogs are good too!

Any final pieces of advice?

If you’re going to try to use an image macro series and make a new one—any type of “advice animal”  like Socially Awkward Penguin or Success Kid—do some research to see what the captions are going to be like. Don’t misuse them, as they won’t do well, and they could actually backfire on you. Make sure if you’re making something new on the Success Kid meme, for example, that it’s in line with that meme. Do your homework before you try to put one together, because the community will know if you’re faking it, and they won’t reward that.

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Ian Chant is Associate News Editor of LJ.

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